Sunday, July 14, 2024

How I Finally Healed My Latina Mother Wound

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A therapist recently shared a profound insight that resonated deeply: “The only people who owe you acceptance just for existing are your parents. For everyone else, it’s a choice.” In those words, I found solace, the final piece that helped me close the chapter on my mother wound. The truth is, I am the shadow of my mother’s monster—which is my father.

From a young age, I grappled with the complexities of my relationship with my mother. My childhood was defined by her inability to accept and understand me, a journey that started before I could fully grasp the nuances and lasting effects of her abuse. Early on, I had to reconcile and exist, knowing that although my mother would do whatever it took to put a roof over our heads, she wasn’t able to truly get close to me because she couldn’t separate me from my father — her abuser. My mother is a single parent to four daughters; none of us share the same father. Still, we were raised as sisters in our house — but we all knew that our different last names represented different times in her life. As the only child between her and my father, I bore the burden of inheriting the scars he left behind.

I’ve always known I looked like my father; what I get from my mother is in the form of her resilience. Unfortunately, my resemblance to him strained my relationship with my mother. My father, a charming Gemini, has the confidence of a true renaissance man, the type of fella who convinces himself his tales and lies were true to excuse his behaviors. Unfortunately, this trait latched onto my mother’s behavior towards me during much of my upbringing. For years, I didn’t know that victims could adopt the behaviors of those harming them. In a way, I grew up believing my parents shared the same temperament and personality.

Dubbed the nervous ‘problem child’ straight out of the womb, clashing with my mother was a frequent occurrence during my upbringing. My relentless quest to emotionally bond with her, hoping for mutual understanding, often fueled these conflicts. Nevertheless, the burden of enduring over a decade of physical and psychological abuse inflicted by my intermittently present father deeply affected her and our entire family. Despite her persistent fear of his escalating actions, her entrapment led her into profound mental turmoil during my adolescence, finally breaking free when I was 10.

When I was a kid, my mother often complained about how much I cried. It didn’t matter what she did; in my mom’s eyes, no diaper changes, bottles of milk, or nursery rhymes could calm me down. And some days, the idea of ripping off her own head felt like a viable option. I was what you would call a sensitive child, and my mother’s battered mind was not equipped with the tools to handle me.

Her abuse and fear of my father began way before my conception. Her undocumented status held her in a complicated situation with a married man that eventually led to intimate partner abuse during pregnancy. Alice Miller said in her book, “The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self,” that “If the mother is suffering, the baby is suffering too, the pain never gets discharged. The organism does not develop the confidence that it can regulate itself, that things will happen the way they should.” As I like to think of it, I was born the manifestation of my mother’s pain and the image of her nightmare. However, being the child of a witty, clever, and emotionally detached Gemini mother made it difficult for her to trust my tears, as it was one of my father’s many tactics.

Just to clarify, my mother didn’t abuse me beyond what her culture deemed appropriate discipline. Unfortunately, the physical abuse I eventually faced was assigned to an impressionable and equally traumatized older sibling, but that’s a story for another time. However, in my mother’s stress, depression, and terror-stricken grief, I was born a traumatized person who picked up on everything as an adaptive response that began in the womb. She unknowingly emotionally abandoned me and ultimately chose not to accept my emotions as genuine.

In 2020, everything changed. Just before the pandemic took hold, my mother moved in with me. Little did we know that we would spend the entire quarantine together. With her being immunocompromised and grappling with severe asthma and fibromyalgia, I became her primary caretaker. It was a challenging responsibility that brought out both the frustrated child and the nurturing parent in me.

Before the pandemic, we had spent over a decade living in different states, only sharing space during holidays and summers. However, the quarantine forced us to confront our shared history. During this time, my grandmother fell seriously ill and eventually passed away from a sudden aneurysm. My mother, unwavering in her love, stayed by her side in the hospital until the end. Unfortunately, this led to her contracting COVID-19 and spending over three weeks in the hospital undergoing every possible experimental treatment to avoid intubation.

As her only childless daughter, I found myself thrust into the role of her next of kin, shouldering all responsibilities. Thankfully, she recovered fully and returned home. However, her experience in the hospital had a profound impact on her. She spoke of her deep reflection and how clearly she could see me

Months later, after the dust had settled and we were adjusting to life without my grandmother, we had a heart-to-heart conversation. She asked me a question that surprised me: “Have I been a bad mother?” I reassured her that labeling her as ‘bad’ was simplistic and subjective. After nearly two decades in therapy, I finally had a chance to share my perspective. The hardest part was expressing how the emotional self-preservation wall she had built up throughout my childhood had harmed and stunted me, ultimately never truly allowing me to connect with her.

At the age of 33, my mother gave me the greatest gift I would ever receive. She gave me acceptance by apologizing for unintentionally projecting the image of her abuser onto me, allowing us to meet unencumbered by the shadows of our shared trauma.

Sitting at the kitchen table, discussing the past, I could sense her uneasiness every time my father’s name crept into the conversation. I had a glass of water next to me; she suddenly flinched as I grabbed it. It caught me off guard, and I blurted out, “Ma, do you think I’m going to hit you?”

My mom began to share with me a moment when, in a fit of rage, my dad hurled a glass that shattered at the feet of my oldest sister, who was barely a toddler at the time. “Somehow, in that split second, you picking up that glass felt like déjà vu,” she told me. “That’s when it hit me: I do see you as him every time I’m frustrated.”

Days later, she apologized, acknowledging how my instinctual support during her hospitalization revealed a facet of my character she had overlooked for decades. At first, she’d convinced herself that I’d grown and changed. But after much consideration, it wasn’t me who changed; rather, it was her acceptance that I was not him.

At her core, she’s always been a determined soul with an optimistic disposition, but what the violence took was her perspective on her emotional state and sense of reality. It robbed us of a shared present and joyful childhood. Until that moment, she had never pieced together that going through partner abuse during pregnancy meant I would be born as the emotional manifestation of her fury.

Since then, I’ve carried her apology like a cherished token. It illuminated two truths: my scars stem from her pain and his violence. After my mom apologized, it was like she tossed her coins into an invisible vending machine inside of me and removed the pain she’d inflicted. Unfortunately, I would soon learn that next in the queue would be the scars left by my father, and somewhere inside, I know that’s the one apology I’ll likely never receive. Yet, I found newfound freedom in her acceptance, patience, and understanding. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Katherine G. Mendoza is a seasoned Ecuadorian American writer and producer, boasting more than a decade of expertise in social-first storytelling. Her work has graced the pages and screens of renowned publications and media outlets including PS, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, Univision, Telemundo, Huffington Post, and Uproxx.

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