Both of my parents died when I was a young adult. My dad died of a brain aneurysm, and five years later my mom died of a stroke. We were extraordinarily close. A mother and daughter could not be closer. I didn’t think I could live without her, and it was unfathomable to me that it would ever happen. I found out I was pregnant right after she died. None of us believed it, and the pregnancy stuck, but it didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t sometimes. We named our son Nathan, which means 'God has given' in Hebrew. His middle name is my mom's maiden name.
I was conceived a few months after my grandfather died at age 50. My grandmother said that a tiger had been taken away and a rabbit given instead. It was definitely seen as a closure to one life, and the birth of a new life.
People ask if it makes me sad because my parents never met my children. Somehow it doesn’t even resonate because its feels like two separate lives. I can't imagine my life with both my mom and my children. My mother-in-law lost both her parents young as well, and she was adopted into her husband’s family, which is what happened with me. My mom was the mom, and then I was the mom. There are things that I don’t know about when I was a baby. Things that you would usually ask your mom when you have your own. I don’t know when I started walking, or when I hit those other milestones.
I feel like there are things my mom didn’t tell me before I was a mother. There were things I couldn't understand until I became a mother myself. My mom lost her mother about ten years ago, and I just remember her saying that she didn’t realized how much it would hurt. She lived in a different country from her mom, and they rarely saw each other, but it was still an unbelievable pain. She says she misses her every day.
It’s the idea that they’re there. Even it you don't see them all the time, knowing that they're there is completely different. It's very disorienting to not have parents at a young age. I don’t really cry when I talk about her, and I’m sort of at peace about it happening. She died of a stroke, but we found out later that she had non smoker’s lung cancer. She was the healthiest person you’d ever met. She never smoked, never had an alcoholic drink. None of us knew she had cancer because she had only had symptoms for a short time. She had a breast tumor, and had it removed. The doctors said she was completely clear, but it was actually lung cancer that had spread to the breast. Afterwards they found the huge tumor in her lungs.
Even if they had found her lung cancer before she died, it wouldn’t have helped?
It would have been terrible. It would have always been terminal. The tumor was ten centimeters. She would have only had a few months to live. The breast cancer was an off shoot, which is very unusual for breast cancer. She would have done chemo – for me. I would have made her do it, and it would have been horrible. When they found the lump in her breast, she didn’t even tell me. She told my husband. Little did she know she would be gone in three weeks. She knew I would freak out. I will never forget when I walked in the hospital, after her stroke. Her face was all crooked. I can picture it – when she saw me come in. It was like a joker smile. She was happy to see me, but she didn’t know that it looked like that.
I had a miscarriage a little while before my mom died. Assuming that everything would have happened again in the same way, I would have been pregnant when my mom had her strokes. She was in stroke rehab, and she had another one, and it was just a horrible, horrible time. I don’t know what I would have done. I’m not particularly religious, so I don’t necessarily want to say it was God, but something was saying, this isn’t the right time, the right baby. This next baby is going to come and save your sanity; which is what happened. I didn’t eat or sleep. I was an emotional basket case, but when I found out I was pregnant, a switch flipped.
Because you had to.
Exactly. People say, I can't imagine doing this, and I say, what choice do you have? I have a great husband, and together with my son, it saved my sanity. The pregnancy was pretty normal, but when I was 37 weeks pregnant, I woke up and my face was frozen. It turned out that I had Bell’s palsy. It’s a nerve thing, not a neurological thing. It can happen in the third trimester, but of course I thought I was having a stroke. I went to brush my teeth and the toothpaste dribbled out of my mouth. Even my unflappable husband was worried. I called the doctor and got in the car. I could move the rest of my body. I get to the hospital and they repeated all the same things they did with my mom. They ask me what day it is, who the president is, and it was the most surreal thing. My face gradually got back to normal, but it took about four months. The majority of my maternity leave was spent looking like the phantom of the opera. I had to reassure people in stores and on the street that I wasn't having a stroke.
How do you think your relationship with your mother affects your relationship with your kids?
I think that her passing away has made me a better mother than I would have been otherwise. I was forced to be more of an adult. She and I were somewhat co-dependent emotionally. I think I would have second guessed myself more if I disagreed with her about things. Now, my husband and I – we do it together. I think some people’s relationships become more complex when they become parents – judgment about how people parent. I almost feel like her hand is on my shoulder – telling me that its ok.