Tears And Broken Bonds: The Day My Daughter Forgot Me

Photo: Rena Miller | Shutterstock, Derwin Edwards | Canva
little girls big eyes looking up not recognizing who was in front of her

Editor's Note: This is the second part of a three-part series. Read the first part here and the third part here.

Six months had passed since I’d seen my baby girl. I thought about my daughter Victoria every day, but I hesitated to call because I’d have to deal with Rebecca, the aunt who had taken my daughter during my mental health crisis. Even though I regretted letting her go, at the time I was in no condition to fight for myself or my child.

Victoria was only supposed to be with Rebecca for three weeks, but Rebecca and her husband gave my daughter her own room complete with furniture and a big fluffy bed. She sent me pictures of the room as well as Victoria all dressed up in fancier clothes than I could have ever afforded to give her.

Her father, Micah, continued to harass me every day since the day Victoria left. At first, he gloated that more people were “on his side” than on mine, but I let him know I didn’t care and didn’t think it was a competition. Since that tactic didn’t work, he started calling and emailing about how we should team up and get Victoria back.

I tried not to listen to him, but the thought of getting my daughter back was exactly what I wanted, and he knew it. Micah suggested that we would have a better chance if we were under the same roof again, and my heart was so broken that I believed him.

Up until then, I tried to get into a better emotional and financial situation. Sadly, my depression was so bad that I was hardly able to work, causing more stress because I didn’t have money. The cottage was lonely before Victoria left, but with her gone, it was completely isolating. Hateful thoughts about myself tortured me all day and night, mostly that I was such a horrible parent that all my kids were living elsewhere.

In the end, I resorted to moving back into Micah’s apartment. I truly believed it was my only hope, but I should have known better. The apartment was in a bad neighborhood that I would never let Victoria live in, but Micah promised we would save money and move into a much better place.

I started getting hostile emails from Rebecca about two months into Victoria’s stay there. She heard that I was back with Micah and told me that Victoria wouldn’t be coming back until that changed.

She knew her brother was trouble from the start. In my desperation, I had forgotten that.

Because I didn’t know what rights I had as Victoria's mother, and worried that I was still too depressed to raise a child, I let her stay with Rebecca for a lot longer than I was comfortable with. I felt like a failure, unable to care for myself much less anybody else. Rebecca’s constant harsh words didn’t help.

Once I realized that Micah had no intention of making our lives better or getting Victoria back, I left him again when I saved some money and moved into one side of a duplex that had two bedrooms. I didn’t give anybody my address, and I changed my phone number so Micah couldn’t hassle me.

If I was going to get my daughter back home, I would have to do it by myself.

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One week after Christmas that year, Rebecca asked me if I wanted to come and see Victoria for the day. It was the first time she had ever offered, and I couldn’t say yes fast enough. My two sons’ father said I could take them with me, so I picked them up on the way there.

The thought of me and my three kids together in one place was exciting.

Rebecca was very clear, though. Micah was not welcome. I promised she wouldn’t have to worry about that because we were separated, and I hoped we would be divorced as soon as I raised the money. He found out where I lived and still stalked me everywhere I went, but if we weren’t trying to get our daughter back, he was useless to me. I never should have trusted him in the first place.

The boys and I made the two-hour drive to Rebecca’s house. My stomach was full of butterflies the whole time. What if Victoria was upset with me? I felt bad for not calling more often and seeing her sooner, but I always got such a negative response when I tried.

We pulled up to Rebecca’s house and headed for the front door. About thirty seconds later, the door opened to reveal Victoria standing there. Her hair was in soft curls, and her red dress was the most beautiful I’d ever seen. She also wore patent black leather shoes with white stockings. She looked like a child model.

Victoria acknowledged the boys first, taking their hands and showing them her room and her toys. Rebecca and I followed behind, not wanting to interrupt her moment with her brothers. I kneeled down to get to Victoria’s level, but she didn’t throw herself into my arms as I had imagined.

In fact, there was no hint of recognition for me in Victoria’s face at all.

When Rebecca told her to give me a hug, it made me feel like I was bothering her. The little girl who had melted into my arms so many times seemed cold and disinterested. I tried to pretend it was okay, but inside my heart was smashed into a million pieces.

The boys and I had belated Christmas presents for Victoria, but Rebecca insisted that we not mention the holiday. She explained that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses and did not celebrate Christmas, and apparently, that included my daughter.

Rebecca finally said we could call it “We Love Victoria” day, but it made me sad that Christmas had passed, and Victoria wasn’t allowed to take part in it. I remembered my holidays when I was a little girl and would have loved to give Victoria the full Christmas treatment, but I didn’t want to make Rebecca angry.

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We all went back to the living room, and I sat on the edge of the couch as Victoria delighted in playing with the boys. It did my heart good to see them all together, but I hung back from them in shame. Victoria clearly thought Rebecca was her mother and that I was a stranger. I wiped away the tears that streamed from my eyes. This was not the time to cry.

I let my daughter down, and I deserved everything that was coming to me.

Victoria ran to the sliding glass door, wanting to play in the yard with her brothers. After they went outside, Rebecca came up behind me.

“You should go out there,” she advised. “You’re not bonding with her.”

I was painfully aware that Victoria and I weren’t bonding. She hardly glanced at me at all, and I was too afraid to approach her in case she cried. As the woman who gave birth to her prematurely, spent every day in the ICU with her and cuddled her on fussy nights when she came home from the hospital, the thought that my presence might scare her was devastating.

I went outside and stood by the swings where my older son was pushing Victoria. My younger boy played in the dirt nearby. It occurred to me at that moment that I was with my children and that they were healthy and happy. No matter how messed up I was, they were the most important thing. I felt unexpected gratitude standing outside with them, that I was there to witness it.

Victoria had the perfect family, the perfect outfits in her closet, and the perfect room to sleep in. She had all the things I hadn’t been able to provide for her. I had nothing to match the wonderful things she already had, and it left me feeling empty inside.

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Pretty soon, it was time to go home. By then, Victoria had warmed up a tiny bit and actually approached me for a hug goodbye. I wrapped my arms around her, not wanting to let go.

“Mommy loves you,” I whispered in her ear before she hurried away. As we walked to the car, I turned around to wave at her and smiled when she waved her little hand back. I wanted to cry, but I knew I would have to wait two hours until I dropped off the boys.

Victoria had a better life than I could have ever provided. I was happy for her, but I wondered when I would be able to see her again. Rebecca had been kind to let us visit, but she was so hot and cold with me that she could stop me from seeing Victoria anytime she wanted.

It was time for me to do the hard work on myself that I desperately needed.

Part of that had to be never speaking to Micah again. This time, I’d work to provide for myself, not just so Micah could steal my money. If I ever wanted to see my daughter again, I’d have to prove to myself and Rebecca that I could take care of both of us.

I was willing to do whatever it took.

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Glenna Gill is a writer and blogger from Charlotte, North Carolina. Her articles have been featured in Scary Mommy and P.S. I Love You. When I Was Lost is her first full-length book, a memoir of love, loss, and hope.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.