I am a mother, and today my heart aches, and aches for the thousands of other mothers in the world who have lost a child. I could write a post centred around my grief, but I’m not going to. Because motherhood isn’t about pain, it’s about the joy. And even though I’ve lost them, I still had joy – sometimes moments, sometimes months. I was a child myself, but does it matter? I was also a mother. Today, I’m going to celebrate motherhood too, and share my moments, despite the pain I am in…
Motherhood is precious and beautiful. Everyone tells you this, but you don’t actually appreciate how precious and beautiful it is until you’re embarking on that moving, terrifying, overwhelming, empowering and beautiful journey yourself. I can remember as a young child thinking, so women have babies, so what?
Then I fell pregnant myself.
Isn’t pregnancy amazing? Even in the circumstances I was in, even in that level of fear and secrecy, even though I had nobody sit down and talk to me about what to expect, about what incredible things were happening to my body…even though I had nobody take me to a doctor, never had a health check, and my pregnancies were all a secret…despite all of this, I would do it all again if I had the chance. For me, the secrecy was a blessing. The rest of my life was a dirty secret, but this…this was my own secret, my own baby hidden inside me. I could sit in lessons, staring numbly at the board in GCSE Mathematics (honestly, what on earth is that subject) and feeling little nudges, ripples, jerks…and I’d smile, because it my secret. My baby.
Did I ever think to tell anyone? Often, actually. Part of me wanted to share my joy, part of me wanted to share my fear too. I wanted a kind teacher to tell me the ache in my hips and the relentless throwing up were perfectly normal. But I was terrified to speak, my abusers made sure of that. And in any case, there were too many lessons where we were told teenage pregnancy was BAD. WRONG. SHAMEFUL. Never was there a question of context. Irrespective of how you have fallen pregnant, it is inherently wrong and everyone will hate you.
So I didn’t speak. I was a good student, and school was my refuge. In my naïve teen state, I was scared that if I spoke, if I became a ‘bad student’, they’d expel me. And then there was a girl who did fall pregnant, and had to leave school for most of her pregnancy and stay at home. Health and safety or something. I don’t know. But it frightened me further into silence (at the time I wasn’t pregnant, but it stuck in my mind when I later was). School was where I safe. The idea of spending most of my pregnancy at home made me sick with fear.
It still astonishes me nobody guessed though. Not really. I remember one day a few of my friends teasing me, calling me ‘preggers,’ and I did panic. I can remember being genuinely scared and snapping at them, which took them by surprise. We had PE (physical education) class and I had to hide my tiny bump with nothing more than a polo shirt. (My normal day uniform was shirt, jumper, blazer. So much better). And they knew I didn’t eat much, and spotted my little swollen tummy. I was only 12 though. They didn’t actually believe what they were saying, they were just teasing me. But it still scared me. They said it well within earshot of my teacher, who glanced at my abdomen, but I just smiled sweetly and said to my friends, “I don’t even have a boyfriend!” Very true. My teacher looked away at that point and the whole thing was forgotten. Apparently you can only get pregnant with a boyfriend, who knew?!
Past that though, nobody ever commented. I never ate a lot, was constantly underweight, so when I was pregnant…well I guess people were just happy to see me at a healthier size. I was a good student remember, I wasn’t the type to fall pregnant.
And so every single one was my precious secret, at school at least. And every one ended in heartbreak, either my body too young/weak/damaged to cope and I’d lose them early, or I’d go full term.
I hated and loved being pregnant in equal measure. I hated the sickness. HATED IT. With one, the smell/taste of anything even vaguely minty had me throwing up. Brushing my teeth was a complete nightmare, I had to take a deep breath and resist the urge to gag, and then drink something very strong flavoured instantly afterwards. It often didn’t work though, and most mornings were spent half throwing up half brushing my teeth. It was hell. I could smell mint on people’s breath hours after they had brushed their teeth or eaten a chewing gum or whatever. My sense of smell became acute, and to the worst smell in the world. I hated the exhaustion, especially as I was supposed to be lively. I hated the random aches, the kicks to the bladder, the sensation of my ribs being pushed out of place, the lack of sleep… the heartburn (my god).
