There is little in this world that can move me more than a smile from my baby girl. Even moreso, the sound of her laughter has the power to melt my heart in seconds, flip the grumpiest of moods on its head, and chase away my tiredness, the heaviness of which I could never have imagined before I came a mum. It is a sound I will pursue and protect for the rest of my life.
Today was a laughing kind of a day and my heart is full. After tucking the little girl up in bed, feeding her, reading to her, cuddling her, praying with her and laughing with her all the while, I find myself thinking, for the umpteenth time, “wow, so I guess this is how my mother felt about me.” The mother’s love that I have for my daughter, has become, for me, a point of connection with my own mother with whom I have not spoken in over two decades.
I was 16 when I realised I had spent half my life without my birthmum, who died from cancer when I was 8. Since then, every day has resulted in a larger majority of my life not knowing her. My mother was the epitome of a “supermum”, mother of my three older brothers as well as me, baker of delicious treats and christmas steamed puddings, owner of a legit recipe index card box, homemade play-doh maker, sewer of curtains, knitter of brightly coloured jumpers, tear-free hair brusher, bandaid applier, carpooler, laundry queen, and very involved school parent. But, through no fault of her own, she never had the chance to become my confidante and friend on anything deeper than a Mum-I’m-bored-come-play-with-me level. She never got to meet my first real friends, be my sounding board for future career dreams, plan my wedding with me or get to know my husband. Being so young, I feel like I never got to grow to share common ground with her, appreciate her personality quirks, or learn from her as I followed in her footsteps towards becoming a wife and mother.
I thank God that I have been incredibly blessed with a dedicated step-mother, and many loving, wise women who have been placed in my life and helped me at every stage, but nothing has made me feel the Mum-shaped void in my life more than becoming a mother myself.
And yet, it has been in becoming a mum that I have come to truly appreciate my Mum; I have come to share that common ground with her. This is probably typical of most women, but to me it feels like an extra special blessing that I did not anticipate; kind of an extra-time deepening of my relationship with her. Our stories are very different: she stayed in New Zealand and lived at home until she married my Dad, had children, and became a stay-at-home mother. I went to university, travelled, graduated, married, moved cities, became a lawyer, travelled some more, moved countries, became a missionary, worked some more, and now here I am: a stay-at-home mother just like my Mum (albeit in a foreign country and with some freelance writing gigs on the side). Despite the differences, I feel like I have gotten to know her more with every step in my short motherhood journey.
When I became pregnant, I was bursting with excitement and could not wait to tell the world. As I sat in the doctor’s waiting area for the first time, I imagined Mum finding out about me. I began to feel an affinity with her that I never had before.
The first half of my pregnancy, while thankfully uncomplicated, was marred by constant nausea and frequent vomiting. As I rode the train to and from work in Tokyo’s rush hour each day, fighting the nausea and willing myself not to throw up until I reached home, I had a quiet awareness that Mum had physically endured similar for me. If not the vomiting, then perhaps the pregnancy brain, weariness, difficulty sleeping and the numerous other typical discomforts of pregnancy. I wondered if she had also craved potato chip sandwiches, or suffered from terrible heartburn in the final few weeks like me.
As I geeked out and made lists of the things our baby undoubtedly “needed”, considered the pros and cons of various birth methods and spent hours googling terms such as “sleep regression”, “Apgar score” and “baby-led weaning”, I wished I could compare the myriad of often contradicting advice with the first-hand experiences of my Mum. I wondered if I had been a good sleeper for her, had fed well, had an easy temperament, or whether I should expect a difficult baby to make “what went around come around.”
As I nervously approached my due date and impending motherhood, I began to think, in awe, of Mum who had delivered and raised 4 healthy babies. (Sidebar: I recently found out that she used cloth nappies for all of us…and not the modern handy dandy ones we have now, but those old school flat nappies with safety pins. That may have been normal back then, but I am still in awe.) I imagined and could feel her excitement to meet me as I experienced the same. I wanted to tell her, “Mum, now I know how you felt, all those years ago. Were you as excited as I am right now? Were you scared?” In response to my desire to speak with her, I felt anew the familiar old sense of regret at not having the maturity to get to know her better while she was alive, yet a strange feeling of gratitude at this new sense of closeness with her.
After struggling through the drama of childbirth and wading through the murky, fatigue-ridden, yet delightful waters of newborn care with all the paranoia and second guessing oneself that such care entails, I felt truly grateful for the physical and mental sacrifices that my Mum (and Dad) must have made for me. A dear friend of mine said at a mutual friend’s baby shower that, once you become a mum, you willingly (or sometimes not so willingly) fling your personal needs and desires out the window for the sake of your baby. You might be starving, but you stop to feed her first. You might be exhausted, but you still get up several times a night to check on her. When you go shopping, your eye is no longer attracted to items that suit you, but to those that would look cute on her. Oh, how true that is.
And now, a million times a day, I think of my Mum. That is barely an exaggeration. As I go through my daily routine of housework, food preparation, feeding, nappy-changing, playing, bathing and adoring, I have a continuous awareness that my Mum did the same for me, many years ago. I am belatedly grateful for all of this.
But, the thing that I am most grateful for is something that she probably, if my experience does indeed mimic hers, had no control over. It is that I imagine she felt for me the way that I feel for my daughter. This wonderful, complete sense of awe, intimacy and deep-rooted love that I feel for my little girl, the certainty that she is the most precious gift I have ever received and quite possibly the most precious being alive, the pride that takes up my phone’s storage capacity and results in my Facebook and Instagram pages featuring her almost exclusively … it blows my mind that someone felt this same depth of overriding emotion for me. I mean, I guess I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty that this is how Mum felt for me, but I believe she did. I have few distinctive memories of her, but the emotive atmosphere that lingers across them all is one that I can only describe as sweet tenderness.
So Mum, thanks for everything. But, most of all, thanks for that which I will always fail to adequately describe; thanks for seeing me through a lens in which I could only ever be seen as precious.