I’m not the only invisible mother. Far from it, actually.
We work with you. Attend church with you. Chat at neighborhood parties with you. Vote for school budgets together. There’s little we don’t do with you.
Except schedule play dates. Carpool the kids’ sporting events. Attend parents’ night at school. Or wish each other a Happy Mother’s Day.
We don’t do any of those things together because we can’t. We don’t have children, you see. But it’s not because we don’t want children.
It’s because our children aren’t alive.
I can’t tell the story of all invisible mothers, because each of us came to this place in a different way — miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death.
But I can tell my story, and what being an invisible mother means to me.
I’ll start by saying it isn’t easy. For starters, we live in a time where social conversation is painfully lazy.
What do you do for a living? Are you married? Do you have children?
We define each other by our careers, or lack thereof. As if all there is to know about me or you or you or you can be summed up by our professions. When in truth, we are all so much more than that.
We then pigeonhole our new acquaintances into the “single” or “married” box — a question I so often dread. Not because I’m ashamed or embarrassed by my answer, but because people are often so obviously embarrassed when they learn that my spouse is a woman. Then I can’t help but become embarrassed for them when they start to stutter something about equality or their cousin’s gay neighbor or “Oh, good for you!”
But it’s always the question about kids that gets me the most.
I lost my twins when my water broke during my 2nd trimester at 17 weeks, during an otherwise totally healthy pregnancy. That’s the Cliffs Notes version of the most heartbreaking experience of my life.
I’m almost 37 years old, and even without the marriage question, people suspect I’m the age of a mother.
It’s the hardest question to answer after you’ve had a loss; especially when you’ve literally just met someone minutes before.
If I say no, I feel like I’m lying. And I would be lying. I carried my twins for 17 weeks, and not only will they always be in my heart, but they will also always be part of me. That’s not just something sweet to say that gives me comfort, though it does give me a great deal of comfort.
“The baby’s DNA [becomes] part of the mother’s body. These fetal cells persist in a woman’s body into her old age. This is true even if the baby she carried didn’t live to be born. The cells of that child stay with her, resonating in ways that mothers have known intuitively throughout time.”
So saying “no” when someone asks if I have children is disingenuous. It repulses my heart to deny my twins, and it repulses the part of my body that still carries them with me to say “no.”
But saying “yes” also isn’t easy.
If I admit I am a mother, the questions that always follow are even more difficult to answer.
If I say yes and explain what happened, I’m forced to discuss a painful situation with someone I’ve just met. And even if I am feeling “strong enough” to do so, I often find myself reassuring them that “it’s okay,” because without fail, they are now sympathetic and feel awkward for asking. (If you thought you felt uncomfortable when you found out I had a wife, now you’re wishing your seat was at a different table.)
The reality is, I handle the question in different ways. My answer is always made depending on how I’m feeling at the moment, but also after quickly gauging (and mostly guessing) how I think the other person might respond.
I’ve often denied my children so as to prevent someone else from feeling uncomfortable. And for that, I make myself — and my story — even more invisible.
But I carry this weight with the strength of my children inside of me. It’s ours to carry. It’s what all invisible mothers do.
Through Mother’s Day, when the only recognition we get is from our own pain.
Through family pregnancy announcements, when grandparents excitedly claim their fifth grandchild, and cousins add another — all without mention of the babies we carry within, if not without.
Through due dates that never came, and birthdays never celebrated. Important dates that no one else knows, because there isn’t a reason for them to remember.
Through the dates that memorialize loss, while we go on working, cleaning the house, doing chores, paying bills.
Through it all, we carry our pain.
The invisible mothers and me.More On