When I was 14 weeks pregnant with my daughter, my mother died. The truth is that I haven’t spoken much about my loss or about the impact grief has had on my start as a mother. I’m not sure I’ve figured it out just yet. I think that my subconscious imagines a day when I’ll hop on the Metro North to meet her for lunch and a shopping date, and I’ll hug her so close and share with her everything she’s missed this year. Some might say I’m living in a state of denial. I say I’m just heartbroken.
When my daughter was born 6 months ago, I didn’t search her face for signs of my husband or me. I searched for my mother. I wanted to believe that there could be some connection between her and that baby girl. I wanted to believe, somehow, that she was with me in the delivery room. I wanted to believe that my mom could see the pride on Baby Liv’s face when she rolled over for the first time, or the joy she’s exuded this week as she practices her newest skill – waving. While I’m fortunate to have a husband and friends who share my excitement each time Liv does something marvelous, the experience just isn’t what it would be if my mom were here. Despite having a new, sometimes vociferous, baby, there’s a new quiet in my life where there should be daily phone calls sharing the mundane and the extraordinary.
My mom knew who she was, and she owned it. Her most treasured physical attribute was her thick, jet-black hair. While she sometimes lamented that it turned grey in her 30s, she never dyed it, and she was stunning. When she learned that her second bout of breast cancer had taken up permanent residence in her chest wall and would not be evicted, she celebrated that she had more time and took my dad and me out for lunch. She danced in the kitchen, made life-long friends in checkout lines, advocated for what she believed was right, and taught me how to be kind, magnanimous, committed, and joyful. There was something remarkable about her. She was my mom, and nobody knew how to “run it” quite like her.
Shortly before she passed away, we sat on the couch in the living room of my childhood home. She’d battled cancer for a long time, but she was still a vibrant and dynamic spirit, so we all believed she had plenty of time left. Perhaps she knew she didn’t. She said to me, for the first and last time, “It goes by in a blink.” These words resound in my head every day. Through the excitement and the tedium, the whining and the smiling, and the joys and the fears, I will not wish away a single second of this journey.
So many people told me that I should enlist family, friends, or even a nurse to support me during the first weeks of motherhood. They said that the learning curve was too steep. In my grief, I truly thought I’d crumble without my mom during this time, but I realized in the quiet of those first weeks of motherhood – alone with my husband and baby – that she had already taught me all I needed to know.
I’ll never be able to ask my mom what the experience of motherhood was like for her. Fortunately, my father discovered a book full of letters she wrote me during my first years. In them, she shared her reactions to things I’d say and do. It’s been a blessing to reconnect with my mother at the beginning of her own journey. The day my daughter was born, I opened a gmail account and have been writing to her so she will have a sense of who she was, but also of who I have been, during this time.
When I look at Liv, I realize that I can be to her what my mom was to me. There is no greater gift or responsibility.