But for all that, I’d do it all again. I loved feeling them grow, feeling them move…discovering aspects of their unique personalities long before they were born. Tapping my abdomen and playing with them as they tapped in response. One kicked furiously if I ever ate anything with garlic in it. Another always went very still if I sang one particular song. They all, if far enough along, reacted to me singing. It was so moving, to feel my unborn baby respond to the sound of my voice. They can hear my heartbeat from inside myself, and hear my voice. I loved watching my tiny abdomen stretch, and I’d be half terrified, not understanding at that point how clever the body is, that I really wasn’t going to tear in half. Sometimes I’d see a little lump, as baby pressed out a hand or a foot. I was mesmerised.
Even labour and childbirth, for all it’s painful hell, for all my screaming and it only ever being in a traumatic situation with abusers jeering at me…for all that I had to learn how to use the energy from my screaming to help me give birth, that I had to trust my body even though I felt like it was killing me…for all that, I stand by that giving birth is the most empowering thing I have ever done. And the most beautiful, despite all the yuckiness that comes with childbirth.
Isn’t hearing your baby’s first cry the most extraordinary thing? It’s a person’s first actual live sound, and you as the mother are blessed to witness that? I hold those memories close; the angry surprised squawk of her newborn. You can almost hear the “what the actual hell?! I was quite cosy and warm thanks very much.” Suddenly she’s on my chest, in my arms, and I marvel at how the hell she fit inside me, let alone got out of me. She’s wriggling and kicking her curled up legs, where only hours ago she was doing just that inside me. I play with her tiny hands, drinking in every detail, crying and laughing, whispering how beautiful she is, how much I love her, ‘hello baby…hello baby girl…’ And then we made first proper eye contact, and she stopped squawking, just nestled against me, one hand tucked under her chin, the other gripping my little finger like her tiny life depended on it (tragically, probably did, not that I could do anything) and we stared at each other, her red face and sticky hair, her beautiful eyes, her tiny perfect features…her making newborn mewing sounds, me mewing back at her whilst the wave of the most overwhelming love and emotion kept crashing over me, the pain forgotten, and I’m not sure if I could ever feel so happy. Meanwhile my body carries on doing its wonderful job, my heart rate and lungs already steadying back to calm, my body already equipped to feed her, my body already healing and recovering.
And then feeding her, providing for her, with her content suckling noises. The most precious memory, and I wept gently onto her hair as she fed, completely oblivious of what her short life would entail.
If I knew then what I knew now, if I had been older, maybe she’d still be here…
The weight of your baby, your toddler, in your arms…I want that weight back. I want the newborn milky smell back when I hold her head to my face and inhale slowly. I want to be watching her sleeping, her arms either side of her face, her legs in frog position. I want to be stroking her forehead gently, calming her as I sing her to sleep. I want to be winding her, bracing myself for the baby sick. I want the dirty nappies that nobody taught me how to do (and God I learned the hard way). I want to stare into her eyes again and wonder at how beautiful and intricate eyes are, how perfect our bodies are.
Motherhood is terrifyingly beautiful. It is as painful as it is a wonder. It kept me fighting, kept me alive, gave me a purpose. I never felt more whole than when my baby was in my arms, or kicking me from inside.
Motherhood is worth celebrating; the cleverness and strength of the woman’s body still astounds me, the rush of unconditional love, the bond, the baby…
It’s all beautiful and should be celebrated, not just today on Mother’s Day but every day.
For all mothers with children in the sky, do not undermine your role and right as a mother. You are still a mother. I still am a mother. I never stop thinking about them, worrying about them as I would have done if they were still here. Sometimes I wake with a jolt, convinced I just heard my baby cry. Reality hurts but reality also contains my most precious memories. I count myself lucky to have experienced such wonderful and treasured things, however much each ended in the most excruciating and crushing grief and guilt.
If you are lucky enough to have a loving mother, never take her for granted, please. Never underestimate how much it will mean for her to hear you voice. I will never hear my babies again, except in dreams and memories.
And if you are a mother, I wish you all the love and wonder in this journey, and hope each moment is as precious as the last.