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A New Mother's Old Memories
On the night my daughter was born, I felt whole again -- or at least as whole as I could feel after losing my 57-year-old mother, who was an integral part of my 30-year-old, adult, day-to-day life.
Her death 18 months beforehand loomed large throughout her six-year battle with ocular melanoma, a rare form of aggressive cancer that is first detected in the eye. Even so, it caught me off-guard.
I was as prepared as a person could be. I came fully equipped with a top-notch support system, an effective therapist and a rational understanding of her disease. I would soon learn over time that no matter how old you are or how prepared you may think you are, a daughter's never ready to lose her mother.
My husband and I had made the decision not to know the gender of this unborn baby, just as we had done with our son two years ago. "It would be what it would be" is what we told each other.
I am told that all, or at least most, women want a daughter of their own, and there are obvious reasons why. I wanted one for more than those. I felt that a daughter would bring back that treasured relationship I once shared with my own mother. She would not be a replacement, but she would fill a void.
There were a slew of women in my life who filled parts of that void, including my mother's daughterless older sister, who has told me that she "loved me as if I was one of her own."
I knew in the deepest depths of my heart that no one could love me like my mother did. No one was as proud of me when I got the slightest of job promotions. No one understood the relationships I had with my grown-up friends, as she was the one who advised me through all the petty little arguments I had with those same friends as a child.
After what turned out to be a delivery by an emergency Cesarean section, I yelled out: "What is it?"
"It's a girl!" replied the doctor. I melted.
All I could think of was my new little Rebecca. Would she have those big, bright-blue eyes, the patches of freckles in just the right places on her cheeks and that infamous large toothy smile that my mother, the original Rebecca (known in her day as "Becky"), had?
I couldn't hold the new Rebecca in my arms, for she was immediately taken away to the neo-natal ICU due to her petite size (just like her grandmother) and her not yet fully developed nasal passages.
She would be back in the regular nursery by morning. As my husband snapped a few photos of her passing by in the hospital bassinet, a million pictures entered my mind.
Flash-forward to the tea party little Rebecca would host for my friends and their daughters. I would take her shopping for back-to-school clothes, for party dresses -- whatever she wanted.
Shopping was a long-standing tradition with the women in my family. In fact, it became a gift for my mother throughout her hard-fought battle with cancer, and helped to extend the quality and quantity of her life.
Perhaps I would see her get married, and even watch her become a mother one day. Maybe I'd be lucky enough to make it past the now highly fraught age of 57.
Once I was settled into the recovery room, the doctor came to my bedside. "Aren't you going to ask what her name is?" I said.
It didn't seem real until someone besides my husband or me knew the actual name.
I wanted to make it official.
"It's Rebecca -- just like my mother."
The doctor, who knew my mother, not only stitched me well, but said perfectly: "I hope that she grows up to touch so many people's lives in the unique way that her grandmother did."
And with that, the floodgates opened.
My little Rebecca is now 3, and I see flashes of big Rebecca in her every day. Little Rebecca is as stubborn as the big one, and I am told that she throws temper tantrums that live up to the legend of the ones my mother doled out as a child.
However, she is also her own person -- her own Rebecca.
Rachel Levy Lesser, the author of Shopping for Love, lives in Yardley.