My mother was a force of nature. She was only 17-years-old when she married my father, somehow convincing her parents that it was a good idea to let a girl barely out of high school marry a barely 20-year-old man due to go to Vietnam soon after. My mother was the sort of woman who was sharp, wise and determined. She always got what she wanted as evidenced by her young marriage. One of the things she wanted most was to have children and a family of her own. It didn’t happen easily, taking thirteen years before I made my arrival into this world. I don’t honestly know the whole story of how I came to be, but there have been times in my life when I was pretty sure that my mother simply demanded upon the universe that she would have a child and—poof—there I was.
My mom chose to be a stay-at-home parent to myself and my younger brother. This meant long days spent with her playing and learning until we were old enough to go to school and after that coming home every day to her being there. I remember listening to the big console stereo in the living room with her, my first impromptu dance parties being with my mom. I remember running up the driveway after school to tell her about my adventures or about the bad things that I’d experienced on the bus. The time an older child put gum in my hair and made fun of my coat went from being an embarrassing experience to being a moment of feeling fully secure in myself simply because I was able to run and tell my mother about it. My memory fails me as to how she handled it specifically, but I do remember that kid never so much as looked sideways at me again, even into high school.
Everything I learned about being human and strong came from my mother, lessons driven home hard when in 1997, she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and given far less than a year to live. Instead of breaking down and being sad about her fate, my mother declared that she wasn’t giving up. My mother took a death sentence and laughed at it. She said that she was determined to beat it. She wanted to see my brother and I grow up, get married, and have families of our own and for the next 18 years played a very active role in our lives. I got through college and two master’s degrees. My brother got through high school, decided college wasn’t for him and built a career and bought a house instead. Her body deteriorated, but her spirit never did as she kept up her march to make life give her exactly what she wanted out of it. Last year, my brother got engaged and set a date for his wedding. The only thing left was for her to become a grandmother.
My mother passed away on December 10, 2015. Four months later I found out I was pregnant. I picked up the phone to call my mother with the news and remembered at the last moment that I couldn’t call the great beyond. It hit me then that no matter how much love and support I had from my boyfriend and the rest of my family, the only person I really wanted and needed was gone. I was going to be a mom without my mom to be my guide.
I’m just a few weeks shy of the midpoint of my pregnancy at this point. I’ve caught myself reaching for the phone to call my mom a lot, with questions and with excitement at milestones, only to be crushed with grief again at realizing she’s gone. It is overwhelming to realize the number of things you relied on your mother for. Part of me dreads the day I give birth because she won’t be there while the rest of me is horrified I even thought that. Without my mother around for her advice and experience there are a lot of days I feel lost out here in pregnant-lady-land, questioning my life and hoping I don’t screw this all up. There are also a lot of days, more now as this goes along, that I don’t feel lost though. What I have discovered is that not having my mom to lean on is making me a better mother. It’s making me dig deep into my memories for what stands out about my childhood. These bright memories are all the encapsulated lessons on being a mom that she taught me. I have the awareness of what really matters. I also have the understanding, sharp and painful as it is, that life is unpredictable and short. You don’t have limitless time so you have to make every second count, not taking things too seriously and instead focusing on what matters. I’m greedily soaking in the little things about my pregnancy, having given up on elaborate journals or Pinterest projects to commemorate the experience. I’m living in the moment.
Not having my mother has also lead to me finding other “mothers” to help shore me up on the bad days, too. My mother’s best friend has stepped up a great deal, checking in on me but never pushing advice on to me. I know that if I need something, I can call on her the way my mother did. I also have a lot of friends who are already mothers to lean on. A mom friend gave me her old baby bottle drying rack and explained it was the best thing she bought. Another friend has become my baby supply Sherpa, giving me an incredibly thought-out list of what supplies I really need, what I don’t, and how to get them at the best price. I have a squad of mom friends who let me cry when I need to and check in on me. My future mother-in-law has also been an incredible resource. The woman is a wealth of knowledge, having given birth to five children of her own. I am definitely not alone in pregnant-lady-land.
I miss my mother every single day and I do wish that her ability to make demands of the universe would have extended to being here to see this little one arrive in November. I wish very much that I had more than just a blanket she made long ago to wrap my child in, but I’m coming to understand that it’s okay that she’s not here. My mother was a force of nature, but she raised me to be one as well. I’m ready to pass that on to the next generation. I’ve got this.