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What’s Missing This Time Around

Melanie at

15w, 6d. Yesterday was the third anniversary of my mom’s death. She fought breast cancer for almost 23 years before finally succumbing to its ravages less than two months after the birth of my second son.

When my first son was born, we had a plan in place: She thought she’d be too anxious to sit in a hospital waiting room for hours while I was in labor, and she’d be way too anxious to actually be in the room with me—and I thought her being anxious would make me feel more anxious, so we agreed that we’d alert her when labor started and call her as soon as our son was born. She walked out the door just minutes after receiving that call and was by our side in less than an hour, before we’d even been moved to a recovery room. Ben was her first grandchild, and she loved him just as every grandmother should—unconditionally and joyfully, enjoying even his toughest hours when I was brought to tears by the challenges of new motherhood. She wasn’t taking pleasure in my suffering—just fully enjoying watching her grandson grow, without all of the responsibility single motherhood had brought upon her.

Even then, though, she was too sick from battling cancer to ever really care for him on her own, but we visited with each other regularly and she was the one who helped keep me going during those first few weeks as I got the hang of caring for my son, bringing dish after dish of home-cooked meals.

When I became pregnant with our second son just over a year later, my husband and I faced a number of hurdles just a few months into the pregnancy. He lost his job and we had to move a couple of hours away, just as I had moved to a homebirth midwifery practice. With our move away from NYC, our plans for a homebirth were put in jeopardy, but my mom stepped in and offered to let me give birth at her house. This time, we planned for her to be there, albeit in another room and with her sister there for moral support (she seemed really uneasy about the thought of hearing her only daughter in pain). But that wasn’t to be. Weeks after going into the hospital for what was thought to be a one-day routine procedure, we learned that her cancer had spread far and wide, necessitating a colostomy. She had moved from the hospital to a rehabilitation facility by the time I went into labor, but she hadn’t yet made it home. He was born in her bed—the same one where my great-grandmother birthed my grandmother. I brought her second grandson to see her there two days after he was born, but she was so weak that she was afraid to hold him without help.

After she made it back home, we hoped that she would recover. Despite being exhausted from caring for a newborn and toddler, I made the two-hour trip regularly to spend time with her, help prepare meals, and show her her new grandson. But she never got better, and her oncologist finally paid us a house call to suggest that we begin hospice care. She fell into a coma the night of July 15, 2009, with her eight-week-old grandson and me by her side, and she passed away peacefully the following evening, with family all around her.

Of everything that has changed in my life since I became pregnant with my first son in 2006, losing my mom has been by far the greatest loss and biggest change. She was the one I would call after every midwife visit and at every pregnancy milestone—the first time we heard the baby’s heartbeat, the first time we saw him on the ultrasound monitor, the first time I felt him kick, the moment when we learned he was indeed a boy…  She’s the one whom I could call in tears when I felt like I was losing my sh*t in those terrifying, exhausting days of early motherhood and who would somehow magically make me believe that things would get better when I just couldn’t hold that to be true from anyone else’s mouth. She’s the one I called after each and every pediatrician appointment in astonishment that I was in fact helping my kids to reach their milestones, sharing their new weights, lengths and percentiles with her. In fact, I called her everyday without fail, just because. It’s my mom who’s missing this time around, and it’s devastating that she’ll never get to meet this baby (the one I not-so-secretly hope is a girl so that I'll have a chance at having a relationship with my daughter similar to the one my mom and I had).

Who was your biggest support during pregnancy and early motherhood?