My beautiful mom

My beautiful mom

4 words I so love to hear.

4 words I so miss saying.

I can’t believe it’s been 7 whole years since she died. My world simultaneously stopped moving and started spinning at a crazy pace and before I knew it, I had been waiting for 7 years for my mom to call and ask me why I haven’t called her today.

Not a day goes by that I don’t feel like I am missing an arm; Like there is a hole where part of my heart was, and even though I have created so much love around me, there’s just nothing that can fix it. You can’t grow back your arm, and you can’t get back your mom when she’s gone.

February-March is always so difficult, 2 weeks filled with the best and the worst: The Hebrew date of her death, then my daughter’s birthday, to be immediately followed 3 days later by the anniversary of her death. Sad, happy, sad, happy – a rollercoaster of emotions in such a short amount of time, that when I get off the rollercoaster, my head is spinning, I’m not sure where I am, and have no idea how to stand up straight again.

When I was putting Sophie to bed tonight, she asked me, “Why do you read to me, Mommy? Is it because I am awesome?” I answered, “Yes, you are awesome” and then she flung her arms around me, throwing me full force onto her bed, and said, “I love you, Mommy,” embracing me for two whole minutes. I swear I have no idea which one of us needed that hug more. It took all my strength, of which I possess none, not to break into tears in front of her.

Rarely a day goes by, if at all, when I don’t think of how different my life would be if she were here. If she knew my kids, if she would have been the difference between the postpartum depression I had with Sophie and not having it. It sounds terrible, but sometimes I wish I could just forget. Forget that she isn’t here by forgetting that she was.

But then I see my kids, and she is in all of them. She is in Sophie’s smile, in Chloe’s hands, and in Eitan’s eyes. The love she gave me passes through me and into them. I try to incorporate her into our world as much as possible.

“Sophie, you know what Savta (grandma) Rochale would say?”

“Yes, Mommy, she said you can’t have too much vanilla extract in a cake and to always put in a little bit more.”

So I pretend everything is marvelous. My family is healthy, and nothing else really matters. But I am missing that arm. Sometimes I forget it isn’t there and I can feel a phantom arm, but it isn’t really there. Everyone else sees the arm, though, they can’t see that it’s missing, so I will continue to go through life as if I am whole since nobody can see that I’m not.

 

Dear S and E,

You don’t know me. I’ve never met you, I have only seen pictures of you on Facebook, of your beautiful smiles and never-ending happiness. But I knew your mom. We worked together at camp, like so many others who have graced my Facebook feed with immense outpourings of love over the past week or so.

Last week was the 5th anniversary of my mother’s passing. Coinciding with that terrible anniversary came the miserable news that your marvelous mom was suddenly losing her battle to cancer. I’m writing you this letter because you two are so young, still in single-digit ages, and all of the memories of your mom will be of the hugs and meals and help she gave you.

For the past week, all I have been thinking about is you two. Your mom – who everyone knows is incredible – has been in my thoughts, but you two have been in my heart. Just like I never got to know my mother from the side of a parent (she passed before I was dating my husband, and definitely before I had a kid), you two will never get to know yours as an adult independent of her parenthood. And while I hate when people tell me what a wonderful woman my mother was, and how much they loved her, and how much they miss her, the fact is that I already know all those things; But you need to hear it.

There are many people who knew your mom better than I did, who will be able to tell you stories as you get older that I won’t be able to tell you. But what I would like to pass on to you is the view from someone whose life she touched, but was not a part of.

I only knew your mom from her early 20s, and I haven’t seen her in 20 years, but I am 100% certain that there is no one who has ever crossed paths with her who didn’t fall in love with her immediately. Her obvious physical beauty was nothing compared to her stunning soul. The second you met her – you wanted to be her friend. The moment you heard her sing – you didn’t want it to stop.

I didn’t work side by side with your mom, but I watched her from afar. I wanted to be her. I don’t mean I literally wanted to be her – I wanted to be loved like her, talented like her, and – most importantly to me at the time – to be such an adored counselor like her. I think the only person who didn’t look up to your mom – was your mom.

