My Mom Died When I Was Pregnant
|September 6, 2013||Posted by Jennifer under I Miss My Mom, Mommyhooddom|
My Mom Died When I Was Pregnant
The day of my mom’s funeral, I placed a small black and white ultrasound picture of my unborn baby boy in her casket.
Talk about a surreal experience seeing the two so close together, yet so far apart.
As I stood there saying goodbye to the woman I couldn’t imagine life without, I was afraid I might go into labor. Odds are, my baby would have been ok at 35 weeks, but I was in no shape to care for him. I needed months, if not years to mourn. I certainly wasn’t ready to be a mother.
Ever since I was a little girl, my biggest fear had always been to lose my mother. She was my best friend in the world. She was my idol in every sense of the word and I had relied on her love and friendship on a daily basis for 39 years. When that dreaded day came on August 25, 2011, the pain overwhelmed me, as I always knew it would. She was only 62-years-old when she died.
She wanted so badly to live to see her grandson come into the world. On one hand, I wanted her to hang on too, but I also wanted her agony to end. She had suffered through a painful year of bone-breaking fall after fall, pneumonia and surgery. Her vision was more or less gone and she could barely walk, even with assistance.
Progressive Supranuclear Palsy
She had a disease as unique as she was called progressive supranuclear palsy. (PSP) It’s famous only for torturing the people who love the ones with the disease until they beg for mercy. It’s a very rare degenerative neurological disease with no cure, akin to Parkinson’s. Mom had a big dose of dementia sprinkled on top.
In many ways, I ‘lost’ my mother in 2006. The dementia component of PSP slowly took away her personality and cognitive abilities. Initially, she was distant and apathetic. Later on, she behaved in strange ways. Eventually, the woman I had always known left me and was replaced by a shell of a lady I did not know. Though my mom often sat right in front of me, I desperately searched for any clue that she was still there. Occasionally, I’d get a look, a few words, an old phrase, just enough to keep me coming back wanting more. It was a cruel time. I think I was pretty much in a constant state of mourning for at least five years even before she died.
In January of 2011, my brother and I drove our mom to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota to take part in a clinical drug trial for people with PSP which turned out to be for naught. In retrospect, we never should have taken her. She had 8 broken ribs and a broken cervical vertebrae from a fall she had taken just days before we left. She had pneumonia by the time we got her back to St. Louis where I live. We drove her straight to the nearest emergency room where she spent four days in the hospital. I slept by her side every night. I was happy just to be close to her.
Two Pink Lines
Mom was discharged on a Tuesday and three days later, I took a home pregnancy test, the first and only one I had ever taken.
It was positive.
Still exhausted from the trip and staying with Mom in the hospital, I told my wide-eyed husband it was probably a false-positive from all the stress I was under. What was I thinking!
The next week was a complete and total blur. Mom was back at her house five hours away from me with my brother and sister caring for her and I was in shock. Somehow, I managed to buy some folic acid and make an appointment with an OBGYN I had picked out of the phone book.
But, I couldn’t even begin to imagine having a baby. I was in no way, shape or form remotely prepared to live the rest of my life without my mother, much less live it as a mother myself—without my mom.
Having a baby was not necessarily in my “life plan.” Having one without my mom by my side was out of the question. If ever there was a time that I wanted and needed my mother, this was it!
I was the girl who called her mom from her senior prom. I was the girl who cried every Sunday when I had to leave home and go back to college for the week. I was the girl who took her mom to her first “real” job interview (she waited in the car, but still).
I got mad. No, I got furious. I thought, what kind of a cruel joke is this to take away my mother by giving her a horrible disease and then give me a baby instead. I know God works in mysterious ways and all, but at the time, my first reaction was certainly not one based on faith that it was part of a master plan.
I looked like a grown woman and obviously I was, but for some reason, when I found out I was pregnant, I felt a lot like my 5-year-old self who rode the school bus home from the last day of first grade with a broken collarbone, crying the whole way. I had never been so happy to see my mother in my all my life! The second I stepped foot off the bus, our eyes locked across the front yard and I knew I was going to be all right.
Not this time. I didn’t have the light behind her eyes to run to. I was still 5 inside and desperate for her to tell me it would be ok and that I would be a good mother. And then expound on all the reasons why, in her opinion! But she couldn’t. PSP and dementia had blunted her emotions and her ability to verbalize her thoughts and feelings. The woman who had held my hand and led me to good places so many times before was now astray herself– and she was never coming back.
