Portraits of Motherhood [4]


A Question From My Daughter

After a day that threatened to break my distress-tolerance scale, I could not refrain from disintegrating in front of my five-year-old daughter. We were sitting in our kitchen and I was looking at her through eyes red and swollen, from crying.

“Mama who is your mommy?” she asked while typing gibberish comprising emoticons, punctuation marks, and jumbled-up letters on my phone. “I want to tell her you are sad.”

I giggled as though she had just pounced on me with one of her random tickles. I was pleased that she was brave enough to ask things I never dared to ask when I was a child.

“Your grandmother . . .  the one we visited recently . . .  where we slept over, is my mother,” I stuttered.

“Oh,” she replied.

I expected more questions but she seemed satisfied with my answer.  I, however, felt discontented. My answer contained only one half of the truth. How could I explain that I have two mothers or that it was possible to have two mothers?

Would she understand if I told her that I had been brought up as my grandmother’s sister’s child because my grandmother’s daughter, my mother, had given birth to me at a young age? And that the woman she called grandmother was really my mother’s maternal aunt?

In 1981, if you were twenty, schooling, and living with your parents or grandparents, as was the case in many black homes in South Africa, you were a child. Children did not raise children. They went to school. How could I tell her the truth—that sometimes mommies gave their babies away through a process called adoption? Would she not think that perhaps I too might give her to another mommy forever?

I decided to keep the answers in my things-to-tell-my-daughter-in-future file. I remembered that I was once a child who needed answers about the people who made up my family.

Unathi Kapa shares her thoughts on identity, culture, belonging, and purpose on unathikay


An Extra Mouth to Feed

In the shower, steam shrouds me but does not insulate me. I am thinking about money. I worry about my lack of it.

Once, when I manufactured a few minutes to play with him in the park, he threw the ball to me, an easy pass that I should not have missed.

“Mom you’re not looking!”

He was right, again. I am rarely present; I am in our future worrying.

“I’m sorry. Let’s play again.”

I threw the ball so it spun in an arc that began its descent farther away from where he stood. He was already moving back, calculating the trajectory of the ball. Before delight widened his eyes, weariness had narrowed them. How easily children forgive and forget.

Kalanne said that ever since she got a nanny, she was a better mother. By way of illustration, she said when Sowari spilled his milk, instead of screaming, “What’s wrong with you! Why are you so clumsy?” she now said, “Aw, darling be careful. Don’t worry Tari will clean up.”

I think that if I had money, I would be a better mother. I would not shout as I had done over the loss of his monthly bus pass, berating him with words from a tornado inside me.

I sigh and adjust the shower settings so hot water stings me like needles. When I leave my frugal pleasure-penance behind and open the door, he is there.

Steam rushes to embrace him, but it does not insulate him either.

“Mom, I’m sorry. Don’t send me to my dad. When I grow up I will buy you a car.”

Dangerous thoughts had been circling my mind. How wonderful to be free again. How much easier life without an extra mouth to feed.

I pull him close and wrap him in a fierce hug. My tears mingle with water droplets and disappear into his hair.

If the love of money is the main root of all evil, the lack of it is the secondary root.

Timi@ Livelytwist
© Timi Yeseibo 2015


The Empty Crib

We do not interrupt the drive home from the hospital with small talk. When we pull up in front of our house, the neighbours spring out from theirs. Their merriment uncoils in laughing smiles, waving arms, and dancing legs.

The confusion begins the moment I step out of the car. Their eyes travel from my empty arms to my ‘flat’ stomach and from my flat stomach to my empty arms, until someone blurts, “Where is the baby?”

We had not discussed how we would answer their questions. I go inside, while he stays behind to explain.

Death is a thief. It also stole my sleep. The sedatives they force me to drink, freeze in my digestive tract. I walk from room to room weeping for a daughter I never held. It is a long time before my legs give way and I lie on the carpet in the room with yellow walls and the empty white crib.

In the days following, they tell me I am lucky to be alive. I do not feel lucky; I feel empty. They tell me I am young; I can have other children. But, I wanted this one. Oh God, how I wanted this one.

In the beginning, I held a vigil for her every year, so she would know that even if everyone else forgot, I would not. Then one year I looked at the calendar and realized that while I was driving my son to football practice and watching my daughter pirouette in ballet class, her birthday had passed. I had not known that pain could fade into oblivion.

