Mama’s Arms

No one wants to talk about the reality.  But at the end of the day, I haven’t had children.  I hate it when people glibly say “oh you still have time”  Yeah right.  I’m well on my way towards 50.

It makes me sad sometimes, but it took a long time to realise what that feeling was about.  I found myself having an emotional reaction to seeing women walking with strollers in the park, especially women running while pushing strollers.  It made me mad, but I didn’t understand why. I didn’t know what, or who I was angry at.

My therapist was brave enough to suggest that I was envious of these women.  I guess that’s the logical conclusion to reach.  I want what they have.  But it didn’t quite fit.  What I began to wonder was whether it wasn’t the mothers I was envious of, but rather the babies riding in those strollers.  I want to be held, to be nurtured.  I want to feel arms around me like a mother holds a child.  I want… mama’s arms around me.

I never pictured myself as a mother.  I was so scared of being a bad mother that I talked myself out of it.  I guess, like every one, I thought that one day I would be a mother but that somehow it would just happen.

I went into marriage thinking that way.  D and I had talked about wanting to have a family.  We even talked that it would make more sense for him to be the stay at home parent because I had a greater earning capacity than him.  That was fine with me.  It suited my fears of being a bad mother.  I would leave the parenting to him.

When I was 13 my mother and I talked about me being a mother one day.  She told me that my grandmother wasn’t a maternal woman (more interested in her career even in those days).  In the same way my mother had not been maternal, so she said that I would not be maternal.  This was something of a life changing moment for me.  In my youth I took Mum to mean that I wouldn’t be a good mother.  Now I can look at it and see that ‘not maternal’ did not mean ‘bad mother’.

Mum is not a bad mother, nor was she saying that her mother was a bad mother.  I think it was more about displays of affection.  Neither of them were particularly emotional or demonstrative women.  One part of me wanted to be a good mother and to prove mum wrong.  Another part said ‘don’t go there’.  Don’t have children and it will never be an issue.

I kept to myself the thought that I would always be a woman, but never a good mother… and therefore I wouldn’t be a good woman.  Note that I excluded from my mind the idea of being childless even though I thought that would be all right for others who chose not to have children.  I appreciated that sometimes people can’t, or don’t have children, yet they could still be a complete people.

In my twenties I didn’t need to think about this.  I could get on with my career and not to think about it.  But I did.  It hounded me whenever I was with babies and children because I wanted to prove I could ‘do’ maternal.  I could be affectionate.

Life got turned upside down when I was 28.  I was diagnosed with Depression and the bottom fell out of my world.  You can read about this in earlier posts.  During this time I married D… and some years later left him.

One thing I didn’t think about was that all this was happening in my childbearing years.  My late twenties and thirties were when I had planned to have children.  I couldn’t even think of having children without the need to try to kill, or in some way, destroy myself.  Actually a ‘friend’ told us that we should have a baby because that would cure me.  Hmm.  That seemed like the last thing we should do but there was often advice like that.  My life was all but put on hold.  Those years have just disappeared and I have little more than scars to show for them.

Even if the timing at been right I still don’t think I would have a baby.  There was too much risk.  And what sort of mother would I make?  Aside from the genes (there is an unrelated blood disorder that would risk the life of a baby, a mental disorder, as well as that maternal heritage of a lack of emotion) I would give this child, I would be a prime candidate for post-natal depression.  Sure other people get through but I worried what I would be doing to that child.  What would the atmosphere of maternal depression would do to the child’s development?  There is not enough known about this and I couldn’t take the risk.

That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have loved the opportunity to have a child.  I see the love in my brothers’ eyes when they are with their children.  I see friends, who previously were as determined as I was to destroy themselves with mental illness, who now have children.  And who wouldn’t want that?  Who wouldn’t want a child to carry on their name and reflect their life in that child?  Of course I would like that but the risk of it all going wrong was too much for me, especially after all these years of distancing myself from the world.

I doubt I could have coped with the closeness of a sexual relationship, and sexual encounters outside a committed relationship are not my choice.   Perhaps I’m also too wrapped up on my own world to make room for a child.  Who knows?  I doubt that now I could be a good mother.  Too much has happened.

So what now?  I have given away the few things I had put aside for my children.  There won’t be any children.  I’m not unreasonably sad, but rather thoughtful and acknowledge that this will be me.  It’s ok to feel some grief.  It would be odd not to feel some.  It simply makes my brothers’ children that much more special to me.

Recently I had a woman say to me that she would be nothing without her children.  I had to fight myself to stop myself saying “she thinks I’m nothing because I don’t have children”.  I was left with this nagging accusation that rears it’s head everytime people presume that motherhood is compulsory.  Mostly I feel sorry for the person who takes that view.  It’s completely ridiculous.

Maybe I am jealous of the women I see with strollers in the park.  Maybe they have something that I will never have.  But more so I wish for the nurture those babies receive.  Actually I think that is it, I want mama’s arms.  Oh to feel loved and nurtured.

NBThis isn’t in any way meant to be a criticism of my mother or my grandmother.  They are the way they were/are for good reason.  I probably wouldn’t have been the mothers they were, but I was too scared of what I couldn’t be sure. 

It’s also not in any way a criticism of people who choose to have children while experiencing mental illness.  There are many brilliant mothers who have mental illnesses and I completely admire them.  This post is simply how it is for me.


11 thoughts on “Mama’s Arms

  1. Cate, I feel like you’re reading my mind in this post. I’ve had many of these same concerns and fears when it comes to the issue of childbearing. I feel the same grief of a missed opportunity, even if it’s one I’m not confident I’m cut out for. Hardest for me, I think, is the feeling that circumstance has made the choice for me, that I’ve never been in the proper position in life to choose for myself. But.

    1. I very much wish I wasn’t reading you mind and that you had the same thoughts. They are not easy to bear sometimes. I guess the love and nuture I didn’t receive is what I want now. It’s weird how it didn’t bother me as a child. It was just how it was and I knew no different. But having the choice taken away from us is the hard one. Thanks for getting it. That means a lot. 🙂

  2. (Ugh…hate typing responses on my phone!) Ultimately, I, like you crave the love and protection of being a child over the weight and responsibility of motherhood. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this 🙂

  3. My heart hurts for you – for what you didn’t have, for what you didn’t feel you should have, for the loss of your child-bearing years.
    You are no less for not having children – my best friend chose not to have children, because she didn’t believe her spouse was “paternal.” She has a very full life, and like you, dotes on her brother’s children.
    You are very brave to share your thoughts this way – know they are soothing to me and others.

    1. Thanks for saying that Katie. I really do appreciate it. I don’t feel bad about how my life has turned out. Actually the only thing that saddens me at this stage is that I will never be a grandparent. Even though there is loss, I know what hasn’t happened is right for me. I guess sometimes thoughtless people can emphasise the loss but your words are a definite help. Thanks 🙂

  4. Dorothy

    I think you summed it up well by saying what you want is the nurture the babies are receiving….not so much about not having your own kids. Having these illnesses I also feel the need to be loved but I came from a family that didn’t express good emotions or love, only negative. I don’t think we ever get too old to feel the need though. Even though my daughters are grown, 18 and 23, my youngest has always been at odds with me. Maybe what I am trying to say is not is all what it seems. Neither one has the time of day for me and once again I sit here all alone. I think you were very responsible for thinking about the future. I certainly didn’t. Hope this makes sense.

    1. Thanks for your comment. And yes, I can see it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. We can easily forget about the rough times. I guess I recognise that the older I have got the more I have learnt to appreciate my mother (even though there are problems). I hope your daughters will grow to that point too.

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