Maybe it was the stress of watching my mom’s health decline, maybe it was my age talking, but I was terribly afraid of having a miscarriage. I had become keenly aware of the fragility of life. I made my husband promise we would wait as long as we could possibly stand before we told anyone I was pregnant.
A Reason to Live
One day in early March 2011 when I was in the throws of morning sickness, my mom called and as had become the new normal, had very little to say, which broke my heart. I know she desperately wanted to talk like we always did in the old days, but few words would come. It was so hard on my end too. Trying to think of things to say that didn’t sound like, “I’m pregnant!!”
This particular day, she told me she wanted to die. It was the first time since she was diagnosed in June of 2010 that I had ever heard her say such a thing. PSP had changed a lot of things, but it had never shaken her optimism until that moment.
“Jenn, I just don’t want to live anymore.”
Oh, how those words sliced right through me. I would have done anything at that moment, given anything to change her mind. I knew that if her will was gone, so too would be her life soon, very soon. I had to tell her I was pregnant. I knew I was taking a big risk because if I had a miscarriage, it would devastate her. I was only 8 weeks or so.
I said, “Mom, I want you to live. Please, please live just as long as you can. I’m going to have a baby.”
“You are?” she said.
“Yes, I’m pregnant. Can you believe it?” I said, as tears streamed down my face. “Please, please live to see my baby.”
And then, with almost no emotion, she said, “Okay, I’ll live.” But then she added, “I know I don’t sound excited, but I am, I really, really am.”
Talk about an overloaded, hormonal, emotional wreck I was. One minute overwrought with sadness and the next flying higher than high with happiness that my mom wanted to live because I was pregnant.
I’m convinced my baby boy gave his Nana the reason she needed to keep going that day and in turn gave me more time with my precious mama. She had her eye on the fall, her favorite time of the year, if she could just hang on long enough.
Her disease, however, certainly didn’t give a damn about any baby. It kept right on wreaking havoc on her brain.
Pregnant and Sad
My mom and I never went shopping for baby stuff. We never decorated a nursery. We never stayed up late talking about when she was pregnant with me. She never made me a strawberry pie or told me I looked cute all fat and swollen.
Instead, I only saw her a few times the last six months of her life. Her health steadily declined. We rarely talked on the phone. It was hard for me to call and listen to her silence. Eventually, she couldn’t dial a phone.
I have lots of regrets about not spending more time with her, but I had terrible morning sickness, tons of doctors’ appointments for lots of little things that could have been serious, but weren’t. And, I had to find a house and move during that time too. Excuses, I suppose. All I know is that it was devastating being with her and devastating being without her.
It was not what she would have wanted for me during what was supposed to be the happiest time in my life.
I had a baby shower at my mom and dad’s house on Saturday, August 20, 2011. She wasn’t there. She had been admitted to the hospital three days before for emergency surgery to repair an obstructed bowel.
I look back now at the baby shower pictures and see myself smiling, but haven’t a clue how I managed to hide the despair I felt. It was the saddest thing ever for me. In a rallying show of support, dozens of my mom’s friends came. I was so surprised and thrilled to see them all. I know they must have come heavy-hearted too, but all I felt was enormous love, for which I am eternally grateful. They got me through the day.
I spent the next day with Mom in the hospital. She was doing well, eating, and talking some. In a rare moment of clarity she said, “You’re going to be so lonely.”
It took me by surprise. I wasn’t sure what she meant and then it hit me. She meant that I would be lonely after the baby came…without her. Boy was she ever right!
My husband and I drove the five hours back home on Sunday night. He had to work on Monday. I cried the whole way. I didn’t want to leave her.
Mom took a turn for the worse Tuesday morning. I had a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday and even though I desperately wanted to be with her, I was afraid to miss my appointment. I was almost 35 weeks pregnant and had excessive amniotic fluid so they were doing ultrasounds and fetal heart monitoring every few days. I was incredibly torn. Mom needed me. I needed to know my baby was ok. My husband and I decided we would leave town as soon as he got off work on Friday.
My brother held the phone up to Mom’s ear on Thursday afternoon. I told her I loved her and that I would see her the next day. She made a sound for me and then died peacefully about an hour later.
I was home alone.
I told myself that Mom was finally free from her pain and suffering. I cried many tears of relief that day. Having the sense that she was finally at peace was the first good thing to happen to me in a long time.
The second was coming. He was 5 weeks away. I looked down at my gigantic belly and realized that there was a part of Mom, a new expression of her precious soul that I had yet to meet.
So I kept going.