A woman is in labor with her second child when her first, whom she rejected and neglected throughout his life, passes away.
My first experience with motherhood wasn’t inspiring. I was sixteen when I fell pregnant and gave birth to Daniel when I was barely seventeen. To say I wasn’t ready to be a mother was an understatement. I wasn’t even ready to be a woman.
Don’t talk to me about contraception and responsibility. I didn’t want Daniel’s father, I didn’t want any of it. I hated him, and I hated the baby growing inside me even more.
I told my mother, and at first, she didn’t believe me. Honestly? She didn’t want to believe me. Daniel’s father was a friend of the family’s, a smiling man who was always there to bail daddy out of his scrapes.
No, my mother didn’t want to believe me, until she took me to the doctor and they discovered that Daniel was growing inside me like a tumor, a parasite feasting on my pain.
I had the baby, of course. No other option was even considered. My mother believed me when she announced I was pregnant that Sunday at lunch, and the trusted family friend turned dead white and shattered the glass he was holding.
Don’t dwell on your sorrows, turn towards love and forgiveness.
She believed me, and I know she had a talk with him without my father knowing because there was plenty of money for my doctors and my maternity clothes.
From then on, there was money to hire a tutor to come to the house so I could keep up with school without actually going there. Oh yes, she believed me.
When Daniel was born, I refused to breastfeed him, I wouldn’t even touch him. I’d told my mother I wanted to give him up, but she said he was our blood. You don’t give away family.
Since she couldn’t force me, she ended up taking care of him herself. His crib was moved into my mother and father’s room, and I rarely saw Daniel. When I did, I noticed he looked more like his father as he grew.
I refused to let being a mother to Daniel interfere with my life. I went on to my senior year in high school and had brilliant grades. I went to prom with a boy called Ryan and wore a pretty pink dress.
The minute I stepped out of my parents’ door, there was no Daniel.
Perversely, he adored me. He would watch me constantly, tug on my dress for attention, and stare up at me with big, wet, brown eyes. He disgusted me.
I told my parents I had applied to college and would be working my way through, but my mother told me there was no need. My college would be paid for.
I realized then that my mother was making Daniel’s father fork out for more than Daniel’s needs. That was alright with me. He owed me for everything he’d stolen from me: my trust, my childhood, my illusions.
I went to college, and I loved it. I did very well, and by the age of twenty-three, I graduated summa cum laude. A year later, I passed the bar and was recruited by a top-notch Boston firm.
Over the next five years, I only came home for Christmas and Thanksgiving, if I could even call my parent’s house, home. The visits were a nightmare, with Daniel clinging to me constantly, demanding my attention.
Then I met Jake. Jake was a client, the CEO of a software company he’d founded. I helped him navigate a merger, and we ended up having our own merger. I married Jake in Aruba.
It was a small, intimate wedding to which my parents and my son were not invited. I did take Jake to meet them and Daniel. I didn’t particularly enjoy the visit, but to my surprise, Jake and Daniel hit it off.
“We could have Daniel move in with us,” Jake suggested, “He’s an amazing kid.”
I said “No!” so harshly and emphatically that Jake never mentioned it again. Anyway, Jake was soon too absorbed by my pregnancy. Yes, I was pregnant again, and this time I was overjoyed.
Ironically, Daniel’s pregnancy had been textbook-perfect, but my second pregnancy was labeled high-risk. I was ordered to have total bed rest until the birth, which for me was a nightmare.
My mother phoned me every day and insisted on me Zooming with Daniel. Honestly, what did I have to say to the kid? That was my mom. She honestly believed that love healed everything, but of course, it doesn’t.
One afternoon, she called, looking particularly tired and worried. “Carol,” she said. “Please let me bring Daniel to see you.”
“I’m on bed rest, mom,” I protested.
“We won’t tire you…” she said, pleadingly. “Please.”
“I don’t want to see him, mom! Can’t you get it through your head?” I shouted. “I can’t get upset!”
“Please, Carol,” she said softly. “Can’t you find even a little love in your heart for Daniel? He needs you.”
“NO!” I said angrily. “Don’t you understand? I never wanted him! I was a child, mom, a child!”
My mom looked very sad. “So is Daniel,” she said gently.
After that conversation, her calls became more infrequent, and when I phoned her, she seemed distracted. Two months later, I went into labor. The doctors immediately decided on a C-section.
When they placed my beautiful baby girl in my arms, I thought my heart would burst with love. Jake was there by my side, tears in his eyes, grinning like an idiot.
“She’s so beautiful, Carol!” he kept saying. “I love you! I love you!”
I immediately called my mother. “Mom!” I cried. “You have a new granddaughter. Look!” I held up the phone so she could see the baby I was cradling, but my mom didn’t smile.
“Mom?” I asked. “Is everything alright? Is dad alright? Where are you?”
My mother bit her lips and shook her head, then tears started running down her cheeks. “I’m at the hospital, Carol,” she said quietly. “Daniel passed away an hour ago.”
“Daniel?” I asked numbly. “Daniel what?”
“He died, Carol,” my mother said. “Remember those headaches he had? The doctors diagnosed a tumor. There was nothing they could do, only make him comfortable, make his last days as happy as possible.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked.
“It was a high-risk pregnancy, I didn’t want to upset you, Carol,” my mother said, then added bitterly, “Would it have made a difference?”
“No,” I whispered. “I guess not.”
I hung up the phone and looked down at my tiny daughter. There was a knot of pain unfolding in my chest, robbing me of breath.
“Daniel,” I said to Jake. “Daniel is gone, he’s dead, Jake. He is dead.”
Jake’s arms were around me, and he was cuddling and crooning to me as if I was a hurt child, and I realized I was sobbing. “He’s gone, he’s gone,” I cried.
I seem to see Daniel before me, looking up at me with so much love, holding up a bunch of wilted flowers he’d picked for me, or showing me his grades, desperate for my love and my approval.
I’d failed him, I’d failed my little boy. I’d blamed him for being his father’s son, and forgot that he was MY son too, my baby. I looked down at the baby in my arms. “You had a big brother,” I whispered. “And he was wonderful.”
I was determined that my little girl would be loved by both her parents. I would be the mother Daniel needed and deserved. It was time for me to set aside bitterness and anger. It was time to love.
Jake and I went to Daniel’s funeral, and as I stood by his grave, I begged him for forgiveness. A soft breeze touched the tears on my cheeks, and the pain drained away. My boy loved me, he forgave me, and I could forgive myself.