I was six months pregnant with my first child, a daughter, when her father shared he was expecting a baby with another woman. We were curled up in bed around my big belly.

“I have something I need to tell you,” Joe said.

“It’s Kim.” Kim, a woman he had been seeing at the time he and I began to consider rekindling our relationship after a year and a half apart. I had never met Kim, but I remembered him telling me about her. 

“She’s pregnant,” he said. 

I managed to hold it together fairly well through the night and into the wee hours of the next morning as he answered my questions: How long have you known? Have you been in contact with her? Is she positive it’s your baby? How far along is she? I urged him to get in touch with her, to make a plan. He needed to tell his family. 

Kim was also six months pregnant with a little girl. Our babies were due within one week of one another. As I felt my baby wriggling inside of me, I thought of Kim feeling her baby, my baby’s sister, wriggling inside of her. 

I woke up crying the next morning and it was hard to stop.

I felt ashamed to be in the situation and I longed for the ideals I had envisioned for the birth of my first baby. 

I didn’t know what Kim looked like and as my pregnancy carried on and I prepared for my baby’s arrival, I couldn’t help but wonder, with every round-bellied woman I saw, if one of their babies was Joe’s; if one of their babies was the sister of the baby inside of me.

Kim went into labor the night of my due date. Joe whisked off to the hospital while I stayed at home, collapsed onto my back, in bed, wrapped my arms around my enormous belly and rocked back and forth, choking on my tears.

Kim and I met when the girls were less than a month old. The first meeting was swift and friendly as she dropped off the baby for a visit. Over the years, she and I grew to support one another as mothers and a couple of times as women. My schedule was flexible, so I helped manage the girls’ schedules through the first 10 years, before Joe and I divorced. We put the girls in the same incredible school program in the first grade. Kim even covered for me, at times picking up the girls and their younger brother and sister that Joe and I eventually had together. Kim and I took the girls school shopping, we talked about orthodontic options, kiddo friendship challenges, and other aspects of motherhood. 

A couple of years after Joe and I divorced, he and Kim became a couple. As I came to terms with feelings of displacement (even though I had moved on), I couldn’t imagine a better stepmother for my children. There truly wasn’t anything to dislike about her. She was always positive, always smiling. She was smart, sweet, successful and independent. 

On January 1st, 2012, we were scheduled to pick up our girls from their cousin’s New Year’s Eve sleepover party before noon. Kim didn’t make it to pick up her daughter. A few hours later, she was found murdered in her home.

Joe got the news right away and endured the unthinkable task of sharing the heartbreak with his daughter. He called me soon afterward; I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Not even after I heard what he said could I understand what he was saying. 

Only now, after the standing room only memorial service, after the burial where I watched Kim’s sweet girl bravely place special items and photographs into her grave, as my sweet girl bravely placed a hand on her sister’s shoulder, after birthdays and holidays without her, after seeing justice served when her killer, an ex-boyfriend, was convicted and sent to prison for 30 years, as we continue to look forward at the lifetimes without her made apparent every day her daughter can’t feel the comfort of her mother’s embrace, only now has it become real that she is gone. 

My heart swells every moment I spend with the girls. We have just celebrated their 20th birthdays; they are as close as twins and have become two striking, intelligent, talented, feisty young women.

I am honored to live up to the promise I wrote on Kim’s urn the day she was laid to rest: I will watch over your girl.

If I had been the mom taken away far too soon, I have no doubt Kim would have extended the same love toward my children. That’s what mothers do: we rise above ourselves for our children, no matter how challenging, or awkward, or different from the norm. We love when it’s easy and we love when it’s hard . . . we love because we know love wins.

Stephanie Regalado

Stephanie Regalado is the editor-in-chief of her city magazine, blogger at SisterhoodShared.com, podcaster at SheSays and founder of the If They Only Knew project. Stephanie is mom to three daughters (ages 20, 20 and 14) and one son (18), and glamma to the ever-precious Love Nugget (3). Highlights of Stephanie’s life are traveling with friends and family—including her two walnut-sized brain canines—and frolicking waterside, anywhere. Her first book If They Only Knew, a collection from the popular magazine column of the same name celebrating the perseverance and strength of women, is due out in 2020.