A Different Message to the Other Motherless Children on Mother’s Day

There is a well-written blog entry that is making its way around Facebook called “A Letter to the Motherless Daughters on Mother’s Day.”  I read it because I consider myself a motherless daughter.  The blog struck me on two levels.  First the level on which it was intended to; I miss Mama, my maternal grandmother who was my mother in every sense but biology, since she passed away 10 years ago.  Jenna, the author of the blog, says, “Remember the sorrow, remember the love, remember everything. Talk to her, she’s always listening.”  I do.  And I believe that.  It is an important reminder, though, and I am glad Jenna took the time out to remind all of us who have had this type of significant loss.  On days like this, it is easy to succumb to that profound sadness instead of focusing on the joys of the life they gave us, as all good mothers want their babies to do.  What a blessing it was that my Mama loved me, cared for me, believed in me and did her best to protect me when it was not her responsibility to do so.  I do not know what would have become of me if she hadn’t.  That is something to celebrate today.

The happiest I ever saw my Mama was with my baby girl.  I am so happy that they got to share eachother's joy before my Mama left this world for the next.  This photo was taken not long before that.
The happiest I ever saw my Mama was with my baby girl. I am so happy that they got to share eachother’s joy before my Mama left this world for the next. This photo was taken not long before that.


Then on the other level…profound loneliness because of the abuse and abandonment of my biological mother.  Truth be told, I was hoping that Jenna’s open letter was addressed to people like me…the ones whose mothers defied instinct and harmed their babies rather than nurture them.  Each year I would be filled with a sense of dread as I entered the Hallmark store.  All the cards spoke to the unconditional mother’s love that’s been expressed through the years or boo-boo kissing or creating enduring memories.  Hallmark didn’t have a card celebrating the enduring memories my mother bestowed upon me.  I felt like a freak.  I felt like a hypocrite when I did buy one, knowing that this is nowhere near the relationship I ever had.  I felt like I was the only one who couldn’t get passed the things my mother said and did or didn’t do.  I would try to tell people about my dilemma and get responses like “Wow…that’s horrible…but she’s your mom and it’s Mother’s Day.”  It’s not their fault.  Most people don’t understand…and that is a blessing in and of itself.  But for those of us Other Motherless Children, it is indescribably lonely on a daily basis, amplified to a nearly unbearable degree on this day each year.  But we are not alone.  Sadly, there are a lot of us out there.  I wished that Jenna’s blog spoke to that because it’s something that nobody ever writes about.  Today, I am writing about it.

There is a particular shame attached to being the kid that even a mother couldn’t love.  Through decades of therapy and being blessed with people who love me-for-me, I learned on a rational level that the rejection I experienced had little-to-nothing to do with me and everything to do with my mother and her own baggage and frailties…but the feeling of being unlovable never fully goes away.  You just pick up tools and the skills to use them to cope with the pain effectively.  It does get better if you let it.

Becoming a mother myself was terrifying.  My greatest fear was that no matter what I did, my baby’s fate would be to have a mother like mine.  I believed the things she said about me.  I believed my defects were the most dominating parts of who I was and that it was all I had to offer.  She was wrong about me.  I was wrong about me.  I am my own person and because of that, I became my own brand of Mommy…who was far from perfect.  Let’s be honest here.  I am still “me” and I prove daily that I am human…some days more human than others.   I am heavily flawed.  I have numerous issues.  But I am greater than the sum of my parts.  I am a survivor.  I love my baby girl unconditionally, the way that every mother should.  These are the greatest gifts I can give her.  The love that my little girl and I share is what I celebrate today.

This is one of my favorite photos of my baby girl with me.  For some reason, I've always felt like this sums US up...loving but silly and sarcastic, too.
This is one of my favorite photos of my baby girl with me. For some reason, I’ve always felt like this sums US up…loving but silly and sarcastic, too.

I believe there are two sides of every coin. Even in the darkest situation, if you look really hard for it, you will find that it brought light to you as well.  While light may never outshine the darkness of that particular situation, I’ve gotten comfort from a single candle’s light during a blackout, helping me to manage through it…so long as I made sure it didn’t blow out.

