My Mother’s Day Epiphany

Forbear the depressing parts of this post and ultimately (hopefully) be encouraged. (For mothering hearts everywhere!)

Mother’s Day has long been one of my most dreaded holidays. As a child, all I ever wanted was to get married young and have lots of children (and write.) Beyond my control, was that my Prince Charming took his time building his own life, preparing to meet his damsel in distress. 

I sat through through countless Mother/Daughter banquets at our church with a lump in my throat and an ache in my heart. Would my time ever come? People casually reassured me that it would, patting my arm sympathetically and reminding me to pray. “It would happen in God’s timing,” they said. 

In truth, they were right. I met my future husband at 27, and married at 29. Married more than ten years and I still thank God every day I waited for the right one. 

Most of you know the story from here. Our first-born baby died before living a full day outside of my womb. In fact, it was Mother’s Day week 2007 we found out something was wrong, and although we did not know at the time that our baby’s diagnosis was fatal, that Mother/Daughter banquet overwhelmed me. 

By Mother’s Day 2008 I was pregnant with our son. People said, “Well now you’ll finally get to be a mother,” not understanding how that felt to the already mother of a dead baby. All I could think about that Mother/Daughter banquet was how I wanted to take my plate to the cemetery just outside the church basement walls and eat with my daughter on her grave. Instead, I sat quietly, pushing the tasteless food around on my plate, pretending to be interested in the laughter and conversation, silently willing the whole event to be over. 

Our son and two more daughters have filled my soul with copious amounts of joy and happiness, but I still find the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend to be one of my most difficult days. There have been times I’ve woken up on this Mother’s Day Saturday crying, unable to get out of bed. This morning I woke in a mood so foul our 5-year-old daughter told our son, “Don’t worry, mommy must be under a lot of stress.” 

I never expect it, I don’t plan for it. Most of the time it takes me a while to even figure out why I’m feeling this way.

It is the hardest thing in the world to explain how a bereaved person can be grateful AND grieving. “It’s been ten years,” some say, and I want to scream, “And I’ve missed her every ______ day!” “You have other children,” some say. And I want to ask, “Which of your children would you want to give up?” 

Even my husband said this morning, “I thought this would be a good Mother’s Day. The adoption is finalized,” referring to the eighteen-month adoption process of our youngest daughter. It IS good, it really is, but my heart still aches and our family still feels incomplete without Sadie here. Many people fill our lives in multiple ways, but no one person replaces the other. 

My husband ended up taking the two older children to work with him. I felt guilty because I was so out of sorts, guilty because I was missing time with them, guilty because this is not their fault! I was, however, relieved for time alone (with the baby) to process my thoughts and emotions. 

I decided to mindlessly sort through a box of random pictures I’d found. Staring back at me were children with smiling faces. Children from Zimbabwe, one without legs being pushed in a rusty wheelbarrow to receive rice and beans and prayers. Children from mountain villages in Mexico. Children and orphans in El Salvador, one where I’m holding a set on newborn twins we found contented in a hammock in the yard outside their family’s mountain hut. I recalled, but don’t have pictures of, the baby that had been born eleven days before my second trip to El Salvador and the mother waiting until I arrived so she could name her baby after me. There were smiling children and “earthquake orphans” in Haiti, clamoring for time in my lap. I thought of other women on these trips, some of whom I know still long for children of their own, and marveled at how well they love these children too. 

There were many pictures of children from my years of teaching preschool and working in a special education classroom. Children with wheelchairs and walkers, children laughing with elderly adults when I’d taken them on field trips to the nursing homes. There were Kids Clubs in inner cities, Sunday school children, nieces and nephews hiking, riding horses, enjoying campfires and sleepovers. 

I smiled through tears as the epiphany came. I’ve been a mother all along. 

All these years I’ve loved on children, taught them ABC’s and 123’s, have nurtured my mothering instincts. I still have stuffed bears, hand-drawn pictures, and Christmas tree ornaments from children who came through preschool. I stay in touch with many of their parents and watch with pride as they perform in musicals, play sports, and graduate high school. All these trips loving orphans and children in second and third world countries, all the time invested in nieces and nephews, all little ones of no relation who have called me “Mama Nina or Aunt Nina” throughout the years, have played a role in fulfilling my mothering destiny. 

I have a mothering heart. I was a mother long before I ever had children of my own. Mothering is coded into my DNA. At the very core of my identity, I am and always have been, a mother. Tonight at our annual Mother/Daughter banquet I will celebrate my life of mothering in a new and fresh way. 

If you are the mother whose dreams of having your own children have yet to be realized, I encourage and celebrate you. If your only children are those you hold in your heart instead of your arms, I ache for you and I celebrate you. If you are the Mothering Sunday school or secular school teacher and you return home to a child-less house, I’m amazed by you and I celebrate you. If you have children in heaven and here, I embrace and celebrate you. If you are mothering your own brood, and loving them well, I applaud and celebrate you. If you are the widowed mother or the single mother, I have no words for my admiration of you and I celebrate you. If you are the mother whose given your child up for adoption because you loved them that much, I admire and celebrate you. To those who work on behalf of children everywhere, in the medical field, school systems, volunteer programs, social services, adoptions agencies, orphanages, for all the mothering hearts out there loving children in any capacity, I celebrate YOU this Mother’s Day! 

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