If you’re still reeling from this weekend – it was Mothering Sunday here in the UK – please know you’re not alone. In the past I’ve under-estimated not only how hard days like this can hit you, but how long it can take to recover your equilibrium afterwards. You’re not being ‘weak’ or ‘pathetic’ (or any of those other, lovely words we like to castigate ourselves with). The Monday after Mother’s Day a couple of years ago, I couldn’t get out of bed, I was laid so low by everything I was feeling. I phoned in sick and stayed home, hiding under the duvet. So if you’re feeling lower than usual this week, please know that you’re far from alone. (And especially in these strange and difficult times, when we’re cut off from many of the people and activities that help us feel normal again). The following post is something I wrote for the baby loss charity Tommy’s this Mother’s Day, in case it is any help at all…
This was my fourth Mother’s Day since I first found out I was pregnant, back in 2016. The logical assumption from this is that I now have four special Sundays marked by cards and flowers under my belt.
By rights, that’s what it should mean. The reality, as you may know by now if you’re a regular reader, is rather different. I have never yet received a Mother’s Day card or a mug emblazoned with ‘MUM’ or ‘MAMA’. There are no hand-drawn toddler scribbles pinned up above my desk. This year, like the three before it, there were no hugs from my very own small person.
Because I miscarried that first pregnancy, a few days before what would have been our 12-week scan. I went on to lose our next three pregnancies too, all in the first trimester.
That first Mother’s Day, a few months after our first miscarriage, arrived like a punch in the ovaries. There were certain dates I had anticipated being hard – the due date, for example – but the onslaught of adverts for bouquets and prosecco, followed by glowing social media posts blindsided me. Everywhere I looked, I was reminded about how hard-brilliant-magical- important motherhood was. And that I wasn’t there yet; that I couldn’t possibly understand what it’s really like. I felt like I’d been bounced from the club early and sent home in disgrace.
A year and two more losses later, Mother’s Day found me sobbing into my husband’s shoulder on a wet platform at Watford Junction station, after a difficult weekend that had also included a Christening for a friend’s baby. I’ve since learnt to protect myself a little more around Mothering Sunday. I don’t make plans, I stay off social media. Last year, some very kind family members sent me flowers, which also made me cry, but in a better way.
And this year? For the first time, I was pregnant on Mothering Sunday, 25 weeks and one day pregnant, to be precise, and holding on to a hope as fragile as eggshells. I’ve been pregnant five times in four years now. That’s more than almost anyone I know, including women who have three children. I have spent more than a year of my life pregnant. Yet I still feel in limbo-land when it comes to that label: ‘mother’. Even now, well into the second trimester, I haven’t always felt like a ‘proper’ pregnant person, let alone a mum.
Then something happened last week to change my mind, just a little. I was driving to a family dinner when a van drove into the back of our car. It was a very minor accident. No one was hurt. Even the car didn’t fare too badly. Yet in that instant, that jolt of metal-on-metal, my mind burned white-hot and blank. All sense, thoughts, or words were erased, apart from: Was the baby OK?
Dan, my husband, kept asking if I was all right; was I in pain? Had I hit my head?
I didn’t know and I didn’t much care, either. Worse, I didn’t even think to ask if he was OK – or my Dad, who’d been in the back of the car at the time. We were miles down the road, before it even occurred to me. There was simply no space. For a few blinding minutes, there was only the baby.
This, then, was motherhood. Mother love distilled to its most fundamental; its most primal. It had been ravenous, terrifying – undeniable. And I don’t doubt it would have surfaced in the same way had I been 39 weeks pregnant or five. Or if I’d just had an embryo transfer following IVF.
Since writing about our experiences of recurrent miscarriage, many kind people have said to me ‘you are still a mum’, or some variation of those words. But this was the first time that I had truly felt it for myself.
There is no sell-by-date on mother love and no invisible, gestational boundary you have to pass before it kicks in; before you are handed your passport. It cannot be measured by the number of baby-grows you bought or the hours you spent in labour. Whether you did NCT classes or got to stick a scan photo to your fridge. There is no proof of this love and no way of documenting it. You do not have to pass the equivalent of a citizenship test before you get to call yourself a mother; before you are one.
So, for anyone else who needs to hear it today – or any day: You are a mother, even if you don’t always feel as though you are, even if you still yearn for another, easier version of motherhood. Your loss counts. But most importantly, so does your love.