Mom Talk: Motherless, Childless, and Lost
Written by Ashley Seeley
Photography by Photos Courtesy of Ashley Seeley
Ashley Seeley is a birth and postpartum doula living in Brooklyn. At 27, she had what she describes as her pivotal life event: the death of both of her parents, just 6 months apart. Since then, Ashley’s rearranged and reimagined her life multiple times. Below, she shares her raw, personal story of feeling adrift without a mother or a child.
I’ve always wanted kids. I remember as a young child doing the school assignment “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and saying that I wanted to be a mother. Today, as a 37-year-old woman, this would still be my answer. I haven’t had the courage to say that out loud since I was a child, but it’s always been the answer I said in my head before I changed it to kindergarten teacher (during elementary and middle school), fashion merchandiser (during high school, college, and my 20s), or birth and postpartum doula (presently).
As far as I know, I’m physically able to have children. What I never had for motherhood were the right circumstances. I haven’t had luck in the dating game. Either not that interested in it in my 20s, or uninterested in my options in my 30s. I haven’t had a relationship that’s lasted more than 6 months. I briefly looked into the option of becoming a single mother by choice, but had to quickly dismiss it because of the financials. Now at 37, I’m mourning the loss of my children that never were and it’s throwing me back into the depths of mourning my mother.
My mother’s name was Angela and she was my everything. The youngest of her 3 children, we had a special bond. My true best friend. When I was just out of college and living in Harlem, she’d be my last drunk dial on my way home from whatever bar I was at. No matter how late, she’d pick up and we’d just chat. I’m only now realizing how selfish this was because she always seemed happy to take these calls. She really enjoyed the company of her children, but I was without a doubt her favorite. After her terminal cancer diagnosis, when she was still feeling okay and processing a lifetime of feelings, she told me this outright. Just the two of us in her downstairs bedroom, she said she knew she shouldn’t have a favorite but she couldn’t help it. It’s a memory I still cling to, proof that our relationship was the best. It was also during this in between time when she confessed something that broke both of our hearts.
We had our hospice worker over and were going through an exercise on what were my mom’s greatest fears about dying. Her answer was so typical of the type of mother she was, nothing to do about herself, everything to do about her children. She went through my sister and brother, saying she wasn’t worried much about them because they had their own families…but me, she was worried about me. I didn’t have anyone and she knew how hard it would be for me. I could see the heartbreak on her face as she said the words. I put on a brave face at the moment and shushed her that I’d be fine, that I had our family, but it completely tore me apart. I knew it was about to be true. She was the only person that I had, and I was about to be all alone.
My yearning to be a mother is so immensely vulnerable, seemingly insurmountable, and totally secret. Something inside me is fighting the thought that I wanted to have children just to fill this loneliness. I’d wanted children before my mother’s death. But I know that, honestly, after she died my desire for children took on a whole new level. I do feel an actual hole in me left by the absence of my mom. I know it would be patched over if I could transfer some of the love I had for my mother to the love for my own child. There’s a need to pass on the all-encompassing love that my mother gave me. There’s no way it can stop with me. Then there’s the fact that I was my mother’s twin, so genetically it can’t stop with me either. There is a need for little physical clones of my mother to be running around this earth, to see my momma’s face when I look at my child.
One of my mother’s favorite stories to tell about me as a child was how I was already planning to have lots of babies and naming them “Angela, Angela, Angela, and Angela again.” This story feels so unfair to me now. Coming to terms that I’m not going to be a mother, my insides are screaming for that little girl. I’m never going to give my momma her namesakes. I’m never going to fulfill the cycle of love that she gave me. I’m never going to be able to tell her “Sorry I didn’t give you your little Angelas.” I’m also never going to have her mend my broken heart about this.
Ten years after her death, realizing that I’m going to be childless is making the wounds of being motherless feel fresh. One of the cruelest things about mourning is that the one person you want to go to for support is the one that’s no longer here.
In the immediate years after my parents passed, I felt so lost. Completely untethered, just free floating going through the motions of life, hoping I’d get my grounding again. With the death of my dream of motherhood, I’m back to feeling lost. What do I wish for when the one thing I’ve wanted since I was a child is taken off the table? Where do I go from here? I understand that I need to reevaluate my life goals, make new plans, process this loss. But for now, I’m just free floating, waiting to feel the solidity of the ground. And most of all, wishing I could talk to my mom about it.
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