Becoming a mum without a mum


In November 2005 I was sat on a paradise beach in the Maldives.   As I sat listening to the Indian ocean lapping up against the pure white sand I had no idea that in the next few minutes my life was going to change forever.

I was half way through a two week holiday of a lifetime when I received a phone call from my brother Elliot.  He said to me “Nic, I don’t know how to tell you this but mum has died”  As I griped the phone in my hand, I felt unable to speak and a cold numb sensation ran through my body.

My mum was my best friend and we had an incredibly close relationship.  It was the kind of relationship that people constantly commented on due to its special nature.  She was an incredible woman and mother.  So this news was beyond devastating, especially given how sudden and unexpected it was.

Now, I realise not everyone is fortunate to have a good relationship with their mum.  Some people have their mums physically here, but they may not be emotionally available for them.  Some people maybe geographically separated from their mums.  Some may have made the difficult choice to not have their mums in their life anymore.  So many women might find themselves in a situation where they don’t have their mum.  The grief of not having your mum around isn’t limited to losing her through death.

Over the coming days, months and years I grieved for my mum.  I grieved for the heartbreaking loss and for how much I desperately missed her.  My grief was so deep at times that I wasn’t sure if I’d ever find my way out of it.  So fast forward 8 years and, as I prepared to become a mother with the birth of my first child, I thought I’d done all the grieving I possibly could have done for her…….but I was wrong.

I had no idea of the impact of becoming a mum without having a mother.  I became a mum when I was 35 and it was at a time in my life when I felt completely ready.  I was physically, emotionally, mentally and financially in the best place I could have possibly been.  I felt in a strong and resourceful place.  Whilst I was naturally sad that my mum wasn’t here to experience my pregnancy and my impending birth, I felt OK that life doesn’t always work out how you want it to.

So when I gave birth to my son in 2013 the grief I felt for my mum not being here was overwhelming.  I had totally and utterly underestimated how much I would miss her and need her.  Because of this, I felt completely unprepared and under resourced to deal with my grief.

At a time when I felt the most vulnerable as a new mum to a precious little bundle, all I wanted to do was to call her and hear her reassuring voice.  To speak to her and ask her advice.  To lean into her unconditional love and support.  I felt a deep loss at her not being able to meet her grandchild, and for my son not to have the wonderful presence of my mum in his life.  Despite being a grown woman and now a mum myself, I also needed to feel mothered. 

As Clarissa Pinkola Estes states in her book ‘Women who Run with The Wolves’:

“Every new mother begins as a child-mother.  A child-mother is old enough to have babies and has good instincts in the right direction, but she needs the mothering of an older woman or women who essentially prompt, encourage and support her in her mothering of her children.”

The problem was that as a strong, independent, modern woman I had no idea that this was the case before having my first child.  Even if I had, I would have probably judged myself for being weak and even perhaps childish.  Sadly I don’t think I’m alone in this.  Many new mums underestimate the support and nourishment they might need when they give birth.  And by the time they do they may not feel able to ask or receive this help.  This situation was compounded for me by the fact that I had none of my maternal family around me, or even female relatives. 

I have brilliant in-laws so this doesn’t detract from the support they gave me and continue to give me.   But it doesn’t, and shouldn’t, replace the support I now know I needed from my mum. 

A couple of years after having my son and returning back to work in my practice as an executive coach, I trained in something called systemic coaching.  The training was heavily influenced by family systems.  This work was so profound and fascinating I ended up doing an 18 month training programme in the theory and practice. 

This training helped me to realise the systemic importance of the relationship with my mum.  That everything in life flows from our relationship with our mum.  Not surprising really given that they brought us into the world and gave us life!  That the maternal grandmother in a family is an incredibly important role.  Science now shows us that the egg that helped to grow my son was in his grandmother’s womb!  It’s mind-blowing to think that I had his egg in my womb when my mum was pregnant with me!  So there is an undeniable bond. 

When this undeniable bond is somehow broken and, as a new mum you don’t have your own mum around, the wound is almost inexplainable.  It was if I experienced the original grief and loss all over again, but to a whole new level.  That this new blessing and bundle of joy in my life was a constant reminder of my mum’s absence.

So, as I approach the birth of my second child I’m very aware of how I might feel without my mum around.  Obviously each birth and each baby is different, so I have no idea exactly how I might feel this time.  But I’m much more mindful that a new level of grief will surface.  As I enter the final stages of my pregnancy I’m also aware that I want to feel resourced by my maternal line.  So I turned to my family systems mentor, Lynn Stoney, who trained me during my systemic coaching course.

During a telephone session she held a space for me to explore my maternal family line and to feel as resourced as I possibly could without actually having my family members physically with me.   Lynn helped me to acknowledge that giving birth is such an immense act of giving that we need to receive input (often needed from our maternal line) to do it well.  She helped me to bring my mum into my heart and to feel her strength behind me.  She got me to imagine my female ancestors standing behind me in a line…….like an unbroken chain. 

She also helped me to sit with the reality of my mum not being here and being ok that I will really miss her again when my new baby arrives.  That my grief is just love flowing and that the tears, that I will undoubtably shed, will be liquid love in her honour.  That no-one can or should fill the place of my mum.  That I should let others in my system (family, friends etc) have their rightful place and for me not to try and expect them to be anything else than what they are.  They can’t and shouldn’t be trying to fill the place of my mum.  That really helped with the frustration I sometimes feel towards my dad.

They say it takes a village to raise a child and I want that village (system) to be one that nourishes & supports my family.  Something I didn’t consider with my first child.  But this time in preparation for giving birth again Lynn helped me to consider my ‘sisters of other women’ that I can have around me.  To build my sisterhood.  The females in my life that can help me to feel loved, cared for and nourished.  Just as I would do for them.  So this time I have consciously connected with my ‘village’ and asked for the support that I think I might need.  I have given myself permission to ask for help.  I am speaking out about what I think I might need from them, which still feels difficult for me to do.  But I’m hoping in doing so it will make the grief of my mum not being here just that little bit easier.

Which is why I’m so grateful to have the Wisdom For Working Mums’ community as part of this sisterhood.  It’s so important for each and every one of us, no matter where we are in our mothering journey, to feel supported and nourished.  So thank you for being part of that community.  I hope by sharing my insights it helps another mother who is without her mother, for whatever reason, to feel more supported. 


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