Wednesday, March 03, 2010

How I Became a Mom — by Heather Cain

My mom with me and my brother.

When I was 3 months pregnant with my oldest son my mom died. My husband and I were out of town – my friend’s dad had died of cancer and we traveled from California to Oregon for his funeral. I remember popping my anti-nausea pill before setting out, wondering what Jenny felt like as she prepared to say a last official good-bye to her father. The whole process seemed so distant, like something that happened to other people.

Sitting in the memorial service my thoughts wandered over my own experiences of loss. I had lost a baby to miscarriage a year earlier and experienced that grief in a very real way. Though I had not forgotten the heartbreak of that time, the new baby who had just begun fluttering in my body brought a renewed sense of hope. I tried to picture my own dad dying. It was hard to do, difficult to even imagine my strong rock-climbing father succumbing to the ultimate reality of life. Then I tried to picture my mom dying. Ha – not possible! I couldn’t even fathom losing her and quickly shut the idea out of my mind.

At the reception following the memorial service we chatted about Jenny’s dad’s life and heard funny stories about things he had done. We exchanged pleasantries with strangers – yes, I threw up every day; no, we didn’t know if the baby was a boy or a girl. We ate cheese and crackers. Then the phone call came. It was my brother in California. My husband held his hand over the receiver as he said, “your mom is sick or something.” Another call came in, he answered it, and the most dreadful sentence of my life rang quietly through the room – an agonized and gut-wrenching “no.”

The rest of the day is a blur. The next thing I remember I was outside the house, had unknowingly run up the road and collapsed on the sidewalk. Jenny was seconds behind me and threw herself on top of me. She clung to me and the three of us sat there, Jenny, me and my baby, two of us sobbing at the agony of having a dear one wrenched from us too soon, the other one wriggling around as a faint reminder of new life. Two very emotionally controlled girls, sobbing their hearts out in the middle of a neighborhood of strangers, an unborn baby between them. It was a sacred moment, one that makes me tremble as I write about it.

Unable to catch a soon enough flight, we rented a car and drove home through the night.
I clutched my barely-showing belly and cried during the entire nine hour drive. The pain and sorrow were so real and overwhelming that they were scary. In the jumble of racing thoughts I kept thinking, “what if I lose this baby too?” I cried so much that I had scabs on my eyelids by the time we got home. My skin hurt.

We hugged a lot, cried a lot. Asked a lot of questions. We had the memorial service. I knew how Jenny felt.

I did not lose the baby – he grew and grew and we got ready for his arrival. We registered and read books and watched videos and took classes and painted and I somehow never felt prepared. It was as if not having a mom made it impossible for me picture myself as a mom. I had no one to answer those questions, the really important ones that only your mom knows the answer to. Who would be in the room with me when I gave birth? Who would hold the crying newborn when I was sleep-deprived and needed to take a hot shower? Who could I call when I was at my wit’s end and didn’t trust anyone else to still love me when they saw what a pitiful excuse for a new mother I really was?

And then Moses came. When they placed him on my belly I was scared that I had just been handed someone who I loved even more than my mother.

I didn’t feel like a mom as I left the hospital. I felt exactly like I had felt before I got there, only about 10 pounds lighter and beat up. Everything went exactly as I had expected it to – I missed my mom; I didn’t know what to do; I did it anyways. We didn’t sleep, I nursed all the time, he made eye contact with me and drove his soul deeper into my heart.

Three weeks later I almost died of a post-partum hemorrhage. Part of my placenta had been left inside my uterus and caused it to bleed uncontrollably. As I lay on the table waiting for the d&c and blood transfusion that would keep me alive, I thought, “Here I come, mom!”

Just before the doctors entered, I caught a glimpse of my haggard husband standing in the doorway. He was holding our 3-week-old baby, trying for the first time in both of their lives to feed him a bottle of formula. His eyes were full of fear, the baby was screaming at the insult of having something rubber jammed into his mouth. In that moment I became a mother. I looked at that helpless little baby, heard my blood splashing onto the emergency room floor, and something in me clicked. I was a mother. I didn’t need to know what I was doing. I didn’t need my mom to still be alive to validate the fact that I was a mother. I just was one. I loved that confusing screaming hungry bundle in my husband’s arms, and I was not ready to leave him.

