First, I thought I had malaria—the infectious disease born from parasitic mosquitoes that infiltrates blood cells resulting in death—but later learned the only parasite was a bundle growing inside me that pro-life activists called a blessing from God, but my mother deemed shameful. The excitement of spending 4 months studying abroad my senior year of college in Ghana, a country rich in cultural history where the sun sets a little more beautifully than it does in New jersey, quickly turned sour after the first six weeks in. After getting the news that I was pregnant, I often wondered if contracting malaria would have been better.
The initial shock of pregnancy had gripped me like the sudden death of a beloved friend, and now looking back six years later, I wonder if my mother experienced a similar feeling at hearing the news. She is quite the conventional kind. She has rules and sticks to them. Wood is wood no matter how you look at it. “’I’m not raising anymore babies,” she would tell us kids growing up. “If you’re old enough to make one, you’re old enough to move out and live on your own. And I won’t call to check in on you. I’m the mother. You’re the daughter. Don’t even think about a baby shower, or a mother’s day card. I won’t celebrate the pregnancy.” I don’t doubt my mother means well. But I’m afraid she doesn’t know the difference between raising a child and loving one.
I found myself awake in a hospital bed in Accra, the capital city in Ghana, the second time I was hospitalized for dehydration, just 10 weeks into my pregnancy. It was the middle of the night for me, but still just early evening at my mother’s house, several time zones away. I had only looked at my mobile phone for half a minute before I dialed my mother and gave her the news.
I am going to have a baby.
A pause, and then a matter-of-fact “Okay” as if I had told her I was making her least favorite dish for dinner. I remember hearing the click in the phone on her end, but couldn’t remove the earpiece from my own ear. She didn’t say much that day, and we never spoke again for the rest of my time in Ghana. I came home two days before Christmas and four and a half months pregnant with twins.
When I think of it, I can’t remember a time my mother rubbed my belly or asked me how I was feeling or brainstormed baby names with me throughout my pregnancy. It wasn’t until New Year’s Eve that she even mentioned the babies and even then, it was to ask me what I planned on doing with my future. It bothered me for a long time that I didn’t have the kind of mother I wished I had. I lost sleep thinking on ways to make her proud. Even after I graduated from NYU, landed a good job, and moved into my very own apartment as a single mother, I never got the kind of accolades I wished for.
Yet, in these short years that I have been a mother, I have come to realize that, just like me, my own mother is only human and while as children, we often believe our mothers are superheroes, they are experiencing this life for the first time with no trial run. So disappointment, sadness, and anger towards children may not always be dealt with in the right way, but it is the only way they know how to deal with it at the time. It was painful hearing my mother say that I was her embarrassment, but I learned who I wanted to be and who I did not want to be through my mother. Never receiving the apology from her that I believed would have made it all better, I eventually learned that self-esteem and contentment does not come from the outside but instead from within and it was not until I found my own value and decided it was okay to disagree with my mother's idea of protocol, that I could truly accept the relationship I have with her without a constant need and struggle to change her.
A part of growing up is discovering who you are and essentially what you think, on life, on relationships, on love. And these revelations should be independent of anyone else’s opinion of you. Mistakes should be acknowledged but not dwelled upon. And for me, my own journey has been in learning not to give control over my own happiness to anyone else, family included. Instead of spending a lifetime trying to put broken puzzle pieces together, accept the things you cannot change, leave the pieces on the floor, and move on.