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Mothering Without my Mother, 5 Years On

By Bex (@bexpaz)

When Bex’s mum died suddenly and unexpectedly whilst she was pregnant with her first child, she regularly asked herself: how can I do this without her? Five years on, she reflects on her journey mothering without a mum. Now raising two young boys without her own mum to lean on, she shares her story with candour and compassion towards others in the same position.

It’s May 23rd 2017. I am in the early pregnancy unit at my hospital with my sister in law and a midwife.  It’s the first time I see my baby. I am 10 weeks pregnant. I should be ecstatic – it should be magical – but when I see this tiny being on the screen with tears rolling down my face all I can think is ‘how can I do this without her?’

24 hours earlier I was woken in the small hours by my Dad; “It’s your Mum, you need to come.” 

My parents had always been a bit ‘wild’ but in their latter years this amounted to ‘wild camping’ in their beloved motorhome. After an evening of Tapas and a Spanish Brandy, they decided to extend their latest adventure in Skipton, putting off coming home to Manchester for an extra night. That night Mum had a massive cardiac arrest – my Dad heroically kept her alive until the paramedics arrived.

My parents knew I was pregnant. We had told them immediately and even in those short weeks, my mum had already fully embraced her new role as Granny. I took that first scan photo to her hospital bed – a photo of the grandchild that she was so desperate to have, to love, to gush over and spoil. 

Less than two days later, Mum died. She was 58. She was too young, too full of life, too much fun, too special to be gone. I was and still am broken. How could she be taken so quickly and without warning when we had so much to do, to plan, to love? How could I be expected to bring this baby into the world without her? I had no idea what I was doing and the pain was – is – unimaginable.

I got through my pregnancy clinging onto the memories of our conversations about pregnancy and parenthood. I would obsess over a quip she had made about ‘being pregnant and not ill’. It made me determined to be this strong, resilient, invincible woman…all the while my heart was broken.

On the 12th December 2017 – a Tuesday – my son was born. He was perfect; a tiny bundle of joy and after the darkest of times, here he was. But now what? My baby needed his mum and I needed mine.

As all parents know, newborn days are relentless and all consuming. Your hormones are all over the place, you’re sleep deprived, you don’t know what you are doing, you feel levels of love that you didn’t think were possible but these are accompanied by crippling bouts of anxiety. You smell like sour milk and you struggle to remember your own name. Dealing with newborn life and grief simultaneously was hard, it was really hard. The only person I wanted, I couldn’t have. I needed my mum to tell me it would get easier, that my nipples wouldn’t always feel like that, that I was doing an amazing  job. It felt so, so unfair.

The milestones came and went and every time I was filled with elation about how amazing my baby was and sadness that I couldn’t share it with Mum. With every challenge that comes with each new phase of parenthood I would be desperately wracking my brain for what she might have said; what did she do, how did she do it? 

I write this, five years after Mum died. Now, I am the very lucky mother to two incredible boys. They have brought so much joy. I am not a particularly spiritual person but I do believe my Mum had some strange influence in bringing our second son to us. He was born on the 18th December 2020, 6 days after his brother’s third birthday. There were some incredible similarities between my two pregnancies, very odd coincidences and a shared due date which I can’t help but think was her doing (also nobody plans to have two babies in December!)

Five years on, I still regularly ask myself how am I doing this without her. But, in moments of reflection I realise I figured out the answers by myself. Everything I am as a mother, she taught me by being my mother.

Of course I wish she was here. I wish I could ask her what I was like as a baby; was I similar to my boys? Did I sleep? The list is endless.

But, in answer to the question I’ve been asking myself for half a decade: I am. I am doing this without her. I am making her proud. I am raising my children and they are wonderful and happy so I must be doing a good job.

Navigating motherhood is hard, no matter what the circumstances. I miss my Mum every single day and some days the grief feels as raw as it ever was, but many days I miss her with a smile on my face.

If I could have one wish, she would get to meet my boys and they wouldn’t have been robbed of their wonderful Granny Mac. I can’t have that, so instead I know she is here in me and in them. Her memory is very much alive in our family and we celebrate her often. For any other mums out there mothering without a mum, no matter how far along this journey you are, be kind to yourself and trust yourself. She’s given you all the skills you need to do this thing called motherhood. 

Mum, thank you for everything. 

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