'Being Mammy without Mam': raising a child having just lost a parent
Becoming a mum is an overwhelming experience at the best of times.
As a new mother, you venture into the unknown and need all the guidance and support you can get.
But what's it like to lose your mum and become one yourself all at the same time? One HerFamily reader has been in touch to share her story.
Grace Rattigan from Dublin discovered she was pregnant just days before losing her mum to cervical cancer. With her daughter Rebecca now aged four and another baby on the way, she's once again reflecting on her loss.
"Being pregnant again has brought a huge amount back from the first time," Grace told HerFamily.
"I thought it might have been easier this time as I didn't know any different but it's still as hard sometimes without my Mam, especially as the further on I've gotten the more complications I'm having. Nothing hugely major but it would have been nice to have her support when I've been ill or worried."
Here's her story in her own words, as it appeared on her blog FrillyFlossy.
“Grace you always think you’re pregnant!”
These were the first words from my mam while I was waving the pregnancy test in her face.
I had only just taken the test and hadn’t even rang Stephen (my now husband). But she was right! Since the day it become possible, I was always panicking that I was pregnant… but this time I actually was.
I had pictured the moment of telling her that she was going to be a nanny for many years. Unfortunately, the reality was nothing like I’d imagined.
She was all propped up in her bed in St Luke’s as the news sank in.
She’d spent more time in that hospital in the past seven months than she had at home.
On the 15th of August 2011, we got the devastating news that she had cervical cancer at the tender age of 47. My brothers were only 8 and 17. I was 23 and in the throes of planning my wedding abroad for the following year. All I could think was that this couldn’t possibly be happening to our family.
As the weeks and further diagnosis went on, we learnt that the cancer had progressed but was treatable. Nine weeks of intense treatment followed with hours upon hours spent in St Luke’s hospital. It ended with a horrendous Christmas. But we got through it and hoped it was the beginning of the end of this nightmare!
“Next year this will be a horrible memory and Christmas 2012 will be much better,” we all said.
But Christmas 2012 wasn’t better; it was a blur of madness, sadness and so many other emotions. My mam was now eight months gone from us and my little girl was just one week old. This was just the start of me facing the big world of being Mammy without Mam.
I found out I was pregnant on Tuesday the 10th of April 2012. By noon the next day my Mam had slipped into a deep sleep that lasted a few days and it was to be her last sleep.
On the Friday morning, after spending the past 48 hours in St Luke’s waiting for the inevitable, myself and Stephen left briefly to visit my GP to confirm the pregnancy. Within an hour of our return to the hospital, my Mam passed away surrounded by those who loved her.
We were all on autopilot for the days that followed. Lots of hand shaking, smiling, crying, saying and doing everything that comes with the death of a loved one. But I also spent those days telling our close friends and family that I was pregnant.
Just four weeks pregnant and telling so many is not ideal, but I felt it was a little light at the end of the tunnel.
My mam had many a time said that when it happened, I was to move the 10 minutes back home so she could mind me. I laughed it off of course, but for nearly every second of those 9 months I would have given anything for her to be there by my side. My pregnancy was far from easy, with months of endless sickness and other issues.
I had people to mind me; I have some wonderful friends and family and the most supportive and loving husband. But sometimes you just need your Mam.
Stephen came home from work one day to find me in a state sitting on the bathroom floor. He came home to this scenario most days after I’d just been sick, but this time was different. I had finished being sick but I couldn’t stand up. At that moment I was in too much pain, not a normal physical pain but one that only someone who has experienced a loss can describe. It’s a deep dull pain embedded inside you. I wanted my mam, I desperately needed her. Nothing he was going to say was going to heal this feeling I just needed to cry and shout and feel this pain.
That feeling of pain hasn’t gone away, but the frequency of falling apart is less as time goes on and I have learnt to live life in my new world without mam.
The phrase “bitter sweet” seems to perfectly describe so much of your life after you lose someone.
After our first pregnancy scan, we left the Coombe Hospital filled with relief and happiness that everything with the baby was perfect but within seconds of getting out those sliding doors, I was filled with sadness and I just cried "I can’t tell her."
Had she been alive, she would have rung us twenty times already gasping to hear how we got on. I sat in the car looking down at those tiny little scan images thinking we should be heading off now to show her.
My wedding day came and went. It was a sad but beautiful day - yet another day that was filled with so much bitter sweetness. But I was determined to enjoy our day because that’s what she would have wanted. She adored Stephen and she died knowing she was leaving me in the arms of a very good man who would always look after me.
So I laughed and danced the day away as much as a 20 week pregnant bride can, but I had her in my heart every step of the way.
The weeks went on but due to a previous pelvic issue, I was booked in for an elective section at 39 weeks. The night before my section, my Dad and my brothers called. I knew how hard it was for my Dad to say goodbye to me that night. I was still his baby girl about to have my own baby and he hadn’t my Mam by his side.
The next day I sat on the side of the bed in the cold, loud operating theatre, gowned up and waiting, when the anesthetist asked why I was so upset. All I could muster was “I miss my mam.” Of course the poor man was puzzled and said “It’s ok, you’ll see her after”. Sadly for me, this wasn’t true.
Rebecca Catherine Grace arrived safely on the 18th of December and every 7 pound and 1 ounce of her was perfect in every way. The name Rebecca was the only girl’s name we had picked; it was a favorite of my mam's and we both loved it. She was given two middle names as my way of reuniting the three of us.
She was a content and happy baby who brought happiness to so many people who really needed it. But most of all she turned me back into me. My mam always called me her baby girl and now I had my own baby girl. I had a purpose, a reason to get up and smile through the pain, a little person who needed me as much as I needed her. Four years on, she is the luckiest little girl with three fantastic grandparents who adore and idolize her. But she knows that her Nanny Catherine is up on a cloud with Santa and Mary Poppins keeping an eye!
Every new thing she has done or achieved over the past four years has always been marred with a tinge of sadness. I still rush to pick up the phone to then be hit with the horrible realisation that no one will answer.
The first day I started to wean Rebecca onto solids, I was so happy. She demolished each teeny bit of that pureed carrot and I was thrilled. Seconds later, Thin Lizzy’s Sarah came on the Radio. I smiled and said “Thanks Mam”, as this was one of her favorite songs and her way of saying “Well done, darling”.
It doesn’t get any easier and every birthday, I can’t believe I have a child one year older that my mam never met. She would have loved every hair on Rebecca’s crazy head, spoilt her rotten and tried to undermine every form of discipline I had!
I miss her every day in so many ways, but I know she would be beyond proud of the job I’m doing as I’m safe in the knowledge that I learnt from the best."