“Each time my feet touched the earth I knew my mother was there for me. I knew this body was not mine alone, but a living continuation of my mother and all of my ancestors. These feet that I saw as “my” feet were actually “our” feet. Together, my mother and I were leaving footprints in the damp soil”
~Thich Nhat Hanh
Oh the mother relationship. It can be quite complicated can’t it?
I don’t think there is any other relationship more complex while at the same time being the very key to our development.
Whether you believe that you had the idealistic mother/daughter relationship or you know damn well that you didn’t, there is always some residue left behind.
The pain of our mothers was undoubtedly carried over from the relationship with her own mother. This unhealed pain she carried surely affected us in various ways.
Most of the pain our mothers caused us was not done with the intention of harm. Of course not. But harm does happen. Our mothers did the best that they could. They taught what they knew. But they often parented from a place of fear and ignorance.
We recognize this humanness.
But because pain is so often passed down from woman to woman, a cycle many times forms affecting generations of women. Undealt with generational pain can affect our lives and feelings about infertility in ways that we might not fully understand.
The story of how generational pain affected my feelings of infertility seems quite clear now, but I too did not fully understand it until after my diagnosis. My father left the family soon after my birth and my mom was left to raise twins. It was very difficult. For everyone.
My mom had to be both mom and dad. That role left little room for softness. Or for that feminine nurturing we all crave. I resented that and looked for it in other women.
I yearned for that warm mothering.
I entered adulthood with little intention of becoming a mother.
By that time, I too was that harsh unrelenting woman I resented. The kind that leaves little room for maternal daydreaming.
I doubled up on birth control to avoid any accidents. At this point, I struggled greatly with depression and anxiety among other things. I knew that I did not ever want to transmit the problems I had to a little being. I never wanted another to struggle like I did.
Of course, there was a small hidden part of me that wanted a baby, but ambivalence and fear quickly squashed those feelings anytime the longing came up.
But then I met a wonderful man. And married. Soon after our marriage, I sadly lost my mother. And although we had our issues as all mother/daughter’s do, she was the only parent I knew and her death was devastating. It left a hole in my heart that I desperately wanted to seal quickly. This emptiness I felt coupled with my sweet husband’s desire for a family lured me away from the fearful place I was crouched in, to a world of possibility and hope. And we began trying for a baby.
8 months passed. No baby. I began to feel fear in the pit of my stomach. The “knowing” that I wouldn’t be successful. That I was broken and always would be.
But I pushed all that down and tried to “perfect” my mindset. If I REALLY believed I’d get pregnant and never allowed doubt or fear to enter my mind, only then would God grant my pleas for a baby.
So I stuffed down my fear, doubts, ambivalence, and unhealed mother wounds. I had to get it all “right“ in my mind so that my body would respond to conception.
A year passed and fertility treatment began. Initial tests showed that at age 33, I had Premature Ovarian Failure. You know, what pre-menopausal women have during their mid 50’s.
And then in my mind, it really was confirmed that I was damaged goods.
I continued to pursue fertility treatment, but my heart had left the process. Each failure chipped away at my quickly deteriorating sense of self-worth.
All attempts to pray, beg, and hope was abandoned. I knew I had to quit. I knew that I had to deal with all hurt and all the pain from childhood that had now compounded due to the trauma of infertility.
My story is a good example of how infertility not only uncomfortably pressed on our own insecurities of becoming a mother but also brought up unhealed emotions regarding our own mother.
I was clearly sending mixed signals to my body about if I even wanted to be pregnant due to this difficulty in childhood. And the resentment and unforgiveness I was harboring towards my mother for her harsh and fundamentalist ways were very much brought to the surface after my diagnosis.
So the following exercise is deeply important for releasing painful emotions inherited from our mothers. This is needed because the infertility journey is in and of itself incredibly difficult. And if we have unhealed mother wounds, we may experience confusing and ambivalent feelings that compound our pain.
Let’s do a visualization exercise:
1. Sit in any meditative posture (cross leg). Elongate the spine, roll the shoulders back. Jaw and hips fully relaxed.
2. Begin to breathe deeply.
3. Once you have conditioned yourself, imagine that you are putting on a cape. This cape can be anything you want. Mine is a deep purple. It is velvet and heavy. As you wear this cape, you can now feel safe and protected (analogy of cape from The Book of Forgiving).
4. Now see yourself sitting in front of your childhood home. Think of ALL that was your mother. Her face, her hair, her laugh. Anything that was distinctly her. What room of the house is she in? What is she doing? Is she talking, or laughing, or screaming? Let her presence envelop you.
5. Now sit quietly with her. Let any memory or impression enter your mind. No need to question or analyze, just feel it all. Once you notice this coming to an end, just sit quietly. Breathe.
6. Think of one attribute from your list of Breaking Family Patterns. What is one transmission from your mother that you’d like to begin to let go of?
7. Start breathing deeply. When you feel ready, inhale and FEEL this topic you’ve chosen. What is the energy of it? Does it have a heavy and dark feeling? Where does it sit in your body? Is it sitting on your chest or in your belly? Let all memories associated with this one attribute flood you.
8. Say out loud what your intention is with this harmful transmission. You can say “I am going to let go of the resentment of wishing I had a soft nurturing mother.” Or “I want to understand and accept why you needed to be so harsh and restrictive.”
9. Feel this intention on each inhale. Then on the exhale breathe out peace, or acceptance or of letting go. Feel in your body the softening and the release.
We will now begin to Mother OURSELVES. Now that we are adults, it is our responsibility to provide for ourselves all that we require.
1. Continue to feel the cape around your shoulders, arms, and chest.
2. What the one thing you wished you had received more of? Was it more love, acceptance, nourishment, or protection?
3. In your mind imagine your younger self and begin to give YOURSELF whatever you felt was needed (exercise from Thich Nhat Hanh book).
4. Stroke your own hair or cuddle your younger self. Say to yourself what needed to be said. Give to yourself. Nourish yourself.
5. If you would like, as you continue to breathe in your intention and exhale peace, extend this now to others who might be in your situation. There are lots of little girls who didn’t feel accepted or were harmed in one way or another. Inhale and exhale peace and love for them too.
Finally, let’s continue to move this stagnant energy out of your body.
This is an important next step to do once you feel ready. This exercise brings up a ton of emotional “stuff” and it’s vital to expel this excess energy into physical movement. What this is depends on what nourishes you the most? One of the best ways is through a yoga sequence such as Restoring Balance. I have already come up with this healing and grounding sequence for this type of work.
But please feel free to do anything you’d like! Running, dancing, and hiking are all great alternatives.
On a personal note, the 1st time I did this exercise I was NOT ready to let go. At all.
I came to Step 8 with the full intention of letting go, but I just wasn’t ready. I needed more time before I was ready to release it.
And THAT’S OK! Anything that comes up is exactly as it should be. We cannot let go of pain or situations that feel unfinished. That is just another way of brushing it under the rug. And then plunging a flag into the ground declaring that we’ve conquered the issue!
When really it’s just under that damn rug.
Instead, I changed my intention to wanting more understanding of the situation with my mother. And that is a great first step! That simple action pries open the door for healing sometime in the future.
I know this exercise can be hard. It was difficult for me as well. Especially if your parent has passed on. This is deep work. So I honor and acknowledge your willingness to dive into the depths.
You’re magnificent. Your brilliance and bravery are blinding. You’re such a bright light in this world.
Sending you love and comfort dear one.
Continue on to the next exercise: What do I stand for NOW? Beliefs after infertility
Further resources on this topic: