Families forced to be apart this Mother's Day

A mother’s love bridges distance: For all those families forced to be apart this Mother’s Day, a deeply moving account from LINDSAY NICHOLSON about facing this day alone for the first time

  • Lindsay Nicholson MBE, 63, is preparing to spend this Mother’s Day on her own
  • Her first Mother’s Day with her daughters was spent in Hampstead Heath in 1993
  • Since then, her first husband and daughter Ellie have both died from cancer
  • She explained her other daughter Hope, 27, now lives in the Midlands 
  • The former magazine editor revealed how she’s adapted to a lack of company

The teddies did it for me. When she moved out of our family home, my daughter, Hope, then aged 26, placed each of her childhood cuddly toys around the house, as if to watch over me.

The bear I had brought home from Harrods on Christmas Eve when she was seven years old was seated at the head of the dining table. The teddy who had got her through the first term at a new school presided over the kitchen. And Polar the white bear migrated from the place he had occupied on her pillow for 20 years to my bedside.

Several months have passed since that day in September, but the bears are all still in situ, watching over me as I navigate the bittersweet rite of passage that is Mother’s Day in the Empty Nest.

Lindsay Nicholson reflected on the relationship with her daughter Hope,  27, as she prepares to spend this Mother’s Day alone. Pictured: Lindsay with Hope

At this time of year, my mind turns to memories of our first-ever Mother’s Day together in 1993. Hope was not quite two months old; I was still mourning her father, who had died six months previously, and my eldest daughter, Ellie, then aged four, sought solace for her own grief in being an attentive big sister.

The previous year, John had helped Ellie bring me breakfast in bed. Now it was all down to me.

I took both girls to Hampstead Heath intending to have a picnic, but it was a typically blustery March day and, as the wind whipped away our sandwiches and spilled our drinks, first baby Hope, then Ellie, and then I, started crying.

I can picture the three of us now, all sobbing in the rain, and still feel a sense of failure at being unable to celebrate like other, normal families.

Worse was to come. The lethal blood cancer that took Hope’s father before she was born was to take Ellie as well, aged only nine.

As a result of these terrible losses, Hope and I are exceptionally close. In the intervening 21 years we have cleaved to each other, building shared memories of good times to offset some of the sadness.

I wept for two days when she left to start university, and was quietly thrilled when, having finished her degree, she returned home to train as a chef.

As my contemporaries moaned about ‘boomerang kids’ and bewailed the prospects of their children ever being able to afford a home of their own, I rejoiced at the extra years I would have with the young woman who was not only my daughter, but my closest friend.

Lindsay said her first Mother’s Day was spent at Hampstead Heath with her daughters Hope and Ellie. Pictured: Lindsay with Hope as a newborn

Her hair ties clogging up the filter of my washing machine and the complete disappearance of every pair of tweezers I have ever owned seemed to me a small price to pay.

When I was growing up, the lot of the child who stayed at home to care for a lone parent was much on people’s minds.

I had an Uncle Ted who lived with his mother, widowed during the war, until his own death, which was not long after hers.

My parents, mindful of his fate, were keen to push their chicks out of the nest. So, after I finished university, I never returned to live at home, instead moving 200 miles away to the West Country to train as a journalist.

There I met fellow trainee John Merritt, and married him three years later. When he died in 1992, I became a single parent.

While often excruciatingly lonely, I was never alone. There were my two children, of course, and the nannies, the au pairs and mother’s helps I employed in order to continue working as a magazine editor. But those years of profound loneliness and grief filled me with a horror of feeling alone.

So when I married my second husband in 2004, I believed I would survive the inevitable empty nest when it came . . . because I had a husband.

But that was not to be.

Lindsay revealed Hope helped her through a difficult period after her marriage ended and she was made redundant. Pictured: Lindsay with her hope at her graduation in 2015

When my marriage ended three years ago, followed a few months later by redundancy from the job I’d had and loved for 18 years, as editor-in-chief of Good Housekeeping magazine, my life changed suddenly and abruptly from busy and filled with people, to achingly empty.

In those dark days, Hope’s and my position were reversed. She was the parent and I the child.

It was she who made me get up in the morning, she who reminded me to wash my hair and she who gently suggested that perhaps it was not a good idea to open another bottle of wine.

I didn’t want to turn my daughter into a 21st-century Uncle Ted, but I kept my fingers crossed that I would get a few more years of her companionship, pointing out how her ground-floor bedroom had its own front door so, really, she had all the independence she needed. But soon she had a lovely partner, and a job in the Midlands beckoned. They began house-hunting in Birmingham, far more affordable than the South East.

The usual ups and downs of property purchasing followed. I commiserated with each defeat, while secretly cheering that I had her as a housemate for a few more months.

Until suddenly, and all in a rush, they were ready to move into their new home at last.

Hope positioned the teddies around the house, yet — even more poignant to me — left her bedroom in its usual state of chaos, dirty washing on the floor, contact lenses in the bathroom, suggesting she might walk back in at any moment.

Lindsay said her lack of contact and company is an opportunity to enjoy the so-called Freedom Years. Pictured: Hope with Lindsay as she is awarded an MBE

At first, I reeled from the lack of contact and company, but then it dawned on me that this was very different from being a grieving single parent. I was finally able to enjoy the so-called Freedom Years that are supposed to happen in your 20s — when I was anxiously establishing a career.

