Last January, while I was attending my therapeutic imagery facilitator training, my mother was babysitting my kids. On the second evening, we had a powerful conversation after I practiced the Special Place journey with her. Something about the journey allowed her to open up emotionally in a way she usually doesn’t. At that time she shared a revelation about her mother, a missing piece, that made so many other things make sense. A part of me was hesitant to share this post, wondering if the information was better kept private. But then I thought of Brené Brown’s words about shame:
I realized that any motivation to keep the information secret was likely rooted in shame. And I don’t want to feed that seed of shame. I am not ashamed of my family’s history. Rather, I am grateful for those who have been brave enough to speak the truths that enable the rest of us to understand with compassion and forgiveness. And so I will speak this truth and meet it with empathy.
It was rare to see my maternal grandmother smile. I got the sense that she didn’t much enjoy life or small children. However, she loved animals, particularly birds, so she had many parakeets and other small bird-pets over the years. I think those birds were one of the few things in life that made her feel a small measure of happiness. Also the Lawrence Welk show. She never missed it. Once in a while I would see joy light up my grandmother’s face, but most of the time I could feel a troubled and often-angry energy oozing out of her. I suspect that she suffered from clinical depression for most of her life.
I’ve always been very sensitive to the emotional climates around me… an empath of sorts, I guess. For this reason, I didn’t like to be around her. She made me very uncomfortable. Make no mistake… my grandmother was a good person. She was simply doing the best she could with the deck of cards she was given. And the more I learn about her, the more I see that the deck was stacked against her from the start.
Six years ago I was typing up my grandmother’s personal history and discovered her account of my mother’s birth. I shared it on my blog at the time. Here’s an excerpt:
I had this peculiar “psyche” that I couldn’t really actually give birth to a baby–I felt that I was a sort of unreal bystander or spectator in this big game of life, so when I did really actually give birth to a baby, I was brought to realize that I was first as real and able a player in this game of life as anyone else.
Now, six years later, I understand more deeply where my grandmother’s “spectator” psyche was coming from. What my mother told me in January was that my great-grandparents tried to abort my grandmother. From her earliest days onward, she was told, “We tried to get rid of you.” Please keep in mind that everyone has a story, and my great-grandparents’ was full of heartache. From what I have pieced together, I am confident theirs was an unhappy, abusive marriage. (Eventually the marriage ended, and my great-grandmother remarried.) I once had a vision of my great-grandfather brutally punching his wife in the face. And I get the sense that the abuse started generations before, in my great-grandfather’s line. There were generations of pain leading up to that attempted abortion, and more pain after it. My grandmother confessed to my father at one point that she had also been sexually abused (though she didn’t specify who the perpetrator had been). My own heart aches for all of the souls connected to this web of pain.
One of my heroes, David Chamberlain, PhD, was a prenatal psychology expert with decades of research with mothers and children. When my mother told me about my grandmother’s near-abortion, I immediately thought of one particular excerpt from Chamberlain’s Windows to the Womb:
Andrew Feldmar, a therapist from Canada who was in England studying and training at a noted clinic in London, ended up working with four youths who had each attempted suicide at least five times. Their individual attempts were curiously seasonal, occurring over and over again at about the same time each year.
In trying to figure out this repetitive pattern he decided to find and interview their mothers. From them he was surprised to learn that each of these suicidal persons had experienced an abortion attempt at some time during the pregnancy. It turned out that the suicide attempts were occurring during the months that their mothers had attempted to abort them–although none of the clients had conscious knowledge that an abortion attempt had been made. He convinced the mothers to talk to them about this reality.
Feldmar writes, “I discovered that an unsuccessful attempt at abortion can be remembered (unconsciously) by the child and much later commemorated by repeated and unsuccessful suicide attempts. . . . Once the connection is made, the child is relieved of compulsively having to act out the memory. What seemed like insanity turns out to be a haunting memory” (p. 136-137).
My grandmother was, unlike these troubled youths, aware of her parents’ attempt to remove her, and I don’t believe she ever attempted suicide, but I feel in my heart that she carried a memory of her womb experience. A few weeks ago I taught a pregnancy yoga workshop. As part of the workshop, I shared some Kundaini Yoga teachings about how the mother’s thoughts and actions can impact the unborn child. The website Kundalini Women explains:
Your child first learns from your state of consciousness while in the womb. Everything you consciously experience, your state of mind, your relationship to the world and your rapport to your child, are all transmitted to your child and become the foundation of your child’s subconscious, which is the root of his/her personality.
All of these puzzle pieces explain so much about my grandmother’s personality and troubled energy. I hope that seeing her great-grandchildren growing up in love and peace has been some consolation to her. I believe that she and her maternal grandparents have been working hard from the spirit world to ensure that our family line is healed from the pain and traumas of the past. I suspect they were instrumental in guiding me toward the birthing and mothering choices I have made, enabling me to experience a healthy and love-filled bond with my children, determined to ensure that another generation would not grow up in pain. Healing comes. Hallelujah, healing comes.
I have, in difficult times in the past, lamented being born into such a “broken” family. I have been overwhelmed by grief at the illnesses and family patterns I have inherited. But today I feel grateful that I was given the opportunity to step into the chaotic pain left behind by my ancestors and fashion it into something beautiful for future generations. I pray the healing persists.