ANTIGRAVITY senior editor, freelance writer, rescue dog aficionado, and hobby baker Erin Hall previously penned the column Writing for Two, which focused on her experience navigating pregnancy and parenthood for the first two years of her first son’s life. She now coordinates and oversees our Raising Louisiana column and is passionate about giving voice to the diversity of parenting experiences. She lives in Algiers with her husband, her two young sons, and a sweet old lady dog.


“Mama, does heaven have a telephone?” my then-4-year-old son Emmett asked me from the back seat one day after I picked him up from school. “Sadly not, sweetie,” I responded, as I attempted to hold back the tidal wave of tears perched at the precipice of my quivering eyelids. “I wish it did,” he said, “so they could talk back instead of us always having to do all the talking.” 

My father died when Emmett was just one month old. My mother followed 742 days later, right after his second birthday and just a few weeks before I found out I was pregnant with his little brother, Vincent. As you can imagine, Mother’s Day is complicated for me.

On one hand, being a mother is the greatest joy of my life and I always enjoy a homemade card and a pancake breakfast. On the other hand, I spend weeks fending off emails with titles like “Get Mom something special!” and have to avoid scrolling through social media so I’m not pushed into a panic attack as I see picture after picture of my friends posing arm-in-arm with their smiling (very much alive) mothers.

I knew motherhood would be an undertaking, but all my life I imagined having my mom to lean on in the tough moments. I imagined calling her with tearful requests for help or hearing her calming words when my teenagers talked back to me and I struggled to keep my cool. I never imagined I’d be the only one talking and on a phone line that doesn’t exist. That I’d be met, for the rest of my life, with the deafening volume of that silence.

Mind the Gap

Since suffering the loss of my parents, my little island has continued to shrink. My grandmother passed away last year (on my mother’s birthday no less), marking the severing of the final tether I had to an older generation of mothers with whom I felt true comfort. I was never particularly close to any of my aunts and my family wasn’t especially large to begin with, so losing her felt like the closing of a book. 

I am lucky to have a mother-in-law who is lovely and kind. I have never had to worry about our relationship becoming the adversarial nightmare many of my friends seem to have to put up with. Nonetheless, we relate to one another in a different way. I am not, after all, her daughter, and despite her love for me, there is no way she could know me with the depth and breadth that my own mother did.

I have many women in my life who are mothers. The vast majority, however, are peers. For some, their kids may be a bit older than mine, but we’re all generally in the same stage of our lives. This experience gap leaves me in a place where, when things really hit the fan in the course of my mothering, I have nowhere and no one to run to. I am often struck by the utter loneliness of that predicament. But my mind seems to have found ways to adapt.

Echoes in the Bone

When you truly love someone and they truly love and see you—all of you—it is transformative. The bond I shared with my mother went above and beyond any relationship I have ever had with another human. Until, that is, the birth of my children. The cosmic connection I enjoy with them helps me find her in my darkest moments.

Just a few months before she died, we took a family trip to the beach. One evening I had reached a point of total frustration with Emmett (who was just shy of two at the time) and had behaved towards him in a way that left me feeling guilt and shame. I poured my heart out to her, confessing that I was worried I shouldn’t have had children at all. Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a mother and my kid would be better off without me.

She could have told me I was being dramatic. She could have changed the subject. She could have reprimanded me for yelling at an actual baby. But she didn’t do any of those things. She knew I was struggling immensely with postpartum depression and debilitating grief over the sudden death of my father. She knew I had a wonderful husband but beyond that, very little in the way of day-to-day support. I was overtaxed and hanging onto the mountainside by my fingernails.

So she looked me in the eyes and she said, “You are sitting here wringing your hands and weeping about how your actions may have affected that baby. You wake up every day and do every single thing for him. No nanny, no maid, no daycare, no babysitters. Just you and your husband, dragging yourselves through the mud. The fact that you are so bent out of shape about one rough afternoon tells me just one thing. And I think you know what that is. You are a good mother, Erin.”

When I was preparing to give birth to Vincent, 10 months after I buried my mother, I woke up at 5 a.m. on a Monday morning having contractions and sat down at my desk to write down birth affirmations on Post-it notes to stick to my bedroom mirror. I wrote down all sorts of empowering statements about my inner strength and how every contraction brought me closer to my baby. But before I finished I wrote, in all caps “YOU ARE A GOOD MOTHER” and stuck that note right in the middle. I burned her favorite candle and played music that reminded me of her (James Taylor, Damien Rice, Harry Connick Jr., and Aaron Neville). She wasn’t in the room, but in all the ways that she could possibly be there, she was.

Every day since has been like that. When I’m in the thick of it and I can’t figure out where to go next… When I lose my cool and beat myself up for making the wrong decision… I can’t pick up the phone and call her. So I turn inward. I go digging around in the marrow of my bones to find her. To find her steady voice and her no-nonsense directives.

When you’ve been loved like my mother loved me, it leaves a mark. I’m eternally grateful for that, but now I’m left to sort through the scar tissue. To find the gossamer-thin threads I can hold onto when the storms of life are threatening to drag me under.

Wishful Thinking

I think because of my situation, I make a lot of assumptions about the support and refuge my peers are able to take in their mothers. It’s hard not to feel a sense of jealousy. But in chatting with friends recently, I discovered this isn’t necessarily the predominant case.

Of course I know plenty of people who have negative or nonexistent relationships with their mothers. Their challenge is different from mine and in many ways no less harrowing. But these friends I speak of have ostensibly serviceable or even what I thought were “good” relationships with their mothers and yet they still can’t find that deep support they need in them.

Whether it’s personality differences or generational differences in parenting styles or priorities, so many of my friends have echoed that they too feel adrift in motherhood. That their struggles are minimized or swept under the rug by their mothers, older sisters, aunts, and grandmothers.

This brought me to the startling realization that maybe parenting alongside the ghost of my mother is actually more fulfilling than the experience many people have of parenting alongside their living mothers. Which is both sad and comforting. Because maybe at the end of the day, it just means we have to do a better job of being there for each other.

This Mother’s Day, I’d encourage you to look around at the mothers in your life. Offer them thanks for their hard work in birthing and raising the next generation and keeping humanity afloat. If you’re a mother yourself, look around for people you can take refuge in beyond your partner. Look for other women and mothers you can connect with. If it’s not your own mother, for whatever reason, seek out that safety elsewhere. You need and deserve it. No one should be left to walk this road alone.

New Orleans metro area parents! Want to share your experience with ANTIGRAVITY readers? We’re always looking for a wide variety of parenting voices and circumstances to explore each month. If you’re interested, please get in touch with Erin Hall or head to our About page to fill out a contributor form. 

illustrations by Victoria Allen

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