What’s most important for me to pass on to you is this: Even though she is being taken from you half a century too soon (at least!), she is part of you. I can see it in your smiles and your laughter and your inner happiness. You two will be amazing women for the simple fact that she was your mother. It isn’t something that is taught; It is inherent. Even if you can’t remember specific “lessons” that she’s taught you (which I also forget sometimes), it doesn’t matter. Her kindness and love for you and for people in general is as part of your body as your belly buttons.

There will be days when you don’t know how you can go on living without your mom – I was 31 when it happened and still don’t know how I am going on. It was especially hard when I got married, and when my daughter was born, and probably when my next kids are born.

But it’s a choice you make, and sometimes a choice you will make more than once a day. You can choose to be unhappy and focus on the sadness – which you will have plenty of – or you can focus on what you do have: Each other, an adoring father, and the knowledge that, though her time with you was short, you had the best mother you could possibly have.

I can even give you a real-life example of my own. My husband and I knew each other for 3 years before we started dating. Had I agreed to go out with him the first time he tried, he would have known my mother, even before she was sick. She would have had the comfort of knowing I was with a great man. She would have been at my wedding. She would have probably even known my first child.

I can choose to be filled with regrets that we did not date immediately; That my mom never got to be a part of such huge milestones in my life. Or I can choose to be thankful for the marvelous family I have.

I choose the latter. Some days this choice is harder than others, but I believe it’s honoring my mother’s memory. The best thing we can do to honor our mothers’ memories is to be wonderful women like they were, or at least aspire to be. They brought us here for a reason, and even existing in a way that goes against how they raised us – and do not be mistaken, she has raised you – would be a disservice and dishonor to them.

As the photos of your mom begin to disappear from my Facebook feed, this new reality will no longer be a part of my daily life as it has been for the past week and a half. But be not mistaken: There are hundreds of people, all around the world, who will forever have you two in their thoughts.

I’d like to leave you with a clip from YouTube. This is your mom’s gorgeous voice. I’m sure you will always remember how beautifully she sang, but there’s something extra special with this song. You see, it’s, very fittingly, called Modeh Ani – I am thankful.

Sweet baby girl of mine,

Words have not yet been invented that can define how I feel about you. Without a doubt, you are the most incredibe gift that this world has ever received; That I could never expect. You are the most amazing creature on the planet, which each parent probably feels, but they should.

Each child should enter this world being the most amazing thing that happened to someone.

This year has been full of ups and downs, as the first year always is. The beginning was difficult, and I am not talking about the physical birth. You were, as I expected, born almost on the day of my mom – your grandmother’s – 3rd anniversary of her passing.

Your birthday will forever be intertwined with her deathday. I will forever be reflecting upon both simultaneously, perhaps even more than I would have otherwise.

But don’t feel bad, my marvel. You gave me a gift that no one else would have ever been able to give me: A new perspective of my mother. One that, had you never been born, I would have never had. And for that, my marvel, I thank you.

As you lay your head on my shoulder when you are sad or feeling bad, I am transported 35 years back to when I was the baby, and I can see my mother doing the same. When I feel my heart explode with emotion for you, I suddenly understand so much of how my mother treated me and how she must have felt.

When I felt down, and not good enough for you, I missed my mom so much, wondering if she felt the same way, because if she did, not only does that mean I was normal, but that it’s possible to pull yourself out of the abyss and become a great parent who is completely in love with her child.

Because I am. I am a good mother to you. I wonder who you will be when you are older, but focus on who you are now. You are so funny. I don’t think there has been one day in the past 6 months that you haven’t made me laugh at least once. My phone has no more space for pictures, because everything you do is the funniest thing that any child has ever done.

I love my job. I love what I do and (most of) the people I work with, and while I am thrown into work each morning, all I do all day is wait to come home to you.

This feeling never ceases to surprise me. My entire pregnancy and labor, I could not fathom how I could possibly love someone with such intensity as I love your father. And yet, here you are, proof that it’s completely possible, though completely different.

Every morning I think I couldn’t possibly love you more, and every evening I am proven wrong.  And I can’t help but believe that my mother felt the same way, and that gives me so much comfort.

I write you these words for two reasons. First, we don’t know what will happen later. If, by some tragedy, you are left in the same position I am in, I want you to know precisely how I felt about you. This is also part of why I wrote about my postpartum depression. But most importantly, in about 5 minutes you will be a teenager. You may be angry with me or your father. You may think we are setting too many limits or don’t care about you. But none of that is true.

