It’s that time of year again.

That time when everywhere I look there are aching reminders – commercials, racks of cards, advertisements, special programs, and endless talk of Mother’s Day. When the day actually arrives, social media is plastered with images of mothers and their children, stories of sweet gestures – barely edible breakfast in bed, child drawn cards and pictures, flowers and treats, cute stories of how amazing it is to be a mother.

Unless I hide in my home with no television, no radio, no cell phone and no internet service for last half of April and first half of May, the endless reminders of Mother’s Day are unavoidable.

I don’t really show it much on the outside, but in these weeks leading up to Mother’s Day, I walk around with a heart that bleeds and a throat full of held-back tears. I go to work and talk with friends and go about my life as usual while everything inside of me aches with grief for the children I cannot hold.

The other day I watched a mother and her son in a restaurant and wondered, “Can she really grasp the incredible gift that she has? The opportunity to love and raise and nurture her son here on Earth? Can she truly know how lucky she is?”

I love my mama friends and I love their children. Yet in these weeks before Mother’s Day, I wish none of them would say a word about their kids or their lives as mothers. Any other time of the year, I love hearing their stories about the successes and challenges with their kids. I love them and want to share in that part of their lives.

Yet in these weeks, I can’t bear to hear those stories. I don’t want to know what amazing or funny thing their child did. I don’t want to listen to how hard it is to deal with X, Y or Z as a parent. Every mention feels they are taking a hammer to my heart and breaking it to pieces.

See, I have stories of my children too. Thousands of images and memories of life with my daughters. Endless things I could tell my friends and family about.

But my stories and memories aren’t real.

My daughters died before birth. In my mind, I see them here with me every day. I imagine who they might be, what they would look like, and how life with them would be. They are part of everything that I do and who I’ve become in this world. In some ways, they are as real to me as your living, breathing children are to you.

Except aren’t. They are phantom children. I cannot show you pictures or tell you stories of how sweet or how mischievous they are. They live only in my imagination as possibilities of what might have been. You cannot see them and few would look at me and see a mother.

You won’t find stories of motherhoods such as mine in the commercials or the greeting card aisle or advertisements. Your church won’t mention mothers like me by name – though they may think they are by tacking on an addendum such as “and all those who consider themselves mothers.” There won’t be a brunch special for mothers of dead kids.

I don’t live the socially accepted or recognized motherhood. I’m not the kind of mother most will think of on this day called Mother’s Day.

I will wake to a quiet and empty home. I will make myself breakfast and go about my day as usual. There will be no giggling girls, no tempers to calm, not special “mom” events to attend, no outside proof of my motherhood.

I may not be recognized as a mother on this day called “Mother’s Day,” but I will remember. I will remember the children that made me into this person called Mother. I will remember the lives that grew inside of me and that I love beyond any kind of measure.

My greatest wish on Mother’s Day is that every recognized mother truly knows the gift that she has – a living, breathing child here on Earth with them. Children she gets to nurture and hold and share endless stories of their successes and their challenges.

The gift of Mother’s Day is getting the opportunity to mother your child. I would give up a thousand lifetimes for the chance to mother my girls here in living, breathing form.

brigitte-tohm-210081Courageous Mama who has lost so much –

I see your pain.

Though you may present the world with a smiling face and statements of “I’m fine,” I still see the broken and battered heart you carry. The heart broken by the devastating loss of your precious child.

I see how you cry.

I see the hours you spend in the shower, where your tears mix with falling water. I see you under the blankets, curled in the fetal position as sobs shudder through your body. I see you stagger out of the office or the grocery store or your family’s home, barely closing the car door behind you before the tears course down your face.

I see how much you ache.

That unbearable ache of your empty arms that long to hold your beautiful child. The hollow bitterness of seeing so many other women getting pregnant and having babies. The blinding pain of seeing family after family, innocent and intact while yours is forever missing it’s most precious members.

I see the envy and the jealously that lingers.

I see the waves of jealously and bitter anger that flood through you with every new pregnancy announcement and every perfect new “rainbow” baby presented. I see the guilt you feel for not feeling happy for family members or other loss families who get what you may never have – a beautiful living child to raise and nurture.

I see your doubts and fears and inconsolable sorrow.

The uncertainty of knowing if you will ever have another child, one who lives and gets to stay here with you on this Earth. The inconsolable grief of knowing there will never be a living child for you to hold and teach and parent. The fears of feeling empty and broken and incomplete forever. The doubt that you can find hope or healing without a child to raise.

