Mother’s Day. It’s hard to know what to write about it because I’m not quite sure how to celebrate it as a loss and a rainbow mom. I never knew how many conflicting feelings and complex emotions one day would elicit. But it does.
Conventional wisdom says you’re a mother to be celebrated on Mother’s Day when you have a baby.
Our society narrows it even more it seems by designating mothers with living children worthy of honor. The complexity of the holiday starts in pregnancy. The baby’s not technically “here” so if you’re simply pregnant with your first baby, can you celebrate Mother’s Day?
When I was pregnant with my first baby in 2010 I remember my younger brother asking me what plans we had for Mother’s Day. I told him none, because I wasn’t really a mother yet. He responded that you become a mother when you start sacrificing for your child, and pregnant women sacrifice a lot for their unborn babies.
What we didn’t know was that my plans for Mother’s Day would include preterm labor, a trip to Labor and Delivery, and meeting my stillborn daughter far too early. If she were born at term and alive, she would have been considered the best Mother’s Day gift I could have ever received.
Instead, she was dead and I was left with a lifetime of triggers for what seemed to be two anniversaries of her death: her birthday (May 9) and Mother’s Day.
The next Mother’s Day fell one day before Lily’s first birthday, and I was pregnant with her little brother. A year prior I was lying in a hospital bed begging my baby to hang on. I didn’t want her to be born on Mother’s Day. I didn’t want her death to be associated with Mother’s Day forever. In the moment, I was already struggling with how to deal with the holiday.
And then there I was a year later… I’d birthed a baby, and was pregnant with another, but still struggled with whether I was worthy of celebration. A “mother” with no children running around me to show for it. A “mother” with tremendous guilt for her body’s failure to keep the first safe and sound until delivery. A “mother” pregnant with her second baby hoping with all her might that this one would be able to come home from the hospital.
Someone told me that once I had living children the holiday would become less upsetting. If there were living babies here I would be able to celebrate easier. It would always be bittersweet, she said, but it would get better. That person is not a loss mom.
What I’ve learned is that “bittersweet” doesn’t seem to do the feeling justice.
I’m not sure what a stronger word is to convey the feeling. I can’t describe the love I feel for my living children and how special it is for me to spend an entire day with them eating their breakfast in bed, opening their homemade gifts, and hugging them incessantly all day long. It means the world because I know exactly what I lost. I know that after they go to bed, and I’m finally alone for the first time that day, I’ll be inching my way to 9:30pm – the time on Mother’s Day when Lily was born without a heartbeat. And then I cry, and cry, and cry. I can barely catch my breath. Even with kids, it doesn’t seem to get better.
So, how do I survive the day?
I stay in my little nest with my living babies. We snuggle at home and play in our own yard. I try not to be out and about where people are going to ask me how many children I have, or if I’ll have anymore. I’m gentle with myself and allow myself to feel all the emotions that come. I write in my journal. I write Lily a letter. I remind myself that she’s the one who made me a mom and taught me that love at first sight does exist. How beautiful she was.