Journey to Motherhood

The author, nearly 35 years ago, in her mother’s arms at the hospital

I woke up early this morning. I thought it was still the middle of the night and I was experiencing the usual pregnancy restlessness. I had just been dreaming that I was going on a boat trip and was reprimanded for wearing regular clothes instead of a bathing suit. The woman in charge said reprovingly, “Can you call your mother?” I looked her in the eye and said, “No, she’s dead.” Then I continued, “I’m 34. I can go on a boat trip on my own.” And I proceeded to get the sunscreen out of my bag, well-trained as I was by my mother’s near fanatical insistence on sunburn avoidance.

Stumbling in the dark to the bathroom, I recalled my dream and remembered today was my mother’s “death day” – the four year anniversary of her passing. I grumbled at the thought. I hoped I could snooze and delay the start of the day. But I couldn’t. I started worrying this was one of my (fortunately infrequent) bouts of pregnancy insomnia and I’d be awake staring at the ceiling for hours. But then I noticed the sky starting to lighten. I sighed, relieved I hadn’t missed too much sleep. I decided I might as well face the day.

I’ve had a lot of vivid dreams while pregnant, but not as many directly depicting babies as I’d thought. Certainly not as many as I had during the years while I was trying to get pregnant. Maybe that’s because I haven’t felt a lot of anxiety about the pregnancy and birth. Sure, I’ve had worries, and hormonal ups and downs, but I’ve just been so grateful to be here: with Lee, on the cusp of parenthood, successfully creating a tiny human, as I hoped prayed for so many years that my body would be capable of doing.

But last night’s dream highlighted the sadness tinging this joyous, hopeful time: my mother won’t be here. She won’t appear in person for my journey into motherhood, or share in the joy of being my child’s grandmother, or offer memories and guidance from her own days as a young mother, learning to breastfeed, learning to handle the overwhelming love and responsibility of parenting.

I envy other expectant moms I encounter, in birthing and breastfeeding classes, in Facebook groups, at the coffee shop, when they breezily mention their mother’s expected presence at the birth or shortly thereafter – even if just by phone. I feel an ache and often anger at the injustice. As if death involved any sort of fairness.

Four years after my Mom died, I still have moments of shock. That she’s not a phone call or day’s drive away. That we’ll never return to the time Before – when her smile and silly sense of humor melted my sour mood, her listening ear soothed away worries, and her sense of adventure took us backpacking in the snow, swimming miles at the pool, and reading every book we could get our hands on. Maybe that’s why I’ve been reading like crazy these last couple months of pregnancy in particular. Since the beginning of the year I’ve read Cleopatra, The Argonauts, The Collapse of Parenting, Americanah, The Birth Partner and The Girls of Atomic City, all of which I’d recommend to my Mom (and anyone else). I’m sure she’d be pleased with (and would have contributed to) the outrageous number of board books and picture books our baby received last weekend at the baby shower. This outpouring of love from friends and family, here and across the country, reminded me of all we do have – the support Lee and I have gratefully welcomed in our lives.

Recognizing the gifts I have – the sweet memories of my Mom and the presence of loving family and friends in my life now – has become easier each year since her passing. Although I still ache for my mother’s presence, the longing isn’t as sharp or debilitating as it once was. And although it took us much longer to get pregnant than I wanted, I am grateful to be where I am now, with enough distance from the earlier incapacitating grief that I am more readily able to embrace new life with confidence and joy.

My dream last night underlined this bittersweet reality. My subconscious was very clear: although I hate that my Mom is dead, and I do worry about becoming a parent, I can go on this “boat trip” (aka journey into the watery unknown of goddessy birth and motherhood) without my mother’s physical presence on this earth. I may wear the “wrong” attire, or make parenting decisions others disagree with, but I am ready for the adventure. My mother, with her mothering, has prepared me for this. I won’t forget the sunscreen.

2015 6.5 month bumpie

The author, about 2 months ago, in the requisite “columbumpie” (columbarium+baby bump+selfie), at her mother’s graveside