Motherhood has defined my life. Even before I became a mother myself.

Ever since I can remember I’ve felt that it was impossible for people to understand me without understanding my mother. Our relationship was messy, overwhelming and profound. When she died her absence opened up a vacuum in my existence. It wasn’t until her death that I realized how tied our experiences were. How every emotion I felt bounced off hers and back to me. Sometimes it’s easier for me to recall how my mom felt about my life’s events than it is for me to remember my own emotions. I remember her reactions to Princess Diana dying, Columbine and 9/11. I remember how she felt when I went to boarding school and when I graduated from college.

And then she died. Her absence left an oasis of emptiness.

Her death left me feeling anchorless. I carried on, like I always had, but I had no idea where I was going.

I hope my son won’t read this one day and feel upset about it, but I was hoping he would be a girl. I was sure he was a girl, actually. I had everyone convinced I was pregnant with a girl, even my husband who was shocked when my doctor told us we were having a baby boy.

I realize now it was because I was hoping the baby growing inside me would have a piece of my mom. If my son had been born a girl she would have had my mom’s name as her middle name and in my mind she would have a piece of her spirit. Instead the universe gave me my sweet boy.

Since my mom died I have had so many experiences where I’ve yearned for a mother that she never was. I guess I probably had that feeling way before she died. The fantasy of her not the reality. When I got married I ached for a mother to guide me, but knew my real mother might not have handled the situation well. When I left behind my dream of becoming an actress for a new path I wanted to talk it through with a parent, but not really with my mom, who would have complicated the decision for me.

But when I had August I wanted my mom. My real mom. Not the fantasy mom. My mom who would have stayed with us a little too long. My mom who would have told me that the tears were normal. Who would have insisted I go lay down even when I protested. My mom who might have noticed my heightened anxiety and encouraged me to talk to my doctor. My mom who was a pediatric nurse practitioner. My mom who I could have called with questions about what the weird red bump was or his first fever or why he wasn’t sleeping. My mom.

When August was born I couldn’t help but think how similar it felt to grief. It’s hard to imagine grief with the heartbreak. But there are lots of other pieces. The instantaneous change of identity, the reexamination of priorities and relationship, the feeling that there is only the life you had before and the life you have now. The intense focus on another life.

The only two experiences that have brought me to my knees are losing my mother and becoming one.

The difference is saying goodbye and saying hello. The difference is when you become a mom there is so much hope and life you can hardly stand it.

Having my son made me realize how closely related love is to grief.

I did have to grieve again, or I guess I should say, I am grieving again, for the mom I don’t have, for the mom I didn’t have and for the grandmother August won’t have.

The difference between now and when my mom first died is that I know what an incredible teacher loss is. I know that it’s okay to miss my mom and I can try to repeat the things I admired about her. I know that when I long for a parent in my life I can embody those traits and provide that for August.

I know that motherhood, the end of my mom’s and the beginning of mine will continue to define my life and that I’ll allow it to because through all of the mess of it my mom was my greatest teacher and my role as mom to August is my greatest joy.