Have you got that one defining experience under your belt that changes who you are? Has your role as mother ever veered off course, only to drop you upon land you don’t recognize? Maybe you look in the mirror and hardly recognize the person you once were…
It took my husband and me 14 months to conceive our daughter. As the conception process goes, it started off exciting. We were exhilarated at the thought of bringing a baby into our lives. Time slowed, though. The more periods that showed up on my doorstep each month, the more deflated I became. But it happened at last! There came one day I peed on that blessed test, and I reveled in the mystery that is creation.
In early 2013, after a textbook pregnancy, I landed softly into new motherhood. As it goes, in the months that followed my daughter’s birth, my heart, my body and my mind rocketed through wild emotions and experiences. I felt elation, tumbled into postpartum depression, and squirmed my way through sleepless nights, unintelligible cries and a premature return to the workforce. I conquered it all, though. Being a mother suited me, it seemed. Having a child fit me well.
As time passed, my husband and I hemmed and hawed about how seriously we should take our efforts at controlling conception. I wasn’t sure we should ever waste another dime on birth control. And sure enough, as soon as we were ready to try for a second, we conceived! I was pregnant with my daughter’s sibling as if by miracle. I was elated, I was nervous, and I was exhausted. I was a mother to a preexisting 18-month-old. I was over the moon to someday meet this beautiful new being, but monitoring my pregnancy week-by-week was a thing of the past. I was already up to my eyeballs in spoon-feeding, breastfeeding, diaper changing, and tiny-toddler-wrangling.
When that growing baby of mine reached nine weeks gestation and then let go inside my body, my world crumbled. My baby’s heart had stopped beating, and mine shattered into pieces.
And to the floor I fell and stayed. Our fruitless efforts at conceiving a third time became so arduous that I found myself in my doctor’s office. I was told that I would never fall pregnant again. Secondary infertility clambered up my back and settled as a weight upon my shoulders. So through and beyond the floor I continued, downward and into the earth, deeper and deeper, until I landed in darkness.
In a succession that spanned two years, I gave birth, lost a life, and was robbed of a future I thought I had laid out in front of me. Instead of looking toward the future with hope, I mourned the passage of time with a longing for what would never be, and a bittersweet gratitude for what I have. I have one daughter, a miracle in her own right, but she is the only little person to whom I devote my love, and the only one I will raise and watch grow. So instead of wild chaos, sibling rivalry, and hand-me-downs, I will watch with equal parts joy and heartache as my only child ages far faster than I want her to.
Never again will I get my yesterday with her back, or the day before. Our days of breastfeeding and spoon-feeding mushy peas are behind us. I've already seen her first tooth break the surface of her gums and I've watched her take her first step. My husband and I have been through potty training, we've taught her how to dress herself, and now we're watching her learn to ride a bike. Each of these milestones are ones to celebrate—and celebrate we do indeed—but I grieve over the passage of time all the same, and I do so in a way that I can only surmise is unique to those of us who never wanted to raise a child with no siblings.
On most days since that loss, I sit down in quiet stillness with myself. Are my struggles visible? Surely they’re etched deeply in the lines on my face. Do I make room for all with which I wrestle? Do I house my pain? Do I hold it, nurture it, or give it space? Well, surely I must, for all of it has its place.
My life, as I watch it unfold, is both infinitely rich and deeply lacking. My present looks nothing like I wanted it to. I am broken, and I am beloved. I am a stronger, more resilient woman than I used to be. My heart has been crushed and broken, and my mind is a great ship enduring rough seas.
And so, I am exactly the mother that I am because of what I have weathered. I pour myself into my daughter, and I drink her in with fervent love. I live with a white-knuckled and ardent desire to take everything I can from my time with her, and in return, give her all that I have. The loss of her sibling and my ensuing infertility completely reformed the way in which I parent. It changed my trajectory, my speed, and my level of intensity and my dedication.
Yes, my hope is gone, and yes, a child of mine is lost. But what remains is a deep love for what I’ve been given – for my one living daughter – and a knowing that it's my very privilege to spend the rest of my life with her.
Every struggle, every hardship, every great feat we conquer – all of it envelops us, hardens and softens all the same, and lifts us up to heights we’d never before seen.
“Hallelujah,” sings Leonard Cohen.
We are mother.
JOURNALIST: Sandy Jorgenson