At 6 a.m. on July 4th, 2022, before the parade happened in the small town of Connecticut, I found out I was pregnant. I ran into the room and jumped on the bed to wake my husband, “I’m going to be a mommy! I’m going to be a mommy!”
However, this excitement was followed by an uneasy feeling. I knew this would force me to come face-to-face with my relationship with my mother.
The Good Asian Daughter
Growing up in a traditional Taiwanese family, I was happy being a docile Asian daughter who’s happy as long as her mom is happy. I was used to the jokes that were the norm in my culture. My mom would tell me I’ll get a “minced pork stir fry with bamboo” if I didn’t get an A in the class (meaning that she would hit my butt with a stick).
I would laugh, knowing that physical punishment is guaranteed if I don’t perform well academically. She would also crack jokes like “It’s better to give birth to an egg than you. At least I can eat the egg,” when I did something that didn’t meet her expectation, and I found it funny.
I was an accident. My mom had me when she was 23. She often told me how hard it was to raise me, and remembered how hard she worked to make money, trying to sell clothes on the street without a permit. She has detailed many times how she would hold me in one arm, grab the bags of clothes in the other, and run from the police.
I listened to these stories, grateful for how much she has done for me. I felt motivated to study hard, get a good job, and marry a good husband so that I could live in a big house with my parents for the rest of our lives.
My First Narrative Crisis
My dreams of being a perfect Asian daughter were shattered when I had a chance to study in the US on a scholarship for a year during college. After being exposed to other cultural norms, I started to think, wow, how I was brought up was not cool at all!
I learned about phrases and ideas like “Tiger moms,” “gaslighting,” “passive-aggressive,” and “emotional blackmail.”. Although I first used these words jokingly with other Asian-American friends, they undeniably opened a whole new world of understanding my emotions and created an unseen tension between my mother and me. I stopped responding to her texts and saw them as a form of control. I pretended I didn’t notice when she tried to look into my eyes lovingly. There was an invisible wall that I built up between us, but neither of us was willing to admit it. This went on for years.
Shit hit the fan (another fun phrase I learned while studying in the States) when I started to create online three years ago. I began to attribute my fears and frustration to my mother-daughter relationship. I tried to figure out why I had intense imposter syndrome and difficulty making friends or building relationships. I was legitimately confused when friends described me as “kind, welcoming, and warm” and called me a people connector or community leader. I mean, my mom thought it was better to give birth to an egg than to me. Don’t they think making friends with eggs is better than making friends with me?
These frustrations escalated into resentment and guilt after I started traveling nomadically and later moved to the States. I became the nightmare of traditional Taiwanese culture, a kid that her parents spent their whole lifetime raising but leaving them behind to pursue her own happiness. I’m officially a filial piety cautionary tale.
Thanks to Tim Ferriss and a wide range of podcasts and books, I was exposed to an even broader vocabulary for my emotions and alternative ways of improving my well-being. I learned and applied the approaches of Internal Family Systems, Vipassana, breathwork, and many others. After learning about these different ways of understanding the human mind, I started adopting the trauma framework and revised my memories accordingly. I erased the genuine love I felt as a good Asian daughter and replaced the empty hole with a new story of being a trauma victim.
At one point on my healing journey, I thought I had figured out the solution - I needed to forgive my mother and forgive myself. I forgave her for regretting having me that young. I forgave her for always making me feel like I’m a burden to the family. I forgave myself for making her work so hard that she had to run from the police. I forgave myself for being born too early and that she couldn’t enjoy her golden twenties. I told myself that I would forgive whatever happened in the past and try my best to build my own family.
A Twist of Reality
When I found out I was pregnant, I was nervous about sharing this news with my mother. I was afraid of hearing the same jokes about me being a burden.
But I was wrong. The gift of this new life I’m creating sparked unexpected conversations within my family. The reality of my childhood has come alive in full color and that completely changed my self-narrative.
When I shared my baby’s heartbeat with my mother, she replied, “That’s the sound that made me tear up when I had you! Isn’t that the most beautiful sound ever?” I cried when I heard my baby’s heartbeat, too, but I cried even harder when I saw her words. She would text me, asking me to give her my pregnancy updates with my excitement. “Were you able to feel the baby’s movement yet? I remember I was so looking forward to feeling your every movement. You were so cute.”
Wait a minute. My mom didn’t see me as a burden? She did not resent having me? She was even…excited to have me?
Before I was pregnant, I was afraid that if one day I became a mother, I would have to give up my freedom of being nomadic and be “forced” to settle down. I feared that I would replicate the resentment I felt from my mom, and my baby would feel it and think of herself as a burden.
But what happened was the second I found out I was pregnant, unprecedented courage and ambition filled my body. I am 100% willing to commit to changing myself to build a thriving life for my baby. I turned from this hippie nomad that worked whenever I wanted to a hardworking mom who settled in a city and is ready to fight for whatever my baby needed.
But I never felt this baby girl is my burden. On the contrary, because of her, I can be the bravest version of myself. And whatever life choices she makes for herself- whether she wants to spend time with me or spend most of her life on the opposite side of the world, I will be so happy for her because I love her.
Because of my feelings for my daughter, I suddenly woke up from the narrative I had for my mother. I realized my mom never told me I was a burden, I just invented that narrative because I thought she suffered by working so much. She also never told me she was disappointed at me moving across the world. Now that I look back on all of the self-improvement efforts I made, I understand I was only approaching them with a one-sided story.
This realization has helped me to rewrite my narrative. It’s still hard to let go of these stories but I now fully understand all of the positive things I must have brought into my parent’s world.
Now I focus on how I can form a narrative and construct a reality that enables me to thrive, not what trauma therapists think it’s right. Yes, I might have some scars from my harsh Asian upbringing, but I also have so much love from my family. I thought if one day I had kids, I would try my best to sever the generational family trauma and bring a life of prosperity to my kids. But the truth is my mother had so much love for me, and I struggled to see it.
I won’t be able to dictate how my daughter experiences the world, but I will try my best to help her write her own story, and make sure I let her know that she will forever be my angel, a gift for my life. Just like I am for my mother.