"Missing My Mom as I Became a Mother"

Would my mom have thought I'm a good mother? Would she have approved of our decision to adopt? I search my heart and know the answers.

I fit easily into motherhood, in the end.

I still remember how raw I felt inside, that first Mother’s Day after my mom died. I walked down the greeting card aisle at the drugstore, wiping away tears. It was a moment I had taken for granted for so long, and, suddenly, it was gone. I didn’t have anyone to buy a card for that year.

Years later, my husband and I began talking about adoption, but there was something about motherhood that terrified me. How could I become a mom without my mother? Not a day went by when I hadn’t missed her, but now I needed her. After many tears, and much anxiety, my husband convinced me to take the leap of faith.

We were matched with a little girl named Ana Maria. One day, I opened my e-mail to find her looking up at me. “Who is this kid?” I thought. Who is this child who’s going to be my daughter?

A few weeks later, I booked what we thought would be our last hurrah before parenthood: A romantic Fourth of July weekend in Quebec City. We weren’t expecting Ana’s paperwork to be ready until late August.

Just then, the phone rang. It was our adoption agency. Ana’s paperwork had sailed through, and she was ready to come home! I looked down at the desk calendar. It was May 16, my mother’s birthday. I got a lump in my throat and chills along my arms. Was this a sign from her saying, “Everything will be OK, honey”? My mother was always a big believer in signs. Somewhere up there, I thought, she was smiling.

On our own

On June 1, at midnight, we pulled up to our driveway — just back from the airport, with Ana in the backseat — and found our porch covered in pink balloons. Neighbors and friends had hung a giant banner that read, “It’s a Girl!” We were officially home. Now came the hard part.

As the months passed, I was plagued with insecurity and self-doubt. Who was I kidding? Me, a mom? I was rudderless. I’d lost my compass. I was reading the What to Expect books like a fiend, trying to find the wisdom that I couldn’t receive firsthand. I kept thinking, my mother is supposed to teach me these things. Why am I learning them from some stranger?

I had a mother-in-law, as well as sisters and friends who’d had kids, but a mother’s love is irreplaceable. When I was insecure, she gave me confidence. When I was scared, she brought me comfort. A mother is, simply put, a soft place to land.

It took some time, but a funny thing happened. I found a way to introduce my mother to her grandchild. Instinctively, I started to serenade my little girl with all the silly songs my mom had made up when I was a kid. “Let’s Go Swimming All the Way Home” became the song that I sing to Ana at bath time. “That’s My Girl” is another one. Whenever she was proud of any of her girls, my mother would sing, “That’s my girl, take a look at her, she belongs to me!” Ana squeals with delight when I sing this one to her. “Grandma made up that song,” I always tell her. And each time, it’s like my mom is there beside us. Maybe she is.

As time passes, the not knowing becomes the hardest part about my mom’s absence. Would she have approved of our decision to adopt? Would she have accepted my daughter, as she embraced her other grandchildren? And, the biggie, would she have thought I was a good mother? As I write this, I search my heart and know the answers. I close my eyes and hear her singing, “That’s my girl, take a look at her, she belongs to me.”

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