In the last days of my mom’s life, when breathing took sheer force of will and epic determination, she she told me how sorry she was that she wouldn’t be around to see me have children.
“I would have loved to pick them up from school for you,” she told me. “I would have made banana shakes and tuna salad with carrots and onions.”
I was 23 years old when she died on an incongruously sunny day in mid-January.
I remember dry heaving into the toilet. I remember rummaging through her nightstand and pillaging her Percoset, hell-bent on numbing the pain. I (sort of) remember muddling through the weeks that followed, going back to school to finish my degree.
I remember falling in love with B and moving in together. I remember wanting to call her to tell her I was happy.
And I remember that in between thesis writing and “trying to find myself” I managed to avoid getting pregnant because the idea of having children seemed absurd at the time.
Pregnant and Scared
But then, two and a half years later, when I was pregnant with M–terrified by every round ligament twinge, checking dairy labels for the word “Pasteurized” with religious fervor, waddling away from anyone with a cigarette because I had read somewhere that even third hand smoke could cause miscarriage and increase SIDS risk–I longed for my mom.
I wanted her to promise me that my baby-to-be would be born alive and squawling and pink. (NOTE: Never read the “Complicated Pregnancy” section in What to Expect When You’re Expecting if you want to enjoy yourself during the next 40 weeks… just saying.)
And when Baby M was born screaming–and continued to scream for three months–I wished she was there to tell me what to do. (I had never held an infant until the day my baby girl came corkscrewing out of me, and the whole “trust your instincts” thing was so not working for me.)
Each moment was nightmarish and seemed never-ending, and I wanted my mom to be there, to put her arms around me and to tell me that everything would be ok. That one day, the scary little infant who looked more like Lord Voldemort than I cared to admit would become a dimpled toddler. One day, that projectile vomiting, colicky plucked chicken would make up songs, and play with dolls, and dig lithe fingers deep into the dirt.
And that one day, the scars would heal–both the physical (my Lady Business was a post-apocolyptic warzone) and the emotional (nothing says Postpartum Depression like weeping through a pelvic exam.)
And during the nightmare of new-mama uncertainty, I remember wanting my mom to guide me, to tell me what to do in those moments (ok, months) of sheer confusion.
But she wasn’t there.
Savta the Savior
Lucky for me, my husband’s mother was.
B’s mother arrived from Israel the month before M was born. She rode with us to (and from) the hospital during every “I’m in labor!” false alarm. She held M mere minutes after she was born. When I lost way too much blood during the delivery and couldn’t stand for nearly 24 hours, she helped carry me to the bathroom. And when I was struggling to breastfeed, she helped position M with pillows and blankets on my lap while I tried to figure out how to get my nipple into my baby’s mouth.
B’s mother stayed with us during those first three months. She taught me how to diaper my daughter. She helped me bathe her. And in between showing me how to be a mother, she cooked dinner for us every night and made me ice cream sundaes after M would finally fall asleep.
And now, three years later, we’ve packed up our life and moved to be close to her. And even though there are days when I feel more at home in my virtual life on Facebook and gchat than I do on the kibbutz, I am glad we’re here because we are living just down the road from Savta. Sure, sometimes it’s like an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond (only in Hebrew and with more yelling), but I know that my mom would be happy that this incredible, understanding, and loving woman is making snacks for her grandchildren.
When you’re a new parent, not having your own parents around is hard. Here’s another story of a motherless Jewish mother, and how one new mom used knitting to bring back the spirit of her grandmother.