I remember the first Mother’s Day after I lost Avery. It was a strange day filled with sadness and complex emotions. I was also angry, furious at a holiday that seemed to be made for everyone except me. Every TV commercial reminded me of what I’d lost, every grocery store display reminded me of the child I’d held in my arms but couldn’t keep. Avery was stillborn, and I struggled with my new identity as a childless mother.
Prior to being discharged from the hospital after my daughter’s birth/death, my doctor had grabbed hold of me, looked me in the eye, and whispered, “You are a mother.” In that moment, I believed her. But after being shoved back into the real world, surrounded by a society that doesn’t fully understand stillbirth and people that couldn’t look me in the eye, I wasn’t so sure. I knew I was a mother, but did anyone else? I had a nursery, a closet full of baby clothes, three strollers, a Baby Bjorn, toys, car seats, pacifiers…I had everything I was supposed to have. But I didn’t have the one thing that truly makes you a parent. I didn’t have a baby.
But I did have a baby.
I had a baby that I nurtured and sang to for nearly nine months. In those fleeting moments, we had thousands of conversations about the past, present, and future. I knew how her foot tickled my ribs, how her fingers brushed the inside of my belly when she did her daily gymnastics. I knew every single time she had the hiccups. Avery was the first person to ever hear my heartbeat from the inside. How could I not be a mother?
It took me a long time to realize it, but I finally realized that other people didn’t determine my maternal status – it was up to me. I had given birth to a beautiful baby girl, and Mother’s Day was still my holiday. So on that Sunday in 2009 I celebrated my motherhood. I picked up my daughter’s urn and sang her a song. I shook her ashes, listening to the soft swoosh-swoosh that always reminded me of her heartbeat. I sat with her for an hour, remembering that while her short life brought me incredible grief, it also awarded me immense happiness.
I was a mother. I was Avery’s mother. And no one could take that away from me.
It’s been seven years since that first Mother’s Day without my daughter. I’ve since been blessed with two healthy, rambunctious little boys that have made this holiday so much brighter. Yet as this Mother’s Day Weekend approaches, I can’t help but think of all of the other mothers out their struggling. For some the wounds of stillbirth may still be very fresh; others may have been grasping at an identity for quite some time. To all of you, please remember that even though your child may not walk this earth, you are still a mother.
And don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.