When Other Grieving Mothers Made Me Feel Like a Mama Again
When my son, Mario Maurice Dennison, died at 5 days old, it felt like my claim to motherhood vanished into thin air.
Unlike most new moms, I didn’t have the chance to boast about my birthing experience. Most people, afraid of hurting my feelings, didn’t ask, and I felt weird bringing it up. I would have loved to talk about how my two epidurals didn’t work, how the doctors and nurses had to put on jackets for my delivery because I needed the room to be uber-cold to be (relatively) comfortable. I would have loved to talk about how I’ve never felt prouder of doing anything in my entire life.
Sometimes it felt like maybe it was all a dream because I wasn’t and didn’t look pregnant anymore, but I also didn’t bring a baby home from the hospital. Many people, some of whom I love dearly, didn’t know what to say, so they didn’t say anything. Here I was, wanting to shout with a giant megaphone, “I had a beautiful baby boy! He was perfect! He had my eyes and long legs, and his face was a teeny-tiny version of his dad’s! He had a full head of hair even though he was born at 32 weeks! Here, let me show you his pictures and videos…” And here were people, not even acknowledging that his entire life had already come and gone, despite the fact that I’d grown him, birthed him and watched him die. It was both sad and infuriating.
Unless you’ve experienced it, it’s impossible to know how it feels to possess enough love to last your child’s entire life but only have a pregnancy — or hours/days after your baby’s birth — to shower your child with that love. Without a baby in my arms, that love started to feel heavy and stagnant. It resembled a burden rather than a blessing, and it gave me a perspective I wish I never knew about the words “dead weight.” My experience being a mother was so far from typical that I totally felt like a pariah.
But then, something so amazing happened. A woman who had also lost her baby invited me to a “secret” Facebook group for women trying to conceive (TTC) after the loss of a baby/babies. While being eligible for membership in this group is absolutely brutal, I’m beyond thankful to have found these new mama friends. Recently, several new faces joined our group. With the addition of every member, my heart literally aches as I envision each one of them doing what I did: kissing their newborn baby for the last time, walking into a funeral home with aching, empty arms and wondering how in the world it’s possible to still be alive when all that’s left in your chest is the gaping hole where your heart used to reside. The fact that more people continue to suffer this plight is sometimes an unbearable thought. That some kind of natural law doesn’t exist to make it impossible to outlive your children is the worst injustice ever. There’s no greater sense of powerlessness than wanting, so very desperately, to sacrifice your own life to save your baby and knowing you can’t. Having all survived this horror, there’s not much, if anything, we hold back in the group.
On the pages of this Facebook group, I finally feel like part of a real moms’ club. I share Mario not just without hesitation but while beaming with pride. I’ve talked about how comforting it was to hold him after he died because I wasn’t allowed to hold him when he was alive. I’ve written about how he was still so warm, how it was the first time I saw his face without a tube taped to it and how he was even more beautiful than I’d imagined. I’ve talked about how excited I was when I finally saw the full set of hair on the back of his head and how I felt an enormous and indescribable sense of peace holding him, despite the circumstances. I’ve noted how I still have no idea how I handed him over to the nurse and kissed his face one final time, and I’ve written about how the only way I walked out of the hospital without him was because I knew if I gave into my wobbly knees and crumpled to the ground, I would never, ever get back up. Knowing I could share these details without feeling like an outcast was is so freeing.
All that love I have for Mario — a love that had felt trapped and sometimes like it was suffocating me — now has a cozy home. The mothers and babies in this group, they receive it. Each time I comment on a post or like a picture of someone’s son or daughter, that love travels from me to them and settles into new hearts. With every “I can relate/I know what you mean/I’ve been there,” the love we all have for our babies remains alive. Moms in this group parent their dead children by bravely and lovingly sharing stories and pictures, speaking their babies’ names and supporting one another unconditionally. Bearing witness to these acts of motherhood is the most incredible honor. It’s been the only thing since losing Mario that’s made me feel like there’s anything normal about my own experience as a mama.
Thanks to all these amazing women and their children, on Mother’s Day I will feel like a legitimate mama, and my love for my son will have a place to delicately land. So thank you to all the incredible women in my Facebook group, as well as all the other baby loss moms who so bravely share your stories. Because of you, I can proudly and confidently say I am a mother.
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