At 5:45 this morning, my six-year-old, Jed, climbed into my bed, snaking his way in-between his daddy and me. He’s usually my child who will sleep in a bit. “You teenager, you,” we joke when he rolls out of bed at 8am on the weekend. He smiles, looking pleased with himself. But he’s also notorious for getting up early on special days.
Placing a small-but-growing hand on my head, Jed stroked my hair.
“Happy Mother’s Day, mama,” he whispered.
I kissed his forehead and took in a deep inhale of the crown of his head, which still smelled like sunscreen from yesterday’s beach excursion.
“You’re the one who made me a mama,” I said, pulling him closer.
“Well, I didn’t really…” he offered, looking up to face me.
“You’re right, buddy,” I nodded. “But you were the first one I got to hold in my arms.”
I began my journey to motherhood just shy of ten years ago. It was a jolting start—the joys of finding out I was pregnant, a few weeks of mounting excitement and buying clothes fit for a doll, and then the horrible lows of midnight cramping and bleeding that refused to be tamed by desperate laments and Heavenward pleas.
I haven’t described the details of miscarriage to my kids. Some of it would be too disturbing and isn’t necessary at their small ages. But I have shared parts of the stories of those who came and went before them. Partly, I want them to know that pain and loss are very real components of life, even in a family that loves big and prays hard. And partly, I want to honor the memory of the little ones I so desperately wanted to know and hold, but never had the chance to.
It’s ironic that Jed brought this up today. I’ve been thinking about my first pregnancy a lot the past several weeks, too. But less because of the loss, and more because of my own mom. As I’ve Googled “gifts for her” in search of Mother’s Day presents for some of the important mamas in my life, I’ve reflected on moments, lessons, and memoires that have impacted me. The one I keep coming back to is the night I miscarried my first baby.
I was visiting my parents in Spokane, Washington, traveling for work and attending my best friend’s wedding. Peter had stayed back in our home in the West Bank, prepping for a big development project launching the following month. And during all this busy, happy time, my body handed me the biggest personal loss I’d known up until that point.
There, in my childhood bathroom, my mom joined me, standing over the porcelain bowl and gazing down at the small, bean-shaped mass that had come and gone all too soon.
“Oh honey.” Mom put her arm around my shaking shoulders and pulled me close. After a minute of the familiar, strong embrace I’ve known my entire life, she pulled away.
Mom quickly exited the bathroom, only to return a minute later with an undiscernible object concealed inside her fist. She reached for a Dixie cup from the small dispenser on the wall and placed it on the edge of the counter. Then she opened her left hand, revealing a single latex glove. Stretching it over her right hand, she bent over the toilet and scooped out my first baby—or “the tissue,” as medical journals call it—letting it slide gently into the ready cup.
“In case the doctor needs to see it…” she said. “…and because it just doesn’t seem right to flush it.”
Ten years later, I can’t help but laugh at the fact that my mom, who has no medical background, had latex gloves stashed in her house, just waiting to be used for some worthy cause. Now, thanks to COVID-19, gloves and masks are standard household items. But this was pre-pandemic. This was the preparedness and ingenuity of motherhood on full display, even long after children had grown up and left home.
In the days to come, my mom and dad stood by me as I buried a little cardboard box, a handful of wildflowers, and notes from Peter and me deep into the earth surrounding a crab apple tree on their property.
There is a lot I could say about loss. This was the first of five babies who would blossom in my womb, only to complete their lifespan before I had a chance to hold them in my arms.
But now that I’ve recovered from the pain and disappointment, one of the most gripping parts of this story is my mom’s reaction to plunge her arm into a toilet for the sake of her child. For the sake of her would-have-been first grandchild.
Her movements were intentional and calculated—a rubber glove, a prepped cup, thoughts of doctors and follow-up appointments. And also, there was an instinctual ease to her strategy—like she was performing from habit and memory.
To my knowledge, my mom has never pulled more than toys or toddler paper-packing-fun out of toilets. But at this point, she had over twenty-five years of motherhood under her belt. Decades of self-sacrifice, preparing for unseen events, and being handy at a moment’s notice had prepared her to be exactly who I needed her to be at my most unsure moment.
Sometimes I wonder: what will my children remember about me once they’re grown? Will it be the early morning snuggles or surrenders to “just one more kiss” (for the fifth time) before bed? The moments when I come undone and act and speak out of stress and fatigue? The twirls and giggles of sweaty, family dance parties in the dark? The moments of “I wish I could play right now, but I have a little bit more work to do…”?
Or maybe their memories of me will come flooding back—and almost redefine themselves—when triggered by current and relevant events in their adult lives. Maybe it’s my presence and friendship in the later years that ices the cake and gives the whole mothering ordeal of the early years its ultimate meaning.
It is yet to be decided, as my oldest is only six. However, today I find myself extremely grateful for and proud of all the mamas who spread themselves thin and give in ways they’d rather not and prep for unlikely situations and show up again and again and again. No matter how little sleep they had the night before. The habits we form and put into practice as mothers are more powerful that we are likely to realize; they are the daily, mundane actions performed on repeat out of necessity, but the foundation of our seeming-instinctual understanding of who and how to be in our children’s most felt moments of need.
So happy Mother’s Day, to all the mamas out there, powering through and reconstructing yourselves a thousand times over as you give and love your littles. And an especially happy Mother’s Day to my mama—you’ve been there for me in ways you’ll never realize, in times you were unaware of just how much I needed you. I love you.