What is it like to be a mother when your child is gone — when all physical evidence points to a recent birth (pain, scars, fatigue) but your child has died? I am a mother, but my arms are empty. I gave birth to our son on March 9th. Thomas died just 20 hours later on March 10th. He was our first child.
So I am in fact a mother — but instead of changing diapers, nursing and staying up all night rocking my son, I’m wandering aimlessly about a deafeningly quiet house trying to find something to do with all the endless free time I didn’t think I’d have after giving birth. Instead of planning for his future, we’re planning our own. Will we try again? Will we adopt? Will we resign ourselves to a childless life? When will we take down the nursery we had so lovingly prepared for our sweet little boy? We don’t know yet. All we know is that we had a perfect and beautiful son and that we are parents. The problem is, we don’t look like parents.
So how do I go about being a mother in the absence of my child? I think I’ve earned the title, but what does society say? Are you only a mother if you have a child in tow? Will mothers who have been in the trenches raising kids for years resent me using the title they may feel they deserve more than I do? Doesn’t the fact that my beloved and I had to make the hardest decision a parent ever has to make right out of the gate give us the right to call ourselves mother and father? We loved our son so much we let him go. We did what was right for him despite the fact that it broke our hearts.
I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m going to say the next time a well-meaning stranger asks me if I have any kids. Will they want to know that I had a son who died? Would they prefer if I just say no? I don’t know. But if they ask if I’m a mother I will say yes. There’s no question in my mind. I carried my son for 9 months — I knew him. He was a rascal. He’d kick me when I sneezed, he’d nudge me back when I’d gently poke at him and he spent the last few weeks in utero trying to figure out if he was going to be breech or not. Every other week he’d present himself in a new position until finally he decided he’d do it the right way. The rascal.
So yes, I only got to hold him once while he was alive, but he was my son and I am his mother. I don’t know quite how or where I fit in yet, but I know that I am a mother. My time in the trenches was painfully short, but it was more painful than a lifetime of mothering. Of that I’m sure.