Now I understand what they told me many years ago: I will go to her, but she will not return to me.

Timi@ Livelytwist
© Timi Yeseibo 2015


Can a woman forget her baby?
Can she forget the child who came from her body?
Even if she can forget her children, I cannot forget you.
I drew a picture of you on my hand. You are always before my eyes.
Isaiah 49:15-16




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63 thoughts on “Portraits of Motherhood [4]

  1. Wow, just…I don’t even know what to say. You make life easier to live with this blog, Timi. Showing so much strength in the midst of everything. I don’t know what more to say.


  2. Timi, These are amazing stories. The younger generations are so much more honest and open about the challenges of being amateur people! And it does help others tremendously. These kind of posts give me great hope for the future. Many of you are free of the isolation that picture perfect expectations create. You understand that stumbling isn’t permanent failure and ignorance is curable, even if painfully by trial and error. I salute all of you.

    Timi, Your two stories side by side were particularly illuminating. The contrast between the very real desperation of being overwhelmed by the struggle to just survive that leaves so little mental, emotional and physical resources left to nurture a child. But then paradoxically how devastating the loss of a child when you have planned and prepared for them. And that bond between a mother and an unborn child that probably can only be a mystery to our men.

    This is a wonderful series. I have gained new understandings, even new self understanding, and a growing hope for the betterment of the human race. We really can begin to see that we are one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Eileen for your kind and wise words. Stories are a great way to bridge gaps- our humanity is after all universal.

      In this series, I was tempted to not go to the ‘difficult places’ until a friend said, “But don’t you want them to know how it really is?”

      Mothers are people too 😉

      On being open, it’s a tough one . . . and risky. I encourage it here because I believe it benefits our readers. You’ve summed it nicely: “You understand that stumbling isn’t permanent failure and ignorance is curable, even if painfully by trial and error.”

      I’m glad you’ve gained new understanding and hope from this series. That is the answer to my doubts. Thanks again!


  3. Deeply emotional. It kills sometimes, to loose a loved one. Like Lemony Snicket put it “It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Such an apt analogy. I suppose that after walking in the dark for a while, one adjusts to the ‘darkness’. You realize that there isn’t one more stair to climb and stop reaching with your foot ….


  4. Powerful, powerful pieces, especially the last one. I am deeply moved. There is a connection in motherhood that seems to be beyond the exposition of words; yet, your words have taken us to that special place of knowing.

    Oh, how I love my mother!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw, sorry to hear about your stillborn sister. Sometimes, we imagine what could have been . . . “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” – George Eliot
      Thank you Marie.


  5. Deeply moved by your shares, Timi. Really felt the depth from where these stories came from you. Especially that last line: “I will go to her, but she will not return to me.” punched me in the gut. Such poignancy and beauty in the words and the magnitude of what they express of your loss. And “death is a thief.” WOW.

    Also appreciated Unathi’s piece, her internal struggle to tell her daughter the truth about her lineage and the childhood innocence of not understanding/and the wisdom that comes with youth of it not really mattering. As a Filipino, I am familiar with siblings raising other siblings kids as their own too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wasn’t sure I wanted write about these things . . . but the words would just come to me … then it felt right … So your validation means a lot to me, thank you Diahann. For me, there was a sense of being robbed, but I have found peace now 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The bible aptly tells us that we go through certain situations so that we can at some point minister to others. Timi, you have obviously ministered to others just by sharing.
    I hope you plan to publish these short stories at some point

    Keep it up……


      1. Thank you for sharing your journey. Somehow, I thought giving birth would give me instant mother wisdom! Mine was gained the hard way, trial and error. My pediatrician said we should all have a practice child. 🙂 I guess our first gets that honor. I treasure how you thought about the possibility that knowing the factual truth too young could possibly undermine your child’s sense of security. To me that was a very loving choice to continue living with the unsettling question of when to tell, rather than risk harming her.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you, Eileen. I had to digest your comment for a couple of days before responding to it because you mentioned something I hadn’t even realised when I wrote this article: that I had made a loving choice to protect my daughter’s sense of security by not telling her the whole truth…yet, rather than risk harming her. This is so true and I think it affirmed me as a mother that I was able to do that for her. We all learn as we go – even if we have had that first practice child 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

  7. As I’ve mentioned in a previous comment during this series, I don’t have children of my own, but each story has moved me in a different way.
    My sister had a miscarriage before she had her first child. It was a difficult time for our family.
    Thank you for sharing these stories, Timi. I’m sorry for your loss.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your sister’s miscarriage. Although the one directly involved seems to feel it more, family and friends are acutely affected as well.

