But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin. ~ Mitch Albom, For One More Day
The last few days I have been going through a bin of pieces of my grandmother’s life from before she married my grandfather and gave birth to my mother. There are a lot of old photographs of a a lot of people I don’t recognize. And of course there are a lot of images of my grandmother as a child and then a young woman.
I wrote this piece on Instagram a year ago:
I’ve been thinking a lot about the women who have come before, how they shaped me, how parts of my life trajectory were begun before I was even conceived. I have been thinking about my great-grandmother, a woman I never met and don’t even know the name of, and my mother and their relationship. I wonder about my grandmother and her relationship with her mother and her own grandmother.
I grieve for the too short relationship my mother had with my daughter and my niece. I look at these girls and see the fire of my mother, her independence as well as her simply wanting to be loved. I wonder how much of this was passed through our wombs, grandmother to grand-daughter and how much is in our relationships with these women who came before us and before our own mothers.
I wonder about the spider web of connections that has been woven over the generations. How each woman was partially created inside their grandmother’s womb. How laughs and attitudes and facial expressions can be passed down without ever knowing.
And then I get to wondering about my grandmother’s womb itself. The place that my mother was created and incubated and where the egg that later became me, was first formed. A womb that carried and grew a baby boy and was the place of his death before he was able to take his first breath in this world. I wonder if there were other deaths within my grandmother’s womb. I wonder what scars and grief and pain she carried within that organ.
And so my mind wanders and wonders. I know many stories of my mother’s womb, the deaths within it and how ultimately that system was the cause of her death when the tumors first born on her ovaries spread throughout her body a second time. And of course the stories of my own womb, the deaths within, the sickness, the wounds. What about the stories of my great-grandmother’s womb? Or my great-great-grandmother? Or the female ancestor who live 500 years ago? Or 5000? What stories did their own wombs hold? What hurts and joys and wounds and healing lived within their uniquely feminine organs?
What pieces of those stories were passed down to their daughters? Were grown in their granddaughters?
It all comes back to the stories. Our origin stories do not begin with us. And I do not believe they begin with our mothers either. Our personal origin stories begin thousands of years ago with women we never knew and likely rarely, if ever, think of.
And what does that mean?
Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. Maybe it’s somewhere in-between nothing and everything, that this in-between is where the meaning lives. Or maybe the meaning lives in the nothing and the everything and in-between, perhaps the meaning is everywhere and nowhere all at once.
Of course in thinking about the women who came before, their wombs, my own womb, the ideas of oppression, patriarchy and misogyny and how they deeply impact us, over and over, across the generations, also comes to play in my mind.
I want to make sense of it all and I also know there is no sense to most of it. The women who came before me lived their lives and carried their wounds just as I do today: as best they could. Perhaps some were able to heal a bit more, passing down a bit less to the next generations and perhaps others did more wounding than healing, passing down more pain, and shame and wounds.
This I do know: they were each perfectly imperfect woman and they each live within me, not only as markers in my DNA but also as my own deep knowing and truth.
So I continue to look at these old photographs of women who in some way are related to me, if not by blood then by experience and shaping the lives and psyches of the women who are my genetic ancestors. I wonder about them and wander down this path of unraveling the stories, of healing the wounds, of dancing with the shadows and finding my own sense of peace, being and embodied knowing.
If you would like to explore your own relationships with your female ancestors, I have a six month circle that will begin on April 1. You can learn more and request an application here.
Did you enjoy this essay? It is actually a copy of a love letter I sent out last year. If you’d like to sign up to receive future love letters, you can do that here.