THE PAIN OF REMEMBERING
“No one is ever really ready,” my girlfriends reassure me. “But then the baby comes and you just figure it out.”
One by one, I’ve watched my childhood friends become parents. Some by surprise, others right on schedule. I’ve watched them intuitively navigate the early days of motherhood, as if it’s something they’ve always done, as if we’re not just a few years removed from the days of holding each other’s hair back in the bathroom stalls of dimly lit bars, and searching for relief from hangovers and heartbreak down the same bottle.
Their long days are often followed by sleepless nights, blurring the weeks and months together. Their time is filled with random cries and baby babble. Their once tidy homes are now littered with joyful chaos – bottles, burp cloths, dirty pants that have yet to make it into the laundry. But through the chaos of newly-found motherhood, I see the strong, steady women that they’ve become. Some trial by fire, others from years of preparation.
I watch them closely, but admire them from afar, so I can study how they make everything fit together. Observation helps, but inevitably I arrive at the same conclusion: I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready. I would like to be. My husband and I both would. But the thought of becoming a mother makes me realize how fragile I truly am – so delicately pieced together, bracing for a strong gust of wind that could be enough to rip these fraying seams of me apart.
People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
But I remember. Oh Maya, how I remember. Memories of my mother are neither sweet nor comforting. More than anything, she is a feeling – a feeling that has entombed me since I was a little girl. She is there when I get dressed every morning, when I button the jeans that don’t fit quite right. She is there when I slather sunscreen over my freckles – flaws as she sees them – and the eye cream she has made me apply every night since I was a teenager. She is there every time I step out into the world, when I’m paid a compliment but swallow the urge to return to sender.
No, motherhood was never a joyful experience in our house. Motherhood was tiring and relentless. Motherhood was a reluctant, burdensome role that tore you away from your own unfulfilled dreams. Or at least that’s how I remember it being shared with me.
Nostalgia is a deceptive form of grief – it arrives disguised as comfort, only to turn on you and pick at old wounds you thought had long healed over.
And the closer I tiptoe toward motherhood in my own life, the more I find myself remembering. At first it began as nostalgia: a simple longing to one day raise our children close to home where we grew up on the East Coast. But nostalgia is a deceptive form of grief – it arrives disguised as comfort, only to turn on you and pick at old wounds you thought had long healed over. So as the memories of my childhood flicker past me, I remember the hurt. I remember the little girl trying to make sense of sadness. Disappointment. Heartbreak. Day after day.
The pain of remembering has brought me back to therapy. “Are they traumas or memories?” my therapist asks.
I don’t know. Is there a difference?
photography by Britney Gill