My mom knitted sweaters for countless new babies. She knitted them so large that it would take YEARS before they fit, but that was her pragmatic German side coming through. “Pooch (her nickname for me), you don’t want them to grow out of the sweater so quickly!” She was right. Sadly, Mom was never able to knit a sweater for my daughter. By the time we found out Addie was on the way, her fingers were so messed up from the neuropathy that she could barely write, let alone knit.
This morning, a close friend sent me a picture of his daughter in her sweater—a beautiful, thick red cardigan. She’s just about to start first grade and it finally fits her. The photo simultaneously made me smile and cry. After Mom passed away, I was looking through her address book and found my friend’s daughter’s name in it. Not his, but his daughter’s. His daughter always held a special place in Mom’s heart, even though they never met in person. This was true for a lot of little ones—my mom was a surrogate Oma (grandma in German) to countless kids, even if she never met them. My friend told me that his little pumpkin remembers my mom had knit her that sweater, and remembered that it was too big on her for many years. At that moment, all I wanted to do was text the picture to my mom and tell her that. But how can you text heaven?
Addie is 9-months old now and getting so big. Her rolls are remarkable. She recently decided she no longer wants to nurse, which makes me sad. For some reason, I always thought it would be my decision to stop nursing. I don’t know why but maybe I just wanted—or needed—to control something on this crazy journey of motherhood. It goes without saying that raising a baby is far from easy, but nursing one is absolutely crazy town. I just read an article in the NY Times where the author paints a picture of how she thought nursing would go.
“When I was pregnant and I imagined myself breast-feeding, I usually pictured myself out to brunch with some friends. When the baby was hungry I’d pop on my color-coordinated nursing cover, and she’d latch right on while I enjoyed my mascarpone French toast. That’s not what it was like at all.”
Ha. Brilliant. I couldn’t have said it better myself. My mom, unfortunately, played into that myth by constantly reminding me she breast-fed me until I was three, and that she had more milk than she knew what to do with! Thanks, Mom. It didn’t work out that way for Addie and me. My labor was rough, I lost a lot of blood, and that led to my milk production being very, very low. But how does one even know that? Until a horrible lactation consultant tells you that you’re hurting your baby’s brain development, shoves a bottle of formula in her mouth without asking, and you end up in tears in a sterile, cold doctor’s office, battling no sleep, a sick mother on the opposite coast, and the worst California wildfires in years outside your window. It sucked. Mascarpone French toast, it was not.
I wish more people talked about how difficult the breast-feeding journey is. I still don’t understand why our culture has such taboos around such natural things like breast-feeding and miscarriage. Addie’s nanny is from El Salvador and it’s amazing how differently they handle things, especially feeding. They have a community who supports each other. They have a tribe. Where is our tribe? Why does our culture strive for all aspects of life to be Instagram-worthy perfection? Last week, I spent my entire grief counseling session crying—mostly about my decreased milk production, how sad it makes me that Addie no longer wants to nurse, and how hard it is to maintain pumping throughout the day, even when she is right next to me because she shakes her head furiously when I put her near my boobs. In El Salvador, they don’t even have breast pumps. How did we get here? I wish our bougie breast-feeding class had even touched on one aspect of this part of the journey. But sadly, it was mostly propaganda for breast-feeding, to which I wanted to jump up and shout, “Why would we be here paying all this money if we didn’t want to breast-feed!” Last week I wanted more than anything to call my mom, but unfortunately, I haven’t found the phone number for heaven yet.
When I encounter this gut-wrenching sadness about missing Mom, I try to remember that her sweaters are bringing joy all over the world. When I was putting together the video for her memorial, I received photos of kids in her sweaters from as close as New Jersey to as far away as New Zealand. That makes me smile. Dozens of kids, many of whom never even met my mom, know her and remember her. That is exactly the legacy that she wanted to leave on this world. I know she can see them and is smiling at all their joy. I’m pretty sure they have cameras in heaven.