the mother-granddaughter (dis)connection

This entry is part 17 of 19 in the series Memoir

Yesterday I had a long telephone conversation with the Girlchild about my experiment in memoir. She doesn’t read this weblog, for the same reasons she doesn’t read my books: too much information. I understand her reasoning completely. My guess is when she’s older, she might change her mind.

In the course of the conversation she said she might read the memoir posts that deal with my childhood, and we would have left it there but I got up the courage to ask her a question. I hadn’t been able to figure out for myself if I could write about my own childhood without writing about hers, and how did she feel about that?

I never expected — I never let myself think about — raising a daughter. The idea scared me. When I was pregnant I was very open about wanting a boy, although I added the obligatory any baby as long as it’s healthy. That’s not what I was feeling, though.  I hoped for a boy, and I bugged the ultrasound technicians to tell me it was a boy., and everytime it was a no go. This   baby is shy, the technician would say. Legs    firmly crossed.

I spent endless hours talking to my therapist about it. What if I did have a girl? What did that mean? Could I be a good mother to a girl, when I had no experience of one myself? The therapist wanted to know why I thought I could mother a boy, if not a daughter. Still today I can’t really articulate the answer to that except the obvious: it’s different. It’s a clean start. A blank slate. Of course it wouldn’t have been, but that’s the way it felt to me.

The Girlchild and I had a rocky start. I went into labor at 27 weeks, which let me tell you, is like a four alarm fire in the maternity ward. She wouldn’t have survived at that stage, and so I was in and out of the hospital until she was born ten days early, by c-section because she was adamantly breech.

So the c-section went forward as planned, and the moment came when the surgeons held the baby up for us to see. I wanted to know immediately, boy or girl? And one of the surgeons said: It’s a boy.***

Then the Mathematician went over to watch as the pediatricians checked out the baby, and I turned to the midwife and said, I really wanted a boy, I’m so glad.

And then Mathematician came back and said  Hey! It’s a GIRL.

I spent the next twenty four hours in the normal post c-section haze, and sometime  the next day I was holding the baby when the shift changed and a new nurse came in. She said, Oh, she looks JUST LIKE YOU.

And I burst into tears.

The Girlchild knows this story. I don’t remember when we first told her the detailed version or when I went into details about what scared me , but I do know that she was eight years old before she ever asked me about my mother. I never raised the subject, but for those eight years I was preparing myself for the question and what I might possibly say, how to explain to this brightest of lights in the world about her grandmother and why I had wanted a boy and how wrong  I had been  about that. My therapist coached me and coached me, and when the time came, I managed to say what needed to be said, and I answered questions. That was also the first time I talked to her about alcoholism and genetics. She was only eight, and so I kept it simple. Over the years I added more detail and information, and we talked about my decision to never drink at all, for fear of a predisposition to addiction.

Yesterday on the phone I said to her, you know it’s hard for me to write about my mother without writing about you. But I haven’t done that, because I respect your privacy. And she said, Mom, of course you have to write about me. Of course you do.

It will take me some time to believe that, and then longer still to actually start to look at this juxtaposition of an alcoholic mother and a much loved daughter who started down that same path. Despite everything we could do to warn her, to make her understand what it meant. To save her life, and ours.

It will take a while, but I will write about it. It seems that I have to.


*** The midwife was a thirty year veteran, and the surgeons  – some young enough to be her grandchildren – were all afraid of her. She was furious that one of them had announced “It’s a boy” when it most definitely was not. The next day she said to me, “There’s no excuse for that. None. I interviewed every person in that delivery room, but nobody would admit to me which surgeon said it.”  And no wonder, say I.

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9 Replies to “the mother-granddaughter (dis)connection”

  1. I had my first sip of alcohol at the age of 22, and then I was already married for 4 years. I know it sounds young, but to me, I was old. When all my friends started experimenting with drinking and drugs, I was too afraid to become like my father. Even now, I really don’t like alcohol and it’s better that way. When alcoholism “runs” in your family, why even tempt fate I say?

