11 November 2011


I could have added to yesterday's post of confessions the following: Oftentimes, I really don't feel like I am a mother.

I say I am a mother to myself as a point of fact and a reminder. Especially after Ewan Eliezer died and before Austen Brielle was a tiny cluster of cells in my belly, I didn't know how to think of motherhood. I wore it differently than I had ever hoped or anticipated, looking nothing at all like what I understood it to be. Instead of sleepless nights rocking a fussy baby, I remained awake with nightmarish memories of a 16-day hospital stay. Instead soothing his tears and cries, I gave sway to mine, letting them take me where they would. Instead of caring for a child at home, I tended to the empty evidences everywhere all around me of what we had once hoped for.

from the casket spray
From the spray of flowers on his casket

There are those who would say to me here that I shouldn't concern myself with labels and to a great extent, I agree with them. With one child gone and one soon on the way, the last thing I need is to concern myself with how I'm fitting into a definition of something that is perhaps too narrowly understood.

The truth is, I would have given anything to be servicing the types complaints I heard from other mothers. Not wanting to use my grief as a weapon, I kept to myself the thoughts of, "You have no idea how lucky you are to be doing that." And then when I became pregnant again, oozing joy and hopefulness and anticipation for the new life inside me, then came the "Just wait until your baby is doing this ..." comments, words that pointed a finger at my inexperience with the normal dailiness of mothering and (it seemed to me), seeking to temper the unbridled joy I had that someone new was alive. I could have said, "It's better than the alternative," or yet, "I will learn these things the same way you and every mother before you in the history of the world did -- by my own experience," but again -- these are thoughts I kept to myself.

I thanked God for those who taught me to think of it differently. It was Annie (our doula) who, when she heard the story of how Ewan died, told me, "You mothered him right up until the very end." A friend of mine who flew from Texas for his funeral said that as far as she was concerned, I had been thrown into the deep end of motherhood: "It's loving your child more than yourself, doing what's best for him, and knowing when to let go. Most of us learn to let go of our children a little bit at a time. You had to learn all at once."

In the weeks and months that followed, I began to think of my motherhood taking the form of what I call mothering memory. With all the attendant instincts and no living child for whom to care, I mothered a memory and tended carefully to the heart of mine that my son had turned inside out -- this, too, was part of and evidence of his life. It didn't look like motherhood as I had previously conceived of it and maybe that's why I never felt like I really was one. My motherhood took on a kind of dailiness, but in a very different form.

I still have difficulty in understanding myself as a mother. I know how most people understand it and in the world at large, how many women embody it. By all appearances, motherhood may be comprised in its early days of diaper changes and feedings and blowouts; later on, it will look like potty training and manners training and tantrum management; and later than that it will look like a great many other things. But I wonder if at the root of it all is what my friend said: loving your child, knowing and doing what is best for him and when it is time, letting go of what you once held on to.

There are many of us out there who have been forced too early into the deep end, skipping past all the normal dailiness and while we are still in motherhood's infancy, letting go all at once. Maybe that's part of why grieving a child feels so impossible. Most mothers, in a sense, grow into their motherhood as their children grow into maturity. But when motherhood is cut off in its infancy, we are pushed to the end of the mothering line as it were, widowed in motherhood before we've even had a chance to enjoy the honeymoon.

Of those of us who have experienced the abrupt letting go of a child, I know many of us are giving motherhood a chance again, looking forward to embracing the more commonly understood dailiness about which we've heard other people complain. We are, I know, looking forward to loving these children and embracing the dailiness that many see as mundane. We're looking forward to having the chance to make memories and savoring the everyday. And after the traumas of having to let go all at once -- finally -- we are going to learn what it's like to let go gradually, just a little bit at a time.