“I could hardly wait to come today,” Laura says smiling brightly, as she settles into the chair across from me. “Although last time I felt really sad after the session. I always saw myself as having this normal, average family. You know, nice home in the suburbs, Dad commutes to work, Mom substitute teaches, everyone loves everyone else. And I guess that’s still true. But it’s more complicated. Everyone loves everyone else as much as they can, but that may not always be enough for the kids.”
“For the kids?” I ask.
“I guess I mean for me. It’s hard. It’s hard to give up the illusion that everything was just as it should have been. My mother just doesn’t have it, whatever that it is, that maternal instinct, that ability to tune into me. She always preferred being alone with her books and her crafts.” She pauses. “And I didn’t expect to be here. I come into therapy for the first time in my life at 34 to decide whether or not I want to have a child. I never thought I did. And I never questioned why I didn’t, I just didn’t. But with my biological clock getting ready to hit the alarm button and all my friends having babies, I don’t know, I just started to wonder.”
“Do you have feelings about coming into therapy to answer what you thought was a simple question and having me open up Pandora’s box?”
Her eyes twinkle in delight. “That’s why I love coming here. You’re so honest, so straightforward. You always want to know. You want to know me, want to know what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling. It’s incredibly refreshing.”
I smile back at her, thinking that she’s the one who’s incredibly refreshing. “I do want to know you, Laura. It’s a privilege to watch your journey of discovery, to watch you find yourself, discover new things about yourself, confront your pain, as well as your joy.”
She begins to cry.
I remain silent.
“I’m sorry… I know. I know. I should never apologize for my tears. It’s just that you’re so different from my mother. And your being so different makes it terribly clear what she couldn’t give me. And it’s sad. No matter what I do I’m not going to make her into you.” She pauses, then adds quietly, “And I can’t make you my mother.”
I smile inwardly. It’s such a pleasure to work with Laura. Despite her having no psychological background, despite her never being in therapy before, she intuitively grasps profound psychological and unconscious processes. Besides, she’s a warm, caring, thoughtful, loving person. We connect well together and I’m confident that I can help her more fully appreciate the fine human being she is.
I say, “So I wonder if what you’re saying, Laura, is that as warm and positive as it feels to be in this room with me, it also mirrors the deprivation and loss you felt in your childhood. Your mother couldn’t be the mother you needed and deserved as a child and although I come closer to the mother you want, I’m not your mother – and I certainly wasn’t the mother of your childhood – which leaves you feeling sad and bereft.
“So what good are you?” Laura asks, attempting to smile through her tears.
“You’re smiling, but I bet you feel angry, angry at me, angry at your mother.”
“That doesn’t seem fair.”
“Feelings don’t have to be fair, Laura, they just are.”
She looks at me quizzically. “Putting my sarcasm aside, what good is it for me to feel sad and bereft all over again? And how does that help me decide about having a child?”
“Well, feeling sad and bereft with me enables you to replicate in the present the feelings you had as a child, right at this moment between us. It brings those feelings from the past into the present and allows you to feel sad and angry, sad and angry, and sad and angry and eventually to put them away with a different level of adult acceptance. It allows a mourning for that which never was and never can be.”
“And the child part?”
“I think you already know that having or not having a child is tied to your feelings about how you were mothered and how you feel about mothering another little being. I don’t think we understand it all yet, but I suspect as it becomes clearer to you, you’ll know whether or not you want to have a child.”
She sighs. “I bet if you had been my mother I would have had three kids by now.”
“That’s a really interesting statement, Laura. I think we should look at that more closely next time.”