Mothers are biologically hard-wired to ensure the survival of the species. They are charged with preparing their offspring to leave the nest by teaching them the skills they'll need to navigate the world independently.
With reality television shows and women's magazines glorifying the exploits of pushy and meddlesome moms, controlling tiger moms who demand that their children live up to unreasonably high standards, one gets the sense that modern mothers grade themselves on their children's achievements.
From the women who trundle their preschoolers from one résumé-building activity to another to those who spend the equivalent of college tuition on their kids' elite sports leagues and dance teams, many moms seem to believe that it is their level of devotion that determines their child's destiny.
When midway through my second pregnancy, a fatal anomaly was revealed in my unborn baby's genetic blueprint, I tumbled down a rabbit hole of realization that any control I thought I had over my children's future was wishful thinking.
It was a random error, a chromosomal defect. It could have happened to anyone. I only knew that it had happened to me.
Uncertainty was the only constant I had to work with. I planned for the inevitable and hoped for the impossible, suspended in the limbo of not knowing. I savored every kick and cursed every contraction.
I wrote a birth plan that doubled as a living will. In the unlikely event of live birth, there would be no resuscitation or medical intervention. I wanted my baby to experience only peace.
I planned activities to entertain my 7-year-old and watched, helpless, as she crumbled under the weight of our circumstances. Her tantrums were legendary and public.
She directed the bulk of her fury at me because I was the one growing the baby. I became her punching bag. It took every last ounce of my self-control not to hit her back.
I couldn't keep up with the demands of work and home, and, frankly, I stopped trying. I didn't care if the house was clean or the laundry was done. I was keeping my daughter and husband afloat, and that was enough.
My baby turned happy somersaults in my belly, seemingly unaware of her family's descent into chaos. I wished I could stay pregnant forever.
Five weeks before her due date, my little girl burst into the world. Cradled against my chest, she slipped away two hours later. For a brief spell, though, my arms were empty, my heart was full.
The pit of loss swallowed me whole. I mourned the daughter I'd buried and ached with her big sister's pain. I blamed myself, not only for my baby's death but for the disintegration of my surviving daughter's previously sheltered life.
She took my hand at the funeral and wouldn't let go. Day after day, she pulled me through, dragging me back to life.
I know that I failed her, more times than I could ever begin to count. I was too sad to play, too weary to read to her, too broken to fully attend to her needs.
I also know that I showed her how to muster courage and move forward in the face of insurmountable challenge. She gets her personality from her father. She gets her perseverance from me.
I still grapple with grief and guilt, worry about the emotional scars my daughter carries. I comfort myself with the knowledge that I did the best I could.
I hope that when my daughter is an adult, she'll forgive me. I know that when my daughter is a mom, she'll understand.
Laura Schubert of New Berlin is a mother, teacher and two-time breast cancer survivor. Emailljschubert@aol.com