My childless motherhood is not so different from yours, you who have the joy and privilege to raise your children here on earth.
On the surface, our motherhoods look very different. Mine is rarely recognized by the larger society or even by many of those close to me. My home is quiet and uncluttered by toys or random scattered clothes and shoes. My schedule is filled with work, friends, and extra space–revolving around my desires rather than ballet class or soccer or music lessons and school activities. I can go out with friends or travel at the spur of the moment without regard from babysitters or childcare. My Mother’s Day will not be filled with creative little breakfasts in bed or cards printed in crayon or little arms around my neck. I’ll be lucky if my motherhood is acknowledged at all on Mother’s Day.
These are the ways in which our experience of motherhood is different. I don’t begrudge you your version of motherhood. I am deeply grateful you have your child with you and don’t know the pain of having to say good-bye forever. I have moments of jealousy and envy when I desperately wish I could know your motherhood, too, but I don’t ever wish for you to know mine.
Despite our differences, there are also many similarities in our experience of motherhood. That profound and overwhelming force of love that came when I held my tiny daughter’s body. How I looked at her face and searched for tiny pieces of myself, and her father, in her too-small features. Seeing her and marveling at the perfection of her even though her body was still and silent, thinking to myself I had never seen anyone so beautiful.
Then, in those months after her birth and death, I too experienced sleepless nights, endless crying, and overwhelming exhaustion. Except I experienced sleepless nights waking from dreams of my baby’s cry, jolting out of bed to reach for hear only to realize she wasn’t there. The endless crying and wailing came bursting from the depths of my grief for her instead of from her hunger or loneliness or discomfort. My exhaustion came from trying to make sense of a world in which the unthinkable was not only possible, but also real and happening to me.
Like you, I too, mark milestones and development for my child. Perhaps not quite as you do, with a living, breathing child to see accomplish them, but in my own way. I mark milestones and my daughter’s development in my mind as I imagine she might be. She might be crawling now, or maybe she’d be walking already. I would be taking her to her first day of kindergarten, to her first sleepover, to her first middle school dance. I would be signing her up for music lessons or soccer or gymnastics. She would be learning to read, learning her state capitols, and, please for the love of Pete, I hope she would have been better at math than me.
Every moment and milestone that I watch the children around me achieve, I mark in my mind and heart, all the while wondering who she might be and what it would be like to watch her achieve them, too. I feel that little ache inside as I imagine her growing up and becoming her own person, much as other mothers have told me they feel as they watch their kids grow into themselves and become more independent. We both wonder, in our own ways, who will/would you be? Who will/would you become?
All mothers have to learn to let their children go. Mothers with living children let their children go in small moments, over time. Their first day of school. Their first sleepover. When they enter high school. When they have their first date. When they get their driver’s license. The day they move out on their own. The day they get married. When they have their own children. Those moments as they watch you grow older and begin to provide more care to you. Each a small moment of letting go and trusting that their child will be ok. Trusting their child to navigate the world more and more independently, with less and less needed assistance from them.
For me, my letting go was sudden and unpredictable. It came in a moment of time and, before I even know it was happening, she was gone. One moment she was here and the next I was forced to say good-bye forever. In that moment and every moment since, I have to trust that wherever she is now, she is ok and she is finding her way without me. I am reminded of my letting go in every moment that might have been and every untouched milestone of her would-have-been life with me.
So, you see, in some ways our experience of motherhood is vastly different. In other ways, however, we’re not so very different.
And we all must one day let them go.
We’re in this together, however our motherhood may appear on the outside.
Because we are mothers.
We are all mothers.