My motherhood doesn’t look like your motherhood. You see me out at the store and you might think I’m a mother just like any other. But I’m not. Yes, I have my 8-month-old daughter in my arms. Yes, she makes every mundane daily task simultaneously harder to accomplish AND more joyful. Yes, I struggle with nap schedules and diaper blowouts and lack of sleep when she is sick or teething. But there is so much more to my motherhood that doesn’t meet the eye. As mother’s day approaches, I am grateful that I get to celebrate this cherished role I play in my daughter’s life, but there is more I want to celebrate, too.
You see, my motherhood transcends the space between Heaven and Earth. There’s a whole other dimension to it that you don’t see. Before I was mom to my daughter, I was already mom to two angels – one I miscarried and one I lost three hours after his birth. And while I’m incredibly thankful to celebrate for the first time this year with a child in my arms, there is so much more about my motherhood that I want to celebrate; that I don’t want others to overlook or forget.
You might ask: what is there to celebrate about bereaved motherhood; the kind that doesn’t get to play out on earth? So very, very much. Bereaved moms are fierce. Fierce in their determination to take a single breath after losing their child, let alone a lifetime of breaths. Fierce as they find a path forward. Fierce as they remember and honor their child(ren) gone too soon. Fierce as they, if they have been so blessed, parent any child(ren) remaining on Earth.
What does my bereaved motherhood look like? It looks like the deep breath I take before saying Jacob’s name when someone asks “is she your first?” even though I’m afraid of how they’ll respond. Sometimes it looks like just saying “yes” to that same question, on the days that I lack the strength to tell the story, even though every fiber in my body is screaming “no!” My bereaved motherhood is composed of the words I write in hopes that they can bring some measure of comfort to other moms walking a similar path. It lives and breathes through Alive In My Heart, the nonprofit I co-founded with other fierce bereaved parents. My bereaved motherhood talks openly and honestly about infant loss, a topic most would rather pretend isn’t happening, or at least can’t happen to them. My bereaved motherhood looks like me loving and protecting my rainbow daughter more fiercely than I imagined possible because I understand deeply just what a miracle she is. It involves me regularly talking to her about her big brother and guardian angel, Jacob, because he will always remain a part of our family. It has transformed my life into one that is lived more slowly and intentionally and with more compassion and love than the life I lived before I loved and lost.
My motherhood doesn’t look like yours, unless it does. Because 1 in 4 women lose a baby, so there’s a 25% chance your motherhood at least resembles mine. And if that’s the case, I am so very sorry. I really wish you were one of the other 3. I wish I was, too. But on this mother’s day, please know that I celebrate your motherhood – all dimensions of it – with you. I see the love you hold in your heart, and the bond with your baby that cannot be broken. Motherhood doesn’t end when a child is lost. It changes, but it is not any less beautiful than the earthly motherhood we see all around us.
And though wishes of “happy” mother’s day might ring a bit hollow, you, your baby, and the bond between you are worthy of celebration. Because your motherhood is the fiercest kind around.
Elizabeth Yassenoff lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Erik. She writes for Still Standing and on her blog to honor her firstborn son, Jacob Dale, who passed away three hours after birth due to unexpected complications during labor. Elizabeth is a co-founder of Alive In My Heart, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides connection and resources to bereaved parents in the Columbus area, and she is studying to become an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. Jacob’s baby sister, Ella Jane, was born August 11, 2017 and has brought a lot of light and healing.