Safe Harbor

It’s the first Mother’s Day without my mom. The books on grief have instructed me to act like it’s “any other day” or “being ok with whatever you feel”. All of it well-intentioned and none of it realistically applicable for being a mother who has lost her mother. I have to carry on despite what I’m feeling. It’s natural that my children will see me cry but they don’t need to see it daily.

There’s the expectations of my children in their upturned faces waiting for my delight at their handmade creations or the passing neighbor wishing us a “Happy Mother’s Day” when all I really want to do is run away and be held. I wish I had one more hug from my mom. One more glimpse of her eyes as she laughed. As cliche as it sounds, I wish I had savored that last piece of apple pie I ever had from her if only I had known it was to be the last. No one can make pie like her.

I normally look forward to what surprises the kids have in store for me. The handprint art. The paper flowers. The scribbled cards. The burnt toast. The cold, leftover takeout food for breakfast. The hissed whispering of stressful negotiations between the two of them and their father over where to take me for lunch or dinner. The battles over trying to be fancy in their clothes or who gets to sit next to me that evening. Quite often we just settle for a kid movie and bad food or hanging out at home. This year, I don’t want to pretend to be happy.

This year I want to lay in the fetal position in my bed and come out once it’s fall. I don’t want to face the month ahead, the anniversary of her passing in July, or her birthday in August. She hated summer more than I ever have, and that’s not hyperbole. She detested it as much as she loved holidays. Her personality was one of extremes, even in her love and hate. Most mothers are viewed as a safe harbor of unconditional love yet my mother was complicated. She loved us intensely and judged us thoroughly. Her opinions were freely shared and seldom predictable. She was raised Catholic, voted Democrat, and was pro-choice.

She would be disgusted to hear of the latest Supreme Court battle over Roe vs. Wade. After years of poverty, and seeing it firsthand while working in the Welfare system, she knew the dangers of a woman having no governance over her own body. She saw the results of a parents being forced to have children that were unwanted and abused just for existing. Women trapped in abusive situations that couldn’t afford to leave because they had children they couldn’t afford to support. Teenagers being forced to become mothers because they didn’t have access to birth control or parents that didn’t believe in allowing their child to have a choice over becoming a parent themselves.

Motherhood is a privilege to some and a life sentence to others. My mother believed that no woman should be forced to become a mother. She viewed her children as a gift and a blessing but understood how difficult it was to support children that you couldn’t afford and the judgment of society for being a single parent. She made the heartbreaking decision to give up her own child when she was nineteen and unmarried. The pain was with her to her final days and she didn’t wish it upon anyone. Even after being reunited with her daughter as an adult and meeting her, my mother still regretted being forced to give her away. She knew it was for her daughter’s best interest in retrospect but it didn’t change the doubts and the pain of that separation.

When anti-choice backers glibly reply that a pregnant woman should choose to give the child up for adoption, I always think of the look on my mother’s face as she retold the story of giving my sister away. She said it would have been less painful than losing a limb. That they tore part of her heart away that day.

The first half of my life has been in poverty. It shapes your perspective on the world as much as your gender or religious beliefs. It is a set of experiences that those with privilege can try to imagine but cannot fully empathize. I was born a woman, have become a mother, and now I have lost my own mother. That is part of my view of the world as well. The foggy glasses of birth, parenting, and grief. I chose motherhood and my mother was proud of my choices yet agonized over her own. I hope that my daughter will have the right to make those choices for herself someday. I want her to know that I’m her safe harbor of unconditional love and that I won’t judge her for her choices. Yet I fear that her rights will be chipped away to benefit those in power so they can control women even further and trap them into poverty and motherhood as if it is an endenturement as opposed to the blessing that it is for those that want to do so.

I spent years hoping to be a mother and thought that I wasn’t capable. Then three hard years of fertility treatments in the early part of my marriage with several miscarriages. Two of which required an abortion due to the fetus being nonviable. I remember watching the screen during the ultrasound, waiting for the heartbeat that I was so excited to hear only a month before and hearing silence instead. I was told to go home and wait for a phone call but I didn’t need the confirmation that my senses had already given me. The baby was dead.

Then suddenly I was pregnant after losing all hope. It was my dream come true but every day of the pregnancy I feared I would lose the baby yet I knew that I would rather have an abortion if I had to face delivering a stillborn baby as insurance had wanted me to that day two years before. Yet the baby continued to grow. Now she is eleven and, much like her eight year old brother, I fear for their future rights and options. No matter what happens in the days ahead, I will always support their choices as my mother did my own. She didn’t believe in abortion for herself but she respected a woman’s right to have a choice over motherhood for herself.

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