[Trigger warning: This essay describes one woman’s emotional journey with pregnancy loss.]
I am not sure if I became a mother as soon as I saw those magical pink lines appear on the home pregnancy test, or once we had established the viability of pregnancy at my eight-week ultrasound. What I am sure of is that a few fleeting months after our little boy was conceived, he was lost to us, at least on this earth and in this lifetime.
We got a few months of wonder. A few short months. And in that time, for a moment, I was a mother.
My husband and I wanted a baby very much. We had waited two years after marriage to start trying to conceive, as we felt it was important for us to establish a family as a couple, prior to adding to our duo. So, after our two-year anniversary, we found ourselves eagerly wondering if and when our “big fat positive” would arrive.
Conception came quickly, two months after we began the process. We were excited and grateful. We reveled in all the wondrous milestones of a first pregnancy: the first time we saw our little walnut via ultrasound, the first flash of his heartbeat, the first reveal to our parents (of their first grandchild, on both sides), the first time we spoke to him, sang to him (knowing he couldn’t hear yet).
We marveled at the process of creating a tiny human. With waning hesitancy, we checked off each of those initial breakthroughs with relief and reassurance of viability, and soon, began to allow ourselves to trust in the potential promise of a beloved baby.
The comfort and excitement we began to rely and build upon soon collapsed into devastation at our 12-week ultrasound appointment when we learned that our growing walnut had been unable to develop normally. In fact, growth and development were so severely affected that our prognosis that day was given sternly as “preparation for fetal demise.” We left an appointment for which we had been excited and eager to see Baby again with burning tears and numbing disbelief.
Over the next few days, shock gave way to anguish, to heartbreak, to sorrow, to somewhat of a painful acceptance. And a short time later, we said final goodbyes to the baby we had only just started getting to know.
I felt so empty without him. My body, which had begun changing and showing signs of new life just a few days prior, seemed to be suddenly drained of it. There were days after when it felt as if I couldn’t tell which was reality: that I had even been pregnant or that Baby was gone. Everything was a haze.
Part of the grieving, processing and confusion was a certain ambiguity in how I viewed myself. I had only just begun envisioning myself in, and defining myself by, the role of mother. And then, suddenly, I wasn’t.
I questioned how to remember our baby, how to know my relationship with him, my son. Early motherhood had always seemed like such a different world: strollers, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, and perhaps encompassing all of that, a mysterious state of being fully, intimately and sacrificially connected to a helpless human being.
When we had our boy, even in those first few months, I was giddy over the thrill of beginning to know that “thing,” that previously unknown experience of what makes a mother. It seemed, before being able to fully realize and settle into that knowledge, it dissipated, leaving lingering questions of “What if?” and grief behind.
One afternoon, as I continued to mourn Baby, I made my way up to our multimedia room where we had set up an arts and craft corner. I picked up a paintbrush, as I had done in past seasons of stress, and allowed thoughts to take a backseat to impulse. Yellows and whites seemed appropriate initially, as the brush made hopeful swaths across the canvas.
Soon, I found myself outlining a tiny human form in a corner and nestling it in swirls of blue and green. Then, somehow, black found its way onto the brighter colors, covering more and more of the light underneath.
With brush resting and lungs breathing deep, I paused to take in what was in front of me: Black covering light, loss enveloping life. That wasn’t how I wanted to remember him. After the initial paint dried, I returned to the easel and painted streaks of brightness back into the black, light accentuated by darkness.
I did not want my first endeavor into motherhood to be negated by its loss. I was gifted, at least and for now, the experiences of conception—of feeling the promise of life, the beginnings of drastic changes in mindset, perspective and plans. I used to think motherhood would be a role that would settle in, slowly and surely, over the course of pregnancy—I am now awakened to a more salient understanding of an identity that begins even before baby’s birth.
And so, perhaps each moment marked by motherhood should be taken instead for the moment it is worth; to know that hearing my baby’s heartbeat for the first time was not simply a preview of future joy but a moment that stands on its own for its impact on my being. Viewing a first sonogram was not simply a stepping-stone in the journey to motherhood but a lovely piece of motherhood, whole in its independent capture of a transformative experience.
For a moment I was a mother, gifted bright streaks of wonder and expectation. For now, I am a woman who lives with the glow of motherhood etched into sweet memory, nurturing the flickers of that experience against the darkness of loss.