There is a trending tag in social media right now, #thisismotherhood.

This tag is usually accompanied by photos of mothers with their children, and statuses describing one or many of the difficulties that comes with being a mother. While I think this is a great movement, I can’t help but notice that there is a certain kind of mother that is not represented in these hashtags.

It’s the sort of mother I am, a mother with no living children.

My only child, a son, was born still at 38 weeks 5days. My husband and I delivered our son in the hospital, we held him, we named him. We fell so deeply in love with him on the day he was born, like all parents do.


We experienced all the things that most parents do, the only difference is that we didn’t get to take our son home.

Instead, our journey of parenting began with searches for answers, with long talks with doctors. It began with calls and arrangements, with meetings at funeral homes. It involved picking out a cemetery plot, designing a headstone.

Parenthood began with grief, and it continues with grief.

Despite what many people seem to believe, when your child dies, you don’t stop being a parent. Just like my son doesn’t stop being my son. We are tied, we are family, forever. Motherhood for me involves caring for my son’s resting place, it involves talking about his life. It involves tending to and nursing his memory daily, rather than his physical body. My motherhood looks different from the average motherhood. Motherhood for me is having to defend my motherhood, when people try to strip it from me for having empty arms.

I am an invisible mother, and this is motherhood.

This is motherhood, too.

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When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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