Reflecting on becoming a mother when you’ve lost your own

Guest post by Allie Sonevytsky

Reflecting on becoming a mother when you've lost your own

I’ve known I wanted to be a mom ever since I was a little girl. I grew up obsessing over Barbies and baby dolls, and I loved the idea of taking care of children and raising them as my own someday. My friends’ younger siblings would follow me around as we’d play house and I’d pretend to be their mom, and the parents in the neighborhood or adults at church would sometimes call me “mother goose.” I have always loved children and they’ve always seemed to love me.

When I married my husband, I was ecstatic about the idea of having a family with him in a few years. But when I was at a point in my life where that dream I had for so long could come true, I couldn’t stop thinking about the one thing that I really wanted the most — my own mother.

When I was nine, my mom passed away from cancer. She was 43. She’s been gone from my life double the years she was in it, but I still remember so much about her. She was extremely selfless and gentle and nurturing, and such a strong female with a powerful presence that gave me a lot of confidence as her daughter, and as a person. She had a lively, excited personality, that everyone says is was what made her such a bright light in their lives. And when people sometimes describe me as the same way to them, I always smile and think, “I got it from my mom.”

Most days, I’m pretty optimistic about her death. I attribute a lot of my positive attitude and seizing every moment and experience in my life to the fact that hers was taken too soon. I like to think I am the way I am because of her death, and that gives me a lot of peace about her absence on my good days.

Yet some days, especially days like Mother’s Day, are the absolute worst. It’s been 18 years and I still find myself crying uncontrollably on that day, hitting the steering wheel, or letting out a scream or two from frustration about her not being here so I can celebrate with her. I think, “God, I miss her.”

Time is certainly the healer of all wounds, as they say, but for anyone who has ever lost a parent — or a child, or a spouse, or good friend — too soon, you know that it never, ever stops being shitty overall. And I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life.

While my husband and I discuss having a kid, I’ve heavily reflected on how my mother’s life and death will translate into my own experience as a parent, and my relationship with my child. I’ve questioned how I can give my child what my mom gave me as hers. I’ve even feared the potential reality of me having the same fate as her at her age. But with this, I’ve realized two very important things within my concerns:

I must separate the things I can choose from the things I cannot. I can’t choose when I leave this earth, but I can choose how I give value to my child as their mother for as long as I am here, and give them what she gave me — life. She not only gave me physical life, but internal life in my personality and my heart and my soul, and in every fabric of how I see the world and the way I’ve chosen to live in it. She gave me an immeasurably incredible gift of seeing so much beauty in the world, and used to think that was mostly because of her passing, but I have recently come to terms with the fact that that’s not it anymore.

That’s the second thing I realized… That she still would have given me this gift even if she was still here. It wasn’t just her death that made me who I am; it was truly her that made me who I am. It was her aura and her energy and her ability to be such a strong and caring mother to me. And that’s what never faded.

Because of this, I am confident she is what will make me a great mom someday. And the thought of being able to do that for my own child brings me immense gratitude for who I am and what I will become.

Comments on Reflecting on becoming a mother when you’ve lost your own

  1. My mother and aunt both passed in 2011 from the same cancer they both fought for over 10 years. My husband and I had our first child in 2014. There are still moments when it hits me so hard that they will never know either of them, but I fill her life with other strong women who share little bits of who they were. She has many “aunts” and “grandmas” who are not half of what my mother and aunt were, but the love they have for my daughter combined makes her life a little more full. Surround yourself with those that love you and try to keep her memory and traditions alive. I don’t think it will ever hurt less, but I will make sure that our daughter feels the love from all directions.

  2. Thank you for sharing! Your description of your mother was touching, and your love for her is evident.

    My maternal grandmother passed away before I was born, when my mother was 14. My mom is not a sharer of feelings, but she does share stories. She still has a lot of my grandmother’s possessions, which hold sentimental value. When I was young, she would get out her jewelry and trinket box, and it always felt like a treasure chest. Unpacking the holiday decorations each year was an event. Holding my grandmother’s items while my mom told stories about her gave me a connection to my grandmother even though our lives didn’t overlap.

  3. This post could have been written by me, except that my mom died when I was 18, and I have so many regrets about my teenage years.
    My Son was born 6 months ago, and this time and experience has stirred up many buried feelings. I feel closer to her now, I feel like we now share an experience and I might better know what our life together was like for her. On the other hand, I miss her more than ever, wanting to ask her so many questions, needing advice and wanting to share this common experience and her grandson with her.
    The thought that my son might one day experience this as well makes me write a diary for him, about him and about us together. It is impossible to answer all the questions he might have, but this way I can leave memories.

  4. This was really lovely. I’ve never had my own maternal instincts kick in and I’ve often wondered if losing my own Mum when I was 7 has been he reason for that.

  5. You may want to check out the book “Motherless Mothers” by Hope Edelman. I haven’t read it myself, but I’ve read her original book “Motherless Daughters” many times. I plan on reading MM when I am closer to having a child.

    This month marks 10 years since my mother passed away from breast cancer when I was 16. I have always had a strong yearning to have a child, particularly a daughter. I think that I crave the experience of re-doing the mother-daughter experience, even if I’ll be on the other side. I live with a lot of regrets regarding my mother and the years leading up to her death, and I hope I can do things right with my own child.

    It’s great that you have such a positive mindset about your mother and so many memories even though you were only 9 when she passed. It’s hard recognizing the good that can come from a terrible experience, but it sounds like you’ve been able to do that, which is probably very healing.

    • I definitely understand that – I feel really excited about the idea of being a mom to a daughter but also extremely nervous about it, like it may scare me a little. And thank you for the kind words 🙂 Being bitter and angry for so long was really painful and toxic on my mind and body, so I just decided one day that I really needed to try to change my attitude towards her absense and make the best out of my life with what I’ve been dealt, and also, knowing my mom would be upset to know I was angry and bitter instead of grateful and proud and compassionate for others who have it worse, like she always was. I feel like that’s the best way for me to truly honor her.

  6. This resonated deeply with me; I echo the sentiments that I could have written this myself. My mother died when I was 14, and she was also relatively young (compared to most other cancer-related deaths at the time). I have alwaysalwaysaaaalways loved kids, and used to think all I wanted to be when I “grew up” was a mother. I have been working closely with children for the past 5ish years. I am now 27, and have been taking a closer look at my approach to motherhood when the time comes. Your positive insights are inspirational, and I only hope I may continue doing the work I need to do to heal and cope – I feel as though there is still so much to be done. (My heart still aches on Mother’s day, too.)

    Thank you, and commenters, so much for sharing/inspiring/reveling.

  7. I couldn’t figure out at first why my mom seemed to be super overprotective of me when I found out I was having a baby, and then I realized that she did not have her own mother during this time in HER life. This article makes me understand a bit more of what she might have gone through in the past, and the thoughts she might have now.

  8. This is exactly what I needed. January 30th would be my Mom’s 47 birthday, we lost her two years ago tragically to a heart attack while she was driving. I’m now 30 weeks pregnant with a son who isn’t going to have a grandmother on either side because his other Gramma passed from cancer when my husband was 17. We’re back living in the city I pretty much grew up in, and see ghosts of my Mom all over town. I keep thinking I’ll wake up one day and she’ll be there, but I know its not true. I know my son will have all sorts of people that love and care for him, but its not the same. I wish so badly she could be here with me through this journey, I know she is in my heart, but I can’t exactly ask her questions. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, its lovely to hear from others who have been through and feel the same pain as my husband and I.

Join the Conversation