There is one particular occasion when I do feel the most joy, Mother’s Day; the one day when being a mom is celebrated on a grand scale. It is the Hallmark holiday when motherhood is appreciated and shown gratitude. On this day, I do not allow my emotions to be complexly layered. On this day, I refuse to grieve the loss of my beloved daughter Bianca. On this day, instead, I celebrate the fact that I gave birth to her, so precious, so perfect, and so beautiful; I made this blessing happen.
As the mother of a child who passed away in 2010 from Lupus, time can stand still at a moment’s notice and then run like the wind before you can turn your head. One glance at a calendar and you are automatically able to connect the dots from your emotional state to a memorable event that involved your child. For example, your child’s birthday, the first day of school, Christmas, graduation, Thanksgiving and of course, that dreadful day when your child passed away.
I have come to live with two calendars, one that keeps track of time and another that stores all of those emotional experiences that I’d like to have back and do over again.
As the years go by and my daughter’s proximity to me begins to fade, whenever I feel that I am at my breaking point, I turn to my daughter’s baby journal. It is an old red notebook where I made entries for my first thoughts, words, and emotions as a new mother. The journal contains many old-school handwritten soliloquies documenting my new baby’s growth during her first year. There are also sporadic excerpts of special moments we experienced together until she was 19-years-old and went off to college. This old, red, and now tattered book is my most precious keepsake.
One late night, Bianca saw me writing in this journal. She was entering her teens, you know, pushing limits and questioning everything. Bianca skeptically asked me, “What are you writing Mommy?” I paused like a deer in headlights, realizing she had caught me with the journal before I had a chance to gift it to her. It was then that I decided to reveal the book’s actual meaning, but before I could do so, she immediately snatched it from under my pen, ran upstairs and locked her door where she settled into full read mode!
The following few excerpts are from my journal, written in 1982 when Bianca was an infant:
April 9th …SH#T, SH#T, SH#T, boy did she do me up today. It was like she never had a Pamper…Right down the leg all over everything, can you believe it; the Pamper is clean. What a mess on me! All I do is clean up poop. Ok, time to hug her up, she is so beautiful, so tiny, so incredible, so mine!
April 12th… Ok, up all night, she cried every hour, fell asleep for 20 minutes and then woke up again crying. As I hold her in my arms, I realize how amazing she feels. Hey Frank! Will you ever take a night feed? He sleeps through the whole thing and at dinner I get,“Yeah baby, I will help you tonight.” When he wakes up the next morning, I hear “Baby did you get any sleep?” “Well, do I look like I did?”
April 15th…Oh no, she has gas, poor baby! She is screaming; you can feel it moving around, please come out. What a set of lungs. “I’m coming! I’m…” Hey, no bowel movement yet…this is not good.
April 28th… Oh my goodness, this breastfeeding schedule! Well, I missed a feeding, and my breasts turned into two hard bricks, this hurts like hell! They did not tell me about the hardness in the hospital, and the leaking through the clothes, how embarrassing. I was out by myself a few hours. My breasts are rock hard and painful. Bianca, I hope you’re hungry!
May 13th…Oh, she is congested and not liking it when I use the nose squeegee thingy. Ok, just suck it out. Clear it up. YUCK! Ok, this mommy job is not pretty at times. I’m sorry mama, gotta make you better but am I doing this right?
May 19th…I think Frank realizes how much work goes into taking care of a baby now that he is home during the day. She was crying, fussing, and just fussing, to be fussing. Frank was tired, trying to sleep and started to get agitated. He realized she was still hungry and finally understood that it only takes something as simple as food to calm her down. He gave her the last bit in the bottle and watched her snooze away.
June 19th…The regular formula has started, and now she has real poop. What the heck, and I was complaining about the mustard stuff, this is even more deadly. I’ll hate to see what happens when I feed her cereal. Daddy hands you off to me just before the explosion, so unfair; he needs to change you this time. “Hey, Frankie…!”
July 1st…My girl is teething and has a non-stop crying stage from 2:30 pm to 4:00 pm. Then suddenly afterward, as if an exorcism had taken place, she smiles and goes into heavy cooing with a big grin from ear-to-ear. Love her smile…”So lucky you’re cute. Yes, we love you” Can’t wait until her tooth comes through.
July 16th…Prickly heat! She sweats so much that her hair turns into ringlets. Bianca’s neck is red like a beet…bath time…the only way too cool off (we had no AC).
July 25th…”Hey did you just roll over? Didn’t I lay you on your back? Wait, this means I can’t leave you on the bed anymore.”
August 10th… The long, long, night when she will not stop crying, what do we do? She has been fed, changed, bathed, hugged, rubbed, rolled. We even took her temperature, and it was normal. It is now 3:00 am, and she has yet to stop crying. I can’t stand it. The plan was to hold her for an hour and then switch up so that one of us could get some sleep. Yeah, well, we can’t sleep because she will not stop crying. I am so frustrated. So what did I do? I hit something; I beat the crap out of poor Ralphie, Bianca’s favorite stuffed animal. Yep! I lost it…. I never thought I could feel that exasperated. I must be a bad mother, horrible! Why can’t I stop her from crying? “Please God make her feel better, please, she is so small and fragile, PLEASE!” (We still have Ralphie on Bianca’s dresser, wearing a scarf and a LUPUS WALK medal. He has two new eyes with lots of stitches holding his body together and is now 36-years-old.)
August 28th… Wrote a letter to my mother today, I used to say how crazy she was. I had no clue as to why and now I understand. So yes, I apologized to mom for my stubbornness, not listening, and for all the other wild things I did as a child thinking that I honestly knew better. I get it now. How humbling it feels to be in her shoes, as a nurturer and understand unconditional love in its purest form. How amazing it is to see a baby grow, learn and thrive. I look at you Pupa (Bianca’s pet name) and think, how amazing you are and how I love youuuuuu!
“Oh, come on? Did you have to spit up on me now?”
When I read even just a couple of entries in the journal, it brings me immeasurable joy and yes, sometimes a tinge of sorrow. This handwritten notebook, allows me to forge a new kind of connection with my daughter on most days but especially on Mother’s Day. Little did I know, how those childlike scribbles of my past would become such cherished memories that I would so desperately cling to now.
As mothers, we learn the job on the fly. No matter how much our mothers told, or didn’t tell us about the role. We improvise, adapt, and yes, overcome. We worry, we delight, and we are astounded at all this role requires. We stress, we struggle, we survive, and in doing so, we love our babies more with each passing day. How lucky and blessed we are as women to be mothers.
For those women, who like me have lost a child, it is the gift of motherhood that is worth embracing on this Mother’s Day. It doesn’t matter at what age your child passed; we must believe how wonderful we are as moms and still embrace the joy the role brings. We should not allow our emotions to flatline and let suffering take our spirit on this day. Let’s welcome the motherhood experience as a blessing that begins from the womb, to the last second we held our child’s hand.
And so to all mothers on this Mother’s Day, I state with strength and resolve: “Appreciate every moment spent with your child. There are no second chances of spending time with loved ones! Every minute is truly a gift.”
I am most grateful for the time I spent with my Bianca and for the bond we formed. It is my daughter’s legacy, her spirit, and her strength that pulls me up and over the daily mountains, I face and into the sunlight.
Deborah A.Wallace is also the author of the book The Flight of Our Butterfly: A Mother’s Celebration of Her Daughter’s Life