I didn’t leave him, of course. He is 4 and his little brother is 1. That ache in my heart has faded to the background, though I still have a pile of questions I wish I had someone to ask. I still feel like I don’t entirely know what I am doing. But I do feel like a mom. And it is a pretty great feeling.

From Heather Cain of Junie None.


Note from Design Mom: for the duration of my pregnancy, I'll be posting advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family on Wednesdays. You can find them all by clicking here. I'd love to hear your story or memory or advice, feel free to submit it to


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Blogger Hil said...

Oh my Heather, what a beautiful post. You had me in tears! I'm so sorry for the loss of your mother. Thank you for the wonderful reminder of how special it is to be a mom.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 12:44:00 PM EST  
Blogger mrs. olson said...

Super touching story. I never cry and you are leaving me in tears, too.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 12:44:00 PM EST  
Anonymous amy said...

{{{HUGS}}} Heather. My mother died when I was 10 so while I've had a lot of time without her, I miss her still. Especially now that I'm a mom, I have so many questions I'd love to ask her. Silly, random things like how old was I when I lost my first tooth? My dad will never know. However, you're right, even though I wrestle with feeling like I don't know what I'm doing because I'm missing a mother to guide me, I am still a mom to my 8-yr-old daughter, and I'm the very best one I can possibly be.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 12:50:00 PM EST  
Blogger k a t y said...

What a completely moving account. Thank you for sharing such a sacred experience.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 1:09:00 PM EST  
Blogger Christie said...

WOW!!! I haven't cried reading a post in awhile! What an amazing story!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 1:28:00 PM EST  
Blogger sara said...

This is so beautiful; thank you.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 1:29:00 PM EST  
Blogger Ashlei said...

You have me in tears as well. Very moving story. Thanks for sharing it with us!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 2:03:00 PM EST  
Blogger Emily said...

Thank you so much for sharing this - so very lovely, and heartbreaking, and full of hope.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 2:15:00 PM EST  
Blogger robin said...

This story was very touching.
Thanks for sharing it.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 2:23:00 PM EST  
Blogger heather said...

That was one of the most powerful pieces of writing I have read in some time. Thank you for sharing such a personal thing with all of us in blogland.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 2:37:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Newborn Clothing said...

Veryyy touching, Wonderful post. Makes you appreciate what we in this wonderful life.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 2:41:00 PM EST  
Blogger The Dragonfly said...

Beautiful, heart wrenching and hope giving! Thank you for sharing.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 2:44:00 PM EST  
Blogger Jeanette said...

Beautifully shared. I cannot imagine the grief. I just cannot. I am changed a bit after reading your powerful words. Thank you for sharing.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 3:00:00 PM EST  
Blogger Monica said...

Oh Gabrielle, when is your baby due again? I don't know how many more of these amazing, heart-breaking, inspiring stories I can take. My second is only 4 months old so all of these emotions and experiences of birth and newborns are still very fresh for me. Thank you for posting these.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 3:01:00 PM EST  
Blogger missy said...

I'm speechless. That was heartbreaking and real and completely awe-inspiring.

Thank you for sharing.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 3:18:00 PM EST  
Blogger Brenda Jo said...

Said so beautifully! I also lost my mom when I was 3 months pregnant with my first. And there are so many questions that only she could answer... Thank you for sharing your experience. Being a mom is so wonderful and only makes me appreciate the one that I had all the more.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 3:22:00 PM EST  
Blogger Amber said...

absolutely raw post, tears are in my eyes. wow

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 3:31:00 PM EST  
Blogger Heather said...

You all are so sweet and thank you for your kind words of encouragement! I love being in the wonderful "club" of motherhood with you all! Thanks for posting this Gabrielle - it made my day!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 3:36:00 PM EST  
Blogger Michelle said...