For the first time in my life, I am a completely free agent, accountable to no one.

I can have the dogs sleeping on my bed; read in the bath for hours at a time; and live entirely on Marks & Spencer ready-meals washed down with gin-in-a-tin. There is no one else to consider. No one’s feelings to be hurt if I don’t feel like talking.

I have taken up painting and there is no need to clear my art materials from the kitchen table.

Even staying with friends is easier — most people have no problem finding room for a lone woman who knows how to stack a dishwasher.

And enough time has passed since the divorce and the redundancy that I have built up a new career as a life coach and writer.

I have colleagues and contacts around the world. I even met another writer and enjoyed a passionate affair without having to think about introducing him to anyone, nor explain when it ended.

This year on Mothering Sunday, I shall be on my own.

Lindsay revealed she’s had to cancel plans to visit her mother this Mother’s Day because of the coronavirus crisis. Pictured: Lindsay with Hope

Hope visited last weekend. I had originally planned to spend the day with my own mother, who is still vibrant and energetic in her 80s, but sadly I have had to cancel our plans, at her request, due to the current coronavirus crisis.

We’ll all chat, as we do, on our family WhatsApp group instead.

The temptation would be to dwell on this day alone. But if that bleak, windswept day on Hampstead Heath taught me anything it is this: Mother’s Day really is just one day. Motherhood is built over a lifetime.

So what if breakfast on Sunday is just me and the teddy bears? I am proud to be both a mother and a daughter — and always will be, whatever day of the year it is.

The moment I Held Her I knew she was meant to be my adopted daughter

British scientist Michelle Adams, 38, has been married to Stasinos, 42, a cardiologist, for seven years. They adopted their daughter, Lelia, three, in Cyprus almost three years ago.

The nurse gave me a hopeful smile and asked: ‘Would you like to see her now?’ For an hour we’d been discussing my daughter’s medical history and the life she’d lived for four months without me.

Moments later, I found myself staring into the huge eyes of a tiny girl, her hair as curly as corkscrews. I felt certain she was looking at this strange woman with tears on her cheeks, wondering what made me so special that she’d had to be woken from a nap. ‘I’m your mama,’ I told her, and with a shaky finger I tickled her tummy. She giggled and reached for me. I decided it was a sign. I whispered to my husband: ‘Finally, we’ve found our baby.’

Michelle Adams, 38, (pictured) revealed struggled to call herself Lelia’s mother, for months after adopting her

We’d been waiting for three years. During that time, I’d watched friends have babies and my fears intensified each time I saw my dreams played out elsewhere.

In a moment of desperation, we met with a surrogacy agency. But it wasn’t for me. I didn’t want any child. I wanted my child, and it was my strong belief that she was coming to us via adoption.

A few months later, in July 2017, we got a call — the conversation that would lead us to Lelia. When I held her on that first day, I knew she was the child I had been waiting for. The first time she fell asleep in my arms and I laid her in her cot, it was as if a line had been drawn between the past and the future. But an uncomfortable dichotomy emerges from adoption: for my dreams to be fulfilled, first someone else’s had to be shattered.

When Lelia was born she was unable to feed properly due to a cleft palate, and soon became unwell. While we will never know her exact reasoning, Lelia’s birth mother felt unable to cope, and decided to leave her in the care of hospital staff. Lelia spent the next four months in the intensive care facility of the hospital.

To be given away by the person on whom you are entirely dependent is a great loss, and I imagine her biological mother, too, must have suffered an unimaginable burden when making her decision. And yet there was I, stepping into the role, never happier in my life.

Everything I did that first week Lelia remained in hospital was scrutinised and evaluated. Because of her cleft palate, we had to learn how to pass a feeding tube through her nose and into her stomach.

The moment we could take her home was overshadowed when she pulled out the feeding tube that same afternoon.

Later that night with a new tube in to feed her, I realised the fantasy I’d had about parenthood was over. After she fell asleep I stood in my bedroom and cried. Some of those tears were relief. Some were gratitude. But most stemmed from fear. Perhaps I was better able to understand the fears of her biological mother in that moment than I will ever be able to again.

After the tube came out she lost 0.5 kg, and I felt the weight of the judgment of the medical professionals. When she cried in public and I couldn’t soothe her, I felt the disparaging looks from strangers.

I was vocal about our adoption, proud of our daughter and the way she came to us, but found it hard not to react when people asked me what had happened to her ‘real’ mother. I found myself desperate to prove I was good enough.

Eight months later we were declared her legal parents, and, at 13 months, Lelia finally had surgery to repair her palate.

My husband and I waited for news for two hours. Then I rushed to Lelia’s bed to find her screaming and disorientated. Blood seeped from her mouth.

I scooped her up, just like on the first day, and whispered that Mama was there and everything was OK. And this time, despite her pain and my fear, she reached out, held on to me, and was soothed.

For months I’d been wondering whether I had the right to call myself her mother, but all along the only person who had the answer was my daughter.

Since that day, I’ve never questioned who I am to her.

Adapted by Felicia Bromfield from The Best, Most Awful Job: Twenty Writers Talk Honestly About Motherhood, edited by Katherine May (Elliott & Thompson, £12.99). To order a copy for £10.40 (offer valid to 2/4/20, p&p free), visit mailshop.co.uk or call 01603 648 155

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