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A Motherless Daughter, Mothering

Ashley Abramson | Longreads | May 11, 2018 | 2,633 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Nonfiction, Story

A Motherless Daughter, Mothering

An unexpected pregnancy not long after her troubled mother’s passing forces Ashley Abramson to navigate a kind of dual citizenship she couldn’t have anticipated.

Ashley Abramson | Longreads | May 2018 | 11 minutes (2,633 words)

An unplanned pregnancy — the abrupt realization that you’re not alone in your body — feels like being haunted. But even more terrifying than a cluster of multiplying cells turning up uninvited is the idea of going about life not having known that as I got drunk on boxed wine, as I got out of the shower and grimaced at my then-small body in the mirror, as I swallowed three aspirin and walked to work, I had been inhabited. But now that I think of it, unprotected sex by virtue of generous pours of liquor thanks to an after-work panic attack is a pretty surefire way to find yourself both with child and without your go-to methods of self-medicating.

The summer of 2013 and the three years before it, I had no serious responsibilities but to grieve my mom’s death and to make peace with the body I had been afraid of fully living in my entire life, thanks to her addiction and mental illness. Instead, I relied on my own vices to blur her imprint on me: alcohol, a Xanax prescription, and over-the-counter sleeping pills. This insular mode of self-protection, my attempt at grieving from the outside in, quickly became toxic, rendering me wholly incapable of tending to anyone’s needs but my own. I would find out about seven and a half months later, when my son was born, that peacemaking only works from the inside out — but not without a fight.


At the time I found myself unexpectedly pregnant — barely 25 — I had completed three of the seven items on my “before babies” note on my iPhone. My remaining prerequisites, including pay off debt, get off anxiety meds, eat healthier, and be emotionally stable, reduced growing up (or growing at all) to something quantifiable, something I could, if I mustered enough willpower, master. Motherhood, I had decided, was a privilege reserved for those who had graduated from their own needs, or a responsibility to be exclusively enjoyed by the amply mothered.

So I wilted at the sight of the positive test, whose all-caps PREGNANT seemed more like an accusation of what I wasn’t than an affirmation of what I was. I had never gotten to be a daughter — how could I be someone’s mother? How could my body betray me like this, selling the real estate I had reserved for my grief? Suddenly I wanted to belong fully to my sadness, to expose myself to the tragedy of being untethered from my primary source of nurturing. And I wanted to do it alone.

The idea of sharing my body — and soon, my life — with someone whose needs I would have no choice but to put before my own felt impossible. I feared my own body would shatter under the weight of this sudden responsibility like my mother’s had, severing the thin wisp connecting me to her, to my childhood, to all the things I had not yet grieved.

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