On Motherhood: “ Of all the things I had lost, that was the most painful,
the joy of motherhood.”
by Jacqueline Gaulding
It was a month before my 20th birthday; naïve would have been too generous of a description for my state, I was completely blind. Blind to my dysfunctional relationship and more importantly, blind to how my life would change in 9 months.
I was pregnant. My family was rather supportive, after all I was technically an “adult”. In fact, my family was less concerned with the what and more concerned with the who. They questioned my boyfriend’s capacity to love and support me and provide for our child. I always knew their trepidations weren’t unreasonable but whatever idea I clung to dominated all reason. Despite my roller coaster of emotions, I always ended on a high. The thought of bringing a child into the world brought me joy and the love I already felt eased my hesitations and silenced any voice who spoke the contrary.
As the months carried on I began to shed my fantasies of the relationship. Five months into my pregnancy it was revealed that I was growing inside my womb a king and I began to recognize how the misguidance from a father could stain my son’s perception of what that meant. I was, however, still very much in love with the idea of motherhood and unable to see past a nursing child at my breast, playful giggles and sweet baby kisses. I did yoga, read all the books, and at my grandmother’s request stayed away from the microwave. I was alone and of merger means but I felt rich with love. I gave birth to my first child in the spring of 2007, a healthy and easy pregnancy followed by the healthy and easy delivery of a healthy and easy baby. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I wasn’t intimidated one bit. I handled his tiny body with the utmost confidence and fell into my role effortlessly. I was meant to be a mother and I couldn’t picture anything else. Sure, things didn’t work out with his father but it’s not like we hadn’t seen this story before. There were many upstanding and successful men raised by single mothers. I was going to pour myself into my child; and I did.
When my son was 10 months old, I met the man I would eventually marry. I made clear my expectations and he stepped to the plate. An alpha male and a staunch disciplinary, he didn’t play games with children. He was not my son’s biological father but his integration into both of our lives was seamless. I wasn’t always certain if his command was fixed in direction or control, but he gave me no reason to question his commitment or his love for his new family. I felt lucky, I was only a single mother of 10 months. My son wouldn’t remember anything before him. I was still comfortable doing it by myself but I was happy I didn’t have to. Dividing my love and attention between the two was a difficult balance for me at the time. Everything that I poured into my child suddenly needed to be measured and shared with someone else I loved. Most importantly, I needed to keep some in reserve for myself (a lesson I didn’t fully learn until I became a single mother of three). Overall, it was easy and I was happy. I had a man who loved and accepted me and my child. I watched my single mommy friends deal with the hassles of dating while driving to preschool functions and birthday parties. It seemed so exhausting. I felt relieved. How did I get so lucky?
He proposed. We hadn’t discussed marriage but at that point of our relationship we were living together and raising a child. It seemed like the proper thing to do. It wasn’t like he was obligated; this was love. I wasn’t hesitant but I wasn’t in a rush either. I was a junior in college and while completely committed in my relationship, I still wanted to focus my education. We both agreed to wait until I was finished with school. Shortly after our engagement I became pregnant. I was still pretty young (24) but much more stable and this time I had a real man, with a real job, who had proven himself dependable by taking care of a child that was not his own. It wasn’t what I envisioned for myself; I really wanted to graduate from college and establish a career before having more children but his happiness and excitement filled my heart. After all, we had been in a serious relationship for 3 years and were engaged to be married. He had just graduated from college and was establishing himself in the professional world. This young, educated black man chose me and my son and now I could gift him with a legacy of his own. Of all the men out there irresponsibly making babies, he deserved the honor. It was also a new experience for me. I wasn’t alone… I was excited to have someone to get up in the middle of the night to fetch my cravings. WE (not I) were having a baby!
Two days before my son’s 4th birthday, I gave birth to my second child. Oh boy! My husband was ecstatic and once again I had fallen in love. I was the mother of two boys and I was ready, let the games begin! What I hadn’t considered was that the games wouldn’t always bring forth joy and laughter. My oldest son started displaying some unfavorable behavior and was getting in trouble in school. I was receiving calls in the middle of the day about him acting out and he just four years of age. He was young but he knew better and as always, daddy didn’t play that. It was stressful for me, I wanted my child to have fun and play nicely and be focused on learning. As the time passed it became clear that those things were a little more challenging for him and when he was only 6 years old he was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder). It wasn’t hard to accept, in fact it made perfect sense, but I didn’t want labels to define our expectations for him. He was still my baby but I began to toughen a little and gave my husband more room to regulate unchallenged. I was the mother of two growing boys, I needed order. My husband joined the military and we found ourselves in very traditional roles.
After graduating college, I happily placed my professional aspirations on hold. My husband worked and I stayed at home with the children. In that moment, I was a mommy. I could have it all, but not everything would fit in the same moment in time. I was at peace with that idea, and proudly sat back and watched my husband steer. Not long after I was pregnant again! My husband I told ourselves that if we started off as young parents we were going to end that way. I was 27 at the time and made a mental note that I would not be interested in having children after 30. Whatever decisions we made regarding our family needed to be made soon and my desire to complete our family with a girl made it even more exciting. Five months after getting off birth control, notice was given. I was 27 and pregnant with my third baby. I had no idea what was to come. Shortly after the birth of my 3rd son, I was making plans for sterilization. I was retiring. My house was full but so was my heart. You might as well had given me three more babies, baby number three was an adjustment to say the least. We were outnumbered and going anywhere without the other person was out of the question. Money and resources weren’t in excess and being a military family came with its own set of challenges, but we were stable and surrounded by supportive friends. Having friends with children at times were just as valuable as having a spouse and I was beginning to realize the importance of cultivating those relationships. I was the only woman in the house and as my children grew so did my desire to have a “mommy time out”. Up until that point, there wasn’t a lot of emphasis placed on friendship. I was a mother and wife and I was deeply immersed into those positions. Perhaps, if I would have been more connected to trusted outsiders, I would have seen all those red flags. My husband and I started having some marital problems and the pretty picture I had painted began to fade.
