Lessons from a mother to a daughter to a mother

My mother had only been gone a couple of weeks when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, my first child. Her first grandchild. While my mother and I had talked almost daily about a lot, we never talked about this because I had been so focused on my career for so long. And like most people, we thought we had time, so we would talk about it when it became something to talk about.

I knew a little about my childhood. I knew a little about hers. But I didn’t know about what pregnancy was like for her. Or childbirth. Or even those few years afterward, raising her first baby. Oh I know I was a bad sleeper… that’s been a running joke since as long as I can remember. But what about all the other things? The sleepless nights? Feeding? The first fever? Family history? Motherhood?

But that was okay. We would talk about it when it happened. And I didn’t know to ask, because you don’t know what you don’t know…you know?

But life had other plans…

Unfortunately time wasn’t on our side. And I ended up having to navigate the world of motherhood very much on my own. Oh I had some wonderful friends and extended family that gave me advice when I needed it (and sometimes when I didn’t), and I had the “experts” in their never-ending chapters of parenting knowledge. I had the websites and the blogs. So I did manage to muddle my way through. But I never did quite what they advised me to do. Partly because girly-face had her own ideas about how she was going to be raised, and mostly because I realized after some time I’m a “no frills mama”. I was never able to set a routine for her, couldn’t find the energy to steam and puree my own baby food. I wasn’t a baby-wearer as often as I’d have liked (despite having the gear), and I didn’t have her in a plethora of classes at an early age. I didn’t have a nursery (in fact, she didn’t have her own room at all until she was almost 2). I didn’t have any toys, gadgets, absolute must-haves. I didn’t even have a Bumbo or a Sophie the Giraffe.

Most days I barely made it off the couch.

You’re a shitty mom!

And for a very long time, I felt like a failure. I looked at this amazing, wonderful bundle of complete awesomeness and felt like every single day I was failing her. Even though she was developing into an amazing little person, I felt guilt that I was not allowing her the space or the resources to live up to her full potential.

Heck, I even started writing this particular post as the foreward to a book I wanted to write about my experience in early motherhood almost 6 years ago. Life gets in the way, yes. But mostly what’s made it hard is overwhelm. That is how I have felt from the moment I found out my mother was dying. It intensified when I got pregnant. And I have felt it every day since in increasing doses.

The trouble with overwhelm is that you can’t run away from it, you can’t ignore it, and you can’t crowd it out by “doing stuff”. It just sits there, like a weight on your chest. Until you wake up some days feeling like you’re breathing through a straw. So you change tactics. You change priorities. You try new things. But the overwhelm stays.

So what changed?

So what is different today? What made it possible for me to come back and finish writing this post after 6 long years? What made me finally decide to tackle the book I’ve planned since that first crazy year of being simultaneously motherless and a new mother?

I’m 29 weeks pregnant today, that’s what.

And it’s been one helluva ride. Long story short, after 4 heartbreaking losses, then being told that I would never conceive naturally again, and even with IVF the odds were very slim, we somehow found ourselves expecting nearly 9 years after our first amazing girly-face came into our lives.

I have to be honest, it’s been so much harder this time around (the medical term for pregnancy in a woman my age is apparently “geriatric pregnancy”…nice!). I’m lucky to have a kiddo who is excited and understanding, but at the same time struggling to reconcile what life is going to be like to have her mama’s attention divided. She’s spent her entire life at the centre of my world. And now with this new bubba not even out in the world yet, my focus has already shifted.

I’m lucky that I’ve had the time and the luxury of deciding how and when special interactions with my daughter will go…but now that we’re unexpectedly expecting a second, I’m acutely aware that things don’t always go as planned. I’m acutely aware that I may not get to decide how and when things pan out over the next few years. All the plans I’ve been making to tackle the overwhelm now that girly-face is older suddenly went out the window when I realized I’d be starting all over again.

But mostly because I spent the first 3 months of this pregnancy horrifically ill and my girly-face said something to me in a moment of uncertainty that made my heart stop: “What if you die before I stop needing you?

You never really stop needing your mama.

And that is where I am today. Because I realized that you just don’t know how things will go. I’d like to believe I’ll be here until I impart on both my kids everything they need to know…but there are no guarantees. And it seems like it’s such a big job — getting everything out somewhere so that they have a piece of me no matter where I end up. So really the overwhelm is still there, but it’s taken on a different focus.

But documenting my story has become even more important to me. With my mortality vividly on my radar (I’m north of 40) and my daughter nearing her 9th birthday, I’ve become acutely aware lately that she is so very like me. (We had our first big battle of wills this week and it was epic. And eye opening.)

If she is destined to become like her mom, then I want her to have the tools to overcome the hurdles that her mother and her grandmother before her struggled to get over. And to be able to help her baby sister through the same.

So, what’s the secret to getting rid of overwhelm?

Near the end my mom became very peaceful. Very grounded. Those last few months she reveled in the joy of being with family while simultaneously mourning the little time she had left. But there was peace. There was a sense of “I’ve not done everything I wanted or needed to do, but I’ve done what I can and I’ve done it well.” Particularly when it came to us, her kids. She imparted her last few life lessons and said she had given us all we needed to go forth on our own.

My mother never lied. Never. And so I know she spoke truth. We had all we needed. I had what I needed. So why this constant feeling of drifting in the vast sea of everything, in nothing but a dingy being pushed every which way by the waves?

Because it wasn’t just in her words that she imparted her lessons. It was in the way she lived, and left, her life. I had lost sight of the example of her journey because I was trying so hard to experience my own. You can’t do everything you want or need to do…but what you CAN do, do it well.

And that’s the secret, my friends. You can plan and make lists and organize, and Pinterest the shit out of your life… but at the end of the day, you’ll never do it all. And you shouldn’t have to. Decide what is important TODAY, not tomorrow or the day after or next week. TODAY. And then just go do it the best you can. That’s it. It seems so utterly simple… and maybe that’s the secret within the secret: do what you can, and do it well.

Sarah xo