On mothering without a mother

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My friend Naomi has written the most beautiful book called ‘yoga for motherhood’ which is so beautiful and has helped guide me through the first few months of motherhood (my favourite at the moment yoga for profound exhaustion).

It’s worth saying this book is for all people who mother whatever form that takes. Naomi has kindly shared this beautiful essay from the book below, which is written by Katie Gordon.

When my son was born, his father and I had separated, and I was preoccupied with the prospect of raising him alone. The absence of my mother, who had died a few years before, wasn’t close to the surface of my consciousness. I wasn’t expecting to miss her any more, or any differently. But I was unmothered, and unmoored, and I found I missed her intensely. I found myself understanding her as a parent more, and felt more empathy and less anger. I felt oddly close to her sometimes, in a way I hadn’t for years. Grief opened up in me, and then closed again with no warning, like an unpredictable tide that roared in one moment and slipped away the next.

At times it felt so lonely. We are so used to the idea of mothers coming to help – to change nappies and dish out sometimes unwelcome advice, while the grandads shift awkwardly on the sidelines. And when you become a mother you get asked so many questions about your own mum, about how excited and proud they must be. I didn’t always want to tell a baby group that she was dead.

Mothering without a mother is hard. I missed her and my sister, who had also died, 10 years before my son was born. I ached for the physicality of them both – their embraces, their support – I was lost between the wish and need to be self-sufficient and the desire to be looked after, to be a daughter and a younger sister when being a mother felt too much. My baby was one of those who never wanted to be put down. He only slept on me, and I did that thing of sleeping when he did. I’d go to bed with him at six and watch Netflix while he slept and woke and slept. Apart from the times that his father came to see him, or friends and my dad came to see me, he was attached to my body. We bathed, slept, ate together and lived through the first year in an overwhelming, loving, suffocating bubble. I longed to have a mother to take the baby from me, just for a few minutes. But not having my mother around also gave me a kind of freedom. I had no choice but to find and follow my own instincts. No one was going to tell me I was doing it wrong. Especially aware of the absences in my life, close relatives and friends simply supported my parenting. I didn’t have someone telling me to sleep train, or not to, or that babies need structure, or just to follow their cues. This kind of freedom was liberating as much as it was painful. It accentuated the losses, but I was also forced to really tune into my body and my baby and decide, moment to moment, what was right for us. My yoga practice helped with accessing that embodied knowledge.

Although practising little asana, I was equipped with a strong sense of what my body needed, and I was able to connect to my son in a very physical sense. I could often feel what he needed, and although there were hours and hours when he would cry for what seemed like no reason, usually he just needed to be held. He still loves to be held by me, and although I told myself this was all him, I now know it was me, too. I needed his weight in my arms and to hear his breathing. To be reassured that he was here, alive. He is the most solid thing in my life, my anchor, and being his mother has been both profoundly transformative and healing. He is wholly and wonderfully himself, but I can also see echoes of my lost family in him and I know that they are not gone.

Katie Gordon

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