Since reading that essay by Hope Edelman I posted in yesterday's blog I have thought a lot about what it means to become a mother without mine to guide me. I recognize that my mother was flawed. She may not have helped me decorate the nursery, cried when she felt the baby kick or bought me cute maternity clothes she saw when she was out. She was probably not like that.
The problem is, I will never know.
I will never know if she would do the things for me that I feel are missing. I know that when I was young, she and I were as close as a mother and daughter could be. I told her everything about my friends, my life, school, whatever. Most of the time she seemed genuinely interested in the day to day aspects of my life. She loved my friends and was very involved with them as well. Maybe it was because she was a therapist.
When I spent a summer in Brazil my freshman year in high school and was horribly homesick, my mother wrote to me almost everyday, not missing a detail, what my sister M was doing (she was five at the time) and keeping me up on the gossip in my neighborhood. She must have wanted me to know that my home missed me as well. After I told her I was almost hit by a bus, she told me to breath deeply, take it easy and try to take care of myself. She said that she was worried about me and that I was not to run out in front of any more buses because she could not live without me coming home safely. At the time the letters meant so little, but I saved them anyway. Looking through them now, they are like windows into what could have been. Often what I think I have missed the most by losing my mother so early was that sense that someone loves me best. That someone's life would really end if I was hit by a bus in Brazil.
I think part of the reason I married so young (25--young by northeastern standards) was that I wanted that kind of love again. That kind of can't-live-without-eachother locked down guarantee love. But then, anyone who has lost someone they loved that much also knows that there are no guarantees. It makes love the kind of thing we do the way others watch horror movies--covering our eyes, peeking through the spaces between the fingers alll the while hoping the killer is not behind the door.
I am good at being independent, at not asking for help. Sometimes I cringe when I make a mistake and actually ask because I do not want to give people the opportunity to let me down. I am good at ignoring how my body feels and forcing myself to soldier through most things. I think this will help me in labor. I learned that from losing my mother too since sometimes ignoring pain and pushing through is the only way to finish something. I definitely learned how to take care of myself because my mother died and most of the time, I don't expect anyone to really help me the way I want to be helped, but that does not mean that people never disappoint me.
I wonder what I will miss mothering without my mother. Would she have helped me in that first week when I am exhausted and emotionally overwrought? Would she have told me to relax and breathe and maybe taken the baby herself for a few hours just to give me a break? Would she have made dinner? It seems that even when a mother sees her daughter become a mother, her daughter is still her first baby. I will never know what that is like. I will never know what her pregnancies were like or what she felt during them. I will never know what her birth with me was like. I will never know why she was able to breastfeed my sister, but not me. An entire body of knowledge is just missing.
I do my best to record everything with this pregnany, every twinge, every new symptom. I tell R, I write it down, I tell a friend hoping that I can provide something for my dauughter should she ever find herself alone on the other side of a mountain, with a valley between us. If I can't tell her about my pregnancy with her, I want her to know. And I will do the same when she is born. I will meticulously record her milestones and her progress. But I also know I have picked a man who will remember these things. That is not an accident.
I remember when she died wondering when things would get better, asking people when they would. I got a variety of answers, but the only ones that were right were from the few people I knew who also lost their mothers young. "It will get different, but never better," my friend Chelsea who had lost her mother three years before told me. As a 16-year-old full of anger and fear and unbearable sadness, I could not handle that answer. But she was right. In the thirteen years since, I have learned to manage the sadness, to find real joy and happiness even with longing. But I have missed her more than I could have ever imagined then at every major life event. At my high school graduation. At my college graduation. At my wedding.
This has been different. Although I cannot ask my mother about her pregnancies (and no one else can seem to remember) and I will never know what she would have been like or what I have missed by not having her, I have never felt this close to her. When I put my hands on my extremely swollen belly and think about the little person inside and how she is a quarter of the mother I miss so much, I am in awe. And when I think about how she might have felt eight weeks before my birth--scared, excited, impatient--I know her in a new way, an adult way I have not found before. Although I never found solace when people told me after the funeral that she was still "with me,," I think I now know what they meant. And although I will never stop missing her or stop wishing things had been different, I do take comfort in that.