This letter is a testament to how I feel about you now, and how I will, no doubt, feel about you until my last breath.

Because you are my marvel, just as I was my mom’s.

I am heartbroken.

I am head over heels in love with my baby and I am thoroughly heartbroken.

Each time I call myself Mom when I speak to my daughter, my heart breaks for the “real” Mom, mine, the one who earned the title by right, and not by (giving) birth.

Every time I say Mommy to my daughter, the image of my own mother flashes in front of me. At least it her real image now, and not the dying one that I couldn’t get out of my head for so long.

And my my heart breaks because I can’t believe I have been a mother for 9 months, this whole time without her.

9 months that the word Mom switched meaning from her to me – but it really didn’t.

9 months that have already introduced crawling, teething, and even walking.

9 months of milestones that I can’t share with her, and can’t compare to my own milestones because I don’t know what they are.

9 months of questions that remain unanswered.

9 months of wondering if she would be proud of me – or if she’s slap me upside the head (so to speak) for something I was doing wrong.

9 months of falling deeper in love with the most amazing creature in the universe – the one who has the same exact smile and serious expression as my mom.

9 months of well-meaning friends and coworkers commenting, “Every time I think about you, I can’t believe that you are doing it without your mother.”

9 months of pretending that I appreciate the sentiment, but secretly feeling my heart fall apart.

9 months of so much love – and an equal amount of absence.

9 months of complete and utter bliss, coupled with relief, because I now know I really can do it without her.

I get about a dozen emails every week from people with a dying/dead parent, asking me for advice or just asking me to be a sounding board for them. Yesterday I received an email from someone who’s mother was just given a few weeks to live after recently finding out she had cancer. The writer asked me what I wish I would have asked my mom before she died.

A lot of what I would ask or do now is different from what I would have done at the time because I am now a mother and at the time I wasn’t even dating anyone (see how much happens in 3 years?) In retrospect, I would have asked her a lot of questions that would have made me feel stupid at the time, since they weren’t even in the near future, but I would have been happy to have the answers later. I don’t regret not asking her these questions for this precise reason – I wasn’t even able to see past the fact that she was dying to a time where I would be happy. Regardless, by the time we knew it was the end, she couldn’t talk anymore anyway, so none of these would have been an option.

I’d ask her about her pregnancies, and what it was like for her to be a mom for the first time (I am the eldest). And I’d ask her about her births and recoveries and how she got through everything. I’d ask her what challenges she came across with pregnancy and marriage and what she did to resolve them, and I’d ask her how can you love a tiny person so much and still have enough room to love another (we are three girls).

I’d ask her about my childhood, what kind of a kid I was like, what she would have done differently with us and what she would have done the same. I’d ask her about her wedding and what the planning was like, and what tips she may have for me and if she’d be OK with me wearing her wedding dress (which I did).

I’d ask her why my meatballs aren’t as delicious as hers and for her recipe for chili.

I’d ask her to reassure me that I will find someone who I would like to marry (and who’d like to marry me) and that I would be a great mom. And I’d ask for her to list the reasons since I wouldn’t believe her anyway.

I’d ask her to record a video of herself reading some stories for my future kids, like “Goodnight, Moon”, which my nephew and niece both loved so much, so they could somehow know her, even the puffy and weird version of her, though that may be painful to watch.

Most of all, I would ask her to hug me so I could sniff her and feel her touch. I would give almost anything just to feel her touch and smell her.

Bet you didn’t see that coming.

This post doesn’t have anything to do with my mom, but I felt it needed to be written. We have all heard the stories of the famous people, like Brooke Shields and Marie Osmond, who had PPD. But I had never heard of anyone I know being anything less than elated from the moment their child was born.

Granted, I had a rough start. After a difficult birth, I was unable to even pick up my baby for the first week and a half of her life (other than the first 2 days while I still had traces of the epidural in my system). I couldn’t be left alone with her; the pain was so severe, and mostly shooting pains (not unlike contractions), that I was afraid I would drop her. The day after we were released from the hospital, I went to the ER and had to get shots just to be able to lie down and sleep a bit. 2 days later, I needed another shot.

