My mom died 4 months before I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. My mom was my biggest champion, and us kids were the center of her world, even after we were grown. Finding out I was pregnant was both joyful and deeply sad – the definition of bittersweet. I know my mom would have been so thrilled to hear the news and would have shared it with every one of her friends that same day. (When I’d go home to visit and we’d run into friends at church or the grocery store, it was always VERY clear that Mom had kept them updated on my life!)
As I suffered through ridiculously terrible morning sickness, I wanted to call my mom for sympathy, and I wanted to ask her if she had experienced something similar.
As my pregnancy progressed and the morning sickness waned, I was grieving my mom’s death. I wept, heaving sobs, crying myself to sleep many nights. I worried about the impact on the “bean” growing in my womb.
My sweet friends organized a baby shower for me. The women gathered in a circle to bless me and the baby who was coming. My friend who was leading the women in offering these blessings asked me if I wanted to say anything about my mom. What a thoughtful offer, right? Well, that didn’t go well. In that moment, I wanted to run and hide and weep and never see anyone again. Instead, I choked down my sobs and said, “No thanks.” Awkward. The wave of grief that overcame me was about the realization that I was going to have to give birth and make my way through mothering an infant without my own mother. Of course I knew this intellectually but I hadn’t felt it fully until that moment.
And then, the moment of truth. Giving birth to my daughter was one of the most powerful experiences of my life – right up there with being with my mom when she died. In the moments after my daughter was born, I felt more connected to my mom than ever, and also felt her loss more deeply than ever. (Well, let’s be honest – in the moments after my daughter was born I was getting stitched up after a terrible tear, so I wasn’t really thinking about my mom. But I’m talking about once I recovered from that!)
During that first year of my daughter’s life, I learned so much about my mom. I learned what being a mother is, and I began to understand my mom in a whole new way. I want to apologize to her for all the ways I misunderstood her actions as overbearing or annoying when in fact they were just the loving, protective actions of a fierce mama bear. I want to have the relief of saying, “Mom, I’m sorry. I get it now.”
I want to be able to call her and hear her squeal with delight at each milestone my daughter reaches.
I both understand my mom more than I ever did when she was alive and also miss her more with each parenting question or milestone my daughter reaches.
So, what helps? The first step: Feeling the feelings. Talking to people who get it. Grief work is hard work, but it’s worth it. Grief work is meant to be done in connection and is meant to be witnessed. I co-founded a group of motherless mothers who were also parenting small children and we supported each other in parenting through grief. Our monthly sessions were a place I knew I could go to cry, scream, vent, and be petty about the moms around me with grandmas swooping into help. We figured out how to talk to our kids about our moms, and to keep our relationship alive with our deceased mothers.
So if you are a motherless mother who is pregnant or parenting an infant, remember it is normal to:
Susanna Gilbertson, MSW, ACC offers grief support and coaching for motherless mothers. Her own journey of mothering her daughter without her mother, and the support she received inspired her grief coaching career. She is a graduate of St. Joe’s Coaching Leader Program, an Associate Certified Coach through the International Coaching Federation, and a certified From Grief to Gratitude coach. Susanna has 20 years of experience as a social worker and teaches social work at many local universities. More information may be found on her website or follow her on Instagram. Susanna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.