To all mothers and not-mothers

I wrote a poem a long time ago about the loss of a child, and the new not-mother. Sometimes our language falls far short. We have a term for husband or wife bereaved, but so many other states of longing or loss or love that go nameless. I have wanted to be a mother for a long, long time. I have dreamed of it, over and over, of carrying a child, birthing, raising. Of dead children, lost children, no children. On Mother’s Day each year I now find myself at a strange crossroads between honoring my own mother, mourning Rose’s pregnancy losses, and acknowledging my own history of longing and grief. I’m struck by the thoughtlessness of a day that is supposed to be about sensitivity and love. There’s a lot of pain beneath all those pink cards and tides of flowers. A lot of people hiding out at home hoping the day will pass quickly, or attending events and concealing raw feelings. For some of us this a day of grieving. We mourn for mother’s we have loved and lost. We mourn for love we hoped to get from mothers who were absent, or abusive, or overwhelmed. We mourn for children who would not come, or did not stay. We mourn as outsiders of little families who build walls around the lights that are their children, who bestow blessings – you may come and kiss – and withhold them – you may not. We mourn as those who tangle in the bonds of family, half nurtured but half strangled by loves’ obsessions and dominance. We mourn with those who did not wish to be consumed by the word mother, who were visited with life too early or too late, at the wrong time, with the wrong person, and unstuck the hook that snagged and tore a hole. For all the blessings and the sorrows that do not have a day, that walk today instead, unwelcome, barely spoken, breathing under our breath. Beneath the sweetness is blood, is rage and darkness and confusion and terror and love.

I spent my years weeping in the baby things aisles of supermarkets. Reading a biography of Mother Theresa, I decided to myself biology was only one way to be a mother. The pain eased a little then. Each year now I give Rose a gift on this day, we light a candle, we talk about her 6 babies who could not stay. ‘They are always with us’ I tell her. ‘They are part of our family, and they don’t have to only be remembered with sorrow’. I recall with rage the lack of care with which she has been treated on this day, bereft and uncalled on, having to stand, identified as a not-mother. That is not how she is treated here, in our family. This year I lost my friend Leanne, who died in her sleep with her face cupped in her hand. She was a mother, of a kind, to me. We all need more than one person who loves us deeply, who tries to guide us, and falls short, and watches us try to fly and fall and fly again. I remember her too today. Today I’ll give a gift to my own mother, whom I love. I’m blessed that she is still here, children grown, flying and falling and flying herself through the strange, complex, sad, beautiful experience of life. Love, to all mothers and not-mothers.

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