I’ve told the story of the identical twin baby girls who died in my womb and the newborn son who died in my arms six hours after birth countless times.
Most recently, five times in 48 hours. As the eyes of the nurses and social workers in front of me filled with tears, so did mine.
Fresh tears…even seventeen years later.
I talked about compassionate care for bereaved parents until I had no voice left…until my head throbbed with migraine-induced pain and every joint in my body ached, weak and spent.
I held a nurse in my arms and wept with her over the agonies some mothers must endure while a nurse stands beside her. Or a doula.
I showed the slideshows of pictures capturing the most precious images…families, fitting a lifetime of love into mere moments… little lives honored, remembered, cherished, loved, missed.
And, amongst those pictures, my young face…just 23. Holding my son Thomas, smiling through grief as he opened his eyes for a moment, to catch a glimpse of his mother.
I’ve told the story so many times, in front of groups. And, churches. At events. And, while offering hospital education.
I’ve held grieving mothers in my arms, dressed tiny babies, weeping with those who mourn, time and time again as a birth and bereavement doula.
I’ve grieved and healed and carried those babies in my heart. I’ve felt joy restored.
Learned to laugh and love and soak in the moments with freedom and abandon and not one ounce of guilt.
But, yesterday. Yesterday, there was this moment during my last hospital training session, when I looked at the picture of my son as it slid across the slideshow images, my son with his opened eyes.
My son, who proves that there are all kinds of miracles.
Some people are healed on this side of heaven. And, some people come to do the healing before moving on to heaven’s sweet perfection.
I smiled like a mother in complete love with her boy. Unabashed pride flooding me. The good kind.
A nurse, thanking me for the work we do at Sufficient Grace Ministries, said, “I’m so sorry for the loss of your children.”
Still glowing from that moment with my son, I smiled, and shook my head a little. “I’m ok…I’m good. I get to be their mom. I am their mother. I get to see the beauty born because they lived.”
I stood tall, speaking as if I were the mother of the most amazing people who ever lived. Shoulders back, eyes shimmering.
“I can see that you really are….”
I am. I really am so dang grateful to have been chosen as the mother of Faith, Grace, and Thomas.
So in awe of the beauty born because they lived.
So humbled that I get to be just a small part of what is unfolding before me, as we work together to change the way we care for families, one hospital at a time.
Life this way fits perfectly. Of course, I’m a mother who would love to hold her babies again, and I will.
But, I see the gift of life this way, and can even embrace being their mother with the same mama pride I feel when my 20-year-old makes the Dean’s list at college, or hits the sweet spot with his golf club on the course, or when my 13 year old slides into the base on the baseball field or reads his bible without being reminded.
I am their mother.
As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that you may be a mother missing her baby. If you’re reading this… that scenario is likely.
We aren’t all standing in front of a room of hospital staff. We all have our path.
But, no matter where you’re standing, your baby has changed lives with his or her own brief life.
It may be in the subtle nuances of your heart.
It may be in the way that you cherish those around you a little longer.
It may be in the way you lean into your partner, knowing that no one else on planet earth understands what it was like to say goodbye to your child.
It may be the way you pay it forward, walk alongside another broken soul in this wilderness, make something beautiful, pour out your heart in giving.
Maybe you learn to live, to laugh with your whole body, to soar free from the petty stuff of this life because you know…you KNOW there’s something more.
You were in that room the day heaven reached down to touch earth, and unexplainable peace swept over the room.
You don’t have to lead an organization or stand in front of a group to see that your baby’s life changed this world. (In fact, sometimes I think in our longing to see a purpose born from pain, mothers can rush into “creating” something. It is good to take time to heal.)
Joining an already existing organization may be a healthy alternative to building something new in fresh grief.) It doesn’t have to be something giant that the entire world witnesses.
You have to look deeply into the eyes staring back at you in the mirror.
You are his mother.
You are her mother.
Even if right now the pain of that is fresh, know that someday, the gift of that truth…the gift of being their mother…will so outweigh, out value, and overshadow everything else.
Don’t be afraid to let it…to embrace it.
I am their mother. And, everything that comes with that gift is worth it. Not only am I ok with being their mother, exactly as I am and as they are…I embrace the gift of it with utter joy and abandon.
Wherever we’re standing, as mothers…whether beside a tiny grave or in the throes of fresh, overwhelming grief, hope is not lost. Joy is not gone forever. Life is always worth the effort.
Strength, even when buried…hope, even when threatened…peace, even when covered in chaos will all rise again, like the lilting laughter from a deep belly, all-over, full-body-consuming laugh.
It doesn’t have to be something great. It isn’t even the big things that make me smile with knowing and pride that I’m their mother.
It’s the precious little moments that I carry in my heart…like seeing his picture on the slideshow and pausing to remember what it felt like to hold him in my arms.
At the end of the day…no matter where you stand.
You are their mother.
I am their mother.
And that is a priceless gift.
Photo credit: Rachel Sharpe Photography
Kelly Gerken is the president and founder of Sufficient Grace Ministries, an organization providing perinatal hospice services, bereavement support and Dreams of You memory-making materials to families facing the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death and the death of a young child. Kelly has walked through the loss of three of her five children, and now reaches out to walk with other grieving families as an SGM perinatal loss support doula and SGM Remembrance Photographer. She is a creator and facilitator of training for birth professionals on compassionate care for bereaved parents facing perinatal loss. Her memoir, Sufficient Grace, was published in 2014. You can read more about Kelly’s journey of grace, hope and healing and the outreaches of SGM, order resources or find her book here: www.sufficientgraceministries.org.