hold me tight

After a few painful months, a new mother learns what really counts.

When I was pregnant, I shared my new-mom anxieties with my friend Rosemary. Was there enough room in the house? Did I have enough baby blankets? Should the baby use a pacifier? Rosemary, being wise, told me that none of these things mattered and that when the baby came, I should just hold her. While this advice should be taken to heart by all moms-to-be, it was especially true for me.

The day after Sophia was born, my mom died of ovarian cancer. With my bright-eyed angel asleep in my arms, I had called her the morning of the birth to say that her granddaughter had arrived. I thanked her for giving birth to me and told her I was impressed that she had gone through labor three times. Since my parents were in New York and I was in California, I told her how I wished she could come to see Sophia in person.

Some conversations are so intense that they have to be short. This one lasted only about five minutes.

When I learned shortly after that my mom had died, I wasn’t surprised. For weeks she had been holding on, telling me she would wait for Sophia , and she did just that.

The week after Sophia’s birth, my brother came to visit, and my dad made plans to visit, too. Meanwhile, he pored over pictures of Sophia and laughed when he heard her on the phone. He was even passionate about her burp, saying it sounded like a champagne bottle exploding. Three weeks later, before meeting Sophia, my dad died of a heart attack.

There are no words to describe the void I felt after my parents’ deaths. Instead of the joy I imagined as my parents accompanied me on my journey from being someone’s baby to being a mom, I was left to make the transition alone.

I knew I was at a crossroads — would I wallow in my desire for my parents, or would I become the best of them and take on the role of a nurturer? In my despair, a friend of my parents reminded me that as Sophia was breastfeeding, she was life itself entrusted to my care. And in fact she was. As I held her, I focused on her breath, her satin skin, her coos and sighs. These moments put everything in perspective — she was a miracle, an amazing new life that, in a way, replaced my parents’ lives. If the tiny blob in the initial sonogram grew into this animated little person on my lap, I supposed that there could be one other amazing transformation — that of myself from child to mother.

Charged with the energy in Sophia’s bright eyes, I decided to comfort her just how I wanted to be comforted. I cuddled her, rocked her, danced with her and my husband ... and somehow I felt soothed, too. Sophia’s gurgles of joy filled me in a way I could not have imagined. She took on my parents’ role by giving me constant appreciation.

Seven months later, the cloud of the most emotional time of my life is finally lifting. I find myself more comfortable in my role as mother and less devastated by the loss of my role as daughter. And I know exactly what got me through this transition. It wasn’t the newest baby wipe or the funkiest pacifier — it was Sophia herself. Instead of the worries I was prone to during my pregnancy — Do I have enough matching hats and booties? What if I have no clue about breastfeeding? — I’m grateful that I instinctively followed Rosemary’s advice and just held my baby.