I received a huge Mother’s Day surprise that I can’t stop smiling about. Oh, the breakfast made by the 8-year olds (OK, Nutella on toast, but still, made with love!) and beautiful homemade cards and pictures made me smile, too, of course, as did the heart-shaped pillow hand sewn by my twelve-year old, which mysteriously features the letters “M” and “F”…”

But one other, unexpected, discovery helped made my day special: I am very honored to be included on this list of  “15 Incredibly Important Books About Motherhood,” especially in the company of so many of my writer idols (Maya Angelou!! Only Child is mentioned in the same breath as one of her works! Pinch me, please!)

Only Child has received attention for its topical subject matter—a story about a school shooting, published eight days before the shooting in Parkland, Florida!—and reviewers have discussed the way I explored different themes—loss, grief, healing—from a unique perspective, that of six-year old Zach. But I haven’t yet spoken much about the fact that Only Child was also very much intended to be a story about parenthood, and specifically, motherhood.

The character of Melissa, my little protagonist’s mom, was one of the most interesting, and by far most difficult, for me to write. Motherhood is challenging and often so hard, even under the best of circumstances. But when your family is confronted with such unimaginable tragedy, as Melissa is in my story, how do you manage as a mother? How can you continue to be a mother? How do you survive?

While writing Only Child, I felt Melissa’s profound grief deeply, almost like it was my own. I’m very fortunate that I’ve never had to endure the loss of a child (and I am now knocking on every wooden surface around me that I will never have to,) but putting myself in Melissa’s shoes and experiencing her journey gave me a very real, devastating taste of every mother’s worst nightmare. I’ll be honest—I often didn't agree with the way Melissa acted. I was disappointed in her sometimes, even mad at her. But what I came to learn while writing Only Child is how all-consuming grief can be. Grief is not sensible, it doesn’t manifest itself in the same way for everyone; it is raw and messy and sometimes ugly.

I ended up finding a lot of myself in Melissa. I still like to think that I would act differently if ever in her situation. That I would be able to comfort and support those around me who are also grieving, especially my children, sooner than Melissa. But who knows what I would be capable of—or not capable of—if grief ever turned me inside out, completely. I hope I never have to find out…

Rhiannon Navin