Mother’s Day sucks hardcore for those who suffered a broken mother bond. Since eliminating all Hallmark holidays isn’t likely to happen, I’ll share a story.
A couple of months ago, I stayed overnight at a center for sleep disorders because I have mild sleep apnea. I was mourning my (bio) Aunt Carol and was flying to Texas the next morning to attend her funeral. I half-wished I’d rescheduled the appointment, but that would have likely meant another two-month wait and I wanted to get it over with.
I did what I always do when I’m nervous and ran at the mouth. The sleep specialist had the weirdest job ever which meant I had questions. (Do you find it ironic that your job is to deprive yourself of sleep all night to help the sleep-deprived? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen someone do in their sleep? Does my brain activity readout look like a lie detector test? If so, what would it look like if I lied to someone in a dream? The nurse said they’re monitoring the stressed out two-year-old across the hall to determine whether he should have a tonsillectomy. Wouldn’t it be faster & easier just to yank his tonsils???)
She managed to extract herself from my prodding and I settled into the most uncomfortable bed I’d ever experienced in my life. A paranoia-inducing camera and about a million electrodes attached to my body weren’t helping matters. A couple of hours passed before the specialist came to check on me. Here’s where it gets weird. She asked how I was. I told her. Then she squeezed my arm and said, “I’m so sorry. I know it’s uncomfortable. Can I get you anything?” Something inside me broke. I was a child. Somebody was tucking me into bed. I felt safe. I felt cared-for. I longed for the type of mom I never had.
In childhood, my physical needs were well met and my adoptive mother showed affection, but she did so in the only way she was capable. It was never a true show of compassion or love. She was taking energy rather than giving it. She hugged because she needed reassurance that I loved her. I was her comfort – not the other way around. She would become frustrated when I was in pain and needed her. Even when she acknowledged I was hurting, she would only talk about how it affected her. In short, she was a narcissist. We lacked a true bond. Bio mom? Well, we all know she went out of her way to express that she never felt (and didn’t intend to feel) any love for me. Not a solicitation for pity on my part; just a fact.
Tears welled up as the specialist left the room. I cursed myself for feeling so damn… needy. Get your shit together. They can probably see you crying. I willed myself to dry it up and let it out during the drive to the airport the next morning. I was heading to a funeral for yet another older (very cool/actual relative/welcomed me with open arms/gave me the gift of my heritage) female who would no longer be in my life. I was sick of loss. I wanted to curl up in some sort of womb-like cocoon where unconditional love existed. I felt disturbed and annoyed that something as innocuous as a stranger’s touch could trigger this kind of longing.
Ten years ago, I remember a therapist asking if there was any mom-type of figure I could lean on for support. I laughed. I couldn’t imagine investing that much energy and trust in any mother figure, for fear that she would leave. Even if it was possible to recreate a mother bond with someone else, this dynamic would feel codependent and somewhat perverse as an adult. An inadequate replacement would only highlight what I was missing.
I recently read an article about broken mother-daughter relationships and learning how to rely on your internal mother rather than looking for an external one. This is the only choice if we are to be in charge of our lives.
My adoptee friends (and others who experienced a broken mother bond) are my support during a time like Mother’s Day. Showing them compassion is my therapy. The harder task is do the same for myself. I can’t recreate what I lost, but I can surround myself with people who understand my anxiety and ambivalence. It’s the best we can do as adults.