I see your everyday longings.

The longing to hear your baby cry at night. How silent tears stream down your face when you realize there is no baby crying, it was only a dream and your baby is forever silent. The utter quiet of your home without the laughter and noisy play of your child. The first day of school pictures you don’t get to take and the birthday candles you don’t get to see your little one blow out.

I see all of this. I know all of this.

But I also want you to know that I see how you love.

You, beautiful courageous mama, are the fiercest of mothers. You love beyond time and space, beyond death, and beyond the weight of your grief and tears.

You, Mama, love and remember and honor even when the world tells you to be silent, to move on, and to forget. You refuse to listen to the world. You might stagger and stumble at times under the burden of loss and grief, but you always stand up. Your love always outlives your grief.

Keep on, courageous mama. You have something the world and death can never take away.

You are a mother. You love with a mother’s unbreakable love.

And I see you.

2010-04-16 06.30.17 copyI spend most of my days surrounded by mothers.

Pregnant mothers.
Mothers raising their living children.
Mothers grieving their deceased children.
Mothers raising living children and grieving deceased children.

I love the work I do – supporting mothers of all varieties.

And sometimes being surrounded by mothers and children is so painful all I want to do is put my head down and cry.

I’ve been doing that a lot lately.

Crying behind closed doors.

The truth is as much as I love my work with mothers it’s hard to be around them. It’s painful to watch mothers give birth to living, breathing babies. It hurts to watch their children grow and to see them mother in ways I never will. It’s difficult to get excited for all their milestones and developments knowing my children will remain forever tiny babies, silent and still.

It’s somewhat easier, though also painful, to be with other mothers like me – the grieving mothers. It’s more comfortable to be with those who get what it is to watch your child grow only in your imagination, never in your arms. They know what it is to cry behind closed doors for the experience of motherhood we don’t get to have with our children. Still, it somewhat challenging at times to be around the grief and pain of mothers with dead babies.

Grieving mothers often ask me how I can bear to work with living children and their mothers.

Mothers with living children often ask how I can bear to work with grieving mothers and their dead children.

Sometimes I ask myself those questions too.

My answer is usually pretty simple.

I believe in life. I believe in living fully – all of it. The ups and downs, the joys and sorrows, the shadows and the light.

Being a mother to a living child is about life.
So is being a grieving mother.

Our culture isn’t fond of facing or talking about the shadows of life – on either side of motherhood. Death, grief, babies who die, the challenging and messy aspects of mothering living children, postpartum challenges. Society doesn’t like to acknowledge any of that.

Instead, there’s a fanatic focus on idealizing motherhood.

Perfect, natural birth.
Perfect, healthy babies.
Perfect, by-the-book parenting.
Perfect, superwoman mothers.

We like to whitewash the shadows – glossing over dead babies, imperfect mothers, grief, mistakes, postpartum issues, trauma, loss, any difficulties of any kind.

Don’t talk about the shadows and only acknowledge the glitter and lights.

However, both sides of motherhood exists – the shadows and the light.

Yes, pregnancy is beautiful. Birth is amazing. Motherhood is a precious gift.

And some pregnancies also end in death. Some births are filled with silence and tears or trauma and pain. Some motherhoods are invisible. Some mothers struggle. Some mothers experience postpartum depression and anxiety.

Why do we constantly try to deny the shadows of life and motherhood and glorify the light?

The shadows of life cannot and do not dim the light of life. Motherhood can be messy and painful and challenging AND be beautiful and amazing and light-filled.

The shadows only enhance the light and make it more visible. We cannot have light without shadows or shadows without light.

The truth is whether something is viewed as a shadow or a light depends on your perspective.

Because life is made up of both shadows and light, to deny either is to deny life.

So, yes, it hurts to work with living children and their mothers. It hurts to work with grieving mothers and their dead children. It hurts to BE a grieving mother with dead children. There is also joy in both. Joy in seeing all the messiness and light and pain and joy of every kind of motherhood.

I choose to embrace them both – the living and the dead, the shadows and the light, the joys and the sorrows.

The shadows enhance the light.
The light casts shadows in it’s wake.

Where shadows and light merge is where life happens.

I choose life.

I’ll cry in the shadows, laugh in the light, and find life in all of it.

Whether your children are living or deceased, this is what motherhood is made of – the shadows and the light. There is love and loss, joy and pain, gifts and challenges. Motherhood encompasses all of it.

 


Beauty+Life+You

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