August of 2015 I was given some very disturbing information about my husband, something that would change the course of our lives forever. Separation was eminent and I immediately began to think about what that would look like for us and how it would affect our children. While I made a strategy for my exit, he would spend the next few months attempting to manipulate the situation. I wavered at times but the damage couldn’t be repaired. There was no going back. As the situation grew more hostile, I found refuge in my devotion to my children. Here I was again, facing single motherhood. This time it was worse. I was married with three children and completely dependent on a man who obliterated by heart while managing to destroy everything we had worked for. My kids provided me an abundance of strength. Their confusion and innocence placed on my shoulders an even greater desire to be and do more for them. At the same time, I was empowered to be and do more for myself. I left the home that I shared with my soon to be ex-husband and moved across the country to live with my mom in California. The fantasies your mind creates can carry you a long way mentally, but at some point, you will have to face the physical reality of your circumstances.
My heartaches and headaches had just begun. I was a single mother but I also had a family who welcomed me and my three children and weren’t pressed for any financial contributions. I had an education and confidence in my hustle; after being a stay at home mother for 5 years I was ready to establish that career I had placed on pause years before. My boys would see their mother’s hard work and dedication and do their part (I have no idea what that means now). Unsurprisingly, the children were unsettled. They were loud and messy and had a difficult time taking direction. What did I expect? Daddy’s not here and mommy’s not the same. As I attempted to force myself into this unfamiliar role of mom and dad while piecing together everything else that came along with our transition, I began to come to terms with my depression. My family’s patience was wavering and their lack of engagement with the children was shocking and hurtful. My phone wasn’t ringing with job offers either. I didn’t have time to cry or sit on the couch so how did that darkness manifest itself? A hint of indifference towards my children.
I had never been plagued with so many whys: Why knowing my boyfriend 10 years ago was a piece of shit did I put myself in a position to get pregnant by him? Why was he ever my boyfriend? Why, less than 2 years later did I feel the need to rush into another serious relationship, despite his perceived maturity and accolades? Why as a 24-year-old junior in college, waiting tables on the weekend, on government assistance to help me provide with my first child, would I have another baby? After the first situation, what didn’t I see? Is a woman in her 20’s capable of making decisions about a romantic partnership with the clarity necessary to fully protect herself? Given that unawareness and further the lack of consciousness of that unawareness, is a woman that young ready to have children? Why would anyone have a third child? My fate was sealed and yet pondered as if I could go back and alter my steps. It didn’t stop there; I yearned desperately for the freedom. Freedom to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted without the constraints of parenthood. Being a mother felt like a burden, and one I no longer shared with someone else. I wanted to travel and date and party and be completely unrestricted. My family had checked out which created a lot of resentment toward them. Can’t they see I need a break? Somebody, anybody come get these kids!!! (I still feel that way for the most part, but I think it’s normal). I spent the next couple of months beating myself tirelessly… Why? Why? Why? I loved my children and I was very much devoted to them still. I never, for a moment, wanted to project my internal struggle on to them but my patience was low and my frustration high. Surely, they could feel the shift in my heart, the regret contaminating my love. Those questions haunted me and began to snip from away from the moments that once gave me such joy. Off all the things I had lost, that was the most painful, the joy of motherhood.
Time heals, the kids and I started meeting people and I finally started working. We found enough to start rebuilding our lives and with that came a sense of peace and structure, despite the chaos. The thing that keeps me going is knowing that I am my sons’ refuge. I am the lighthouse and if my light isn’t on, who will guide them? I have learned how to be gentle on myself when my light dims and to trust that my children’s eyes will adjust. I won’t be everything in every moment, who is? Seeking and demanding maintenance isn’t a sign of weakness or entitlement and without it we are all bound to break. I am crazy about my three little fellas. They’re hilarious, and smart, and perceptive. And of course they may be some of the most handsome 10,6 and 3 year olds ever! It’s still hard. I have accepted that raising children will always be challenging and my worries won’t expire when they turn 18 or 21 or even 40. I cry. I pray. And I still ask myself why. I give myself permission to have those moments but they don’t reside in my heart permanently. They come, they go and I make a conscious effort not to prolong the course by carrying around guilt. I am every woman. I am every mom. We are all beleaguered with so many questions and doubts about our decisions and abilities. We tell ourselves that the love for our children is so grand its impenetrable. When my bubble popped I could hardly stand it but when the debris cleared I saw their sweet faces and I knew…. I’d found a place of honesty, humor, and humility. Most of my anxiety lied in this perception I was carrying of what motherhood was supposed to look like and what it looked like before. Once I let go of that, I could be present and face my situation head on. I can’t undermine the trials of motherhood. It is, without a doubt, the greatest challenge of my life but I can learn to ride the rodeo. I can learn to laugh at my children and myself. I can get on my knees for the joys and pains and every little and big moment in between. I can live an abundant life and give my children abundant love and what that will look like will change as we move through this world. I can’t say I wouldn’t do things differently. I wouldn’t be honest with myself if I did, but I can say there is much to be happy and grateful for and my children will always be number one on that list.
Jacqueline is now living in Southern California with her three boys. If you’d like to connect with her feel free to reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org