On Being A Mother

“A sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” – Luke 2:35

I never met my child. I didn’t get to hold her in my arms. I didn’t feel her kick inside me, listen to her heartbeat, or see her picture on 12- and 20-week scans. The only memories I have of her are signs and symptoms: nausea; tender breasts; bursting for a wee during Eucharist; a faint pink line on a stick; and a series of numbers from the lab. Nonetheless, I am a mother.

I don’t mean that in some sort of abstract way: that I conceived and therefore technically count as a mother. I mean that when a baby cries, rather than thinking, “Help! Someone else deal with it!” a new-found instinct kicks in and it’s as natural as breathing. I mean that my father-in-law has commented on how maternal I’ve become with my niece and nephew. I mean that when I watch the Harry Potter films, I don’t cry when Sirius dies or Dumbledore dies, I cry when Cedric’s father finds his body, because I know that heart-rending pain of losing a child you were unable to protect. I mean that I have caught myself trying to soothe the cat by gently rocking him.

I don’t know whether it’s hormonal or purely psychological, but something about having been pregnant has changed me. Some people may have that maternal instinct from the start; I never did. I was a career women who didn’t quite understand her desire to have a child, and who felt awkward around other people’s babies. Now I am a mother.

When I was pregnant, I would have done anything to protect my dying embryo. There was no real point in abstaining from alcohol, but I did so anyway. I took her to some wonderful places: the Chapelle du Rosaire (although at that point I thought I had already lost her) and Alnwick Garden. And with my negative pregnancy test coming on the Feast of All Souls, she had the most stupendous funeral music in Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices, Tavener’s Funeral Ikos and the Contakion for the Departed. Without knowing, our choir director chose well.

There are people who think this is all my imagination, that I can choose to ‘reframe’ my pregnancy as too short to count, and my son or daughter as just a few cells. That is not the way it works. My loss is just as real as, though very different from, the Mother of God’s. Once you become a parent, there is no turning back. A sword has pierced my soul also.

Cherry trees in the Alnwick Garden

The cherry orchard, Alnwick Garden. Photo credit: Alnwick Garden.