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The place in between: How being a mom made me love my mother even more

By Ailee Zapata Published May 14, 2023 6:00 pm

I had just given birth to a baby girl. I laid awake on the hospital bed, frozen, as my daughter slept in my left arm. One movement and the crying could start again. The lactation nurses often interpreted her crying as hunger. I dreaded the possibility as both of my nipples ached in pain. 

My eyes wandered to the narrow slits in between the window shades for a vague sense of time. The sky was dark blue, between night and day. I checked on my husband, who stole some sleep on the cushioned bench near the foot of my bed. His eyes were closed, determined to rest before there was another knock on the door.

As new parents, silence was mercy. A gifted pause for rest. But it can also be a void for new fears to introduce themselves. 

There I was, already disobeying the rules. We’ve been taught that co-sleeping isn’t safe for babies. But my baby was beside me, where she preferred to sleep, and we were surrounded by extra cushions from the bench to pad the bed’s metal railings. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome rang alarm bells in my mind. I told myself I won’t fall asleep even if sleep was all I ever wanted. It was an empty promise and I wanted to punish myself for being a bad mother. But before my tears fell, thoughts of a good one came to the rescue: my own mother. 

I’ve never thanked her enough in my life, especially when I chose a path she didn’t approve of. When I took writing seriously, I became a disappointment to her. But she is still my primary source of comfort. She kept me alive for more than thirty years and I wondered how many nights she must’ve been sleepless for my sake. I imagined her awake in her room, always checking her phone, muttering prayers behind every text of “Where are you?” It must’ve been agonizing to refuse sleep until my safe return home—and I was ungrateful to find it uncool—but thinking of my mom thinking of me did pull me towards safety from the careless darings of youth. 

Having my daughter placed me in the middle of two great loves. In this place in between, my love for my daughter made me understand how much I was loved every day of my life.

Again, I somehow interrupted her sleep when my water broke at 3:45 a.m. and sent me to the hospital. She didn’t know why she was awake at that time as I had no idea that I would be in the labor unit for slightly more than 24 hours. Since no family member was allowed to enter the room, my mother came to me with a rosary bracelet she and my husband sent through the nurse. I squeezed those beads like a lifeline through every contraction.

Giving birth was grueling. When it was time to push, the doctors said I had to try harder because the baby’s head had a tendency to slide back up. With talk of an emergency C-section and not allowing another top-up of the epidural, my exhaustion easily plummeted to rock bottom. I shook my head at the doctor beside me. Enough. But she said, “I know, mommy, but you have to give it your all.” 

Experiencing a normal delivery somehow made me remember a childhood experience at a toy store. My mom and I unexpectedly passed by the shop after a trip to the grocery. My eyes lit up with my mouth transfixed into a silent “Whoa!” I remember watching my mother feel her pockets for her last P100 bill. I then ran around until I found a Hello Kitty folder we could afford, blissfully unaware that my parents’ salaries back then mostly paid for our rent. 

Perhaps the memories are intertwined because giving everything when I thought I had nothing left made me a mother. The ordeal that left me with a battered body somehow underscored how painful it can be to be a mom, even in ordinary moments. Motherhood must be a love that knows no limits—that is how my mother embraced me in the hospital room when fears attacked and she wasn’t physically there.

Having my daughter placed me in the middle of two great loves. In this place in between, my love for my daughter made me understand how much I was loved every day of my life. The first time I saw my mother after getting discharged from the hospital, I laid my head on the back of her hand as my words became tears. How do I say "thank you" for everything?

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