It’s a dark, balmy, summer night, and a small pile of girls are huddled in a basement bedroom, whispering by flashlight. The topic is children and the girls discuss favorite baby names, what it might be like to be pregnant, how they can’t wait to have families of their own.
I am so confused at the certainty with which the girls discuss their own future motherhood. Having babies is a foregone conclusion, and they seem thrilled. The idea terrifies me, chokes me, leaves me shaky and insecure. I tell the group I don’t want babies. They can’t believe me. They ask why.
“Because what if I don’t like them? What if I don’t want them? Then what?” The girls go quiet.
I thought something was wrong with me for my lack of a maternal impulse. However, I now realize I knew, all too well, the crippling insecurity and profound sadness that comes from living with a mother who did not want me.
Several days ago I was writing a few paragraphs of “my story” to post on a forum set up for abuse survivors. As I looked over the words I had the familiar feeling that I, somehow, had missed the point. Indeed, pain lives in those stories, but those abuse stories are not the “heart of the beast.” The white hot center of my pain lived elsewhere, but I had never been able to find it. For the millionth time I searched my memories, trying to find the story, the event, the betrayal that held the aching core I felt so acutely but could not name. And then, it hit:
It’s not what happened, it’s what didn’t happen.
The hot source of sadness and agony was coming from the void, from the nothingness, from the years of being so incredibly alone. It was coming from the little girl that had no access to her mother because that mother was always behind a door, desk, wall, or boyfriend. It came from the hours I spent daydreaming about the time when someone would love me, hold me, take me home. It came from the dark place where my mother was present in the house but entirely unavailable and cold.
This realization sent back The Sadness with a brutal, heavy hand. The screaming, the sobbing, the visceral reaction that seizes my body with such fury I could literally vomit has come rushing back. It’s exhausting.
I told M about this and she put words to it: “Meg, you suffered emotional abandonment.” What? That’s not possible.
But apparently, a hallmark of abuse survivors is “extreme thinking” where there is no middle ground. A reality either is or isn’t. I didn’t think I could possibly have been abandoned because of the small handful of times I could remember my mom present, smiling, and kind. If those moments had happened what my story must not include abandonment. But it turns out it could. And abandonment explains so very much.
Probing the searing core of the life-long emotional agony has been profoundly sad. For the moment, the beatings, the sexual abuse, and all related tales have taken a back seat. Being molested for ten years somehow pales in comparison to being abandoned by my own mother.
An excerpt from my childhood journal:
“…Nobody’s precious baby doll,
nobody’s little princess,
no strong, protective daddy arms,
no doting mama kisses…”
I picked up the book Motherless Daughters from my local library. Although difficult to read, it has been intensely validating and I see that many of my behaviors and thought patterns are normal, all things considered. Daughters who’ve experienced any form of “mother loss” while still developing their identity as people and women, can suffer profound consequences. As “mother loss” in its’ various forms is still not widely discussed, it can be hard for these daughters to connect and share their experiences and find measures of healing.
Recently, despite or maybe because of these difficult realizations, I feel like I’ve found some healing. I feel more whole, more capable, less damaged. I feel, ever so slowly, more able to connect. I feel less critical. The piles of both rational and irrational fears are starting to dwindle. The weighty loneliness that has been my life-long companion is starting to lift.
“I’m slowly redefining myself as someone who can want and need people in her life. Yes, I can survive without them. I’ve proven that to myself. I can survive without nurturing and love, but it’s a pretty destructive and painful way to live.”
–Motherless Daughters, p 167