Friday, May 11, 2007

What makes me a mother?

The Parent Bloggers Network is running this Blog Blast thingie (sponsored by LightIris), where everyone gets to answer the questions above. (You can get in on the fun yourself, up until the end of the day today.) Well, nowdays it hurts me to even see that question, but somehow I just can't walk away. So here goes.

My daughter made me a mom. In ways big and small, in my own eyes and in the eyes of the world, she made me a mom.

My son made me a different kind of mom. Today, I am a mom who loves with all my heart a child who gives the best hugs in the world, and one who never did and never will. Today, much like I could a year ago, I can describe in excruciating detail the amazing blended colors of my daughter's eyes. But today, every time I think of those most unusual eyes, I also know, with the knowledge that makes me want to howl, that I will never get a chance to discover the color my son's eyes would have been.

I was never big on Mother's Day. We didn't have one in the Old Country, and it took some getting used to once we got here. But this year, I am particularly ambivalent about it. In fact, I think it makes me mostly sad.

This year, I am sad for all my sisters in grief who will not be seen and acknowledged by the world as mothers this year. Those who had to make that most excruciating of choices to let their children go, and those who had no choice at all.

This year, I am a sad for all the mothers of living children, who, getting the cards and the presents this Sunday morning will miss, dreadfully, the card, or a hug, or just a smile from their kids who don't get to give them one, who never will.

This year, I am sad for all the women out there who long to be mothers, but who, through the circumstances of biology, life, or money are not.

The shrink I see is actually a very nice woman who is doing research into better ways to help bereaved parents. Unfortunately, because I am seeing her as part of a study, I only have two more meetings with her. Also because this is a study, I have to fill out questioners every week, consisting of rating my agreement or disagreement, as of each week, with a number of statements. One statement, that up until now I have always marked as "neither agree nor disagree" is "Being a bereaved parent means being a 'second class citizen.'" I think this week I will circle "agree."

The founder of LightIris is a well-meaning man named Kevin, who is documenting his month of wearing a pregnancy suit in an effort to gain empathy for what moms go through. Sorry, Kevin, but there is no suit that will give you empathy for what some of us go through. There is no suit that will make you understand how little wearing a pregnancy suit has to do with being a mother. I suppose I should be glad that for Kevin, and most other people in the world, our experiences are so foreign as to not even register on their radar of what motherhood means. And I am glad.

But I also want to, need to, speak up for myself and other bereaved mothers. Why? I don't know. Perhaps in the vain hope of making our experiences part of mainstream conversation about motherhood. Perhaps because I wish we could find a way to honor all mothers without making some of us feel left out and hurt. Perhaps because there is nothing else I can do for my sisters.

So what is it that makes me a mother? This year, it's straddling the two worlds, loving both of my children, and seeing the fullness of what being a mother means.


Lori said...

This is beautiful Julia. I love what you have written here. I have been trying to think of something to write for Mother's Day and have so far come up empty. Maybe I will just link to your beautiful post and say "ditto".

The only thing I want to add, that I may write about soon, is my slight disagreement that I'm not so sure pregnancy and infant loss aren't part of the public discourse. What bothers me is the way they are talked about. There seems to be this general acceptance that because it happens to "lots" of women, it somehow makes it less sad. I can't tell you how many times when I have decided to share about my personal loss, the response is something along the lines of, "oh yeah, that same thing happened to so and so" or "my mom lost three babies" or some other common story. And usually it doesn't feel as though these stories are shared as a form of sympathy, but rather as a way of telling me, "lots of women lose babies, you'll be fine."

When someone tells me "that happened to so and so." I always want to say, "Really? Your friend gave birth to my son and daughter and then watched them die? Hmmm... how could that be?"

Sorry for the digression... I'll save the rest for my own space.

Bon said...

i too love what you've written here, Julia, and the way you're straddling motherhood to the living and the dead with words of grace.

for me, the past two years, Mother's Day is just kinda a relief. partly because i have O, and that's lovely. mostly just because it's not that
Mother's Day two years ago when i was freshly out of the hospital after birthing and losing my first, and every time i left my house all i saw were "take mom to dinner" signs and i wanted to die, and we had to have his memorial tree planting on Mother's Day afternoon because that's the only day the grandparents could come from out of province. for the rest of my life, all i hope for every Mother's Day is that it's better than that one.

Sara said...

Beautiful post Julia, in every way.

You're so right about the pregnancy suit. Being front heavy and horribly hot all the time hardly captures the feeling of pregnancy.

And Lori, I'm sorry, but I actually laughed at a bit at your retort. I'm going to steal it for "the things I think but never say" section of my brain.

Julia said...

Thanks, everyone.

Lori, I agree that loss is somewhat known, and is very often dismissed because "it happens a lot." What I would like to become a part of public discourse is our actual experiences, as varied as they are. Not facts and figures, and not "happened to such and such," but our actual voices.
I also have to steal your retort. At least for the wish I had the guts file. Do you mind?

Bon, I am so sorry. That must have been one sucky Mother's Day.

Sara, I have to say that it bothered me more than a little that the wording was "for what mothers go through." It dismisses adoptive moms out of hand. It prioritizes physical discomforts over all other issues with pregnancy, and it prioritizes pregnancy over everything else. It seems that Kevin's quest could more precisely be defined as one for gaining appreciation for physical discomforts of pregnancy.

niobe said...

I love this post, especially because the feelings it describes give me a window into a way of viewing the world that I otherwise would have no inkling existed. That's one of best things about reading someone else's writing -- that it gives you a chance to say to yourself: Look, there's something entirely new and different, something that I never would have discovered myself.

I'd also love to hear more about the study you're participating in.

Aurelia said...

This is a really great post. Thank you for writing it. Like Lori, I'm not sure what to write about on Mother's Day.

I guess I'll think of something but who knows?

And like Niobe, I'd love to hear more of what the study is about!

meg said...

I love this post, Julia. Thank you for acknowledging women like me who are not included in the mother's day thing!

Maybe reading words like this, will help me get to the point where I can refer to myself as a mother? It's not surprising that I can't say it, given the reactions of my family and the rest of society. Reading this post (and Lori's great post, that I just read), really makes me feel that someone is thinking of me today and acknowledging how difficult this day is. And that I am, somehow, a part of motherhood. Thank you!


What makes me a mother? For the last 3 days I have been dreading this day...I know I am a mother...I remember the pregnancy, the 20 wonderful years (with some not so wonderful moments)and the death of my son...

I know I am a mother because the love I feel for Brian can only be felt by a mother...and then there is the wrenching pain...

Thank you for making it "ok" to speak about the reality of motherhood that exists for some of us...and why our hearts are heavy today...

msfitzita said...

I adore this post.

slouching mom said...

Lovely and true. Thank you.

Julia said...

Thank you, everyone. It helped to write this, and I am glad to see that it helped other to read it.

Soulfulms, I am so sorry. So very sorry.

frumiousb said...

Thanks for this. Since I lost my mother, I hadn't thought that mother's day could get worse. Then I lost my daughter.

Magpie said...

Beautiful post, rings so true. I hope you had a nice day yesterday.

kate said...

So very true and beautiful...i hope you had a gentle day yesterday.