For the last few years, I have lived at an amiable distance from my mother. We had our little sweesaws (she tends to alternate between 'we have the bestest mother-daughter relationship ever, we're so close!' and 'I don't know what to do with you, you shut me out, you're so hostile' at more or less random), but for the most part managed to construct a basic irrelevance to each other. I had stopped being actively closeted from her, but was not engaging with her about basics of my life; she didn't ask, because she blatantly didn't want to know.
Then I got pregnant.
Then things got ... surreal.
Her immediate first reaction to my pregnancy was, "I get to be a grandma?!" (Compare my father's reaction: "I am pleased and terrified with you.") Followed by what I hope was a joke about taking pressure off my brother (me: married eight years, stable life situation; my brother: serious financial issues, health issues up the wazoo and no insurance, recently in new relationship). A few "that reminds me of me!" stories, with an almost accidental smattering of advice, and inappropriate disclosure about her sex life with my father.
And her first request was that I ask my husband to take a sequence of photos of my belly so that she could vicariously enjoy the experience of my pregnancy. Which I honestly barely noticed as something to remark upon before my family all responded to it with, "Isn't that kind of ... creepy?"
She sent me the most amazing wedding anniversary card - it was so amazing I brought it to show my shrink - that on the surface layer was all supportive noises, the subtext of which was, "Children will destroy your life. You'll decide it's worth it, but you've chosen to sacrifice everything for them, and they now own you. By the way, since you're my oldest kid, this was all for you, you know. Bear the burden well, and enjoy your pregnancy, because it's the last of life you get for twenty years."
I talked with her on the phone while we were in the process of picking out a prenatal medical practitioner, and there was much more "that reminds me of me!", with some follow-on "And I haven't infected you with panic recently!" about the necessity of being properly prepared for Catastrophic Hospital Births Like My Brother's.
She asked me my due date; I told her about when. She was so sad; she's a part-time art teacher, and that fell during the summer semester. So she wouldn't be able to sit by my side, you know.
I answered the phone at one point, thinking that it might be the doctor's office calling about some blood tests, and it was her. We talked about some books she was considering sending me, and various other things, and she suggested that I should imagine that she was there to rub my belly since she wasn't actually there to do it. My skin crawled off and wound up under the couch.
After that, she followed up with a "And, you know, your lifestyle is outside my comfort zone, but I really want to understand..." and I finally figured it out. The woman who was so uncomfortable with my family that she fled the room and cleaned the kitchen when I sat snuggled up to my liege on the couch, whose response to my saying my liege had recently bought a car with almost her exact criteria was to ask if my husband had any advice instead, has suddenly recognised that pretending it isn't there might cut her off from the intimate position in my life that she wants, the one where my pregnancy is all an experience where she can vicariously go through the whole parenting process without actually having to do the work parts.
I'm still not real to her, not really; I'm a vessel for whatever she wants to pour into me. The fact that I had my own life, with things she doesn't understand, was something that kept her away, up until I had something she wanted. And then there's the quick leap to those things that had been avoided for years to try to smooth it over and make our relationship something where I would be amenable to the intimacy of letting her colonise my head again.
Realising it made the package of books much easier to deal with. Not the books themselves, but the letter that came with them, which can be summarised as:
- Here are the books I could find to send you.
- I totally loved this one and looked at the pictures every day.
- I'm glad to hear you're feeling better.
- I felt the best I ever did in my life during my pregnancy!
- I hope the position of your placenta doesn't mean you need a c-section.
I ... will admit that I just laughed.
That fear doesn't fit me. I'm not your dress-up doll.