Because of my life’s negative experiences, I possess positive qualities and skills that I don’t believe I would’ve otherwise obtained, at least not to the degree that I achieved them.  I am the calm during the storm; I am able to remain rational amid chaos, formulating a focused plan to make it to the other side of it.  I am deeply compassionate because I realize that there is usually a reason behind why people are the way they are and behave the way that they behave; hurt people hurt people…often times others, more often themselves.  I listen keenly to words spoken and unspoken because I know the pain of being ignored.  I can find the humor in anything and use the power of laughter (often peppered with sarcasm) to help myself and others out of the darkness.  I have not reached the state of enlightenment in my recovery where I am thankful for receiving the negative experiences of my upbringing.  I don’t know if I will ever reach that state.  But I have gratitude for the lessons it taught me, the gifts I received because of it and the unique way I can help others get through it all.

So to all the Other Motherless Children out there today…Mom was wrong.  However you got here, you have a right to be here.  You are deserving of real love.  You are not alone.  YOU are the candle that shines through the darkness.  Break the cycle.  I did.  You can, too.

Caylee Anthony: Tragedy Close to My Own Heart

When they polled the jury, they said it came down to motive. They did not see a motive behind murdering Caylee Anthony so after the 33-day long trial, it took 10 hours of deliberation to acquit her mother, Casey Anthony. It wasn’t the lack of physical evidence. It wasn’t the lack of eye-witnesses. It was the lack of motive. Just because 12 “reasonable” people could not understand why a mother would murder her 2-year old daughter, does that negate her culpability for what happened? In Orlando, today it does. That is wrong. When is there ever any motive  when a mother abuses her child? Does that mean that we can’t ever find abusive parents guilty for what they’ve done to their children? Lord, I hope not…but my personal experience shows me an incredible lack of justice for the abused.


Caylee Anthony. Innocent. Sweet. Smiley. Let's remember her this way instead of how she died.

The Casey Anthony Trial hit me very close to home. My mother married when she was 18, gave birth to me when she was 19 and when I was six-months old, she left my father and returned to her parents apartment. After a couple of futile attempts to reclaim his family, my mother and father divorced. While we all lived under the same roof, I rarely saw my mother. She had a job in Manhattan during the day and went out to discos (I am a child of the ‘70s) or dates at night. She stayed out all weekend most of the time. My grandmother handled all the maternal responsibilities – taking me to school, making sure I did my homework, forging my mother’s name on tests and other papers that required a parent’s signature because it would be “too embarrassing” to let the school know that my mother wasn’t available, going to parent-teacher conferences (the teachers were perpetually told that my mother was stuck at work), feeding me, shopping for clothes and school supplies, doing my laundry, keeping track of who my friends were. She would yell at my mother to take an interest in my life. My mother said I was “a pain in the ass.” I “moved too slow” to take with her on errands. I couldn’t “do a damn thing” for myself. My grandmother didn’t know that I heard any of these arguments. If you ever heard my grandmother speak, you would know how ridiculous that is. Delicate my grandmother was not.


This little boy in the denim jumpsuit is actually me when I was about 7 with the dreaded Dorothy Hamil Haircut. I'm smiling because I was at my Aunt Carol and Uncle Milton's house. Love them! Love my cousins!


On the occasions that my mother was home when I was and she lost the argument with my grandmother and had to spend time with me, I remember being very nervous about doing everything correctly and quickly. I was chubby (some things don’t change) and awkward to begin with so the additional stress generally did not lead to anything good. I remember coloring with my mother one day in my coloring book. I was working on one page and she was coloring in the adjacent one. I was trying so hard to stay in the lines and keep pace with her picture. I didn’t want her to have to wait for me to be done when she finished her picture. My grandmother splurged on Bic Banana Markers (remember, I’m a child of the ‘70s) and my mother was using them for her picture. The colors were so much more vivid than the crayons I was using so I decided to use them on my picture, too. I stayed in the lines. The colors were beautiful. I was proud when I was done. I showed her. My heart was beating fast at the thought of her being proud, too. She looked down at it. Without saying a word, she turned the page to look under the page I colored. Her lips parsed, she shook her head and let out a huff. “You ruined your whole book. You have to put a piece of paper underneath so it doesn’t leak through.” I didn’t notice that’s what she did on her side. I felt my face grow flush. My pride was gone. “I wish I could have had an abortion.” I already felt stupid so I decided to ask my grandmother what an abortion was. She yelled at my mother “Why the Hell would you say that to a 5-year old?!?!?!?!?” My mother didn’t answer. I am not sure that it was because she was being obstinate. I think it might have been because she didn’t have an answer as to why other than the fact that she’s rather be out at discos with a variety of men than saddled down with me, even though she was rarely forced to be responsible for my care. This was not the extent of the emotional wounds my mother scarred me with. But I think this anecdote is a good example of the most positive dynamic of our relationship; her boundless apathy for me.   It got worse.



