This azalea is quite confused. It thinks it’s spring! Even the few azaleas that I have that bloom twice a year bloom at the end of November during Thanksgiving every year. I feel mixed emotions about this little guy. He has brought color during the time of year when everything is bloomed out and yet he’s confused as to what time of year it is. I looked at this azalea this morning and I smiled at my conflicted feelings. Beauty in the midst of confusion. Blooming in his own time.
My grandmother (nana) was a huge influence in my life. She had my back. She represented safety and loyalty and love. Right before her death I told her I was pregnant. Her last words to me were, “Take care of that baby now.” She was happy for me. She knew all of the endometriosis surgeries I had had and that being pregnant was something to rejoice over. I was happy. I was with a man that I loved, a man that she hand picked for me, and I was pregnant. She passed away when I was 4 months pregnant. I had just started to show. I cried for days and days. I wailed at the loss of her. I was so grief stricken I had no idea how I would make it through the sorrow. When preparing for her funeral I was searching for a dress. The entire family would be there. Nana’s sister, her children, her brother, his children, and countless cousins and aunts and uncles. My mom pulled me aside and informed me that I was not to tell a soul about being pregnant. That it would be an embarrassment to the family because I was not yet married. That this was about Nana and not about me being pregnant and I needed to keep it to myself. She even picked out a dress that didn’t show my newly showing belly. I was confused. Here I had this beautiful exciting news and yet I wasn’t allowed to share it. I had everyone together to share this joyous time for me and to bring joy to a sorrowful day and yet I was silenced. I remember going to the funeral and mom wanted me on one side of her and my brother on the other. The perfect supportive image. The perfect family. The entire funeral I felt like I was just on display to look like something I did not feel inside. I was grieving too but it was apparently not about me in the slightest.I needed to look good, and not look pregnant. After the funeral we all had a dinner and I wanted so badly to share my news with family that I would most likely never see again due to the distance they lived. I never saw most of them again after the funeral. We went back to my mom’s house after the funeral with the family that lived close by. I sat on the picnic table looking at Nana’s house directly across the lake and felt a deep hollow in my chest. I heard the family talking about Nana’s missing ring. I heard the disruption and I knew exactly what ring they were discussing. It was a ring Nana took off her finger and put onto mine months earlier. I used to visit her every week in the nursing home. She slipped it on my finger there. I told them that I had the ring. My aunt remarked, “Why would she have given it to you? Why didn’t you tell anyone?” And then she started yelling at me and I left the room. I was such a door mat. But she was my aunt who was allowed to say anything she wanted, hurt anyone she wanted, insult anyone she wanted, with the excuse that,”Well you know that’s just your aunt”. Never accountable, just like everyone else in the family. We left shortly after that as this funeral seemed more about the needs of the rest of the family, not about Nana or sharing real grief.
My mom was ashamed of me. Ashamed I was a preganant. No one knew. Which is why I got no gifts, no cute baby onesies, no diaper genies, no cute booties. Nothing. When I started to really show then she told her friends and I was able to finally show off my proud baby!
I was 7 months pregnant. Finally able to tell people I was having a baby! In celebration I drove out to my mom’s house and swam across the lake to Nana’s like I did when I was a little girl. I felt the sorrow of her loss lift some that day.
When I went into labor I did not call my mother. I did not call anyone in my family. I didn’t know why. I just knew that this moment I wanted to share with my husband and him alone. I didn’t want to feel anyone else’s shame during my moment of joy. I was proud to be a mom and I didn’t want anyone to take that away from me.
Had I really taken time to tap in to the “why” I would have realized 20 years ago that not calling my parents REALLY meant I did not trust them. That deep down I knew that they did not represent safety and solace and security. This was something I didn’t want to share with them because I didn’t feel safe being vulnerable with them. So unlike most girls who want their mother at the birth of their child, I didn’t. Which is incredibly sad as I look at it now.
My dad was the first one to come to the hospital. All I remember about his visit was that I asked him to wash his hands before holding her and he said he did downstairs and would not again. When he took her I wanted so badly to say, “well you don’t get to hold her then!” But I didn’t. He also commented on how large my breasts were. Because that is a normal thing for a father to say to his daughter right? But again, I was still confused about my family. I was often silenced by them. The truth stared me straight in the face over and over and over again but I had no voice to change it. My sweet little baby, my sweet jaundiced baby was finally here. She was only home 3 days before having to go back into the hospital to be under the billi lights. We stayed there a week.
