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Losing a Mom, Gaining a Daughter

In what will always seem like a strange cosmic coincidence, my mom, a petite woman with short blonde hair and a tender smile, died the same week my daughter, Lulu, a little munchkin with blueberry eyes, was born. While I will never know for sure, I cannot help but think the instantaneous connection I felt for my infant daughter was directly related to losing the woman who had given birth to me.

The last weeks of my pregnancy were the last weeks of my mom's life. While I prepared to give birth, she did not call incessantly and send presents as she had done days before the birth of my toddler son, Spencer. Instead, fragile and preoccupied after a five-year fight with pancreatic cancer, my mom climbed into bed and prepared for her death, while also insisting to me that she couldn't wait "to see the baby."

When I called her for short chats, we did not talk about my contractions. We talked about her pain. I was the one who asked "How are you feeling today?" And when the answer to that question became more and more convoluted, my husband and I made the three-hour drive -- against doctor's orders -- to visit her.

Before sending me home, my mother placed a shaking hand on my enormous belly, rested it there for ten seconds as if blessing her granddaughter, and smiled at me for the very last time.

We raced home. Twelve hours later -- on a sun-drenched June morning -- my daughter was born. I was six centimeters dilated by the time I arrived at the hospital. I pushed for three short minutes and little Lulu (her full name is Logan) slid down that birth canal as if surfing. If my mother willed herself to stay in the world as long as she could, her granddaughter willed herself into it as fast as she could. Still, she was cranky upon arrival -- more so than most newborns, the overly frank nurse on duty confessed. But the ease with which she came suggested to me that she was going to be easy-going like her grandmother, who had more names in her address book and more party dresses in her closet than anyone I know.

In the photos taken of me shortly after Lulu's birth, I am sitting in the maternity ward, looking bedraggled and exhausted, wearing my mother's terry cloth bathrobe, and clutching Lulu tightly to my chest, as if I am afraid she too might disappear. In each shot, I have a wide, beaming smile but my eyes are tight and small. And there are dark circles under them from the sleep I missed those nights before Lulu's birth, as I stumbled countless times to the bathroom to pee and then stayed awake for hours afterward, praying my mother would survive long enough to get the call about the baby.

When I did phone to tell her the news, my mother's voice was low and scratchy, as if she were the one who had just given birth. Luckily, her morning dose of medication had dulled her pain but not her ability to comprehend. She received the news with a phrase that seemed odd coming from a woman facing death -- "I'm so happy" -- but that I understood instinctually. Two days later, we got the call about her. She was 66.