An Unease with Mother's Day

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Motherhood is complicated.  Mother’s Day is complicated.  Other holidays have all kinds of triggers for those that are grieving.  Christmas can be a time of forced joy when all that’s felt is pain.  Thanksgiving centers around being thankful, when often sentiments are far from that place.  But no other holiday is as dedicated and blatant as Mother’s Day for a mother who has lost a child.  The day when her motherhood is put under the spotlight, with a crowd cheering “Be happy!  Be appreciated!  YOU ARE A MOM!”

It is a day filled with all kinds of prescriptions about what Motherhood should look and feel like.  Smiling Mom, with breakfast in bed, being doted on by her family (when all she really wants is to sleep in, go to the bathroom in peace, and maybe end the day with a glass of wine).  Culturally, we do a phenomenally bad job of being aware of how sensitive this day can be, if not downright miserable.

Several years ago, I was a little blue on Mother’s Day.  My kids were really young – probably one and three years old – the house was a wreck, I didn’t get to sleep in, and I was always exhausted and stretched too thin.  I remember scrolling through photos on Facebook of smiling, happy mother faces and thinking “that’s just not me today.”  But we headed to the park in the afternoon, enjoyed the sunshine and ignored the messy house and other uncontrollable daily occurrences that come with having young children.  It pulled me out of the funk, for that day.

A few years later, in 2015, I sent my mom an e-card on Mother’s Day, signed “Love, Theo, Quentin, and Baby #3.”  It was how I announced my pregnancy to her – early, likely around 7 weeks.  Third pregnancy felt like smooth sailing and early testing revealed the gender.  About a month later, I lined up all of our shoes, including a tiny pair of baby girl shoes, took a photo, and that became our pregnancy announcement.

In 2016, I ignored Mother’s Day.  I had lost my baby girl, Nelle, whose life we had been so excited to announce.  I had also lost my baby girl, Iris, whose life we had announced as our “rainbow baby.”  Seeing any smiling, happy faces stung.  I did yard work and tried to pretend it was any other day.

Last year, I was pregnant with Autumn.  Around 26 weeks, I had reached the point of viability but it did nothing to calm my nerves.  I don’t remember anything about the day, and didn’t write anything about Mother’s Day.  That’s how badly I wanted the day to just pass and leave me alone.  I think I was in pure survival mode almost every day of that pregnancy, just trying to make it from one hour to the next.

And now?  Mother’s Day feels like a different shape.  Like I could be joyful again, if I wanted to be. But instead I still find myself melancholy. Thinking about all of the women I know suffering through this holiday: babies who have died, children that the world cannot see, waiting for rainbow babies, struggling with infertility.

Saying that I feel “blessed” or “lucky” somehow implies a universe of judgment that is passed on mothers, granting wishes to some but not others.  Or maybe I am unlucky or failed the test, because I have two babies that died.

Today, I tried to think of my children – all of my children – and what they have given me.  “Thankful” doesn’t quite encompass how I feel, because again that word feels like the universe “gave” me children, handing them out because I wanted them.  We thank for things that have been consciously given, when Motherhood instead seems to have been borne from chaos.

Instead, I acknowledge what my children have done for me in my life.

  • For Theodore: Being my firstborn, and bringing me into the realm of Motherhood.
  • For Quentin: Showing me that a mother’s love can expand and love two children fully and equally.
  • For Nelle: For sparing me a decision that mothers face when their child cannot grow or thrive.
  • For Iris: Reminding me that even joy sometimes does not go as planned and showing me my own strength.
  • For Autumn: Being an ever-constant reminder of hope, you are teaching me how to expand in ways I didn’t think was possible.

I still could not wrap my head around the day and instead kept myself distracted.  There are so many mothers, with so many children, in my thoughts today.  I hope that all of the mothers for whom this day is hard found themselves a measure of peace, if only for a moment.