What a beautiful story. Still in tears as I type this...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 4:11:00 PM EST  
Blogger Norah said...

loved your story. i cried while reading it too. my mom died when i was 18. it's been ten years and i've had three kids since. i too have a million questions i wish i could ask her!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 4:23:00 PM EST  
Blogger Rachael said...

this is the first of these I've commented on--beautiful and powerful. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 4:40:00 PM EST  
Blogger Becki said...

Thank you for sharing. Losing a parent is so hard. Becoming a mother is so amazing. Your words echoed my emotions on both of my personal experiences with these milestones.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 4:41:00 PM EST  
Blogger Kristan Anne said...

I'm 3 months pregnant right now. I can't tell you how much I am crying after reading this post. Amazing.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 5:58:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Brett A Johnston said...

Heather, just got mad at Gabrielle because I thought this story was hers (admittedly, I don't read titles before the article). But we too experience the loss of a parent one month before his (my father-in-law) first grandchild.
Our OB wrote down whether it was a boy or girl in an envelope and sealed it just for him as we didn't want to know what we were having.
He laid with it in his hands on his hospital bed at MD Anderson, but never opened it. He kept it with him until he was gone. Such a wonderful man who is still missed after 9 years.
Great story and well written!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 10:21:00 PM EST  
Blogger Triplet Mami said...

Definately puts things in perspective. Thank you for sharing.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 10:32:00 PM EST  
Blogger Kelly C. said...

I feel connected to this post. My mother unexpectedly died when I was 20. I too got a "something's wrong" phone call to my dorm room, then a long drive home drowning in tears. I knew she was gone as soon as I walked into our home and saw the faces. My father's especially. I have a hard time thinking of that day now, 12 years later, without a physical response - a grief so heavy I'm unable to move. I was motherless on my graduation day, at my wedding, through two miscarriages, two births. (I have a two-year-old and a newborn.) My dad can't tell me if I was born before or after the due date or when I learned to walk. To connect with her and feel her presence, I try to be the best mom I can be and love my children for who they are and the parts of her she's passed on to them. Thank you, Heather.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 10:50:00 PM EST  
Anonymous stephanie smirnov said...

Beautiful. Just beautiful. And so brave. I'm sorry for the loss of your mom, I know what that's like. Your post was extraordinary.

Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 12:42:00 AM EST  
Blogger paula said...

wow, what a powerful birth story. beautiful.

Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 9:01:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, what powerful writing, and what a touching story, and a lovely hopeful ending. Maybe it's because I'm pregnant and a bit hormonal, but I cried all the way through it.

Not quite the same, but my father in law passed away right after my husband and I got engaged, and I know it makes every wonderful life event at least a little bittersweet, because that person is not there to share it with you.

Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 11:04:00 AM EST  
Blogger Stephanie said...

Very touching story...thank you for sharing something so personal with all of us Heather.

Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 12:08:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said..., I love you!!! and you are going to make it! What an emotional experience for me, to read your article! And of course I was crying,too. But...tears are healing...and God has all those tears saved up in a bottle, cuz He cares! There are many of us 'motherless daughters', and I think that makes us (1) just be better mothers, (2)treasure every friendship, and (3) live every day as if it just might be our last day on earth! (called setting priorities). Know what? someday you just might write a book...not sure on what...but you could do it! In the meantime, blogs are great!
Liz C.

Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 1:29:00 PM EST  
Blogger jora said...

What a truly beautiful piece on what it means to be a mom. Thank you so much for sharing!

Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 3:15:00 PM EST  
Blogger michelle said...

I'm so sorry about your Mom. What a lovely lovely post and perspective.

Like some of the other commenters, I too lost a parent (my father) during my first trimester with my first child. There's something tragic and poignant about dealing with death while creating life.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 4:07:00 PM EST  
Blogger Suzanne said...

Oh Heather... just when I think I can't possibly like you any more than I already do, you go and write something crushingly beautiful and touching.

I'm so sorry for the loss of your mom.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 10:39:00 PM EST  

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