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  • Mj Pettengill

Marya's Mother: Unsung Lullaby


Lullabies were not an option. It wasn’t as if she chose that. No, it washed down upon her like the tears of rain in a storm that would never completely go away. She could not sing to the baby at her breast, because she herself was never at the breast of her own mother. Just trying to hold an infant was a frightening thought. It was so unnatural. And then, singing did not occur. Because in childhood, her ears did not hear songs or stories or words of love and reassurance. There were no thoughts or feelings of a mother and child embrace. There was no memory of it because it did not exist. It was left unexperienced. So the knowing, the instinct, the intuitive song that the infant craved, remained unsung.

If you sing, if you dance, if you love like that, all you can ask is why? Marya’s mother was hospitalized from birth. It was over six months of no nurturing. While this happened, her twin, baby sisters were taken away by the doctor who treated her. It was a form of forced payment, an act of polite, elite kidnapping. It was the plotting of the map for future generations of mothers and daughters.

Marya’s sisters—daughters, unmothered mothers themselves—may have come from the same earth, garden bed, seed, and even been offered the same fertilizer, but wholly, they did not resemble each other. It was only as they continued to grow, and it was only on the surface, that the similarities emerged. When these likenesses showed themselves, it was too much for each of them. On the outside, they may have appeared to be looking, but it wasn’t so. They were unable to see. They were blinded by anger and abandonment that they did not comprehend. Hating and trying to overpower each other followed them through childhood and into adulthood, until the freeing. They didn’t understand and still do not, at least not until Marya’s mother’s soul was set free. Something had changed.

They often tried to hide from the other; the reflection of pain and absence of nurturing too real. But, they didn’t know what it was that made them hate and fear the other. They did everything they could to win over Marya’s mother. Sometimes they thought that they had succeeded, but not really. They turned that need into fierce competition. No one was safe. They would do anything to seem like they had won. It didn’t matter what was gained, or how it fit in, you just had to win.

They started out with a common bond, forged by the need to survive, competing for the root of starvation that was incomprehensible. Those roots are similar but unique. What one longs for, the other may not even recognize. The only part of each that resembles the other is a haunted look of childlike fear from wishing for the warmth of a mother’s embrace, but without knowing, reaching for something else.

Unmothered mothers either love their babies too hard or can’t see or feel them through their stone-cold hearts. They either sing too much and for too long, or they never sing at all, not until it is too late and their own children can no longer hear. The unmothering has continued, like a frozen, black thread woven into a blanket that may or may not provide the comfort so desperately needed, the unending missing piece.


So, Marya found herself standing at the bedside of her mother who had been struck with a severe illness. Marya, the one that everyone teased to a bloody pulp, had spent years unraveling the pain of the women before her so that she could love and be loved, so that she could transform loathing or nothingness into compassion for her own mother. Marya was different because she did not allow others to control her, especially her mother. Everyone hated her for that. Although she did not come out unscathed, she did come out of it.

Marya’s mother looked up from the bed with the most fear in her eyes that had ever been seen. At first, that scared Marya who was not prepared to nurture and care for the woman on the bed. She had learned to love and mother alone in a wilderness of fear, intuition, instinct, and self-trust. It was the instinct and self-trust that saw her through. That and the need to understand her mother.

When Marya became a mother, she didn’t understand why her own mother never held her, sang a lullaby, or read her a story. Why? Marya was fortunate. Perhaps it was her early withdrawal from the family that saved her. Maybe it was her creativity or that she got lost in nature, climbing trees, and going deep in the woods. But, she was more than able to hold her babies to her breast, sing to them, walk in nature, and all that a healthy mother would want to do.

At first, when Marya was flooded with loving and nurturing feelings, she felt anger and shock. Why hadn’t her mother loved her? She was faced with a choice. She could perpetuate the lack of a mother in her own life or go back to the source, understand why her mother did not have the capacity to love.

This act proved to be possibly the most healthy choice made by Marya in this lifetime. As she looked down on her frightened and sick mother, she began to speak quietly. Marya looked deep into her mother's bright blue eyes as she would look at her own child. She told her to think of things that she loved, such as hummingbirds and lilacs, and to dismiss all thoughts of fear. The bewilderment that originated as fear of the illness had become the shock of being nurtured by this daughter, the one who had flown away to a place of creativity and wildness. The mother became a child and the child a mother.

Marya caressed her mother’s forehead and watched the lines of terror melt away. Then, she sang the lullabies that she sang to her babies. Of course, powerful emotions ripped through Marya’s chest as her mother looked up with child-like eyes.

It might be too late to sing a lullaby. It might be too late for the love that never blossomed in youth. It is never too late to go back in time and try to understand what may have occurred in the lives of those who came before you. It is the first step of healing.

Marya’s mother suffered more than one could have imagined. Had Marya never looked, she would have likely blamed the unloving and craving only on her mother and because of herself.

"We’re all just walking each other home.” —Ram Dass Artwork: Banksy - Graffiti Art



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