In honor of Mother’s Day, we’re interviewing our moms to find out how their lives changed when we were born and what they learned about love and life as a parent. Today, Kate’s mom.
My parents met the cutest way ever—waiting on line to see Shakespeare in the Park in New York City in June of 1967. They married a year and a half later, but their journey toward becoming parents was hardly a straight line between point A and point B. While I am the oldest of their two children (hey Lizz!), I was not their first baby. In 1978, they had a son named Matthew. At three months old, he died during a surgery to mend a heart defect. It was an incredibly sad period in my parents’ life, and one that I’ve never quite understood how they got through with such grace, poise, and hope. So I was very curious to ask my mom, Marianna DeMarco Torgovnick, what it was like becoming a mother again a few years later, when she had me. Did you always know you wanted to be a mom?
No, I did not. I never really thought much about it. I married very young. As young people living in New York, Dad and I were focused on being young and all the things that go with it. We talked about having children at some point, but it really didn’t cross the threshold of consciousness. It wasn’t until I was 27 that we decided to have children. It was a spontaneous decision—I got pregnant right away. I can’t think of anything that actually prompted it. It was kind of “Why not?”
How was your life different before you had kids?
On one level, we played tennis all the time—two to three hours a day. We used to bike ride after dinner every night. That changed. We continued going to the theater and to dinner and to museums, though. Because the experience of my first birth quickly became so traumatic—I think I had a somewhat lighter outlook on life before I had kids. My first birth was very joyous and the pregnancy was very joyous, but I was very quickly in hospitals where babies—tiny babies—were being treated and there was a lot of sickness and demoralizing experiences with doctors. I think I became acquainted with a darker side of life with my first pregnancy. Not with yours at all.
How did you move on from that?
I had a lot of trouble coming to terms with it emotionally. I didn’t conceive you for another two years and I had a miscarriage in between. It was a difficult time. The turning point was when Dad and I went to Europe for a conference. We were there for three weeks and we were around people who didn’t know us and our history. They all perceived us as a young, cheerful, attractive couple. When we came back, we said, “This happened. We’ll either have another baby or we won’t.” We decided to put it behind us. And I immediately got pregnant.
What did you think when you found out you were pregnant with me?
I was totally euphoric. I had to do a check-in with myself and say, “Am I going to worry through this?” And I decided, “No.” I had a very good pregnancy. You were born very easily. I got to the hospital, and my obstetrician came and said, “Do you think you can wait while I wash my hands?” And that was it.
Do you have any regrets about how you raised me?
I have no regrets. I think I raised you very well. The only thing—a few months ago, I saw the play “Next To Normal.” [Editor’s note: It’s an excellent musical about a highly dysfunctional family where the mother is bipolar and mourning the loss of a child.] I somehow feel that the birth of my first baby became a secret. It wasn’t intended to be. It was just that it wasn’t a grief we were carrying around every day. But I might have introduced that more readily and had that more sort of out there rather than waited to tell you.
I never felt it was a secret. I don’t remember exactly when you first told me, but I was pretty young. I just think I’ve thought about it more and we’ve talked about it more as I’ve gotten older and my friends have started having children.
Good. It just wasn’t part of our daily lives. As far as I was concerned, I had one beautiful girl and then another beautiful girl. I never had any feeling of “I should have had a boy.” I never felt that.
Anything about motherhood that surprised you?
It’s a corny thing, but having children is one of the great blessings in life, and I say that with no religious sense at all. People tell you cliches like, “Children double your sorrows and triple your joys.” It’s true. You feel things much more intensely through your children than you do for yourself. A friend once said to me, “What’s wonderful about children is that you look at them, and you see yourself. And you look in the mirror, and you see your mom.” It’s really true. You get this sense of continuity. You and Lizz have been very special to me. What you feel for children is unconditional love. There’s no qualification.