Mother's Day, On Loss and Joy

Carrie and Katie 2005

This morning while I was running, my thoughts drifted back to Mother’s Day 2003.  I rarely think about that time, and if I do, it is only on the periphery of my mind. 

I touch on it with words like grief and loss, but I dance cautiously around the concrete memories.  Tears soon mingled with the sweat on my face as I ran on a road only I could see.

  It should have been my first Mother’s Day, but life had been unkind, and instead I was clawing my way back from losing the baby. 

I had learned that good luck and bad luck are scattered without reason or discrimination, that you can watch your baby happily suck his thumb during an ultrasound and have no idea that his days are already numbered, that he will never know life beyond the womb.

Doubtless I could have survived that time without my dear friend Beth.  She was also deep in the grieving process for her first baby, a girl named Georgia who was stillborn at 38 weeks gestation.  Beth reached out to me and clasped my hand as we journeyed together through loss.

I clung to my broken friend who knew the utter agony of going to the hospital with a swollen belly and returning home empty-armed.  We wept over the memory of milk coming in but having no baby to nurse.  We remembered feeling the little kicks and planning for a future that would never arrive. 

We consoled each other when colleagues, family members and friends announced pregnancies, and we reminded each other how much worse it could be. 

At times, despair drove me to my knees, like the time I found a tiny outfit that Andrew must have missed when he packed up the baby items and pregnancy books.  It has been eight years, and I still have not opened that box.  I can’t bring myself to read the pregnancy journal, nor can I throw it away.  It just exists, carefully stored away in another lifetime.

Beth and I had an identity crisis that Mother’s Day.  For what are you, if you have lost your first baby?  Are you a grieving mother, or not a mother at all?  Nameless, hidden, it is a special pain reserved for those who have no other children at home, no one left to affirm that they are, indeed, still mothers.

When the sadness felt too much to contain, I used to chant to myself that my pain paled in comparison to that of mothers who have lost their older children.  Perspective, perspective, keep your perspective, I reminded myself.  I was grateful for what I had, for my husband, my family, health and hope.

Hope.  Yes, there was also hope in May of 2003, hope as tender and new as the pale green shoots peeking through the barren gardens.  I was thick in the grieving process, but I was also thick in the adoption process.  I cultivated that bit of hope and pruned the weeds of bitterness that threatened to smother it.

On that long-ago Mother’s Day, I walked outside and offered myself up to the universe.  I put everything out there, my exhaustion and grief and pain, my fragile hope and dreams and plans.  I had traveled to my own personal hell, but it was lesser than the hell of others, and I was still breathing.  I would survive this.

I tilted my face up to the grand Chicago skyline and cried.  I sobbed and sobbed because my baby was gone, really and truly gone.  It was Mother’s Day, and I was not a mother.  I wanted my baby back, and he would never be back.

I let the warmth of the rising sun dry my tears.  I resolved to become a mother.  Maybe not that year, but it would happen.  I would never give up, never stop searching for the child who would make me a mother.  I let this determination float from my heart into the world around me, and I felt comforted.

Little did I know that my baby was already growing in another woman’s womb, the baby that would make me a mother.  We had not found each other yet, and it would be many months before she would be mine.  I would be a mother, as certainly as the sun would rise.

I felt a shift in my step, a lightness of being as I continued my morning run. 

My thoughts jumped forward a year, to Mother’s Day of 2004.  It felt as if all my life I had waited for that celebration.  Our adoption of Katie would be completed the following week.
I looked at my new little daughter on that brilliant spring morning.  She was wearing a yellow cotton dress, and Andrew snapped photos during brunch.  The waiter had brought a highchair for Katie, but I pulled her back out of it within minutes, eager to hold my baby. 

She was the light in the room.  We all gravitated toward her, feeling the pull of her life and love.  Could it have been only a year?  Or a whole lifetime?  I kissed Katie’s soft plump cheek.  “I am your mommy, forever and ever,” I chanted to her.  “You are my daughter.  Thank you for making me a mother.  I will love you for all of your life.”

After brunch, I had a phone call to make.  I wanted to wish Beth a Happy Mother’s Day, her first with baby Jackson. 

We made it.  We were mothers.  A boy and a girl lost, a girl and a boy born.

As I completed my run today, fresh tears coursed down my cheeks, now tears of joy.  The sad memories do not grow sadder with time, but the sweet memories most assuredly do grow sweeter. 

Happy Mother’s Day, to all mothers, to those who have suffered loss and to those who have been blessed anew. 

Happy Mother’s Day to my own beautiful, wonderful mother and amazing mother-in-law, who traveled the path of grief with me as I searched for a child to love, and who have embraced the child we adopted with unconditional love.  When Katie made me a mother, she also made them grandmothers. 

Happy Mother’s Day to my grandmother, who recently turned 96 and is the matriarch of the family, healthy and involved in all of our lives. 

And, finally, thank you thank you thank you to the birthmothers who have made us mothers.  We are thinking of you today, knowing that your loss is our joy.  We are, as always, grateful for the gift of life.

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  • This post moved me to tears. I know exactly how you feel, and I am so sorry for your loss. I also fanatically avoid details that are in my memory of the two times I have experienced the loss of child: once when the little boy I was carrying inexplicably died at 5 months of pregnancy (June 27, 2002) and once when I had to drop our precious foster daughter, Nina, off at a county children's center so a social worker could return her to her birth mother (August 21, 2008 - a much worse memory, in many ways, because the social worker was so impersonal and devoid of emotion as this little girl was being wrenched from the only mother she had known up to that point). I am so delighted at how different things are for you and your close friend Beth now. Happy Mother's Day!

  • In reply to jiyer:

    Thank you so much for sharing, J. You have suffered more than a mother should, especially with losing Nina. I'm thinking of you on Mother's Day.

  • In reply to CarrieGoldman:

    Carrie, thanks for thinking of me. It was so wonderful to spend this Mother's Day on a plane to Switzerland with the child we have long hoped for - after taking my mother-in-law out to dinner at a very nice restaurant where 3 year old Lenny was so charming to grandma, and so well-behaved! Hope you had a great Mother's Day too. I have promised the "daughter of my heart" that I will call her during our travels.

  • Carrie, I both smiled and cried reading this. a) I smiled because you were running and b) the tears came as I was taken back in time. I posted at for all the moms-in-waiting who feel like the darkness will never clear. Beautiful. Happy Mother's Day!

  • In reply to elishel:

    Beth, how far we have come! Your friendship means the world. Happy Mother's Day! Xoxo

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    Carrie, last Mother's Day, my beautiful sister-in-law gave birth to her beautiful son who was still born. James wasn't mine, but he was close to fulfilling all of our hopes for a baby in the family since I cannot have kids in the traditional way. Our hearts are broken, yet there were so many wonderful things that James left us. This year I wrote about our decision to pursue adoption and wait no longer to find our child. I'm crying as I read your post - it is beautiful and wonderful and while very different than ours, very similar as well. Our post is here if you would like to see it -

    All the best to you.

  • In reply to MichelleM:

    Thank you, Michelle, for sharing your story. My heart is with you, and I want to hear about it when you adopt!

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