When my husband and I tried to conceive, it took us 10 months. I had begun to believe that one of us was infertile and had started collecting information about IVF and adoption. When I fell pregnant with my daughter I was 30 years old, the age my father was when he died.
When your parent dies young, it becomes a harbinger of your own death and I always feared I would not live past 30. I believe my body was internalising this fear and preventing a pregnancy, and it was only when I had surpassed my father’s age that I conceived. When I gave birth to my daughter, Sofia, I was 31 years old, a year older than my father ever would be.
The first weeks I was a mother I was convinced that I too would die young. I was four when my father was gone, and was too small to form any memories of who he was. I had spent my life attempting to glean clues to his character, desperately interrogating family friends who knew him for memories, moments, mementos, but he always remained a stranger to me.
The first weeks I was a mother I was convinced that I too would die young.
I accepted the possibility of my premature death with stoic calm, but the thought that I would be a stranger to my daughter was too hard to bear. I wanted a remnant of me to be with her. A memento she could refer to so she would understand how much I loved her, and how lucky I was to be her mother. I searched through my stack of notebooks and found a green coloured hard-cover A4 notebook.
I titled the notebook 'Sofia’s Journal' and my first entry was dated 27 February 2009 and began “Last night while you slept beside me I thought about how quickly time is passing. This week you turned eight weeks old and I worry your babyhood will be a blur. So I decided to start this journal for you. To tell you all the things I might not remember to tell you when you are older.” In my first entry I talk about her stumpy eyelashes growing to frame her blue eyes and her bedtime routine.
In the first year I wrote an entry every few weeks, then as she got older I wrote to her every few months and now a few times a year. On 12 April 2009 I wrote about her sleeping in her cot for the first time. On 21 May 2009 I wrote about her being more vocal and learning to make a groaning sound to get my attention. On 7 June 2009 she learnt to blow a raspberry. My husband has written entries to our daughter about activities they do like jumping in mud puddles in the rain and talking to a snail.
In the first year I wrote an entry every few weeks, then as she got older I wrote to her every few months and now a few times a year.
I started drawing pictures of major milestones and know that she had her first solo bike ride on 27 February 2005 when she was six years old. On 30 January 2016 she began her first guitar lessons. On 10 January 2017 she had her ears pierced. As she becomes a pre-teen I write about her friendship groups, her interest in politics, when she got her first bra and first period, and the TV shows we watch together.
When Sofia was seven years old she asked me to read her diary entries every night instead of books. The first time I read an entry she teared up and hugged me tight. “You really love me,” she said. My heart healed and peace descended. I had achieved my most important purpose. I had created an artefact that was a testament to the love I have for her.
Sofia’s Journal is also a record of all those beautiful moments of her childhood, like this ordinary night when I was reading before bedtime on the 13 August 2010.
“We were lying down on our back under the doona, our heads together on the pillow, your head on my arm and I embraced you as I held the book above your face. You were so excited and happy as I read the rhyming, exaggerating, making it move to a rhythm, you began bouncing and turning on your tummy and then lie on your back. There was a moment where your face was close to mine, our noses were touching, my hair was tangled around your face, our eyes met and we were laughing, you had a big grin, your blue eyes lit up. I want to remember that moment forever. I want to freeze it in my brain and come back to it again and gain in the future. These are the moments of your childhood I want you to know about.”
I don’t remember this moment, it is just one of our nights when she was 18 months, and yet I can flip open Sofia’s Journal and read it, and return to it.
My daughter is turning 12 and I still write in the same journal. It is three-quarters full and when I fill it up, I will begin another journal. Sometime in the future my daughter will be able to open the journal and relive our moments together, long after I’m gone from this earth, and remember us.
Amra Pajalic is a high school teacher and author of memoir Things Nobody Knows But Me. You can visit her website here.