My mother died in 2007.
For more than 10 years after her death, I was unable to make it through Mother’s Day without getting angry.
“F*** you!” I yelled at my computer when emails showed up offering Mother’s Day specials for brunches I would never get to eat with her.
“I can’t ‘make her day unforgettable,’” I mouthed with a clenched jaw when a deal arrived on a bouquet of roses. “She’s dead.”
Of course, anger is often part of the grieving process. And grief, as we know, does not follow a neat or short trajectory.
I am still grieving now, almost 15 years on.
Now, though, the quality of the grief is different. The anger has diminished, replaced with sadness, wistfulness, and a great empathy for the person my mother was and the person I became in response.
I had—as many of us do—a sometimes fraught relationship with my mother. Yes, there was love on both sides, and never an intention to hurt, but ours was a classic example of how unprocessed emotion echoes through the generations. For many years, I was a silent and unwitting party to this pattern. My part in the pattern manifested as rebellion, defiance, and self-sabotage. I knew I wanted to be different, but I didn’t know how. Finally, I arrived at a decision that was both oppositional and healing.
I became a birth doula.
It may be surprising that I turned toward a second career built on connection and nurturing. The form of distant, intellectual mothering I experienced offered no model for how to create a space to hold difficult (or even pleasant) emotions. I felt awkward and unprepared in my early interactions with doula clients. I was much more comfortable tutoring them about the stages of labor or dispensing practical advice about packing for the hospital than interacting around the unpredictable and often intense emotions around childbearing.
Yet this was the medicine I needed. Slowly, I learned to exercise an emotional muscle I barely knew I possessed. Gradually, it strengthened. The surprise has been how central that muscle has become in every aspect of my own life.
I find myself flexing that muscle often in my work with writers.
I have my mother to thank and honor for the person I’ve become as a result of being a doula—my dear mother, whom I never would have called “dear” in the time we had together on this earth, but whom I am now able to see and hold with compassion.
We all have our stories of mothering and motherhood. What’s yours?
This Sunday, Jennifer and I are offering a free one-hour workshop appreciating mothers.
I hope you can join us as we explore “mothering” in the broadest sense of the word—including the literal women from whom we have sprung to the mothering impulse that lives within all of us, whether we identify as male or female. We invite you to explore the fertile ground of your matrilineal heritage and connect it to your own powerful urge to create. Through stimulating writing prompts, sharing, and a short gentle yoga session, you’ll experience how the power of a supportive writing community can nourish your solo writing practice. REGISTER NOW.