      I’m really glad that the stories have moved you. It is one reason why I write.
      Thank you Jill. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. These remind me of how strong people are, and that life is beautiful and in the same punch, heartbreaking . I comprehend a mother’s love for her child, but I cannot even begin to imagine the pain from the loss of a child.

    These stories (through the series) are poignant, jolly, and thoughtful.

    Ah, Timi, may God and whatever good there is, bless you.

    “Your mother’s the closest thing to God that you ever have” – Nas

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What a lovely quote! Mothers are precious.

      Ah, “life is beautiful and in the same punch, heartbreaking.” True. Since we cannot avoid heartbreak, I hope that we can harness heartbreak in such a way that we see even more beauty.

      Thanks for reading through the series Tomi, that is already plenty blessings for me. 🙂


    1. Death is a thief. Sometimes it steals our words!
      It can be challenging to find right words in the face of loss. At times like this, even the love language of the bereaved is distorted, seeing as they are wearing pain on both sleeves.

      I’m sorry for her loss and hope you find the right words or gesture to bring comfort.


  9. I wrote the epilogue of my current memoir as a letter to Ange Claire… I feel much more ahead in my healing journey now than seven years ago. Alas life oh life… Thanks Timi for this platform and the stories you put together

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Marie, life oh life… Ange Claire is your daughter who died after spending just a couple of hours with you. I’m so sorry about your loss. I’m glad to hear that you are making progress in your healing journey.


  10. I have a colleague who lost her baby a week ago. I see her and she smiles, laughs and I wonder “can she ever forget this?” She’s the second to lose a baby at the office this year.
    A month ago I stumbled upon the picture of a dead cousin. She was a year old when she passed away and I used to nanny her before then. I couldn’t remember her name and i was ashamed about it. Then I flipped the reverse side of the picture and saw the inscription on it…

    Pain does go away. Memories don’t.

    I’m sorry for your loss, Timi. And the first writer, I don’t know what to say, but children are such blessings they make us forget our troubles sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Uju, and I’m sorry to hear about your colleagues losses and the death of your cousin. Death is a fact of life, but when it snatches life even before it has begun….
      Sometimes I think we smile and laugh so we would not sniffle and cry… but we all deal with grief differently.

      Maybe children make us forget our troubles sometimes because of the unconditional love they extend to us?

      “Pain does go away. Memories don’t.” How apt.
      Memories can fade like vintage photographs or our minds can play tricks on us and we add vibrant colour that was never there…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. What a coincidence? Here is the dedication to my recently published memoir: To you my precious daughter Ange Claire. Although you spent barely a couple of hours with me physically, the nine intimate months we shared, and the spirit that keeps us connected will follow me to my grave. What else can I add? It’s been 7 years

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you for your kind words, Uju. My daughter has certainly helped me ‘forget’ a lot of my troubles and those that I do remember, she has taken the sting out of just by being in my life. Children are truly wonderful blessings.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Each story holds special examples of incredible strength and determination
    letting go of a baby to be raised by another is a gift and a challenge. The young mother made her best choice and hope it did not cause her too much pain or guilt.
    Timi, you have gathered amazing stories from your friends and I felt for your loss, too.
    I lost two babies before birth. The hardest one was my first pregnancy. Just not mesnt to be, were such simple but comforting words.
    I cannot imagine those who hold their precious babies and then they pass away. I did put ornsmentS on.the tree for them and told my children they will see their sister and brother in heaven.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Robin, I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your two babies. Distance may provide perspective, but at the time of the loss, the heaviness of heart is unbearable. How wonderful that those simple words brought you comfort. In our times of sorrow finding the right words can be challenging. I hope the words you shared with your other children brought them comfort.