Definitely not the best start.

As I physically healed (fairly quickly, though it didn’t feel like it at the time), The Boy went back to work, as did our family members who were a great help when we needed them, and I was left alone with the baby.

I don’t know when exactly it started. They say it’s natural to be depressed for the first 2 weeks, but then it’s PPD if it doesn’t pass. Well, I wasn’t depressed the first 2 weeks, other than being incredibly sad that I couldn’t take care of my baby. That was probably the beginning of the feelings of inadequacy that fueled what became a really difficult bout with postpartum depression.

If there is anyone you would never think had PPD – it would be me. I was uploading pictures of my gorgeous daughter on almost a daily basis. I am a very happy and smiley person by nature, and usually very optimistic (as long as I don’t have to take any standardized tests).

For me, PPD wasn’t depression at all. It was inadequacy. Feeling I wasn’t good enough. That Sophie was better off not having a mother than having me. The The Boy was better off raising her alone because I would break her. I would ruin her. I couldn’t give her the love she needed so she was going to be like those abandoned orphans in Romania. I wasn’t smiling at her enough – how was she going to learn how to smile? Research shows that there are tribes where babies don’t smile at all – their parents don’t do it, so it’s never learned as an expression of happiness.

I cried on a daily basis, often more than once. I had no energy to take her outside (once I was able to physically do so). I was sure my friends didn’t care about me anymore. I couldn’t wait to go back to work, except no one at work noticed or cared that I was gone, not even my close friends. I so feared her crying that when I would hear her stir as she began to wake up, I would start crying myself at the thought that she would be waking up and the whole process was going to start again.

I was, of course, feeling the absence of my mother, but at the same time I know that it wasn’t the trigger or reason for it, just another layer of sadness.

Although it was a fairly huge layer. Sophie looks so much like my mother (and me, since I look like my mom). When I would take the bottle out of Sophie’s mouth, she made a facial expression that my mother made at the end, when we fed her. So every time Sophie ate, I feared the moment that she would remind me that my mother is dead.

Newborns eat 8 times a day.

I knew I had made a mistake. I shouldn’t have had a baby. I wasn’t cut out for it. The Boy made a mistake in choosing me. I told him so, too.

I was completely able to understand how mothers walk out on their children. And although I had never reached that point myself, I could even understand how easily a baby could be shaken or injured by their caretaker.

I wanted to leave.

For 5 weeks, multiple times a day, I had to consciously make the decision not to abandon my family.

And then people started to slowly call. “Isn’t motherhood the best?” “Are you loving every second of it?” “You’re the best mom ever, for sure.”

Each statement was a dagger that further fueled my never-ending feelings of inadequacy. The more people, including The Boy, told me that I was a great mother, the worse I felt. And The Boy even said it’s hormones and that I am fine (he’s an angel), but I wouldn’t listen. This wasn’t hormones. I didn’t feel hormonal. I wasn’t crying for no apparent reason; It was painfully apparent than I sucked at motherhood.

On Passover Eve, the baby started to cry at 4 pm and didn’t stop until 11 or so; I couldn’t stop crying during the Seder. That evening was the first time I had ever heard from someone I know that they also cried when their kids were newborns.

This was news to me. In my head, you either had PPD or you didn’t. There was no in-between. Why hadn’t anyone told me that they, too, cried? That they, too, felt inadequate? Obviously there’s a stigma to it, and for some reason it’s shameful to admit, so everyone keeps it to themselves instead of making it known so others don’t feel so alone.

So I posted a question on a secret Facebook group that I am a member of (if you aren’t a member, you can’t see the posts), and I asked the girls how to know if what you are experiencing is normal or PPD.

And then the stories starting pouring in. Dozens of women saying that they experienced similar symptoms. Crying, not wanting to get out of bed, feelings of inadequacy. Some are women I know in real life, but I had never heard anything negative from them before.

Over the next couple of days, so many women shared their story. Women who know each other in real life were surprised to hear their friends experienced what they did. Most of us went through the same feelings in varying degrees. The women are incredibly supportive of each other, and offered me (and each other) advice, most of which could be summed up as “Get to the doctor now.” I had an appointment already anyway, so I spoke to my doctor, who put me back on birth control, and in a moment it was all gone.

