Even though it's currently September, I've been thinking a lot about a conversation I had last Mother's Day. The conversation, in short, was about who could call themselves a mother.
Contentious, right? There's a bit of a gray area around miscarriage, stillbirth, etc. If your baby isn't outside the womb yet, cannot survive on its own, is it a person? It's a big question, and one I'm not really prepared to answer.
In the conversation, there were women on both sides -- some believed that if your pregnancy didn't work out, you were still a mother, and had been a mother since you knew. Others had miscarriages and felt that those were not children, and they would not call themselves mothers. Where it got tricky is if those folks believed that the other women could call themselves mothers and be honored by a holiday that celebrates motherhood.
I see both sides. Now that I'm a mother of a 7-month-old baby, I deeply understand the commitment, effort, and love inherent in the experience of parenting a child. It is consuming, amazing, exhausting, and incredible. It's why I think adoptive, foster, and co-parents are absolutely parents. You don't need to biologically have a baby to be a mother.
But isn't that the other side of the coin? Isn't it true that if you don't need to biologically have a baby to be a mother, you can be a mother even if your baby died? We don't think of parents whose children and infants have died as non-parents.
We can get into a big discussion about whether or not it's the work of parenting that makes someone a parent. I think that adoptive and foster parents get a lot of crap, and maybe even feel like they're being made out to be lesser parents somehow, which is bullshit. Those parents are absolutely parents.
Having been through the hormonal soup of early bio parenthood, I will absolutely say that it's a trip, and I didn't know I could love someone so much. That said, I think you can feel that strength of emotion even without hormones, and that that particular love is just as valid. It both is and isn't biology that makes you a parent.
However, if love is what makes you a parent, then isn't it reasonable to include mothers who have lost children, no matter how small, in Mother's Day? Is Mother's Day a holiday women have to earn somehow?
I feel like we place enough burden on women to prove themselves, to show us their work, their toil, their sacrifice for their children. It seems to me that the kinder thing, the more generous, is to include all women that have parented a child and loved a child, even if that child died, in Mother's Day.
From personal experience with my miscarriage at 16 and a half weeks, I felt like a mother. I had dreams for my child. I felt their presence in my body, and after my loss, I felt empty. I didn't have a place for my grief until I wrote about it. I didn't know I wasn't alone until I spoke out. Having community was the only thing that helped me through.
It would have been cruel if you told me on Mother's Day that I couldn't think of myself as a mother. It would have intensified those feelings of want, loneliness, exclusion and grief.
So I think maybe it's better if instead of drawing the lines to include fewer women, we redraw them a bit bigger. Maybe then, more women will feel supported in their loss, and stillbirth and miscarriage won't be something we feel we have to talk about behind closed doors. True grace and love is about who we include, who we are generous to, who we support even if we don't agree. Let's be a little kinder to parents who have loved and lost this next round.