by Dallas Jennifer Cobb
“Don’t ever have children, they ruin your life!” These are the words my mother said to me repeatedly. That one sentence reverberated within me for decades instilling fear, betrayal and a sense of abandonment. My mother didn’t want me.
The personal is political and very powerful. It is the most personal experiences that deeply wound us, but within them we might also find transformation and healing. We are our own best allies in healing, whether we seek it consciously through therapy, self-help and reflection, or it comes organically through lived experience or instinct.
Like all animals, our biological instinct is to survive — to heal and return to homeostasis. I know that it is possible to heal and fully possess my own life, that there is something organically moving me toward wholeness. At the cost of sounding like an oversimplified stereotype, let me say: my mother deeply wounded me, but mothering has healed me.
After 16 years of daily drug use I got clean in 1990. I went to treatment, joined 12-step groups and began keeping a journal. I realized I had big gaps in my memory. Those gaps scared me.
Fast-forward to 2001 when my daughter was born. With little time to focus on my own recovery, I was totally wired to the care of my baby. I felt frantic a lot, terrified I didn’t have the skills to parent her appropriately. Sometimes my anxiety paralyzed me.
I thought that attaining the mainstays of good parenting (safety, security, nurture, affirmation and fostering self-esteem) was insurmountable — that I knew nothing about any of these. So I sought out resources.
John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory said that, “proximity to the mother herself is an inborn need” so I kept my daughter close, and practiced ‘attachment parenting’. Developmental Psychologist Mary Ainsworth claimed that “the kind of mother a baby has predicts his (sic) emotional traits later in life,” so I consciously became a protective, involved mother. I wanted to do and be everything I could if it would help to give my daughter what she needed for success in life.
Thomas Lewis taught me that mother and child share limbic resonance — the “symphony of mutual exchange and internal adaptation whereby two mammals become attuned to each other’s inner states,” and I wanted my daughter to feel those mainstays of good parenting that I had identified, coming from me.
Over the years this reading and research shaped my personal practice of ‘conscious’ mothering, and led me to believe that human biological instinct supports healing. As I strove to ‘protect’ my daughter, I created my own abiding sense of safety. As I worked to establish a house and home for her, I found security. And as my heart swelled in love for my daughter, I grew more gentle and loving with myself. I felt affirmed and noticed the growth in both my parenting abilities and my self-esteem.
The more safe and secure I felt, the more I ‘remembered’, the more I filled in the gaps. The more connected I felt to my daughter, the more I regained of my history.
In therapy I learned that a ‘healthy’ person is one who knows their story, can recount it, examine it and comprehend its deeper meaning in order to more fully engage their authentic self.
This is what I have learned about me: When I was in grade five my estranged mother kidnapped me. She took me away from rural quietude, and deposited me in the city. My mother changed my name, and took away my identity. She stole me from my dad, my home, my friends and from belonging. She often left me alone. My mother did not protect me.
I lived in agony, waiting for my dad to find me, to come and get me. I stole bread from a bakery so I could eat. Two men beat and raped me when I was in grade six. I told no one.
In grade seven I found escape from feeling in weed and hash. In high school it was acid, alcohol, cocaine…anything. For years I perpetuated the patterns that my mother taught me — how to abandon, neglect and silence myself, to live in the feelings of powerlessness and a lack of authority.
Throughout my adult life, I’ve had difficulty inhabiting my body because of physical abuse, owning my sexuality as a result of sexual violence, and inhabiting society because of PTSD, betrayal and persecution. I have worked for years to heal and reclaim myself, to recover authority and agency over my body, emotions, thoughts and history.
Inga Muscio says that, “healing from abuse takes a long time… It’s a slow, often lifelong recovery…”. I think healing from abuse also requires relationship. I need to know I am wanted, and that I belong here on the planet, in community, in a family, in a relationship. Most of all, I’ve needed to authentically inhabit my own life, to belong to me. And that is what my daughter has given to me.
The limbic attachment to other human beings is what models ‘healthy’ relating, and limbic attachment is a two-way street. Not only can “a mother continuously adjust her infant’s physiology,” but my experience leads me to believe that a baby continuously adjusts the mother’s physiology. I learned how it felt to be loved, safe, secure and to belong.
These days I border on ‘healthy’. I know most of my story, have attached it to a timeline, and have told the story to my therapist, my 12-step sponsor, and in part to my other allies. I am making sense of my story and of the profound impact it had on me.
Parenting my daughter has enabled me to end the legacy of abuse, and learn to provide safety, security, nurture, affirmation and the ability to foster self-esteem — not just for her, but for me. By healing the wounds inflicted by my mother, I am instinctively returning to human homeostasis. I am a protective and loving woman who is able to not only nurture my daughter, but also myself.
In the years to come, I wonder what I will tell my daughter. Will I tell her that human hearts get broken but then can heal in a tough, resilient mass? That bodies might get hurt and violated and still go on to run, dance, swim and birth babies? Or that relationships may end or people get taken away from us, but we can always find places of belonging?
I know I will tell her that parenting her is the best thing I have done in life, and that loving her has saved me. I’ll tell her how nurturing her taught me how to nurture me, that protecting her brought me to safety, and how a feeling of belonging is at the root of all self-esteem.
I will tell my daughter that the human animal instinctively licks its wounds, and eventually finds healing. Because, in telling my story, I’m teaching us both that we belong here — in safety, security, nurture, love and authenticity.
I will say: “Having a baby is the best thing I have done in my life, and you know I have done many, many interesting things.”
Dallas Jennifer Cobb is a magical, creative, powerful being who is evolving joyously and forgiving her past; opening to love, support and joy; and giving thanks for spectacular prosperity. Realizing her deepest desires she is: raising a strong-willed daughter; engaging in meaningful, rewarding and flexible work; living in paradise — a waterfront village in rural Ontario; and nurturing belonging. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.