I was not born a mother rather I was created, established and constructed. Becoming a mother is a life change that didn’t occur when my children were born but when I realized they could not meaningfully survive with out me.
Ashleigh was born in January of 2009 and she was easy from the get go. Although there was a moment in the hospital, a frightening yet, right of passage moment that I realized that I would never be alone again. Furthermore, I would have to shape my life to accommodate a little being that holds my DNA; a bond that can be broken maybe only by death as far as I am concerned. I became enchanted with being vessel of protection for a body that came from me. As Ashleigh got older and more independent of me as they often do, I yearned for that close connectedness that comes during the attachment period in infancy. Who doesn’t love those little babies, who smell like babies, who need you to eat, to sleep and hold them through their first two years? Well maybe a little longer yet.
In late 2012 I did get my chance to experience it all over again with the birth of my son Isaac, who indeed became one of my greatest catalysts for change. The change initially began in the dark, and despairing pit of postpartum depression. In his first two years unlike Ashleigh, Isaac wouldn’t sleep longer then 4 hours with out waking. It didn’t take long before I plunged in to depression as Isaac started experiencing developmental delays. I tried to find it in me to be a good mother to all my children, I was heartsick from all my shortcomings, my relationship with Isaacs father was falling apart. I was overwhelmed by a lack of sleep, an insurmountable need to feel justified, but in the end I felt as though I were a ship that was severely listing. It became the single greatest drive to overcome the demons in my life and it would take doctors, caregivers, family and medication to help me through the tangled mess. This was the evolution of me as the mother.
Now motherhood doesn’t always come to everyone easily and for some not at all. In a study by Harlow in the 1950’s the researcher identified characteristic behaviours of infantile monkeys that had suffered from a lack of attachment or love from their mother. It was a cruel and shocking study on the deprivation of maternal guidance in infantile Ryes Monkeys, and although similar studies were protested by PETA , the evidence gathered by these studies showed clear evidence that support attachment between a mother and child and the child’s ability to cope with the outside world. The monkeys that experienced complete maternal deprivation often had severe social dysfunction, anxiety issues, health problems and some died as a result of their inability to cope with the social environment. (Harlow, Wikipedia 2007)
John Bolby a researcher for the Army Corps and a grad from Trinity western in Cambridge furthered Harlow’s study and defined the “Attachment theory”. Bolby suggested that children are pre-programmed for attachment to mothers, and seek that relationship to ensure their survival. (Bolby, Simply Psychology, Saul Macleod 2009)
In these studies there were glaring examples of the sheer simplicity of attachment, and yet the complex consequence’s of poor attachment with the mother. These deprivations almost always lead to a child’s inability to cope with the social spectrum, building relationships and coping with change.
At this key time of my life I was learning that affection, and trust builds as the mother remains a source of guidance, and comfort as the child experiences joy, excitement, sadness, pain and failure. So I began to make powerful changes that meant I had to pick up my pieces and fight for my own life.
So it was, I made a choice to go back to work, perhaps I was trying to rekindle my own validation, as I failed to justify my position as an at home mom. The work was hard, backbreaking, labor but it was great pay and excellent benefits for the kids and me. My partner and I separated and I moved the two kids closer to town with our two dogs. As if life wasn’t tough enough I pictured myself the mother wolf leaving the wolf pack to go at life on her own with out her pack. How does the wolf do it? How does she hunt for her babies, and how does she keep herself and both of them alive? So my life is not as dramatic as a National Geographic production ;I would get up for work at 4:30 am and leave the kids with a sitter at 5 am for work. I would work all day in the production facility manufacturing company, get off at 4, pick the kids up at 4:30 walk our dogs, make the kids dinner and then fall asleep on the couch at 7:30 well before they did. The meaning of motherhood was becoming so blurred, life was so hard with out the support of the pack, but the days became easier, and Isaac was getting easier with all of the support from therapies.
I always had a sense though like all mothers do, one misplaced step and the whole thing would come apart. A mother’s maturation is a humble journey. A journey for which you are constantly bargaining; whether it be with work, teachers, or your own offspring the art of instinctual negotiation is the difference between life and death in the lone wolf pack. As I tried to maintain that balance of work and life with a special needs child, I felt as though I was holding up so many boxes, tiny ones, big ones that would all come crashing down when I was diagnosed with Renal colic (chronic kidney stones).
I the mother wolf was becoming more and more unavailable because of the hospital visits, the medications, and the surgery to correct the kidney function. It was a mother’s worst nightmare, until one day, like in the movies, the pack returned. The kids were scared when I got sick, but I bit the bullet and re- connected to their dad. I began to repair the dysfunctional parenting relationship to improve the attachment for my children. A concept offered by one of Isaac’s behaviour interventionists was “In the event of a plane crash, the mother needs to put the oxygen mask on herself before the children” It became clear to me I was going to have to harvest some strong friendship’s and bonds so that I could support my own abilities to love and care for my children. I was going to have to align myself with the village no matter how much crow I had to eat, for the benefit of my kids.
Like an onion a mother grows layers of herself, lowering expectations, being more empathetic to those that would support the children’s Journey, and me and finally accepting life for its ups and its downs became a lesson for all of us. See when I gave birth to the children I wasn’t yet there. Giving birth is an enormous achievement, with the loss of your body, the ballooning, the hormones, the eating, the puking, the planning the nesting then the finale. No woman knows if they can handle that pressure of labor, many experience that lack of confidence on the birth of the first baby. The second, well you know you can’t handle it so you ask for the drugs. That is what a mother does, that’s the beginning! Some say that birthing moment is that first true test, but I say I am not sure.
Nothing can prepare you for the first time you see them take a step when they should, or that feeling you get when they don’t. Every mother has been there, for the first fall, the first scratch. Its my suggestion that its the first time you have to decide if you have the courage to make the decision that nobody wants too: The decision to hold your child back, or to leave them alone for the first time.
All those things that can run through a mothers mind as you prepare them for the first day of school and they hate it, cry through the whole first day, but because of you they go back the next day and smile a little. The day you think you have abandoned them, failed them, hurt their feelings when you had to share the discipline is that same day they surprise you with that hug,. That thing the researchers described as attachment presented in its raw form. I was blessed with an advanced daughter and a son with autism, and I am sure my body mechanics did not prepare me for both but I wasn’t the only mother with this problem and those other mothers had to find answers too. Like the mother who makes the decision to start chemotherapy to save the life of their three-year-old son; who prepares you for that scenario? I know now as a mother that would make me physically ill but that mother is not alone, and those mothers find answers. There are so many examples of catalysts that change the wolf mother into her truest and most magical form and every woman who has had to make these hard decisions in life knows what it takes. Today I am more confident as a mother because I give very few absolutions, just because I know everything changes.
Elizabeth Stone once said, “Making the decision to have a child- it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking on the outside of your body”
Although a mother’s intuitive nature will be a guide, only time and experience will shape the her bond and character and she will be comfortable with that.
References and Citations
Wikipedia-Harry Fredrick Harlow, October 31,1905- December 18,1981
Simply Psychology, Saul Macleod , 2007
John Bolby- Deputy Director of the World Health Organization 1950
Born February 1907 to September 1990
Maternal Deprivations theory, Saul Macleod, 2009
Attachment theory , Saul Macleod , 2007
Elizabeth Stone – Fordham University
Author Quotes , Goodreads