  2. Rosina, you are a trully exceptional lady, and now I have a glimpse that you also have a trully exceptional daughter. For the girlchild to say what she did to you, shows an enormous faith in you and in herself, and I take my hat off to you both for getting this far, even if you never write another word about this.
    For me, alcohol has never been an issue; I enjoy a little wine here and there, but not that often, it’s just not something I care that much about one way or another .

    BUT…our family has its own smorgasbord of issues, skeletons and other grottiness we wish wasn’t there, and I could only wish for half of your courage. Instead, I follow the family herd, pretending stuff didn’t happen, and re-writing history with a little sugar on top, just because some would prefer it that way, and smiling prettily when I’d rather not.

    I think your way is so much better!

  3. And no wonder, say I. *grin* The nurse who helped deliver my son (my first) was very like your midwife. She’d been an army nurse and was a good friend. My OB knew better than to cross her. As it was, she’d hauled his butt out of a golfing party to look at my chest x-rays when I was in my last month. She caught that I had pneumonia, not just a chest cold. One of the OB’s office staff had told me when I had called in to just take Robitussin and I’d be fine. That staff member was soon gone and new policies established at his office.

    And I know what you are saying about the son/daughter thing. My first was indeed a son. I was relieved. I felt confident raising a son. Our relationship remains tight these 32 years. I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of a girl, really. So, when daughter came along six years after sonny boy….well….new world, new frontiers, much angst, confusion. Daughter and I have had a strained relationship for many years now.

    Why this should have been, I’m not sure. I was an only child. You’d think I would have been more confident in raising a girl. Remains a mystery.

  4. Your daughter is wonderful, Rosina. In this passage, she reminded me of Paloma. There is a generosity of spirit there and a love for us, their moms, that brings me to tears. They really do want the best for us even if it wars with what their needs are at that moment and even if those needs sometimes win out.

    I think there is great power in this memoir series. So thank you for having the courage to share this with your world. You are much supported and held here.

  5. My mother confessed to me that during her pregnancy she was afraid of having a girl, a notion she quickly dispelled. She told me at the time she felt pressure to be some kind of great example of womanhood which she didn’t feel when she had my brother. She too had a troubled childhood; her mother was schizophrenic. She explained to me when I was young that this illness is hereditary and it was possible that I could also develop it. I wouldn’t say that I lived in fear of the disease, but it was something I worried about as a child from time to time even though I had no idea what it meant to be schizophrenic. I think if I asked my brother if he ever worried about it, he would say no. Rosina, you’ve given me a lot to think about. I’ll be contemplating this for a good while. Thanks as always for your openness.

  6. I know more now about how my mom came to be that which she is. Comes from aging and having the guts (and yes, the blessed opportunity) to say “okay, I have to know…???” As a child I was intensely curious about my mother’s life, not to ask outright, but to research and investigate. You know, handling the jewellery in the jewellery box. Musing about the meaning of “The Anniversary Waltz” that played when you wound it up. My personality, maybe, but my own daughters have been caught with their hands in my jewellery box enough times for me to think it’s a common aspect of mother-daughter relationships. The silent questing to know Her. Not the jewellery thing. The hunt for our mothers’ lives. I knew the first child was going to be a girl, just a feeling, but I knew. There was definite dread and a feeling of responsibility beyond parenthood. Womanhood I guess? And now I have three. And while one was a wake-up call, the other two are perhaps a bit of a double underline. I think they were what I needed to become comfortable in my own skin. Strange but true. I could’ve handled boys, hoo-boy, could I! Such fun we’d have had. I’d have been a regular Wendy (which, as I think about it more, is a bit of time taking care of others). But my girls are more work in my head. They challenge me to be more. Looking forward to reading about how you realized it worked for you, having Girlchild.

  7. I’m glad to hear it although I’m sure you feel she is not out the of woods yet. take care.

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