It can take some time for anyone to figure out motherhood. After all, it’s kind of a big deal, and there’s a lot more to it than just trips to Target and endless amounts of coffee. For me, this was especially true.
My mom passed away from breast cancer when I was very young, about 9 years old. From that point on, I was raised by my Southern, military dad. My dad is a great guy, and he did an awesome job with the hand he was dealt, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t plenty of awkwardness for us to overcome, or that a single day passed when I didn’t need my mom.
I’m not the kind of person who likes to dwell in heartache. I don’t say “what if” or dive into bottomless pits of Ben & Jerry’s when I’m feeling down. When it came time for my Sweet 16 or my prom, or even the day that my husband and I were married, I didn’t shed tears over her absence.
In fact, although I obviously miss her every day, rarely do I reach the point of tears when thinking about her being gone. A Sweet 16 is just a day, a prom is just a day, and a wedding is just a day. They’re days marked by more pictures, and days that should be celebrated, but I’m waking up the very next day the same person I was the day before.
I held steadfastly to this logic for almost 20 years — right up until the day I found out that I was going to be a mom, and I finally realized how much I still needed my mom.
When I saw those two pink lines on the day that wasn’t “just another day,” I panicked. I’m thankful for what little time I had with my mom, but I didn’t have enough, not by a long shot. The farthest milestone we reached in terms of big mother/daughter moments was when I wrote my crush’s name down on my Doodle Bear and showed her. We never got to the chapter that talks about sex or relationships, and we certainly never touched the topic of motherhood.
I remember standing in that kitchen, panic-stricken, thinking to myself, “How will I ever figure out how to be a mom without my own here to tell me how?” Not only was I terrified, but for the first time in years, I was sad. That gaping hole in my heart that I had filled with laughter and happy memories was suddenly exposed again, revealing the deep and urgent need that I still had for my mother.
For the nine months that followed, my face was buried within the pages of pregnancy books, blogs and message boards. I stumbled my way through that time, and if you asked anyone who knew me while I was pregnant, they’d likely tell you how horrible I was at it. In their defense, I was horrible. I had never felt more alone, more isolated, than when I was pregnant. I felt like no one understood how I was feeling, like I had no freaking clue what I was doing, and like I was just wandering lost in an abyss of nursery decor and breast pumps.
I needed my mom to hold my hair back while I threw up for five months. I needed her to help me register for my baby shower. I needed her to talk to me about contractions and breastfeeding and the importance of elastic waistbands. I needed her every hour of every day, but I didn’t have her.
I spent the better part of my pregnancy throwing up and feeling sorry for myself. I was miserable during what should have been one of the happiest times of my life, until one day I found a box of old pictures. They were all from the ’80s, shortly after my parents got married after my mom found out that she was pregnant. I flipped through all these pictures, laughing at my mom’s hair in all of its feathered glory, smiling at her own contagious smile and remembering what a ray of light she was.
It had slipped my mind that she had also gotten married and had a baby without her own mother’s presence, but in every picture she was beaming. She lost her mom at a young age too, but that didn’t prevent her from becoming the mom that I adored so much. She continued to love and laugh and smile every day despite her own losses.
And in that moment I knew that if she could do it, I could too.
I’ve now got two boys of my own, and as far as I can tell, my lack of a maternal guide hasn’t yet ruined my ability to be a pretty OK mom. My boys are happy and healthy. They’ve got my mom’s blue eyes and strawberry-blond hair, but my favorite thing about them is their laugh, because it’s that same infectious laugh that my own mom had.
I wing pretty much every day of motherhood, like many moms do, but not a day goes by that I don’t hear that perfect laugh. And that is how I know that, like her, I’m going to be just fine.