Reflections on Being a Motherless Mother

Posted on: 18 April, 2020

My Beautiful Mum Liz Byrne who died age 51 in 2004

My mum was a massive part of my life.. correction.. she still is.

I birthed my beautiful son Felix in 2018.. my mum died in 2004. Two utterly life-changing events that are so far apart time wise, yet to me are so intrinsically linked. So how do us motherless daughters mother without our own??? In truth I’m still working that bit out but I’m writing about this bittersweet tale because I hope someone might read it and not feel so alone as they attempt to navigate the lonely waters of not having their own mother around them.

I have often read the quote “when a baby is born so is a mother’; and as a midwife this has always been a core part of my practise, and at the forefront of every interaction I have with the women I have been so fortunate to care for… Yes of course the baby is a fundamental concern, but, for me my care is equally focused on the mum, whose life is about to shift on its axis by having one of these little needful wonders that are new-born’s.

And so to my own story.. I decided to become a midwife shortly after my mum died.  It was in no small part that having lost my own wonderful one, it felt appropriate to spend my working life helping to ease the journey for new mums. Being so close to mothers and witnessing new life, gave my own life a real and tangible purpose after what was a breath-taking grief and loss. However…you would think that with all this midwifery and woman focused knowledge, with all the wonderful women I worked with, both as colleagues and clients, that I would have better predicted how hard I’d find my own transition from woman to mother.. Spoiler alert!!!!!I didn’t see it coming whatsoever.

My Mum and I a few months before her death

My own motherless-motherhood snuck up on me. I can truly say I was knocked sideways with a combination of such joy at finding out I was having my own little person, and the gut wrenching sadness that my mum; my heroine and the person who had raised me with such tenderness, was absent for my “birthing” into motherhood. The grief felt do fresh, the loss so heavy. There was just this massive “mum” shaped hole and at times I felt as if I would fall down it. How I wished I could ask her what her pregnancies were like? What my siblings and I did when we were babies? How she breastfed? How she dealt with tiredness. I longed for her warmth and encouragement.  I wept out of utter self pity with my own little pink new-born that simply, MY mum couldn’t ever tell me that I was doing ok. 

The irony of it all!  Oh yes I can advise you with real expertise on your little person.  I can give my clients, friends and family every assistance and the benefit of my training and knowledge and help in lots of practical ways….. However, a wonderful humbling lesson I have learned is that us midwives have as much, if not more moments of utter self-doubt. And we are supposed to be the professionals!

My Mum on her wedding day

And then a funny thing happened: my sons eyes settled into their colour(it can take 8-12 weeks), and I noticed something that stopped me in my tracks.  There was something so incredibly familiar, a sparkle and warmth that just felt so entirely known…because Felix has my mothers’ eyes. They wrinkle in the corners just the same; they are the exact shade of brilliant blue and sparkle when he giggles in the most beautiful way.  And so in my pain of missing the “mammy”: All the help, the babysitting, the advice, the comfort and the general amazing stuff Granny’s do….I got the greatest gift, I got to finally know a totally unknown part of my own mother. To finally understand was just how much mothers love their children and just how much my mum loved me. So yes, I hate that I cant share this with her, yes I am still fumbling about, more than most trying to be the best mammy I can be, but finally I got something back that I thought was gone forever. I get to feel every day a mothers love; its just from the opposite direction than I had known previously. And lads did I tell you about those eyes????

Felix and I