Heartbreak

What My Daughter Would Have Been

Photo: Brett Sayles, Valerii Honcharuk | Canva
Woman wishing her passed daughter happy birthday

My daughter died at just over 2 months old.

I don’t often say died, or anything in the category of death, as though it somehow softens it. Like the vernacular being used will somehow magically transport me from the cold trauma room where she lay in a plastic bassinet with a tube down her throat.

She was gone.

The team that worked on her wouldn’t look me in the eyes, save for one nurse who told me not to put her over my shoulder, and to be mindful of the breathing tube.

I made that same nurse promise me that she would change her diaper, that she wouldn’t let my baby girl sit in a wet diaper because that’s not how we took care of her. She was better than that.

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Over the last twenty-one years, I’ve avoided many conversations with the parents I know about what their children are or aren’t.

The decisions they’ve made, the consequences they’ve faced. I felt I had no room in that arena, that my parenting commentary wasn’t a welcome contribution, because what did I know? My daughter was buried, left in the cold February dirt, and I should just mind my business, the grieving and whatnot.

I often hear parents talking about the things that left them on poor terms with their kids. The overnight DUI jail stay, the flunking out of college, the teen pregnancy that cemented for them that their child is a failure, that they’re irredeemable. Just like that, they toss them out.

I know that parenting style — it was that of my own parents. My father telling me once I was “the greatest waste of potential he’d ever seen” directly before I clocked him is probably enough said on the matter.

I vowed I would be better, a better mother, a better teacher.

Better in my beliefs and better in my acceptance. And even now, today, when the closest thing I do to parenting is ensuring my little Staffordshire mix doesn’t harass the neighbor’s children, I firmly believe I would have been better.

At least better than my own parents, though that doesn’t make me a nominee for any awards.

And what if my daughter had come home to tell me she was pregnant before she graduated? Or she failed out of school? Or she was gay, and bringing her girlfriend home for the holiday break? Would I have been the mother I vowed to be to her? Would I have said I was proud of her, but shown her in the way I treated her that I was anything but?

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I know what I would have been.

I’m Southern, a former cheerleader, so you know I had the cheer mom racket packed and ready to roll. My sweet girl and her pretty blonde curls with pom poms, yessssir, we would have been that family. Because she deserved that, and I would have bent myself into origami to be certain she got it.

What My Daughter Would Have BeenPhoto: Shchus / Shutterstock

She had a cheerleading uniform before she was born. The University of Florida — because Go Gators! —and it was the cutest sight you’ve ever seen.

But if she had decided she was Goth and dyed her pretty blonde curls black, and listened to Tool like I didn’t know what the heck kind of music it was, would I have been so proud? Would I have told her that boxed black is a nightmare to get out of blonde hair and that she could consider herself grounded until her first set of college exams?

I’m not sure. I’m not sure if the mom I thought I would be and the mom I really am would have intersected in the way I wanted. Or if I'm just self-righteous because I am afforded the luxury of never knowing what fights between my daughter and me would have been. What her mistakes would have cost — or my own, for that matter.

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I know one thing is certain, and I stake everything I am on it.

No matter what the disappointment or drama may have tallied, I would never look my daughter in the face and tell her she wasted her potential. Or that I wasn’t proud to be her mother. Or that she wasn’t welcome in my home. I know that as I know my own name because I know when I went to my knees in the dirt and tried to bring her back to me, I vowed these things to God if he would just give me one more day to be her mother.

God never did take me up on the offer. He doesn’t seem to be much for negotiations.

I am sure my daughter would have been outspoken and kind, smart and funny, opinionated and talented. I am sure that I would have been on every sideline, at every ceremony, and at any junction where she needed my support. I am sure of these things, not because I know the type of mother I could have been, but because I know how much I love her.

Twenty-two years hasn’t changed that, and I can say with absolute certainty that nothing else would have, either.

She’s my daughter, that’s exactly who she would have been. The rest are simply details we never got to add to her story.

The part that matters remains the same. She was my daughter, and I love her more than I love myself.

Happy 22nd birthday, Taylor. I’m so proud of you.

Mom.

RELATED: My Daughter Died, But I’m Still Mothering Her

April Hawkins is an author, columnist, activist, and poet. She is regularly featured at The Good Men Project, Ellemeno on Medium, and Hubpages.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.