There is a movement in pregnancy loss community about “redefining motherhood” and challenging the standard ideas about when someone becomes a mother.
Does motherhood start at birth? What if your child is stillborn or passes shortly after birth? Are those women still mothers? Is motherhood defined by the act of raising your child, or birthing them, or conceiving them? If it’s the later, how long does someone need to be pregnant before they are considered a mother? Is it a kick? A heartbeat? Does an early miscarriage count?
I won’t pretend to know the answers to these questions. I don’t believe one answer exists.
Many women who have experienced pregnancy loss feel they are already mothers. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of social media accounts recognizing “loss moms” and “angel babies.” Commemorative boxes and plaques can be purchased for named or unnamed and unborn babies.
I am incredibly supportive of this movement to redefine motherhood. I want to acknowledge the pain and grief of pregnancy loss at any stage and honor each person’s self-expression and self-identification. But I do not feel like a mother; that’s not how I see myself.
I recently participated in a vlog (video blog) conversation with Michelle Valiukenas, Co-Founder of the Colette Louise Tishdal Foundation, a nonprofit that provides financial assistance to families dealing with the impact of pregnancy loss. The plan was to discuss the various ways to commemorate pregnancy losses. In her introduction, Michelle said she is the mother of three: one living child and two in heaven. In my introduction I said I’d had six pregnancies… because I simply don’t feel like I have six children.
Similarly, several years ago, after sharing that I’d lost multiple pregnancies, a colleague of mine assured me that I was “still a mother.” I smiled politely but inside my head I was screaming, “NO, I’M NOT!” I’m an awesome aunt, a supportive friend, a loving wife, a sister, a daughter, and a dedicated professional. But I’m not a mother. Not by my definition. Not yet. So, I’d prefer the movement to redefine motherhood instead focus on broadening the definition, because I don’t feel like the new definition applies to me. If fact, I find it pretty uncomfortable.
I am sharing my feelings on this topic, because there is so much guilt and shame associated with pregnancy loss, the last thing I want anyone to feel is more guilt thinking they haven’t conceptualized their child correctly.
I was very invested in each of my pregnancies. My losses were devastating. But I don’t feel like I lost children. And while I have tried to find ways to honor my journey, I didn’t feel the need memorialize my specific losses.
And that’s OK.
It’s OK if you didn’t commemorate your loss. It’s OK if you didn’t name your baby. It’s OK if you can’t remember your intended due dates. It’s OK if you didn’t save ultrasound pictures. It’s OK if you don’t feel like you have angel babies in heaven. It’s OK if you don’t yet feel like a mother. Whatever you felt and whatever you did was OK.
We get to define ourselves in this life. We get to choose our thoughts. We grieve and process in our own imperfect ways. So rather than trying to agree about when motherhood begins, rather than focusing on redefining the word, let’s work on broadening our definition. Let’s simply “undefine” the word motherhood (thanks Katy Harrison).