by Samantha Gorenstein
I used to wonder what it would be like to become a parent. I had a vague idea, a mental picture comprised of a blend of my observations of real-world parenting and images from TV and movies.
I pictured unquestionable love and fierce devotion.
I imagined exasperation and exhaustion.
I imagined tearful moments – for the baby, yes, but for the new parents also, who were just desperately trying to learn how to do a good job.
And, of course, whenever I pictured being a parent, I always pictured a baby.
I’ve learned, like many new parents, the process of becoming a mother doesn’t happen the moment your baby is born. There is not a switch that is flipped, and suddenly it all makes sense.
The real transition to motherhood is very gradual. In the days and weeks and months following a baby’s birth, something new is learned every day about how to be a good parent.
What motherhood truly is.
This is true for loss parents, as well.
You don’t suddenly stop being a parent when your baby dies. For parents who lose their firstborn, you must navigate both the impossibilities of crushing grief and the roller coaster of confusion that is the transition to parenthood.
When my son died four days after birth, I wondered if my glimpse into motherhood had been cut tragically short along with his life. However, although many of the images from my mental picture of parenthood have changed in the months since Reed died, I’ve been surprised and comforted to find that many have remained true.
I find myself learning how to grieve my son while also learning how to be a mother.
I’ve learned that being a parent doesn’t mean merely changing dirty diapers or learning how to nurse.
It doesn’t mean waking to your baby’s cry in the middle of the night.
It doesn’t mean struggling with a car seat or feeling a rush of joy when you see them smile or laugh for the first time.
It doesn’t mean baby proofing the house.
These are the things I thought I would learn once my son was born, the things I thought would make me a mother.
But, of course, I didn’t do any of those things. And yet, I am still becoming Reed’s mother with each passing day, even though he is gone.
I’ve learned true motherhood is about protecting your child. I protect Reed in all the ways I can. I work hard to share him with the world.
I talk about him and share his picture and the lessons he has helped teach me. I talk about him with people who understand and appreciate him, and I avoid bringing him up when it makes people cringe.
I do this not to make those people more comfortable, but because it is what my son deserves. He deserves love and respect like any child.
I’ve learned motherhood is about not knowing where your child ends, and you begin. The two are intertwined, inseparable.
Taking care of Reed means taking care of myself. This means I try to find moments of joy, happiness, and laughter in my life.
It means I am incredibly grateful for every single moment I got to spend with my son. It also means that I can feel these things while even acknowledging a piece of my heart is forever missing.
I’ve learned motherhood is about trusting your child, believing in them against all the odds. When I feel his presence in ways I cannot possibly explain, and I wonder whether it is truly somehow him, or mere coincidence, I stop. I remind myself to trust my child.
Maybe I’m wrong sometimes, but it is my duty and privilege as his mother to believe in him wholeheartedly. I believe in the lessons he helped teach me, and I believe in the love he brought into this world.
I think that, in his way, he is taking care of his father and me.
And of course, like any mother, I believe he is the most perfect child I’ve ever known.
Mostly, I’ve learned true motherhood is a fierce, deep, powerful love that cannot be adequately expressed or explained. I didn’t feel the full weight of this until I finally held my son in my arms, but then, it was undeniable and irreversible.
Just because my baby is gone doesn’t mean I have stopped feeling this love.
It doesn’t mean I am less of a mother in any of the ways that matter. Though I may not look like one to the outside world, I am still a mother.
Sometimes I make mistakes or feel like a “bad mom”… just like any other. I will never stop learning how to be a better mother. I am a mom because of the many ways in which I love him and try to do right by him every day.
So, yes, I will always be Reed’s mother. Not only because of the simple physiological fact that I carried him and then gave birth to him on a gloomy evening in December. Not because I took care of him for four beautiful days.
No, I will always be Reed’s mother because, deep within me, I will always protect him. I will always value his existence over my own.
I will always be proud of him and believe in him.
And I will always love him, with love bigger than myself.