My mom or dad didn’t offer to help me, hold the baby while I napped. I was fried. My baby cried nonstop for 4 months. The didn’t come spend the night and offer me a break. But I ignored that. At 4 months old after much sleep deprivation and much perseverance we discovered our baby had a birth defect and she had to have surgery to remove her kidney. It was the scariest moment of our lives. I will never forget the days surrounding her surgery. I remember who was there and who was not. and I was right. My mom was not there making me feel comforted. In fact, I don’t remember her there’s at all. She said when we moved 1 hours and 15 minutes away from her that it was our choice and we’d probably rarely see her. That ended up being true. I often loaded my crying baby up and drove her out to see my family. They rarely came to see me.
Two months after her surgery we talked about getting married. We wanted our marriage to be separate from the pregnancy and birth of our child. My mother immediately started planning and organizing to the point that my husband and I woke up one day and just got married! We wanted this moment, like the birth of our child, to be our moment. So we called a friend who could marry us, got the wedding certificate, and went to our favorite spot.
I picked out a sundress. Put on my tennis shoes to walk out into the woods(which I took off to get married barefooted) and my husband stopped to pick wild flowers on the side of the road for me for my bouquet.
I threw my bouquet to the trees!!!!!
It was the best wedding I had ever been to. We danced in the woods and then went to dinner at our favorite restaurant (I had to stop and breastfeed our child on the way). It was the perfect day. No one ruined our moment. I thought about why I didn’t want my father to walk me down the isle, and why I didn’t want my mother to be there, and I hadn’t yet figured it out yet. I was still confused. I knew JUST enough to keep them out of the two most important days of my life, but not enough to prevent them from hurting me for the next 20.
Year after year as my daughter grew up I was criticized. “How long are you going to breastfeed….you aren’t going to do that in public are you….isn’t it time for her to wean…..you should only be doing that at night…you shouldn’t be letting her sleep with you.” But not once did I get help. Not once did I get a nap! But I got a lot of unwanted input on my child rearing. It just never seemed to stop. There was always something. I didn’t do my hair, I didn’t wear enough make up, I didn’t iron my clothes well enough. Always. Something.
It was surprising to me when I was diagnosed with a muscle disease and subsequently my daughter fell ill, that my mother took on the role of caretaker. She made us meals, picked my daughter up from school, took her shopping, helped clean the house, and seemed very invested in the care of both of us. I felt a connection to her. I started to let slide the comments about my house, and my face, and my choices. She physically was there for us. She met us at the ER and brought us snacks. She sat with my daughter in the hospital every night while we went home and changed. She was the mother that I remembered as a child. Or so I thought.
I was never good enough. I was “sweet” Bethany. Just this week I realized what “sweet” Bethany meant! It meant “quiet Bethany”. Of course I seemed sweet, which by the way I am, but to them I never stood up for myself. Ever! I never voiced my opinion, my objection, my wishes. I never said anything. Because there was no one that was every listening. 20 years ago I knew that this family was ashamed of me and that my purpose and feelings did not matter. Maybe my mom really took care of us because she loved us. Or maybe it was something else she could further control. I will never really know. Because it all became tainted. I knew it enough to not allow them to taint my child’s birth or taint my wedding. But I didn’t know it enough to see that they were squashing my spirit. You name it, they squashed it. It took a letter to my father detailing the abuse I endured as a child and finally voicing my feelings over his inaction that finally showed me what I really meant to them. And that was nothing. Because their response to my letter was again that they were ashamed of me. I was the problem. I learned this week that it was not just the child molesters that silenced me but it was my mother and father. They never heard me. They didn’t care to. The dropped me out of there lives. So who was the dotting mother I saw those few years? A mother that can disown her daughter over finally voicing abuse, is just a surface mother.
No one in my family wanted to hear my voice. It was easier for them that way. Now I am, at 45 years old, just learning how to set boundaries, enforce them, and let my voice be heard.
I was confused for a very long time. When I looked at that azalea today I just thought it was a perfect reflection of me. Completely confused on what I was doing but still able to find beauty in the face of it all. To still be able to bloom in an environment of total confusion is something to be very proud of. I know many who don’t see it in themselves but I can see it in them. They overcame abuse to shine. They still shined through abuse. They overcame huge obstacles to bloom and radiate and inspire. I don’t know why that azalea decided to produce a beautiful flower in September instead of March, but it was proof that there is no time stamp on when you can do anything! Find your voice, speak your thoughts, let go of people who hurt you, in your own time. You thought you were supposed to find your voice in March but maybe it took until September to finally achieve it. There is beauty in places you least expect it. I didn’t expect to see a flower today and have an epiphany while looking at it. I wish 20 years ago I would have kicked my entire self absorbed family to the curb. But I didn’t because I guess it was still March. Now it is September. Time to bloom. Finally.