The silver lining, if there is one, is this: Every time my mom, sick with Parkinson's disease and dementia, sees me, she "learns" all over again that I'm expecting. She stares at my bulging belly, quizzically at first, then, within seconds, breaks down in tears of joy. She reaches for my hand and rubs my tummy, and this is how the two of us, over and over again, celebrate my "news."
"Who do you need most when you become a mother? Your own mom," a friend with two kids told me years ago. Yes, I miss the days when Mom and I would gossip, shop, try out new recipes, talk about books. When she'd listen with infinite patience as I ranted and raved about work, friends, dating. But if the hole in my life -- that place where she used to be -- was large before I became pregnant, now that I'm expecting it's a chasm that seems to stretch forever.
Long before Mom got sick, she and I chatted every so often about how I planned to have kids someday. She'd tell me what an easy baby I was, and talk about how, when I called "Mama" from my crib, my dad would sometimes come to me, but I'd push him aside and insist on her. That was typically where these chats ended. Back then I had no special interest in picking her brain about babies and parenting.
Now I long to ask her so many questions:
How much weight did she gain when she was pregnant, and how did she lose it?
At what point did she feel her first Braxton Hicks contractions?
After I was born, what worked best to soothe me when I fussed?
Were there any secrets that helped her handle new-mom sleep deprivation?
The list goes on and on. Mom kept a terrific baby book that marks my milestones, such as when I said my first words, and for this I'm grateful. Much more, of course, is missing. Dad knows some of the information I crave, but as to be expected, he's mostly at a loss. Through my pregnancy, I've learned to turn to other women in my life to fill in the gaps, my "other mothers," as I've come to think of them. They're a mix of friends, friends' moms, co-workers, an aunt, a former teacher, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, and her mother-in-law.
It takes a village
I'm lucky that several close friends have recently had babies. They give me the dish on things like which wipes to buy and how to handle the emotions and the isolation of pending new motherhood. My mother-in-law is a calming shoulder to cry on whenever I doubt my ability to take good care of an infant. A friend at work, who's expecting her fourth child, has taken me under her wing since the outset of my pregnancy, frequently stopping by my office to see how I'm feeling and progressing. And two others actually volunteered to come to my apartment and help set up our nursery.
One friend -- who's not actually a mom -- recently heard me holding back tears over the phone when I couldn't for the life of me find the right size sheets for the baby's bassinet. She sensed, correctly, that my anxiety wasn't really about bedding; I was feeling exhausted from my pregnancy and generally overwhelmed by the prospect of becoming a mother. The next morning I got a call from her mom, offering not only to help me find the sheets (eventually I did) but to listen to my woes as only a seasoned mom can -- with grace, serenity, and the wisdom of years. Such maternal kindness, just when I needed it most.
In truth, though, there's not, nor could there ever really be, a substitute for my mom. The "other mothers" in my motherless life have limits -- their own busy lives, filled with jobs, husbands, kids. A direct line to Mom's ear is, simply, an irreplaceable gift. Still, I appreciate more than words can say all that my "other mothers" have done for me, and the many ways I know I'll turn to them in the months and years to come.
My son will never truly know his Grandma Ruth, though I'll do my best to keep her alive for him with stories, memories, recipes, and pictures of the person she was and the life she used to enjoy.
But he will know this, perhaps another silver lining: While nothing can replace the love of a grandmother, there are so many people in the world who adore him already.
I've heard it said that a child can never have too many people who love him, and it's true. The same, I think, goes for moms. It's not only raising a child that takes a village; sometimes raising a mother takes one as well.
Hilary Locker Fussteig is a freelance writer.