The numbers and names flashed across my computer screen. Names of women I did not know, some that I did. Four. One. Two. Four. They were coming together in solidarity, a show of strength. Why the post commemorating Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day showed up in my newsfeed a few days before Mother’s Day I’ll never know. But I was moved to add my own loss and grieve with these other mothers. There was power in those numbers, and my number was three.
Three babies that I almost had before I carried my son to term. Three children that I wouldn’t hold or rock, smother with kisses or give endless cups of milk. They would never need sparkling dresses for prom, graduate from college, I would not witness them marry. It is a loss that is overwhelming and devastating. It is hard to recover from something that never was.
And even though I have children now — my “babies” are 6 and 4 — that grief has not gone away. But it is less cutting if I don’t think about it. If I don’t imagine the beautiful little people they would have been. Try not to dream of the mother I might have been. She was not ready, but she was younger and less apt to overthink every decision. Faster to recover from sleepless nights and stronger, too. Would I have enjoyed motherhood then as much as I do now? Would it have been easier because I was young or harder because, let’s face it, everything is hard when you’re young and have fewer resources?
After seeing the numbers of so many other women, I know I am not alone in my bittersweetness this Mother’s Day Sunday. I hold you in my thoughts. There is so much joy in motherhood, but also profound sorrow. Mothers who have lost their children. Women who never got to become mothers though they wanted to desperately. Women who could not care for their babies, and gave them to other women who would. You are all on my heart today, this day that is set aside to honor your works with flowers and lunch, sweet cards and long-distance phone calls and Skype sessions.
I find it fascinating that even in 2015, our society still struggles to define exactly what a “mother” is or places limits on “who” a mother can be. I recently read a hateful opinion piece that suggested a woman who has a cesarean birth is “less” of a mother than one who delivers vaginally. As if you get some medal for valor in there or something. And I watch women with blended families wonder if the oft-vilified step-mother can really become a mom. Thanks, Disney. Is a surrogate a mother? Don’t forget that crazy lady down the street who takes in every stray she finds because she can’t bear to think of any animal, hungry or hurt, alone on the streets? And we all have that one friend, the collector of “stray” people, who is perpetually gathering up the awkward and lonely, and asking the rest of us to hang out with them. Isn’t she a mother, too?
In Proverbs 31: 25-31, we gain some insight into what a mother is thought to be. Mothers are dignified and strong. They strive to speak with kindness and watch over the ones they love. They don’t get much time off and should be honored and praised for the work they do.
My sweet friend Marge Frank defined motherhood pretty quickly for me.
“Motherhood,” she wrote, “is raising a child.” Marge doesn’t care what it looks like, or how that relationship is formed. For her, motherhood is love.
On my BabiesLoveBathwater Facebook page, Kerstie Ramey added to that definition. “Motherhood is so extensive! It’s physical and emotional. It took us three years and two losses to get pregnant with (our third child). That still pulls at my heart strings. Motherhood is seriously the hardest job I have ever had. We all need to take a moment and be thankful for every single type of mother out there!”
Kerstie and I know that motherhood is also wondrous. Twenty years ago, my purpose in life was vague at best. Work hard, work harder, make more, love more, have more fun. But over the last few years, my priorities have changed. I have grown certain that my purpose in this life is to be a mother to Bodacious and Parksalot. Things are not always picture perfect, but, in the middle of the night when they crawl into bed with us and squeeze my hand with their sweet little fingers, we come very, very close.
And it doesn’t stop there. Not for any of us. We all have the opportunity to mother others, whether they are our birth children, the kids in our classrooms who just need someone to believe in them, or women who befriend other women and encourage their accomplishments, even the surrogate who loves an unborn child enough to nurture it until it is time to let go. We are all capable of raising someone up with love. Mothers, like women, come in all varieties, and I have been extremely blessed by my own mother and many exceptional “other mothers.”
Please let me say thank you for all the motherwork you have done for me and mine, thank you for all the words of kindness and gifts of love and service you do for others. Thank you for helping me see what kind of mother I want to be. To all the women on my mind and in my heart, I praise you at the city gates!
Five is my true number. My sweet babies, all five of you, thank you for clothing me with strength. For letting me experience more than I could ever have believed was possible. My heart feels like it is on the verge of breaking some days, with hurt and with happiness. Thank you for letting me be a mother.