Remember these from the '70s?!?!?!?! The only thing cooler than the "ink crayons" was the ad for them on TV with Charles Nelson Riley dressed as a banana.

At times, the apathy turned to rage. My great-grandmother had a stroke when I was 8. It left her paralyzed on her left side. My grandmother tried to care for her at home but she required far too much care. When she moved into a care facility, my mother moved out of the room we “shared” and into my great-grandmother’s old room. One day, I went into her room to look at her make-up. She used a brand called “Starlight.” It had the most vibrant shades. VERY disco. I loved this purple sparkley loose powder eyeshadow she had. It was the same color as Grimace from the McDonald’s ads and the sparkle had a bluish tone to it. I don’t remember where my grandmother was. She didn’t want me going into my mother’s room. But I was 8 and I just had to get to that Starlight purple eyeshadow. And I did. At first I shook it and watched through the clear lid how the powder floated inside. It was beautiful. So beautiful that I wanted to touch it. I opened the lid as carefully as I could. But I didn’t realize that loose powder didn’t really sit still in its container. There was a POOF of purple, sparkle. Like magic fairy dust. My mother walked in as I was smiling at the sight of the mystical cloud. She grabbed my wrist so tightly that I thought I would drop the eyeshadow and lose all of it into the gold shag carpet on the floor. I held steady. With her other hand she grabbed the container from me. She placed it gently, carefully on her dresser, still gripping my wrist tight. Then she turned to face me. Her face was twisted in anger. She brought her face down to mine. She was so close, all I could see was the blackness of her mouth as she screamed at me. I thought she was going to bite my face off. “NEVER…NEVER EVER GO THROUGH MY THINGS AGAIN!!! DON’T COME INTO MY ROOM!!! DON’T EVER COME NEAR ME!!!” She tossed me wrist-first at her door. I just missed the door itself as I landed in the doorway. I felt like crying but I didn’t. I was wrong. Crying would only make it worse. I got up and heard the door slam behind me. I don’t think I ever went into her room again. At times I thought what if I had hit the edge of the open door with my head? Would she feel remorse? Would she feel relief that she got the abortion she wanted 8 years late? I gave up wondering why she would toggle among apathy, rage and conspirator in a third-party’s abuse (not ready to talk about that now but this trial stirred up those recently recovered memories for me as well). It didn’t matter. It would still feel the same.


This isn't exactly the "Grimace" purple or the same Starlight cosmetics but the bluish sparkle is very similar. How could I possibly resist?!?!?!?!?


In Orlando, Caylee Anthony was born to a young mother who wasn’t done being single and untethered by the responsibilities of motherhood, much the way I was many, many years ago. In the big picture of our lives, I am not sure the motives of my mother or Casey Anthony matter as much as their result. The jury had an opportunity to validate Caylee Anthony’s existence. To say that what was done to her was not right. That taping her up and casting her off like a bundle of sticks in the woods is unacceptable, regardless of the reason why. That once a woman decides to give birth and keep the baby, she owns the enormous responsibility to her above all else in her life. And if she fails and her neglect or abuse or apathy leads to the destruction of that innocent life, she will face the consequences for the choices she made. And in some small way, if a guilty verdict was handed down, it would be shared by the millions of people out there who are still living, like me.


Caylee Anthony, rest in peace, sweet princess. Know that you are loved.


Caylee is dead. I am damaged. Justice is absent.

