Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Shortly after my dad died, when I was maybe 13 years old, I found out that my mom had a twin sister.

But it wasn't my mom who told me this. Instead, I learned the news via one of my young cousins. Shocked, I asked my mom about her sister, and she confirmed the details.

They were born on July 5, 1936, in Lago Cosenza, Italy, in the province of Calabria, which is at the toe of the boot. Calabria was probably the most poverty-stricken area in Italy, and it really hasn't changed much over the years.

My mom's family had no money, and they also had a distrust of doctors and hospitals. Midwives were often called in to deliver babies at home -- 'home' consisting of a shack-like structure on the side of a hill in the middle of no where the Italian countryside.

The details of their birth are fuzzy to me. I'm unsure if my grandfather, my mother's father, was there for the birth or if he returned home from the war in Africa shortly thereafter. Regardless, I do know that he gave the twin girls names that were African in origin.

'Adua Liberata Italia' was my mom. 'Adua' is an Ethiopian city that has sometimes also been spelled Adowa or Aduwa.

Her name is in reference to the Battle of Adua in late 1935 in which Italian troops conquered (or 'liberated', as her name suggests) the city of Adua. My grandfather was among those troops.

My grandfather in Africa, circa 1935-ish.

And my mom's twin was named Libya, like the African country just south of Italy, though we're unsure if she had any middle names like my mom's.

Unfortunately for my Aunt Libya, she passed away at the age of approximately four years.

When I asked my mom what happened to her, she simply said that she got sick and died. There were no doctors back then -- Or maybe they couldn't afford a doctor? Or get to one in time? -- and so she died at home, in the same place where she was born. My 85-year-old uncle seems to think she died of pneumonia, which could very well have been the case.

I'm unsure of the identity of the woman on the left, but the woman on the right is my grandmother. The two children being held are my mom and her twin. The other children are my mom's siblings. Photo taken in Italy, circa 1937-ish.

Up until this week, I had thought this was the only major detail of my mom's life that she had kept from me. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Myself and two of my sisters (half-sisters, actually, as I only share the same dad as them), were at my mom's house yesterday cleaning out the closets in her room. At some point in our casual conversation, my one sister said to me, "You know that your mom had a miscarriage before you were born, right? It was a boy."

Stunned. Completely and utterly.

My mom and I were very close. Up until my husband came along, my mom and I only had each other on which to rely. I thought I knew everything about her, but obviously there were too many pains in her early life that she just didn't want to remember or share with anyone.

Still in shock, I frantically began asking questions, desperate to know more about what my mom went through.

How far along was she?
When did this happen?
How did it happen?
Was she in hospital long?
Was she sad? 
Did she cry? 
How did dad feel?
What happened to the baby?

Given that this took place nearly 40 years ago, during a time when families -- especially poor immigrant families -- were expected to keep their hardships hush-hush and not over-share or even speak of tragedies, I suppose it's understandable that no one remembers anything.

I admit I'm angry that no one shared this with me earlier, though, because now the only person who could have honestly and accurately answered these questions for me is gone. It's too late for me to talk about this with my mom. All I can do is speculate.

My sisters only remember that it was a school day when it happened (so sometime between September to June) and that she wasn't in hospital for long, but she did mourn when she came home.

And then, shortly thereafter, I was conceived.

I lived my entire childhood wishing that I wasn't my mom's only child. I so desperately wanted another full-fledged sibling to play and share things with. So to find out now that I have a brother is truly remarkable. I'm mindblown.

But, the reality is that, had my brother been born alive, I probably would never have been conceived.

If you recall from this article I wrote on October 31, 2007, I learned that my mom had her tubes tied when I was born. So the odds are that she would have had them tied after my brother instead. And then he would have been the only child, not me.

It also occurs to me now that, when the ER doctor saw the peculiar scar on my mom's abdomen back in 2007, it probably had something to do with her miscarriage. Things are beginning to make sense to me now.

My parents in Edmonton (August 18, 1979)

When I came home last night, I was overcome with emotion trying to process all this information. I just feel so sad for my mom.

I already knew she had a very hard life -- she was forced to leave her Italian home at a young age to find work in Switzerland..... then she came to Canada on her own, speaking no English, and went to live with some siblings of hers that were already here..... and then, out of convenience and not love, she married a man she barely knew, a widower, 10 years her senior, who already had seven children of his own.

She was utterly and completely alone, barely seeing her siblings anymore...... and then she lost the one thing that was truly hers. I can't imagine the despair that she must have felt.

Even though my mom suffered miserably during the final eight months of her life, I prefer to remember the years before that, when she was happy and at peace. My favourite memories are of her in the Caribbean, living a stress-free existence.

That's the life she deserved.

I felt compelled to share this news of the miscarriage with my daughter last night. In fact, she was the first person I told. And what I told her was simply that Nonna had another baby before I was born and that he died and is now in Heaven.

And my beautiful, innocent, and thoughtful daughter said that Nonna was up there holding her baby now and introducing him to Mickey, our beloved dog that died when my daughter was nearly two.

Perfection. I just have to believe that my mom is finally at peace.

And with regards to my children, they were the loves of my mom's life. One girl, and one boy. I like to think that they are my mom's legacy.

And if they grow up to be happy and confident and strong, then they will have fulfilled all of my mom's dreams for them.

Her courageous battle through life, facing challenge after challenge, will have all been worth it.


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  2. What a fascinating insight into your mother's life.

    The thing I know about your mom was that she was nothing, if not resilient. She always struck me as someone who didn't dwell on the days behind her. She seemed very content for someone whose life was challenging. I can only imagine what else is out there to discover about her. What she did in Switzerland for example. Did she have any loves lost? Did she ever dream of going somewhere?

    That all said, don't forget that the one thing she truly had that was hers was you. Don't diminish the immense joy you brought to her life. She radiated love for you every day. She raised you basically as a single mom and did so well.

    She loved you. She loved me. She loved Steve. She loved Marina and Wyatt. Any other person who grew up like she did would have been bitter and cold. But love guided her life. Love was what she knew.

    1. Thanks, Dani, very well said. You brought tears to my eyes!

  3. *Note: My previous comment was deleted because of awful grammar and word usage.