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Becoming a mum without one

Plaster smile
FAKE IT: Plastering a smile on your face, even when your vision is blurred from tears and your throat is burning is the best way to get through the departures terminal.

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If the airport arrivals hall is one of happiness and joy, the departures queue is the total antithesis.

It's something I find difficult to think about, let alone talk or speak about - but having to say goodbye to my mum before leaving for New Zealand is without a doubt one of the most painful experiences I have ever gone through.

I know for many women, either through distance - physical or emotional, death or for whatever reason, it is a void that can't ever be filled.

Now that I am thinking about and planning on becoming a mum, the loss is even more acute.

For me, the decision was a no-win. My husband and I decided to come back to New Zealand, where he grew up, because we knew that we would not be able to provide the same safety and quality of life in my home country of South Africa.

In planning for the future, I made one of the biggest sacrifices I believe I will ever make in my life. I had to say goodbye to my best friend, my number one fan, my confidant, my mum.

For each person it is different, but my mum and I have always been incredibly close. When we left for New Zealand this time last year (almost to the day in fact) we both knew that it would never be the same.

I know there is Skype and email and instant messaging and all these wonderful things, but I can't meet her for coffee and a catch up, I can't pop around when I have had a bad day, I can't have a good cry on her shoulder and perhaps the most painful of all- she can't physically hold me, or hug me.

Now that I am planning on becoming a mother, the thought of not having my mum near causes me incredible pain. The kind of pain that numbs you, where you build a fort so tight and impenetrable around how you are actually feeling that if you really stopped and thought about it, you would start crying and never be able to stop.

I know in psychological terms that would be considered unhealthy, and probably a form of repression, but hey - if it means I can get up every morning and lead a normal life without a one-way ticket to a loony bin, a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do. Right?

But in spite of myself, planning a baby gets through these defences. Who will help me figure out how to bath a baby? How will I know if I am doing it right? What if there is a complication? Who will be there to support me? What about when I am in labour, who will be there to tell me I can do it?

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I wanted my mum to be a part of this, I wanted her to be an involved grandmother, and I wanted her to be a part of my child's life.

I know I won't be alone, I know I have a loving husband and wonderful friends who have become a surrogate family there for us, but - it's not my mum.

Not only do I feel incredible pain at having to say goodbye, I feel guilty for depriving her of the chance to be there with me when I take on this new role of mother.

It seems like a rather hopeless situation, I know, but one of the few things that gives me comfort (besides knowing I can visit if and when finances allow and we have Skype etc) is that, I am not the only woman to have to go through this and I won't be the last  some tough love self-talking right there. This may need to be said to oneself in front of a mirror, ignore the tear-stained, bloodshot eyes looking back at you, you need to hear this and you need to get a grip).

I remember the first time we went to Te Papa Museum, about a week after we arrived in Wellington, there was a display exhibiting the first settlers in New Zealand. There was a woman's diary; she described how the boat journey had been awful, rats, sea sickness, months and months of travel not knowing when they would arrive.

She wrote that she felt as though everyone in her family had died in one fell swoop, a hundred years later and I understood exactly what she meant, except in my case, I can still Skype and email - despite the 12 hour time difference. I didn't have to sit on a boat for months not knowing when I would get to my destination. It's not as bad as the women had it back then.

I noted the same at the airport in Sydney, lots of grandparents in transit, or South Africans like me going back for a visit.

I didn't mean for this post to be so depressing, but I know there are many mums, mums-to-be and wannabe mums like me, in New Zealand, whether born here or immigrants who- whether in another town, or perhaps in Australia, or somewhere else might be battling with the same feelings.

You aren't alone.

The mother-daughter relationship is certainly one of the most complex and most vital. It might not always be perfect. Perhaps your mum is well meaning, but over-powering, maybe she believes there is only one way- her way, or the wrong way. Or, for reasons you aren't even sure of yourself, she just annoys you sometimes.

Take it from me, if you are close enough to her (physically) tell her how you feel, be honest, work at it, communicate. If you take her for granted, tell her you love her. If you only call her when you have some kind of problem or drama in your life, just ring her and ask her how she is for a change. Let her know you love her and value her and enjoy every minute you can.

Don't sweat the small-stuff. She isn't perfect, no one is - but I am pretty sure no one will love you as unconditionally and be there when the chips are down quite like your mum.

For wannabe-mums like me on the pre-conception journey, who are dealing the uncertainty of getting pregnant and trying to process the distance issue too, be kind to yourself.

I find journaling helps get perspective on things. Look at the good things too, rest and exercise. There is a whole rollercoaster of emotions when trying to fall pregnant and it can all feel overwhelming at times.  A cup of tea and a few deep breathes helps too, this too will pass and you aren't alone. Ok? Maybe we could start a support forum here for mums in the same boat.

Tell us: How have you navigated not having your mum around? Do you find Skype helps? What do you do to keep mum updated about what is going on with your pregnancy/ baby/ child?

- © Fairfax NZ News

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