We become mothers from many different starting points in our lives. We become mothers through extreme labor, through adoption, through marriage. We become mothers through fostering, through loving another as much as we love ourselves. We become mothers willingly and unwillingly. We become mothers for moments or for years. We stay mothers because we chose to nurture. The old adage that giving birth to a child does not necessarily qualify a woman to be a mother is most certainly true. In this day and age many qualified mothers are not even women, but loving men, with without a doubt, know how to nurture.
I feel very qualified writing about mothers. I had two mothers and a mother-in-law. I am a mother to three young men and the stepmother of another.
My birth mother was just that. She was a woman divorced, with three children, who found herself pregnant a fourth time. I’m sure it was not by choice on her part, yet it was most definitely a reality just the same. Another child was not wanted nor a convenient situation for her life. There was a deep need for secrecy when she found out she was pregnant. Yet she carried me to full term and found a woman who was unable to conceive, and gave me away.
I found the paperwork in their correspondence when I was in my late 30’s and already a mother myself. The letters were simple and straightforward. She, Mary Louise, willingly gave her child, Patricia Ann, to Marie and husband. She released any hold upon this child with the hope for a good and loving life with more possibility than she could provide. She also, on releasing me, provided a safer life for her three other daughters without the stigma of their fourth sister. So much has changed in the last 50 years, yet in 1948 Kansas City, Missouri, an unmarried woman with a baby would have been marked something very unpleasant and that would have trickled down to her other daughters. When I first read the release letters I was already a mother and I was immediately aware of the love in her sacrifice. For herself, her other daughters and for me. As a mother myself, I know the love it took to see all sides of the equation and make a decision for all involved that was the strongest decisions for the whole. I have never met this woman, my birth mother. The records indicate she died several years back, yet I hold her with love in my heart for the love she bestowed upon me by letting me go.
My second mother, really my only mother, was filled with more love than she could hold. I often thought while growing up that she should have a house full of children to mother. She loved children. She was the type of woman who would stop and ‘coo’ over a baby in a stroller. She was kind and generous and lonely. She had few friends other than her two sisters. I became her world.
She walked me to the library when I was four to help me get my library card. Every Saturday afternoon we would walk the four or five blocks to check out more books. She gave me my love of the written word and the sound of singing voices. She encouraged me, she challenged me, she disappointed me, she angered me, she loved me more than her own life. She kept me safe. Even when I disagreed with how she raised me, she still did what she thought was best for who I was becoming. She was my mother. She was the woman who wiped my runny nose, stayed up with me when I was sick, layering my chest with hot towels to help me breathe, and worried about me when I was late getting home from a date. She taught me to be honest and thoughtful. She insisted I be kind and respectful to others. She taught me that her life, as a mother, was not as important as my life, as the child.
She died when I was 18, leaving a huge whole in my life that has taken many years to fill. She promised me she would always be there for me, no matter what. I was very angry when she died because I thought she had left me alone. Mothers, I have found, can fill our lives in many ways. Some fill our lives by being in them, some fill our lives by leaving. My mother, through her loving and her leaving, made me strong. Her leaving me, in an earthly sense, made me find out who I was through trial and error, bitterness and grief. I’ve often asked myself if that was necessary for who I have become and the answer is always yes. I needed the struggle somehow, to be whole. I needed the sense of abandonment to realize I was never alone. I needed to think she had left me to understand that she has always been there for me whenever I needed her. Mothers are like that, they seem to give the gift of life to their children no matter where they go.
My mother-in-law and I were adversaries at best. She was a powerful, no-nonsense woman who insisted on having things done her way. Needless to say, we butted heads for 24 years, until her death 2 years ago. We respected one another, were odd friends, but we never did the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law thing very well. She brought her family through W.W.II after losing everything. She brought them through displaced persons camps, into the USA, a foreign country, without speaking English. She raised three children in poverty and still greeted the world with a loving, yet practical attitude.
I once asked her why she never helped me with my household or with my children as they were growing. She said it was because I didn’t need her the way her daughter and her other daughter-in-law did. I remember being resentful and feeling unloved by this woman. Nothing was farther from the truth. What she saw in me was what I was unable to see myself; she saw my inner strength and fortitude. In many ways she helped me close the circle of my mother’s death from 35 years before.
My mother-in-law came to my house to die in 1997. It was her gift to me. It may seem like an odd gift and I suppose it was, but it was a gift nonetheless. What she and I both understood was that I was strong enough and loving enough to be there for her in the last days of her struggle with cancer. She let me take care of her and she let me love her. That, I finally understood, was how much she loved and trusted me. In the five days of her dying, I was able to do for her and laugh with her and comfort her because we knew I could. Where my mother died in an atmosphere of chaos, unconsciousness and fear, the karmic circle was closed in my life by helping my mother-in-law to cross over in an atmosphere of love, support and compassion.
What an incredible gift the lives of these women have been to me. What an incredible gift, the role of motherhood. Mothers show us how to release with love, how to encourage all possibilities, how to self-sacrifice for the good of the children when necessary. They show us how to encourage, how to challenge, how to be courageous, how to unwittingly disappoint, and yes, even how to anger. They teach us how to love and how to forgive. They show us that love has no time barrier. Mothers have the ability to continue on under the most adverse conditions, no matter what. And, mothers, on good days, have the uncanny ability to see us as we really are while we are still trying to figure ourselves out. Mothers bless us by being themselves.
I hope I have been all of things and these personalities to my sons. I know, in some small part, I am a little bit of each of the mothers in my life. I am not perfect, I am not always who my sons think I should be. But if I have shown my sons anything, it is that I have been me throughout their lives. I have been learning, struggling to grow and yet still loving them at the same time. May my children grow strong and whole and as unique as each of their grandmothers. And may the gift of the ancestral motherhood bless them always.
This article is dedicated, with deep thanks, to the three mothers in my life, Mary Louise Pfeffer, Marie Bulat Hollingsworth, and Ilsa (Sylvia) Bankins. May we meet again.
Patricia Banks is an interfaith minister, a certified TransCrystal Dynamic Crystal Healer, a Reiki Master-Teacher and a Regression & Past Life Integration Therapist. She has a successful healing practice in Southern California where she teaches and also holds a one-a-month Crystal Healing Clinic. You may reach her at (323) 655-7625 or through her website.