I can't remember now, but I think at the time I had already had two miscarriages. Or maybe three.
My husband and I were taking a walk with our dog, who at the time we obsessed over because, besides ourselves, she was the only other creature we were taking care of. In fact, we were probably not showing ourselves a whole lot of love at the time, looking back. But that dog? She ate well, slept in the middle of our queen-size bed and claimed pretty much every other piece of furniture in the house as her own. (Dog PSA: Never get a puppy who will grow into a 90-110 pound dog without also upgrading to a king-size bed.)
So the three of us were walking in our neighborhood on Mother's Day.
I silently grieved.
I wanted nothing more than to be a mother, and yet my body was failing me. My babies were not making it beyond the first eight weeks of pregnancy. To top those feelings off, I was surrounded by women having babies in my life and my social media feeds, and at work, my patients were often newborns.
But I was not a mother.
We walked more.
One of my beautiful, sweet friends in our neighborhood drove by. She was a light in my life at the time. Sweetly supportive, unobtrusively empathetic, unassuming. She was the type of friend who was always willing to be what I needed at the time I needed it.
She slowed down as she approached us and rolled her window down. I wished her a happy Mother's Day with the searing chest pain of an infertile woman who wants nothing more than to experience pregnancy and motherhood herself.
Her response stole the breath from my body and in my memory it feels like we just stared at each other for minutes afterward, both silent and unsure. "Happy Mother's Day to you," she said. I saw her face shift, realized she was unsure of why she would say that and whether it was right or wrong.
This sweet friend of mine had recently experienced her own devastating loss. I had visited her second daughter in the NICU, been a witness to her fleeting but perfect and well-loved life, and held my friend's hand through a pain to which I could very nearly relate.
I say "very nearly" because my losses were earlier. I had never held a living, breathing, beautiful life in my arms while they took their last breath. I had never had to bury my baby after I had held them in my arms for only hours.
At that moment—when one mother in pain wished another mother in pain a Happy Mother's Day—neither of us knew how to act.
Neither of us fully understood what that moment meant at the time. We had been united in our loss experiences but were separated by our parenting status. We were united in our pain but were separated by what helped us heal.
She had her first baby living, breathing, running around her home. I had my dog. And although I loved my dog, a 90-lb fur-child could never have been an adequate substitute for the human children I had lost, and the babies I was sure I would never have.
Whether or not she even remembers it, I know that I have reflected on that day one million times. I have remembered the sharp sting of the words when I thought they weren't true. When I didn't feel I deserved to be wished a "Happy Mother's Day."
But then I remember the beauty of those words. When I had time to process them, I realized what a gift those words were that my friend gave me. And they were much deserved. Because I was a mother.
I was a mother who had lost her babies, yes, but I was a mother nonetheless.
I don't know whether my husband ever felt like a father before he held our rainbow baby in his arms. They say women become mothers the moment they find out they are pregnant, but men become fathers when they hold their children in their arms. Maybe he would not have ever wanted to be recognized on Father's Day before our daughter finally came into this world.
I, on the other hand, think back to that day when I was grieving on a Mother's Day walk all those years ago and feel grateful to my sweet friend who slipped before she realized what she was saying.
I miss my babies I never held. Two miracle children later, and I still bear the emotional scars and the heart holes left by the loss of three pregnancies and countless embryos.
I was their mother. I wanted them before they even existed and I mourned for them when they were gone.
I grieve still, on particularly hard days or in moments when my current Netflix binge show features a pregnancy loss storyline and sometimes even when a woman much younger than me announces a new, easily achieved pregnancy.
The moment I became pregnant, I was a mother. The losses I experienced did not change that.
The world does not always see us and recognize our motherhood. We don't always even recognize it ourselves. And so, this Mother's Day, remember us. Reach out to a friend who has lost a baby. Give your love to a woman who felt the fleeting joy of motherhood only to have it abruptly ripped away.
Remember that we loved and we lost, and we still grieve the babies who would have made us the kinds of mothers the world recognizes.
And to my friend, that light in my life during one of my darkest hours, thank you for your Mother's Day wish that day. Your words were therapeutic, despite any pain attached. They still are.