I didn’t want to leave anymore. I didn’t feel like Sophie was better off without a mother at all. I didn’t feel like I made a mistake anymore. I didn’t cry whenever she woke up in anticipation of her own crying. Feeding her wasn’t a chore anymore.

And then Sophie smiled and laughed and my heard skipped a beat.

As it has been doing on a daily basis since my hormones got sorted out.

I’m not going to pretend that it’s all easy now; it isn’t. But I know that what I feel now is completely normal, and completely OK.

This is one of the hardest posts I’ve ever written, if not the hardest. But I wanted all of my friends who are pregnant – and who will one day be pregnant – to know what I went through, so that if it happens to them, too, they know that it happened to their friend, and not “just” a celebrity.

Hi Mom,

It’s been a while since I’ve written on the blog. As opposed to the previous times that I have delayed posting because I was crying too much – or didn’t want to cry – this time a tiny, 3.320 kilo person has delayed my post (Best. Excuse. Ever.)

I’d like to introduce you to my brand new daughter, Sophie Rachel Perez. Yes – her middle name is yours.

She was born on February 28, a couple of weeks early. A week before she was born, The Boy made me go to the doctor because I had some pain the night before. Turns out it was actual contractions and I was 1/3 of the way through, so I was sent to the hospital.

The Boy joined me at the hospital, and while Baby’s heartbeat was being monitored, I suddenly started shaking. I was freaked out, both at the concept of having a baby (whom I am expected to keep alive) and the fact that you wouldn’t be here for any of it. It’s not that I would have had you in the delivery room with me.

Or maybe I would have. Who knows? It was never an option. It would be like asking me if I would prefer boxers to briefs.

But it wasn’t meant to be that day, and as my due date approached, I couldn’t help but feel that I was going to give birth early. You see, 2 weeks before I was due was to be the three year anniversary of your death. From the moment I found out I was pregnant (and that I, most likely, conceived on your wedding anniversary), I kept having a feeling that Baby was going to come very close to that date.

A week after the previous hospital visit, after my regular doctor’s appointment, I was sent to the hospital and was induced. 12 hours after getting to the hospital, she came. Within seconds I was transformed into a parent.

It was, without a doubt, the weirdest feeling in the world. I can’t describe it. Somehow, I was able to focus completely on this absolutely awesome family that just formed, and I thought of no one except Baby and The Boy.

The next few days were a blur, as were the first days at home, where I was mainly amazed that I was expected to keep a tiny person alive with less training than I had on our washing machine. But 6 weeks later I am beginning to feel the impact of your absence.

It’s so incredible to me how things change in a moment. I was transformed into a mother with the same ease and incomprehensible speed with which I was orphaned.

I didn’t wonder how you felt when I was born – it was obvious to me that you must have felt the same insane range of emotions that I felt. But What about everything else? Did you cry? Did you feel incompetent? Did you feel abandoned by almost everyone and everything you know? Did you ever feel like a bad mother? I can’t possibly know – I couldn’t have possibly felt more loved by you.

But this is some of what I am faced with now, and I wish you were to tell me I’m doing OK. It doesn’t matter how many friends tell me I’m a good mother, I don’t believe them. How would they know? You would tell me the truth. And, since you know me better than anyone, I would believe you.

Or not. How would I know? Boxers or briefs.

Luckily for you and us, you did have a chance to be a grandmother and pass on some advice to my sister. She, in turn, passes some on to me. I think of it as by proxy parenting.

Sophie looks sooo much like you (me). She has your (my) smile and your (my) facial expressions. She has the funniest facial expression when I take the bottle out of her mouth, the same one that you had. Except on you it wasn’t funny – it was your expression when we fed you when you were dying. When she looks at me with that expression, I am overwhelmed with awe and love for her, and sadness and aching for you. I can’t separate the two from each other. I’m happy she looks like you because it gives the affirmation of your presence, but it’s so hard to be her mother sometimes, through no fault of her own other than DNA.

Furthermore, as I suspected, I indeed gave birth in very close proximity to the third anniversary of your death. I was released from the hospital on the day of your memorial. If that isn’t the circle of life, I don’t know what is.

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