Are you a mom without a mom, a motherless mother, or a mom missing a mom?
Melissa Reilly, Psy.D.
Alone in the hospital room six hours after giving birth, I felt an unbelievable emotional pain that felt like part of me was breaking. I lost my mother 15 years previously, yet at that moment, the pain I felt over her absence was as if she had just died again. I couldn’t believe that I was overwhelmed with grief instead of being consumed with joy. What was wrong with me?
Moms Without A Mom Club
I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just become a member of the moms without a mom club, an exclusive club no one wants to join. Membership in this club varies. Some of us are separated from our mothers by death. Others are separated by physical distance. And others still are separated by emotional estrangements, such as having to make the painful decision to disconnect after enduring a toxic, unhealthy relationship with their mother. But, regardless of the type of separation, the fact that we do not have a supportive mother from whom we can ask questions, get information, seek assistance, or share the joys, fears, and challenges typical of motherhood unites us as moms without a mom.
Intense feelings of isolation, overwhelm, insecurity, shame, and doubt were all part of a grief process I didn’t realize I was experiencing. I believed something was wrong with me for feeling these things. I was embarrassed I didn’t have somebody to talk to about what I was enduring. I didn’t have a “go-to person” I could depend on and thought it was my fault. I believed something was wrong because I didn’t have a mom tribe. I didn’t recognize that I was grieving the loss of the mother I imagined I would have with me as I navigated the unchartered waters of new motherhood.
Eleven years later, I still get choked up by the intensity of grief I endured those first few years postpartum. I didn’t have the words, understanding, or awareness of what it truly was back then, but now I do. I assumed I was experiencing postpartum depression. But grief is not the same as depression or anxiety. Unfortunately, grieving can put one at a higher risk for postpartum depression and anxiety. No one talks about the grief that moms without a mom experience, and often, we don’t even recognize it as grief.
So mama, if you are part of this club, I want you to know I see you. I am with you. You are not alone! I want you to know that grieving does not diminish your capacity to love your child. Grieving does not invalidate the other emotions you experienced during and after your child’s birth. Grieving doesn’t negate your ability to be an amazing mom.
Steps to Healing Through Grief
Although grief remains, healing and transformation can occur.
Step one: Recognize
First, you need to acknowledge that what you are experiencing is grief. Grief doesn’t always show up the way we expect it and can be mistaken for ordinary sadness. On the other hand, we don’t need to be sobbing uncontrollably to be in the midst of a grief process. Common emotional and physical symptoms of grief are listed below.
Emotional symptoms of grief:
preoccupation with the loss
inability to show or experience pleasure.
Physical symptoms of grief:
disturbed sleep patterns
immune system dysfunction
Step two: Express
The second step in the healing process includes expressing your grief stories. Unfortunately, the current cultural norms do not support us in this process. Having a safe space in which we can share our stories and memories without the fear of being shamed is very helpful. Sharing pleasant and troubling memories is vitally essential but rarely experienced by most postpartum moms grieving the loss of the hoped-for mother/daughter relationship post-baby.
Step three: Adapt
And the third step in the healing process is adapting. Adapting means filling in some of the gaps and holes left by the absence of your mom figure. Since you don’t have your mother as a go-to person, you need to create a mom tribe of your own. For example, who are the people that can provide you with knowledge? Who are the people that you can ask personal questions? Who are the people with whom you can share your joy? These people may change over time as people typically come in and out of our lives.
I am very passionate about supporting moms without a mom. Click here to schedule a complimentary call.
Please know I am here for you and would be honored to be a member of your mom tribe!
Melissa Reilly, Psy.D.
I am a mom of two boys, clinical psychologist and parent coach who is passionate about helping moms separated from their mother by physical distance, estrangement, or death, move from feelings of insecurity, isolation and overwhelm to a place of resilience. I a honored to walk with you on your journey to becoming the Mom you've always wanted to be!