Nowhere is the dividing line more sharply drawn between women than between mothers and non-mothers. It transcends almost everything. Class. Race. Sexuality. Wherever you’re coming from, so the conventional wisdom has it, there’s a unifier there. A shared conversation. You’re a mum, so you understand. Just wait until you have children, then you’ll get it.
It seems to me an artificial sort of way to identify your allies in life. There’s so much more to women than whether they’re mothers, after all. But I’m in no real position to argue. Maybe I really will understand when I have children.
Maybe. At this point, three miscarriages on, that word ‘maybe’ starts to feel like an awfully big one.
As I watched Mothers’ Day from the sidelines once again this year, one question has racketed round in my head: Am I mother?
Am I mother? Or not? If I had to pick a side, what camp do I fall in?
I understand why some women who lose babies – including early losses, like ours – choose the M-word for themselves. And if that’s how they feel, then that’s what they are.
But I don’t feel I can lay claim to it. It doesn’t belong to me. Not yet.
This said, I don’t feel entirely like a non-mother either.
A form of jealousy I didn’t expect to feel post-miscarriage (now a sad plural) was envy of my friends who had not yet tried to become parents. The single ones. Those who had just got engaged or were planning weddings. Those just starting to think about the possibility of a family. All that hope and anticipation… I wanted it back.
Nothing ever feels how it looks from the outside, and I know in my heart that the years and days before I got married – and before all of this – were far from blissful and uncomplicated. So much in my life has improved since then, and yet still I sometimes yearn for what I can only see now as a simpler time.
Starter jobs, grotty flats, the night bus, scrabbling for money for a train ticket to Manchester to see Dan, the school night refrain of ‘just one more drink’, 3am McDonald’s, taxis I couldn’t afford, house parties in Clapham, and aimless brunches in Soho. All set to a background hum of nervous excitement at how life might work out.
None of that belongs to me any more. Nor does the coy unfolding of a life that is just beginning to settle at last: a first home, the novelty of early nights and quiet mornings, of cooking for two people and planning for more. The spare room we’ll call a study, but that everyone knows is intended for a baby…..No, we’re not there anymore either.
Where we are is less clear.
There is a certain affinity between women who experience miscarriage, stillbirth and infertility (or some terrible combination of the three). I will always be grateful for the supportive overlap that exists both online and in real life, but where these experiences leave you in relation to motherhood is subtly different, I think.
One way of looking at it, is that miscarriage is the luckiest of the three. I have not experienced the over-whelming pain of losing a baby after a full-term pregnancy. But I do know what it feels like to be pregnant. I got to feel that tiny pull and enormous swell of emotion deep inside. That is a kind of lucky.
On the other hand it leaves you in a sort of no-man’s land. A demilitarised zone. A holding pen; across the border, but without any rights of citizenship.
A woman who laboured and held her baby in her arms is unquestionably a mother. Even if that baby is born sleeping. It is not a motherhood I envy, and not one that society always accommodates as it should. But it is motherhood.
I never held a baby in my arms; only in the palm of my hand. And If I’m honest, it didn’t look like a baby, only a small, sad thing from a biology textbook.
I loved it all the same. I knew I couldn’t keep it forever, but I also couldn’t bear to part with it straightaway. (Incidentally, no one tells you what to do with a miscarried pregnancy. What’s the etiquette? What’s normal? They don’t give you a leaflet for that. For a little while I kept ours in the upstairs bathroom, wrapped in tissue, in the box from a jar of night cream.)
We never gave our babies names, either. I know some people do with early losses, and I admire them for that. But for me (and, I stress, only for me) to do this would feel like pretending. I can imagine those children, how they would have been at six days, six months… returning to the family home at 21. And I feel their loss keenly. But it is make-believe. None of this has made me a parent, even in my own eyes. It is not motherhood – not for me.
So Mothers’ Day was a hard day. There was no card for me this year and, honestly, I wouldn’t want one for what I am. I cannot find a way to celebrate or ritualise where I find myself.
It is all very well saying things like ‘we are all mums’. I am grateful for the effort and sentiment, of course, and, yes, I want people to understand how raw and left-out I might feel on this particular day. Miscarriage is loss. It is grief. It is very real. But it has not made me a mum. And that is entirely the source of my sadness.
No card, spray of flowers or well-meaning Instagram quote could hope to change that.