I lost my mother 22 years ago. Never did I imagine that I would become a mother without her in my life. My mother had battled stage three cancer while I was a teenager and won. By some miracle, she survived the disease after undergoing months of aggressive chemotherapy, radiation and a series of risky surgeries that affected her heart health. Not only did she beat the odds and survive, but she was also in remission for almost five years.
It was said that after five years of remission it's almost a 100% guarantee the cancer won't return. We were just about to celebrate, and I was finally feeling safe enough to try and get closer to her again.
Then a few months later, a cool wind blew through our small town in New Jersey, the grandmother clock in the hallway stopped, and so did my mother's heart. I felt paralyzed. My world was shattered into millions of pieces, and it felt like I had no choice but to get down on my knees and try to put it back together.
My world was turned upside down. While I believed that over time the pain of losing her would get easier, I continued to wonder how I would ever become a mother without her guidance? My mother was gone and so was a huge part of my past as a result.
I couldn't remember anything she did for me as a child, and I struggled to hold on to the sound of her voice. How would I ever become a good mother without her stories of how she raised me? A woman needs a mother to learn how to become a mother after all, doesn't she?
I tried to convince myself that I would be satisfied without children, but as soon as I met my husband it was very clear that we would bring life into this world together.
In no time, we fell in love, got married and I was pregnant with our first daughter. I was simultaneously feeling euphoric and despondent. I longed for my mom.
All I wanted to hear was her voice telling me that I was going to be a wonderful mother. I yearned to hear what her pregnancy was like and what labor might be like for me as her own daughter. I wanted to know if I was a good sleeper, how I should approach breastfeeding and an endless list of baby questions that were swirling around in my mind.
My other greatest fear was "What if I died young too, and left my children without a mother?" I was lonely and terrified. I felt embarrassed at the amount of questions I wanted to ask friends, but I didn't know where else to turn. I was desperate.
But after a sleepless night of trying to find answers online, I dug deeply into my broken heart, held my daughter against my skin and made her a promise. I promised her that I was going to do everything possible to be the best mother and role model I could ever be. I was going to allow myself to feel sad over losing my mother, but I would no longer let that frighten me out of my own abilities to be a wonderful parent.
I started sharing my story openly with other women around me. I didn't want to hide my struggle any longer, but instead, I wanted to rewrite my own story as a woman who survived and prevailed. I wanted to connect with other parents who had also lost their parents young.
Most importantly for me at the time was finding a therapist who specialized in postpartum depression and in new mothers who were also coping with grief. Our weekly conversations helped me to release so many fears and so much self-doubt.
I learned that I was not alone. I was surviving again—I was a motherless daughter who was now a mother with a new perspective on raising a child in this world. I had hope again, and most of all I was able to recognize that I had everything I needed to take this role on. I had just been lacking support.
If I could reach out to anyone who has had this same experience, I would hold them by the hands and assure them they are not alone either. There are many of us who have been through this type of loss.
Some of us lost our parents before having our children, others have lost parents soon after having children and inevitably others will lose their parents as time goes on and their children grow. No one experience is easier than the other, and I learned that being transparent about your struggle is the key to finding relief and getting support.
There will be a void. No one is going to replace your mother or father, but remember that you came from them. You have their skills and gifts inside of you, and even when you are in pain, you have what it takes to become a wonderful parent.