For some, motherhood comes easy. Some have great role models, wonderful examples of motherhood, amazing memories of their own mothers that they hope to recreate with their children.
For some, the road is a little more difficult.
I fall in the second group. My childhood was the stuff nightmares are made of. I was born of an affair, my mother was young, into drugs, and unstable. My biological father already had other children, and a wife. He signed his rights to me away and I never knew anything about him. I grew up being bounced between my mother, my grandmother, my aunt, and eventually my mother’s new husband.
They were married when I was 3, and divorced by the time I was 6. He was an alcoholic with a temper, she was an unstable former addict. All I remember from their years together is yelling, fighting, and abuse. It started when I was young. Some of my earliest memories are of this man abusing me in ways that make most people shudder. Eventually, he legally adopted me, and became my father. He was really a monster.
They divorced around my 6th birthday. She was into drugs, he had me on the weekends. My life was full of abuse, neglect, and fear. I feared the night when he would creep into my room. I feared the day when my mom would go into insane rage.
By the time I was 8 a death in the family drove us to pick up and move. I saw the monster only sporadically for almost 2 years. Our move drove my mom deeper into her dysfunction and drug abuse. Just before I turned 10, I was sent back to live with him. Dragged from my home by the police because the environment was so unstable.
My mom forgot my first double digit birthday.
The next 8 years of my life were filled with abuse, abandonment, neglect, and confusion. I never spoke to my mother again after I turned 12. He kept me from her for many years, and I eventually adopted his ideas as my own and decided to not allow her into my life.
I turned 12 and began vomiting. Purging my pain and starving my feelings. I became numb, no one cared. Or noticed.
I turned 18, left for college, and didn’t see him again for many years. The next 8 years of my life consisted of 2 suicide attempts, 15 hospitalizations for anorexia, anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Shortly after my 21st birthday, my mom died. She overdosed on various medications. Depending on who you ask this was an accident or her own choice. I hadn’t spoken to my mom in 9 years and I never got the chance to say I loved her. I never got to say goodbye.
In 2009, I went away. I spent 6 months in a residential treatment facility. I faced my demons head on. I was determined to heal, to move on, to embrace life. I fought, screamed, cried, and conquered. I began to break the cycle of abuse, untreated mental illness, and dysfunction that I had grown up in.
In 2010, against all odds, I met my husband. I never thought I would trust a man, and I certainly never thought I would share my life with one, but in 2012, we were married.
In 2013, my daughter was born. Fear. Pain. Confusion. Uncertainty. How could I be a mother when all I knew was abuse and neglect? Again, against all odds, my daughter latched onto my breast, crawled onto my chest, and began to soften my heart.
Being her mother has healed me in ways I never dreamed possible. The moment she first latched on to my breast she taught me that my body is now my own. It is no longer someone else’s tool. I have nourished my daughter for 2.5 years and counting from those breasts, and I now also nourish my 6 month old son.
Being a mother has taught me what real love is. I have fallen deeper in love with my husband. Watching him be a father has shown me what fatherhood is supposed to look like. My home is filled with love.
Being a mother has taught me more about my own mother and her struggles. Motherhood is hard, I imagine that motherhood under the grips of addiction and mental illness would be impossible. I have come to peace with my mother. I truly believe that she did the best she could. I have forgiven her for her shortcomings. Forgiveness is not forgetting it is simply acknowledging that she was ill, she was addicted, and she tried. In that order.
Being a mother has taught me patience. I was raised in a world where people didn’t speak, they screamed, loudly , and often. Punishment was handed out severely, for minor offenses. My first inclination when my toddler misbehaves is to yell. I have had to learn to step back, breathe, and remember how I felt. I never want my children to feel small, or unimportant, or less than me. We spend a lot of time talking in reasonable tones. Both of us are learning to behave.
Finally, becoming a mother has changed how I experience the world. I am no longer afraid, anxious. I don’t feel less than or stupid. I am not weak. I am not depressed. I am not keeping secrets. I am open and honest and bold. I stand up for my children. I am their advocate. They are my everything and I will always do my best to do right by them. I stumble and fall sometimes; the anxiety of what they may experience some day creeps in and I have to work very hard to quiet it. I remind myself often that even if they experience horrible things, their experience will be different because I am not my mother. I am not the man I called my father. I will always be there for my children in an open, loving, and unconditional way. That is the most sacred gift I can give them as their mother.