As a kid on Mother’s Day, my dad would take my brother, my sister and I to the local nursery where we would pick out plants for my mom. I remember choosing hanging plants with bright pink flowers that looked like little bleeding hearts. If the weather was nice, we would BBQ and eat outside on the deck underneath the hanging flower pots we’d just given my mom. My early Mother’s Day memories are pleasant, like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
After my husband and I lost our baby girl, Alexandra, Mother’s Day became a painful holiday for me. I’d carried a life inside of me for seven months. I’d given birth…but I had no baby to nurture. I was a mom without a child.
My first Mother’s Day after losing Alexandra, we went out to my parent’s house in Long Island. We gave my mom plants. We BBQ-ed. I tried to tell myself that Mother’s Day was just a silly, Hallmark holiday, but I felt so desperate. All day long, my throat was constricted like someone was choking me, and I had a gnawing, restless feeling at the base of my ribs. As my husband and I were leaving to go back to the city, my mother pulled me aside in the hallway, squeezed me and whispered, “Happy Mother’s Day.”
I felt something break inside of me – my own bleeding heart – and I started crying. She was crying too. She honored me as a mother even though I didn’t have a baby to care for, and it meant so much to me. I was a mother. I would never be the same me I was before Alexandra, and I didn’t want to be. I could feel my baby’s absence in every cell of my body, and it was excruciating. I thought I might die from the pain. My own mom saw my suffering, felt it with me, and celebrated me as a mother.
Three years later, I have a healthy, squishy, happy, 9-month-old baby boy named John Michael who just started crawling and pulling himself up to stand and trying to take his first steps. Being the mom of a newly mobile, teething, nursing baby is a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week job, but it’s a job I’ve wanted – even needed – for a long time. Losing Alexandra has taught me many things, paramount of which is the fact that having a healthy, living, breathing child to care for is a privilege and an honor.
Now, whether I’m buying organic baby food at Whole Foods, or pushing John in a swing at the park, the outside world sees me as a mother. There’s something reassuring about the world seeing you in the same way you see yourself. But I was a mother before I even got pregnant with John. I was a mother before I had a baby boy napping on my chest in the baby carrier or nursing at my breast in our rocking chair.
I met a woman recently who opened up to me about her fertility issues, which culminated in a recent miscarriage. She told me she couldn’t even handle the thought of facing Mother’s Day. I shared with her the way I felt on my first Mother’s Day after our loss, and offered that maybe she could try to celebrate the mother inside of her even though she’s no longer pregnant.
In yoga class, we sometimes chant to invoke the goddesses. Joseph Campbell says, “All the deities are projections of psychological powers and they are within you, not outside of you.”
What are the characteristics of a mother? Nurturing, protective, fierce, gentle, soothing, loyal, nourishing, devoted, capable of astounding love without conditions. We can all tap into these qualities whether or not we have diapers to change, or sweet potatoes to puree.
There are too few opportunities to celebrate the Sacred Feminine, the Goddess, the Mother. So this Mother’s Day, absolutely celebrate the mothers in your life. And also celebrate the Divine Mother Goddess inside of yourself and those around you- those aspects that are fiercely loyal and protective, that want to care for and nourish others, that are capable of boundless love. The kind of love that leaves you vulnerable to the most crushing of losses, because if anything happens to the object of your care, you will be irrevocably wounded.
But in that vulnerability lies immeasurable strength.
Jai Ma! May the Divine Mother (and mothers everywhere!) be victorious and honored and celebrated! Happy Mother’s Day!