The Shadows and the Light of Motherhood
I spend most of my days surrounded by 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.