Friday, October 06, 2006

Musings on Motherhood

Suz at Within the Woods had a wonderful post about the process of motherhood. I thought I was overdue for a post and this prompted me to get my act together because I've been ruminating on motherhood as well.

You know by now that my brother has been steadily getting worse. The degenerative neurological disease has certainly progressed and robbed him of his independence, his sight, his speech... My mother has been with my brother every day since this past May when things really started going downhill for bro. She'd work in the morning and be with him in the nursing home or rehab facility every evening. She told me she wanted to be there for him because she never wanted to look back later and say "I wish I had." This is also the reason she gives me for breastfeeding.

People would tell her to take a break, give herself some time, take care of herself (she was barely eating and lost about 20 pounds), but she said this was being a mother meant.

I admire her compassion and love for my brother, and I'm so glad she could be with him throughout his difficult journey, but I feel incredibly selfish and self centered for wishing that she didn't completely ignore me in the process. Not that this is unusual - in my family, you get special attention if you're ill or something is seriously wrong. My mother had her disability, my father had lupus, then heart disease (needing his first of three bypasses at 36); my brother had a learning disability in the 3rd grade, then developed symptoms of his disease at about 18. I was fine. In fact, I'm the only one in my family of origin without a handicap parking permit. For this I am exceedingly grateful, and I have never parked in a handicapped space knowing full well how important they are to those who need them.

When I was six I asked my aunt to carry me (I was tired). She was tired too, so she relied "Not right now." I fell on the ground and pleaded "But I'm crippled!" Shocked, she told me that being a victim for attention was no way to go through life - even though being sick or hurt got attention in my family, I would be better off being helpful, strong and independent. Okay, clearly she used different words, but that was essentially the message. I am so glad that I listened to her, although it cost me my mother's love and affection.

My mother and brother have always had a close bond; as they grew older it became a bit more of a co-dependent relationship but they were fairly inseparable. My brother always proudly proclaimed himself to be a mamma's boy and indeed his marriage was something of a threesome (if my mother-in-law had been that involved in my marriage, it would no longer be a marriage). It compounded about 8 years ago when my parents divorced. I committed an unthinkable act: I talked to my dad. My brother sided firmly with my mother, and I didn't side: I loved both of my parents but my mother's stance was a little extreme (an you're-either-with-me-or-against-me kinda position). She pretty much disowned me, but we've always had a rocky relationship. I was the difficult one because -gasp!- I had a mind of my own.
So my mother has always been partial to my brother. As much as she would deny having a favorite, her actions were always evident to the contrary.

It just seems to me that a healthy child shouldn't be neglected for one who is ill. I don't think that's good parenting. I doubt we'll have any more after the Bee so we won't be able to practice this, but it only seems right to treat siblings fairly.

What makes a mother? Is it conceiving, pregnancy and birth? Is it blood and DNA? These are certainly elements of motherhood, but I think the real deal comes in the rearing and nurturing. This is why adoptive mothers are, without question, mothers. I am absolutely Bee's mother, even though my egg did not help create him. I love him unconditionally, play with him, want only the best for him, cherish him, help guide and shape him. He is my son. I never imagined I could love someone so much! (And I love my husband loads!) I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be the Bee's mom. I am also grateful to have my aunt in my life; someone who has shown me what it truly means to be a mother. It still hurts that my own mother doesn't like me, know me and says awful things to and about me, but thankfully I have a wonderful woman in my life who has willingly and happily stepped up to be my mother, as she did many moons ago when my brother was born. My mother was too tired to take care of both of us so my aunt spent a great deal of time with me. She helped guide me and shape me; she loved me and played with me. (My mother did too, she was very affectionate with me as a child, although she was also very dramatic and told my brother and I that she wanted to kill herself. When we were six. Constantly. By the time I was 12 I realized she wasn't going to actually do it).

My brother passed away last Friday morning. I went to my mother's for the wake and funeral. It was so sad; he had so many good friends who really loved him and he will be sorely missed. I wish we had been closer, but he was so damned hard to talk to! He was argumentative and contrary - it was impossible to get a straight answer out of him on anything. He could be abusive and toxic; he was also uproariously funny and goofy, warm and kind. I miss him and the relationship we had years ago. I'm so sorry for his wife, his friends and my parents. He was a good guy who could be a real pain in the ass. But in the end I'll remember all the good things about him, the fun we had growing up, the stupid things that now make great stories.

My mother, surprisingly, sounds better than she has in years. I was concerned that she might just collapse after my brother died as he was her entire existence, but she sounds lighter, younger, more refreshed. It seems to be due to watching my brother decline and struggle over the years. Now she knows he's free and she's happy for him. She's surrounded by family and friends right now, so she's okay. I've let her know I'm there for her, that I'd like her to be a part of her grandson's life. She seems amenable to this so we'll see. But a large part of me is still hurt that I was cast aside for so many years. She was never really interested in our IVF attempts or m pregnancy. I know that in her eyes I'll always be second banana, never able to measure up to my younger and only brother. To her, I'll never be good enough, comparing me to a polished version of my brother instead of celebrating our differences. I'm not sure I want to subject myself to that, or if I want to accept whatever I can get from her. This is uncharted territory, so I'll have to see where it goes.

Whatever may transpire, I will forever be grateful that my mother's statement that "I am the only mother you will ever have" is erroneous. Although she did not give birth to me, my aunt has been a mother to me in ways I never could have imagined. I'm glad I have such a wonderful role model to be the best mother I can be for my son.


At 10/07/2006 5:50 PM, Blogger luolin said...

I'm so sorry about your brother.

I hope you and your mother get a chance to build a better relationship in the future. All you can do is try.

At 10/09/2006 11:47 AM, Blogger Thalia said...

Sorry to hear about your loss. I know you have had a tough time with those relationships, as you discuss here. I think you are doing incredibly well at balancing that with love and compassion for what they've been through.

I'm glad you have your aunt, too.

At 10/11/2006 1:07 PM, Blogger Vivien said...

Thank you for your thoughts - especially about the status of adoptive parents, as it is one I am struggling with, and possibly always will if we go ahead. And, of course, if we get accepted.

At 10/19/2006 2:14 PM, Anonymous mm said...

IMHO, the best mothers are the ones who actually take the time to think about what it means to be a good mother instead of just winging it and hoping for the best. So you're already there.

I'm so sorry about your brother. But I do hope that his passing has freed both you and your mother.

At 12/14/2006 6:51 PM, Blogger Panda said...

I'm sorry about your brothers death, and that you didnt have the opportunity to have the kind of relationship you wanted with him.

I agree with mm, that taking the trouble to consider what makes a mother in the first place puts you a fair ways along the path to being a good one!

At 1/23/2007 10:16 PM, Anonymous Leggy said...

God Anna, I'm sorry about your brother's death. And I'm sorry I haven't checked in in quite a while. Let me know if you ever want to talk- I think we live not so far from each other? I see from your later posts that you are in therapy dealing with this- I hope it helps you come to terms. Its so very hard. I wish I had some decent advice, but I'm afraid of spewing a**vice, so just know that I'm thinking of you...


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