Life and Love

Exactly 10 days ago my daughter, Catalina, turned 13. It has taken me this long to come to grips with this reality well enough to state that fact. It will take even longer for me to adjust to the reality that I have a “teenager.” It’s not an age thing for me like for a few of my friends, the dawn of a mid-life crisis –“Oh my goodness! Am I really THAT old that I am a teenager’s mother?!?!?!?!?” Don’t get me wrong, I am really starting to feel my age but that’s inevitable. Obviously I’ve always known that Catalina becoming a teenager was inevitable as well but I am just not ready for it.
I was not in a good place when I found out I was pregnant. I didn’t feel right so I went to my GYN. He performed the regular array of tests for someone expressing my vague symptoms. When he got the results, he sat me down and told them to me. My pregnancy test came back positive and my pap smear came back abnormal. He’d have to take a punch biopsy to be sure but he believed that I had cervical cancer (which the biopsy confirmed two days later). The good thing about cervical cancer is that it is extremely treatable and has a very low likelihood of recurrence. The treatments aren’t like that of typical cancers. The options are cryosurgery, laser vaporization or conventional surgery. If you catch it early and it doesn’t metastasize elsewhere, you don’t have to endure chemotherapy or radiation treatments — ladies, for this reason, please get your pap smears done every six months religiously. Truly, if you are a woman and you must get cancer, this in the one you’d want. That’s how my GYN explained it to me.
He also explained that I could not be treated while I was pregnant so if I wanted to move forward with the treatment immediately, I’d have to terminate my pregnancy. Each of the treatments would weaken the cervix to some degree. How much would depend on how far the cancer went into my cervix and they wouldn’t know that until the treatment was underway. You can have a baby with a diminished cervix however it would be more complicated. Precautions would have to be taken including the possibility of going under general anesthesia at 20 weeks and having the canal sewn up (like trussing a turkey) and then having a Cesarean birth rather than a vaginal delivery.
Or I could go to term with this pregnancy, with my cervix in tact albeit with cancer. My doctor explained that Mother Nature is a very clever lady who is singularly focused on carrying forward new life. During pregnancy, the spread of the cervical cancer is generally stunted. During the birth, part of the cervical wall sheds with the afterbirth. Depending on how deep into the cervix the cancer is, often the baby cures the mother.
I was 26 when I had this conversation with my doctor. I was hardly the clear-minded, level-headed woman you see before you today. I was completely blindsided. But the choice was clear.
Just as my doctor told me it would, the cervical cancer was stunted. In fact, except for that, it was rather uneventful…until my 35th week. I had one Lamas class during which we were instructed how to navigate the hospital paperwork so as not to get stuck with any bills our insurance company won’t cover (EXTREMELY useful). I was examined by my doctor on a Saturday and he told me, “If you go to term, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t, you will have a ten pound baby. Easy.” I told him that I didn’t think delivering a ten pound baby would be so easy. He laughed. I didn’t.
The following Monday, on the first day of training the woman who would be covering my maternity leave, my water broke. I worked in Manhattan at the time. My doctor was affiliated with Winthrop in Mineola. My boss threw me in a Town Car with a dear friend and coworker and sent us to Long Island. It was 4:30 in the afternoon. Our driver decided he wanted to save the tunnel toll and go by way of Brooklyn. At rush hour. My friend gave her opinion of this decision, loudly, to the driver.
We arrived at Winthrop at 7 p.m. When we left the office, I wasn’t feeling any pain. During the course of that even-longer-than-it-had-to-be ride, the contractions had begun and I was feeling them, full-force, as I was admitted. My doctor confirmed that my water broke and suspected the reason why was a bacteria had ruptured the membrane. It would need to be confirmed but he was putting me on intravenous antibiotics immediately so the baby and I would not get infected. He didn’t tell me what bacteria it was until the day after Catalina was born when he came to check on us. When I got home I looked it up and saw that there was a 60% death rate for babies infected by it. Even though by then I knew Catalina was safe from it, I just held her and cried. In any case, because she was five weeks early and my doctor was concerned about her lung development, my doctor decided that I would be kept pregnant for a couple more days to strengthen Catalina’s lungs. There were good air pockets. He gave me a narcotic to stop the contractions. The pain stopped and I fell asleep, attached to monitors. I had completely forgotten about the cervical cancer. It was no longer important.
