What I Gained When Becoming a Mother After Losing My Own
She wasn’t there to celebrate my pregnancies. She wasn’t there for my questions. But what she left me with was gratitude.
My mom’s courageous fight with non-smoker’s lung cancer ended just two days after Christmas.
While that Christmas was seven years ago, this recent holiday reminded me that the pain from her passing is as just as fresh as ever—especially as we celebrated it for the first time with our newborn twin girls.
Becoming a mother without having my own mother has tested me in unimaginable ways and continues to with every new year we enter. But it has also made me appreciate and recognize who I have here with me in a way I might not have before. Though, it took me a while to get here
With my mom’s passing, every joyful experience was also a sad one.
The first baby shower I went to after my mom passed was downright excruciating. Amongst a group of lovely friends, gifts, and bite-sized appetizers, I longingly watched the new mom-to-be sitting by and chatting with her mother, both glowing with overwhelming joy because of the baby growing in her belly.
They opened each new baby gift together and beamed at every tiny onesie and soft baby blanket, giddy at the idea of the precious little human that would be wrapped up in each one soon. I noticed my friend’s mom leaning over and whispering in her daughter’s ear, and I imagined that she was sharing her secrets of motherhood. In that moment and in the years to come, that mother would probably be telling her daughter little stories of what she was like when she was a baby, and how her grandchildren reminded her of this and that.
My heart sank into my stomach as they posed and smiled for a picture together, and at once, I couldn’t bear it any longer. I quietly stood up, left the room, and I cried. I cried like I had each day for weeks since I had lost my own mother after a treacherous year-and-a-half battle with cancer.
I was just 25 years old and a kindergarten teacher with a good life and good experiences that I had once upon a time expected to continue sharing with my mom for years to come. Every single day for months after her passing, I fought my own battle just to keep myself together. And every year after that brought new challenges of experiences I had to navigate, celebrate, or just make it through—all without her. Happy experiences like meeting my wonderful husband and getting married became a mixed bag of emotions that included both joy and sadness.
It was on the sixth anniversary of her death that I had the most difficult time not being able to share my joyful news with her—getting pregnant again.
While I prepared to camp out in front of my computer to watch some home movies and let the tears fall, I kept looking back at the pregnancy test, which I had taken the day before, sitting on the bathroom counter. I hadn’t thrown it away, because as it fell into the trash, I noticed a faint pink line. It was so faint that I couldn’t quite trust what it said. But there it was. And it was telling me that on the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death, I was pregnant with my twin girls—two little beings whom, nine months later, we would welcome into the world as Juniper and Hazel.
When I found out I was pregnant again, I was so incredibly excited. But, as with all my experiences, the elation came along with a heavy dose of unshakeable sadness in knowing that I couldn’t call my mom and share the news with her.
Sometimes all I wanted to tell my mom was “thank you”.
To my surprise, it was even harder than the first time I found out I was pregnant with my baby boy, Wilder, when I had so many questions. Initially I thought to myself, how could I ever become a mother without my mother? Since the beginning of time, mothers have watched their daughters become mothers and helped them through it all. It takes a village, right? Well, my mom was the leader of my village, and I needed her to be there.
But I didn’t have that choice. I didn’t have her. She wasn’t there for me to ask her what it was like when she found out she was pregnant. I couldn’t ask her all the questions that were whirling around in my head in the moment I internalized what it meant to see that faint little pink line. Did she have a hard time getting pregnant? Did she ever miscarry? How did she tell my dad? Did she have morning sickness? How much weight did she gain? Each day in the pregnancy brought on a new question.
When my son was born, I couldn’t believe the level of love I had for him. I loved him so much it hurt. It was a deep, painful love that any mother would know. And all I wanted to do was thank my mother for loving me that much. I’d had no idea how much she loved me, and I wanted to tell her, “I get it. I finally get it.” It was a mind-blowing revelation.
As my kids grow and I continue to learn about the varied, wonderful, and difficult experiences of motherhood, there are so many things I now appreciate that I wish I could tell her about.
I now have three kids under the age of two whom I stay at home with. They keep me pretty busy, and I’m around to take care of all the domestic duties. My mom, on the other hand, worked full-time as a veterinary professor in emergency critical care at a major university. As part of her career, she lectured all over the world, edited a scientific journal, and wrote a textbook. Even with all that, she still managed to make dinner. Sure, more than once in a while it was Hamburger Helper, but she still made dinner!
Here I am, counting myself lucky if I take a shower and put on something other than pajamas. I feel accomplished when the laundry is washed, dried, folded, and put away in the same day. Once again, I want to tell her, “Mom, you were a rock star. How did you do it? I appreciate and admire you.” So, so much.
You never stop missing your mother—it just gets more bearable.
I still miss my mom. Some days are harder than others. Some days, I’m overwhelmed that I still need her this much. I’ll remember how, even at 60 years old, my mom would lay her head in my grandmother’s lap so her mother could scratch her back. We all need our moms—at least, the ones who are around for us.
Anything can set me off in a spiral of sadness and longing for her, like reading my son a book about grandmother elephants that stay with new moms to help them raise their young, or waking up to one of my children crying in the middle of the night. I constantly second-guess myself and wish I had someone—a knowledgeable, motherly someone—to reassure me. How much medicine do I give my baby? What kind of rash is this? Is [fill-in-the-blank] developmentally normal? Or maybe I just need someone to call and complain to. “Mom, I’m so tired,” I just want to tell her.
I don’t know why my mom got cancer. She was an amazing woman and mother, and she didn’t deserve to die.
Leaning on my religion has helped. I do know for a fact that God didn’t give her cancer. But it took me a long time to figure that one out. When I did, it was a huge comfort to me. It was hard to see at first, but now I can see that God took this tragic situation and wove in some pretty amazing people to help me get through it.
I have others now. And because of our loss, our bond is stronger.
I now have an incredible bond with my aunt, my mom’s sister. I also have my husband, whom I’ve had to rely on more heavily as a result of her not being there. He is my rock.
There’s also my mother-in-law, who is one of the most generous people I’ve ever met, and she loves me like her own daughter. Proving to me that God works in mysterious ways, it just so happens that my mother-in-law’s mom died when she was 22. So she gets it; she gets me. She knows the pain that creeps up at every holiday or happy occasion. All I have to do is look at her and say “I miss my mom,” and she’s right there with me. What kind of a blessing is that? She tells my kids about my mom because she knows how important it is that my mother’s memory lives on. And it does.
More than just her memory, I believe my mom lives on. My two-year-old will tell you, “Grandma Dougie loves Wilder.”
I’d like to think my mom had something to do with finding out I was pregnant with the girls on that particular day. December 27, while wrapped in pain and loss, now has a new, joyful memory for me. And now, I like to think of her laughing and smiling down on our growing family as she probably knew the big surprise I had yet to discover—twins! The twin girls we just celebrated this year.
Rebecca Revis is a kindergarten teacher turned stay at home mom of a toddler son and twin infant girls. When she's not exploring the outdoors with her family, she loves to share with them her passion for learning. She currently lives on a small farm in rural Alabama and dreams of one day living in the mountains.