(This post is also cross-posted at The Doula Guide)
My mother died when I was seventeen years old. Diagnosed with lung cancer in December 2000, she rapidly declined, passing away 5 months later at the age of 43. We all have that one moment when your world changes forever. This was my moment.
When you’re a teenager, the world revolves around you. I was a high achiever. I expected nothing less than an A in all of my classes, striving to keep my concert master violinist position in my high school orchestra, and making sure that I was inducted into the National Honors Society and National Beta Club, all while maintaining a 4.3 grade point average. I was used to thinking logically about many things, but for a long time I couldn’t grasp the fact that my mother, who never smoked, could die from something like lung cancer. Even worse, I didn’t want to accept the fact that I would never see her again. One of my biggest fears in life was losing my mother at a young age. Though I was 5 months shy of my 18th birthday, I felt like a little girl on the day of my mother died.
As I approach my 29th birthday a little over a month away, I still have many moments in which I feel like that 17 year old all over again. Also, visions of babies dance in my head. While many women my age are either currently pregnant, already mothers, or are waiting with anticipation of becoming mothers some day, I come up with as many reasons as possible as to why motherhood may not be for me:
Not all women desire to be mothers.
What if my kid doesn’t like me?
Kids are expensive, and the economy sucks.
I actually get more excited when I see a dog than I do when I see a baby.
What if I don’t like my kid?
We live in a patriarchal society that puts forth the ideal that women are nothing if we aren’t mothers and wives.
What about my career?
Do I really want the responsibility of caring for another life?
Sure, I can envision seeing myself as a mother, and I actually don’t completely dismiss the idea. I have the regular worries of not knowing what to do, if I even have a “mothering instinct”, making decisions over whether I would want to breastfeed, choosing the healthiest foods and the best schools, hoping my child doesn’t turn out to be some juvenile delinquent, and the idea of losing my identity, among others. But my biggest fear over becoming a mother is the fear that I’ll leave when my child needs me the most.
Like my mother did.
While irrational, this fear has been something that has lingered inside since the day my mother died. Logically, all children will have to deal with the death of their parents. That’s how it’s supposed to work. I know that if she had a choice, my mother would have wanted to beat her cancer. Losing your mother at the cusp of young adulthood isn’t part of anyone’s plan, and while time has made her death hurt less, it’s brought about a sadness and anger towards my mother that I’ve subconsciously held inside for a long time. Knowing what it’s like to lose a parent at a young age, I instinctively want to shield any possible children from experiencing that type of pain at a young age. So, in many ways this has held me back from embracing the idea of motherhood.
One way that I’ve been able to examine my feelings is to talk to my mother, through writing. I got the idea from my college counselor during my last semester of senior year. I was on the brink of graduating, and once again I became sad and anxious over the thought of my mother not being able to be there for this important milestone. My counselor suggested that I purchase a small journal and write to my mother. She instructed me to write to my mother and share all of my anger, fears, unanswered questions, guilt and memories. I’ve done this on and off throughout the years, and each time I’m amazed at the sense of calm that washes over me whenever I do write to my mother.
Every important decision I have made in my adult life has been based on what I feel my mother would have wanted me to do. Many of these decision she may not have agreed with at all, and that’s ok because I am my own person. However, I do believe she would have been proud of me for doing what I can everyday to live in my passion, to stand up for what I believe it, and to do what I can to raise my voice and help raise the voices of women and girls of color.
Motherhood is one of the most complex roles a woman can take on, and while I may continue to have my own feelings on becoming a mother one day, I’m glad that I had my mother for those 17 years. The beautiful memories I have of my mother throughout my childhood and adolescence far outweigh watching her take her last breath.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to keep writing to her while I figure out this motherhood thing.