In Loving Memory of my Skeleton Mother
Posted on 2nd May 2021 at 09:35
There is a silent journey that our imagination goes on when the woman that gives birth to us cannot do the job we desperately need her to do.
As our origin of life cooks dinner propped up against a counter full of violent arguments and bitter betrayals, we construct an alternative version that quietly tends to the hunger that burns in our guts.
In the dark of the night, when painful tears of abandonment threaten to drown us. The tiny fingers of our inner child steal bones from good enough experience and glues them together with flour and water until the fragile form of the Skeleton Mother is there to stroke our back and send us to sleep.
Mother hunger is very real, and what is born out of that prolonged starvation is an illusion which is both a comfort and source of life, as well as a painful apparition that threatens to kill us.
It is spring right now, and as I drove to my soul home - Cornwall, I pass fields full of ewes tending to their newly born lambs. Yet this beautiful image can be deceptive, for many lambs, their chance to survive is brought about by a careful intervention from a good enough farmer. Lambs born to overwhelmed mothers, or abandoning mothers, or dead mothers, will be quickly rushed to an ewe that has just given birth - perhaps she has mothered many and is well rehearsed at the game - or perhaps her own lamb died - either way, the motherless lamb is bathed quickly in the liquid that surrounds its surrogate mother in the hope that this new pairing smells “just right”.
If you have ever helped with lambing, this is an anxious moment for the farmer. Will the ewe be deceived, will she take on this new lamb as her own, will she feed it, tend to it, guess it’s needs, can she love it.
In my world, and in the world of many humans born to mothers who cannot love us - a version of this occurs. In the precise moment that we realize our need for mother love is not happening, we seek out an alternative option. I want to be clear that what I am not talking about is fostering or adopting - in my opinion in the moment any woman arrives at her choice to gift her child into the arms of an awaiting family - this is done from love. A painful conscious choice to know what is not possible, and to seek out what is.
I am instead talking about emotionally abandoning mothers - those who, for whatever reason - cannot locate the bits inside themselves needed to meet the needs of their children.
I am certain that I was born of love, I am sure that my arrival into this world was not through force or dismissed “no’s”. I was part of a natural occurance of events where my parents got married and then had a baby. “Tick, tick”.
At some point, however - the overwhelming pressing responsibility of becoming mum became louder than the desire to construct a bond, and I became the hunger my mother literally couldn’t feed. At 2 months old, I was fed egg to stifle my hunger - she narrated to me once “my milk was never enough”.
I wonder if it was then that the magic of my infantile creativity began to create the mother who did have enough milk... and like a seed that needs fertile ground, I planted the eggs she fed me into my belly and began to grow my skeleton mother.
I know that as a toddler, my mother sought out companionship in the form of other men, addressing her own unmet needs whilst I slept. She narrates me as an independent child, I can’t imagine she saw my Skeleton mother silently, carefully watching over me as I dreamt of all the things we wouldn’t do.
Skeleton mother grew in my mind, as do all fantasy mothers - and in the biggest trauma of my life at the age of 14, the reason I did not call my father to rescue me - was because Skeleton mother had the same telephone number as the woman who had birthed me. And when I called out for her, they both came. The one who could do the right thing and love me better, and the one who made things ten times worse.
There was a time in my early twenties when Skeleton mother grew silent. Like any relationship between daughter and a good enough mother, I rebelled against her and threw myself into complicated traumatic situations to prove I didn’t need her. In the moments where I sat tending to my broken heart, I did not call out for Skeleton mother, perhaps because I knew the other one still had the same dial tone.
And then I woke up. We all do - the unmothered daughters of the world. We stop rebelling against our own needs and we find a way to crawl out of the dark spaces we have put ourselves in. This Might look like finally choosing a good partner, or reading a book where you discover another woman just like you - for me it was both of those combined with discovering my infertility. Suddenly I couldn’t become a mother and that pain was so great, that in my waking moment I called out for my Skeleton mother once again.
She arrived this time in the form of friends, or friends mothers. She was my husbands hand as he stroked my back, she was the turquoise dress that draped accross my counselling tutors shoulders. Her voice was caught behind the smile of every single therapy leaders skin. How strange to realize now that in the very moment I discovered my infertility, I unconsciously fell pregnant with the skin that my Skeleton mother had needed.
You see, all the time Skeleton mother was just bones, she was still an illusion. A beautiful, tasty, wonderful illusion that actually filled me up with just enough to survive - but still, just a figment of my hungry heart. Now, however, there was tangible evidence that I was being mothered, my dearest elder friend who held my soul as I learnt to let go of black paint, who in a therapeutic endeavor to cure me of my fear of going blind, wrapped up my eyes and taught me I saw with my feelings. A family of Adlerian’s, who witnessed me with love and helped me shed shame, my dearest T - therapy mum; always there - always love - constant safety. The more I mattered, the more I was loved, the more Skeleton mother grew skin and became real. So real, I began to call other women mum.
I so desperately needed it to be true.
What starts off as an innocent, selfish act of love to create just what is needed to survive, becomes a torturous cycle of death.
Because in the moment I fell pregnant with Skeleton mother's skin, I needed all those who were keeping up my fantasy - to continue doing so.
In the moments my husbands hand did not touch me with kindness, I bartered for it to return. I did not get cross, when my friends could not meet my growing hungry need to supply my Skeleton mother's skin with all the right nutrients, instead I bartered for them to stay - buying gifts and being ever present and available meant that I could stay attached.
Each time I secured the deal, each time they stayed - my mother skeleton continued to form itself in my belly, a real life reproduction. The mother ewe rolled in the lambs scent.
Therapy books will tell you that at some point you need to let go of the fantasy mother in order to fully let go of the toxic relationship you have with the mother who is not available.
That theory is not quite true. I let go of the woman who birthed me a long time ago, and as time has gone on - much as I do not wish to pick up that relationship again, I have forgiven her. She did not have the tools that were needed to feed my hunger, her own childhood ravaged with its traumas.
What feels more real, is that in order to fully embrace the relationships you form as an adult, in order to land in the hands of those that love you, you have to at some point let go of your fantasy mother. Once you do, your husband is just your husband, he is not “another person who lets me down”. Your therapist, is just your therapist - she is not “another person who doesn’t get me”, my step-mother is not another person with a title that she never lives up to, she is just the woman who married your father and ended up loving you in the way she can.
I have been pregnant with Skeleton mother for 45 years and 7 months. My version of letting go of her, is in a waterfall. Though she was never born of this world - I will birth her spiritually and thank her for raising an awesome daughter, and in the same moment I will gift her death, and send her back into the arms of my ancestors.
I loved you mum.
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