For the Mothers with Empty Arms on Mothers Day

Picture1Written by Aoife Goldie

Leaning into the wind, chins tucked to chests we will visit the hillside with the tiny grave, lay the flowers, light candles. They will plunge their pudgy fingers into the soil, pull up the weeds, the worms, the clods of earth, then plant anew. They will slosh the water then run for the wishing well, flicking the long wet grass with their marvellously chubby legs – jumping and squealing and falling and howling and clambering to standing again, eyes sparkling and rosy-cheeked.

And there will be something so crazy beautiful and so fucking wrong with that image. Two where there should be three.

I will squeeze them close and whisper a million thank-yous – for the air in their lungs and the sparkle in their eyes, the blood in their veins and the glorious technicolour of their aliveness. My heart will sing and burst and break all at once. They are so magnificently, beautifully, vibrantly alive.

And he is not.

Mother’s Day was never meant to sting. But then there are the rest of us…

This is for you.

For the battle weary IVF-ers, whose parenthood rests squarely in the hands of the white-coat clad, bespectacled miracle makers. The oft-portrayed scene of a sudden queasiness, a furrowed brow, then a positive pregnancy test has long been lost. And in its place, a language of cold hard science, acronyms and reference ranges, classifications, grades and high-stakes financial arrangements. Armed with microscopes and latex gloves, baby-making is a precisely orchestrated operation – both loved and loathed.

Heart-pinched and weary from the baby commercials, swollen bellies and the barely whispered fear, “But what if we can never…?” These are the mothers who dutifully smile as they listen to stories from fertile myrtle and her umpteenth “oops-baby.” Who attend the baby showers, visit the newborns – smiling and cooing in all the right places – present the gift that was so painfully sad to buy. Who nod graciously as they accept unsolicited advice, stifling the urge to correct that “No, relaxing will not in fact unblock fallopian tubes.” Who willingly endure the pokes and the prods, the bloat and the weight gain, the high dose hormones coursing through veins. Striving to maintain that even keel at work and all the while worrying if anyone will catch on after one too many “dentist visits.”

For the recurrent loss mothers, who held hope so carefully, fell in love at two pink lines, and then again, and then tried not to, but still did… who did everything right, and researched the vitamins and exercised religiously and gave up the booze and the caffeine and the cheese and the soft scoop ice-cream because wasn’t there an article once? Who analysed symptoms, dreaded each bathroom break, felt that familiar lower back pain then inhaled deeply before making yet another trembling call, “I think I’m losing it again…” Who listened to the well intentioned but minimising words “It’s so common” or “It was nature’s way.” Who endured the descriptions of their precious baby as “not viable”, “chromosomally abnormal” or as “retained products of conception.” Who felt branded by the word “miscarriage” – as though they dropped the baby and it broke. Who baulked as they discovered that they would have to endure this three times before anyone was prepared to care. Who lay back in a sterile surgical gown, and had their future sucked out of them along with their baby.

For the mothers who have held their dead child in their arms. Who know that catastrophic, gasping, incomprehensible pain. Who thought they might die from it, and were at times sorry that they didn’t. Who left hospital with a tiny white memory box – so heartbreakingly light – and sobbed as they reached the empty car seat.

Who laboured knowing their baby was already gone. Traumatised by the sonographer’s too-long-pause, as they fruitlessly drew the wand over and back, and over and back, frowned at the screen (now tilted away) before turning, crestfallen, to utter the words, “I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat.”

For the mothers who cannot have children – who wanted and waited for the miracle that never came. Who mourn the hope of ever feeling their baby kick and roll inside them. Who scour the internet for global adoption policies, surrogacy rights, and willingly subject themselves to microscopic scrutiny, assessments of suitability, invasive questions, forms, home visits, interviews. Classified as sub-fertile, but feeling sub-human.

For the NICU warriors – too well versed in all things medical, who have kissed their babies goodnight, not knowing if they will still be alive in the morning. Who have watched and waited and longed for a simple cuddle. Who pump to a schedule, scrub like a surgeon and keep encyclopedic notes. Who have steadied themselves for a chat in the relative’s room, or heard that sound a mother makes when her child dies, petrified that she might be next.

For the brave souls who are white knuckling their way through a subsequent pregnancy – the most gruelling endurance test life has ever thrown their way. Where the pressure to smile and glow and ignore all that came before is maddening. Where all they want to do is cocoon away, hunker down and gestate, preferably hooked up to a continuous CTG monitor. Where scans are never “another chance to peek in at the baby” but instead a revisit to the most traumatic moment of their life, that darkened room housing their biggest fear, as they fix their gaze at the wall, the floor, anywhere but the screen, unable to look unless they first hear that the baby is still alive.

For every mother who has buried a piece of herself with her child, or her dreams of one…

I am sorry that you didn’t get your little slice of normal. I’m sorry that it was you who got the raw deal. I’m sorry that you know a pain so fierce even exists. I’m sorry for the feelings of shame and guilt, jealousy and bitterness, fear and anxiety, pain and grief. I’m sorry for the relationships that have been destroyed, the confidence knocked, the innocence lost. The toll on your body, your relationships, your finances. For the due dates that never converted to birthdays, for the death days that should never have been.

I’m sorry that Mother’s Day will not be a day where you receive a homemade card with an unidentifiable gift, and glimpse the pride in your child’s face as you shower them with hugs, kisses and exclamations of gratitude. I’m sorry that this has become a day of endurance and isolation – more complicated than it ever should have been.

I know you didn’t want to be brave, or strong. I know you just wanted your baby.

I wish you strength and peace and I send a little extra love your way today.