      Thanks Robin. The other writers in the series have opened the windows of their souls for us to peek in, and I for one have enjoyed what I’ve seen. 🙂


    2. I have to agree with you that letting go of one’s own baby is a gift and a challenge. It is when I chose to put myself in my young mother’s shoes and imagine myself making the choice to give up my baby that I realised I had been judging her harshly by assuming that she must have made the decision to give me up to her aunt easily. I guess that she did what she thought was best for me (and maybe herself) at the time. Yes, we both lost out on a mother-daughter relationship but I gained love from another woman who mothered me very well. We will never know what could have been but we know what is, and that is the difficulty of making up for lost time.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Brilliant Timi, keep it up! You should enter for the commonwealth short story competition. I have no doubt you’ll do brilliantly. God bless you.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. A few years ago, pre-eclampsia sent a loved one home with empty arms and to an emptier crib.

    I remember she told me at the time that other people’s sympathy was what hurt the most.

    I try not to remind her but I wonder if she still wonders about what could/would/should have been. Indeed, “Can she forget the child who came from her body?” Most likely not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your loved one’s loss, Nedoux. Can she forget? Do we forget? In my experience, the ‘sting’ can disappear, meaning that in remembrance, there is no pain.

      @other people’s sympathy was what hurt the most, I feel her.
      I have come to understand that in the face of grief and loss, people can unwittingly become clueless, for lack of a better word. I have come to see that they care deeply, although their expression of care may be inadequate.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I loved this. We’re considering adopting from foster care and I always like to be reminded of how difficult it is for the children, how painful to feel deprived of what the “normal people” had. But I also feel so inspired by the women who raise other people’s children as their own.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Can I like this again? I didn’t realize there were a few parts! The story of coming home empty handed really got me. I remember the same feeling. I had a life threatening blood clot and the doctors had to make a choice between me or the baby. It was so sad. yes, I had other children, but…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Adrienne, I’m sorry to hear about your loss. Coming home empty handed is hard.
        “yes, I had other children, but…” I think I may know a little about what you mean. Since A is not B, A does not replace B.

        On a lighter note, you can like this post as many times as you like XD
        I’m glad some of the stories resonate with you.


    2. The children’s voices during the adoption process are often so silent that when they come out in adulthood, it’s only then that we realise how they felt/feel about their ‘abnormal’ upbringing. I tell my own story (here and on my own blog) for my own healing and also, hopefully, that of those who don’t have the words or courage to express their feelings.

      Adoption can be great, it certainly was for me. But it also takes away something from you as a child and often you don’t know who to tell or how to tell. With that said, I too am “inspired by women who raise other people’s children as their own”. It must take a huge heart to do that selflessly. For that reason, my mom is my heroine. She loved me so well I sometimes forgot I wasn’t her natural child – I still forget at times.

      It’s great to hear you’re considering giving a child a chance to be in a family. I wish you and your family well, whatever you will decide to do.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you! My mother was placed into foster care. Her sisters were either put up for adoption or put in an orphanage. One night my aunt ran away after witnessing a newborn die at the orphanage. Eventually my grandmother took them all back–but one. After a few years that one(my aunt) was given back because the adoptive family didn’t like her anymore.

        I know these stories because my mother always told them to us. I think she did this as her way of healing. My mother felt she didn’t have a voice as a child, but luckily she found it in adulthood. She also forgave her mother who was some piece of work! My aunts struggled more. They never wanted to talk about their childhoods.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh Adrienne, my heart! I don’t even know how to respond appropriately except to send my best wishes to you and your family. What your mom and aunts had to go through is sad indeed. I hope your mom found healing through telling and that your aunts too perhaps eventually found their own ways of dealing with it all. 😦

          Liked by 2 people

  15. What an absolute pleasure it has been to contribute to this series, Timi. Thank you again for the invitation and the opportunity. May our stories of motherhood inspire, ignite conversations and propel us into deeper places of love for our children and ourselves as mommies, whether by birth or any other life’s happenstances.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Unathi, I know a woman in her 60’s who crossed land and sea to find her biological father… the question of identity is a strong one. A friend who was raised by her grandmother read your story and was very moved by it; it sparked conversation between us. Thank you for sharing your story.

      When you are 5, I suppose you do not need to make sense of the world- not unless the ‘world’ whispers cruel things to you… Some stories we need to keep in the things-to-tell-my-daughter-in-future file.

      @propel us into deeper places of love for our children and ourselves as mommies, that is my hope.

      Thanks again. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m very happy to hear your friend could relate to my story, Timi. The reason why I share the story of my upbringing, though at times it’s hard to do so, is because I know that I’m not alone and that many have their own questions and similar struggles. I always hope for that ‘me too!’ moment from the reader and then spark a conversation.

        Liked by 2 people

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