When I woke up, another member of my doctor’s practice (during the course of my pregnancy, I was seen by all but one of the doctors in the practice — they do this so that in case your regular doctor is unavailable, the doctor who delivers the baby will be a familiar face. It would be a heck of an introduction if you first met in the Delivery Room, huh?) and a man I’d never seen before came to visit me. The stranger told me that I would be giving birth in a few hours. I told him he was wrong. I told him that Dr. Goldstein told me that I would stay pregnant for a few days. The stranger said that he was a high-risk delivery doctor and because of the bacteria’s presence, he thought it best to deliver sooner rather than later. I told him I was on antibiotics which should take care of the infection and my baby’s lungs had to be fully developed before she is born. He said in his opinion, it would be safer to deliver now (remember, at this point I still had no idea what the bacteria was or its potency). I told him that with all due respect, Dr. Goldstein has been with me and my baby for the last 35 weeks. I know him for less than five minutes. I trust Dr. Goldstein. If he says giving birth now is right, I’ll do it. Otherwise, no. The stranger and Dr. Goldstein argued in the hall outside my room for a few minutes then Dr. Goldstein came in and told me that I’d be giving birth by the end of the day. They gave me more drugs to counter act the ones they gave me to stop my contractions.
Those drugs worked. I was feeling the pain of the contractions. Much worse than in the car on the way to the hospital. Much more frequently, too. However, my damn cervix was not cooperating! It would not dilate (ironically, quite the opposite problem of a cervix that had been treated for cancer). Unbelievable. They gave me more drugs — an epidural — to deaden the pain while they maxed out the dosage of the petocin to get me ready to deliver. I fell asleep again.
When I woke up, I felt incredibly sharp pains. Regularly. Very regularly. I was confused. I asked the maternity nurse why I was feeling pain because I had the epidural. She left to get the doctor. Lo and behold, the one doctor in the practice I hadn’t seen previously came in. Dr. Goldstein had been at the hospital 36 hours straight and delivered twins. He went home to get some sleep which was good; he looked like Hell the last time I saw him. The new doctor came in and introduced herself to me, Dr. Valderaama. She said I was just about ready to start pushing. I was in blinding pain that this point and full of quite an array of drugs. I told her I was done. She would have to give me a C-section because I was in too much pain as it is and I didn’t want to subject myself to more. She told me that she doesn’t cut open healthy women carrying healthy babies and that I just have to push. I told her no and that she couldn’t make me. She agreed that she couldn’t make me push but at the same time told me that I couldn’t force her to give me a C-section. That the baby was going to come out the only available opening, soon. She turned and walked out saying that she’d be back when I was ready to push.
I was a lot more spiteful then than I am now. My maternity nurse begged me to push and promised me that it would make me feel better…”If you’ll only try it…” The pain started to get really bad so I gave in and said I’d try pushing. The nurse ran and got Dr. Valderaama, who, by the way, bore a striking resemblance to Ronnie James Dio. I pushed. I felt better! Now I wanted to keep pushing. Dr. Valderaama told me to stop pushing. What?!?!?! I told her I didn’t want to. She said I better stop. The cord was wrapped around the baby’s throat and pushing would tighten the noose. It was difficult to restrain myself because the pushing brought such profound relief, but I did. They had a bit of a hard time loosening the cord from Catalina’s neck because rather than crowning, she decided it would be better to come out face first. Even from the moment of her birth, she was wide-eyed and curious, ever-anxious to see everything that is before her.
I don’t know if I can accurately explain how I felt in those moments where I gave that one last, great push but I’ll try…you know how people say as death approaches you see your entire life flash before your eyes? It was something like that but it wasn’t my life, my past that I was seeing. I felt the overwhelming feeling of hope and saw an incredible brightness. Like all the answers about life and what it means were answered when I held my baby for the very first time, both of us crying and exhausted from birth. I had never felt love so strong before, a different kind of love. It made me strong and humble at the same time.
After 24 1/2 hours of labour, on Tuesday, February 4th at 5:07 p.m., Catalina Leah entered the world…and my cervical cancer exited (it came back later but that’s a story for another time). On the day she was born, Catalina literally saved my life. And she has been spiritually and emotionally saving me every day since.
All this seems like yesterday but it was 13 years and 10 days ago. She’s a smart, kind, beautiful person with her own life and interests. It went by too fast. I wish that I could have some of it back again but I can’t. And that’s okay. I will always be her Mama and, God willing, will always be part of her life. Wide-eyed and curious, ever-anxious to see everything that is before her. Take it all in, my baby. Take it all in and make it your own. The world has never been the same since you entered it. Mine especially.
Today Catalina and I spent the day with my sister-in-law who is pregnant with her first baby. Our men were back working on the house, getting it ready for the baby’s arrival in late September. After going to the movies, the three of us went to Barnes & Noble. I bought my sister-in-law the all-new “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” It was the best book I read to guide me through the pregnancy and I was thrilled to share that with her. It is a special connection mothers have with their babies. Through all the weirdness, discomfort and pain, there is an incredible bond that mothers and babies form that only they can share while they share a body. It’s mind-blowing. I am excited for my sister-in-law as she begins her adventure, her incredibly special and absolutely individual relationship with her baby.
After that we went to the diner, picked up dinner and all of us — men and ladies — ate together while watching the Ranger game (they won, Hallelujah!). It was the perfect Valentine’s Day. It was what love is all about.