My mother died when I was four months pregnant with my first child; my second child was born two years after that. I felt haunted by the timing of her death because it seemed to repeat the darkness of her own mother’s death, which was in childbirth. Back in June of 1919, the matricide had happened swiftly: my mother’s first breaths had swallowed her mother’s last. But here, early in the morning of September 1, 1984, not only was I confronted with my own mortality, I also had to deal with the reality of my current gestation cycle.
Perhaps, if I hadn’t been pregnant my mother’s death might have been “just” heartbreaking, not catastrophic. But added to the frightening synchronicity of the moment was the fact that I already had fertility issues of my own in the form of ectopic pregnancies—two of them in the last three years. Those pesky little biological aberrations had put me in the physically-(if not psychologically)-at-risk category, so when my mother died suddenly halfway through my first “real” pregnancy, I have no doubt that I felt the sharp prick of karma when it punctured my soul. By “karma,” I mean the seemingly random but unaccountable repetition of life’s patterns and coincidences within one family.
I had been a 1960s flower child who had postponed having babies until the last possible moment (which might have explained the ectopic pregnancies); now I felt I was too old to cope with the demands of irrational toddlers. I was overwhelmed and unhappy. My husband and I argued all day and night, his construction business went bankrupt and that was when two generations of mother-loss crept into me. And darkness fell. The more I retreated, the more my husband criticized me and closed in. In a sad journal entry I wrote:
March 3, 1987: I feel like I’m a painting that’s too big for its frame and he is nipping and tucking at the “right” places. Nothing I do seems to be what is expected. And then I hate myself for withdrawing into myself, for building the shell so tight that I can’t hear or remember my dreams.
As my world began to fragment, my husband started to question everything about me, including my sanity. I was desperate for privacy so I could pull myself together. I moved out of the house and three years later we were divorced. Finally, at last, my mother started revisiting my dreams. Four years after she died, I bundled up her letters and tried to inhale her remaining scent. That was when I began my journey to locate the women in my family who helped make me, me.