What Makes a Mother?

My social media feeds have been full of photos of babies, tributes to moms, and beautiful words of thankfulness for the journey of motherhood over the past 24 hours. It has been both a gift to see, and a reminder of recent years where I had to stay off social media around Mothers Day day because the ache in my heart was too raw to take in post after post of mamas and babies when my body and heart felt so empty.

I remember one particular Mothers Day sitting against the wooden pew in our little church trying to keep the tears from falling down my cheeks. As the pastor celebrated the mothers from the front and a cute video was played of kids listing off their favourite things about their moms, I did my best to try to keep myself together. Why I kept coming to church on Mother’s day each year that my womb remained empty is still a mystery to me. Every year it was the same. A beautiful celebration of motherhood with roses, or chocolate, videos of children and meaningful sentiments that always left me with this feeling that I didn’t belong.

As tears slipped unbidden down my cheeks, I felt the strong and tender hand of a friend on my shoulder behind me (the one who once told me that she never used to like coming to church on Mother’s day either.) I turned to look at her and she glanced knowingly back into my eyes, offering a nod of understanding and a soft smile. Her womb had never been filled as she had once longed for, and yet the two children that made her mama sat beside her. Though they never filled her body, they had absolutely filled her heart.

I remembered the positive pregnancy test that I had taken a year before, and the joy that those two lines brought me. I had written down due dates and upcoming appointments and milestones in those early days and dreamed a lifetime of dreams for the little one that we had prayed earnestly for. And then within weeks of rejoicing over those two beautiful lines, that little life we had already fallen in love with was gone.

Doctors told us it was common.
That we did nothing wrong.
That we could try again.

For that short season I proudly wore the title of mother.
And then just as quickly it felt like it was stripped away from me.

As we exited the church service that day, children with big smiles handed out roses to all the mothers.

I left with empty hands.

Was I no longer considered a mother because I never held that babe in my arms?
Is the woman who has held and loved and lost too soon still a mother?
Is the woman who has taught and raised and loved but never borne a child from her body a mother?
Can the woman with a longing in her heart but a barren womb still be a mother?

This day after Mothers Day, the question burning on my heart is simply this:

What makes a Mother?

Until my journey through miscarriage and infertility, the answer to that question seemed incredibly simple. Motherhood came through pregnancy and birthing a child, or the alternative of adopting. Now I wonder if it is that cut and dry.

As I left church that day empty handed, a friend of mine who knew our story came out after me with a rose. She reminded me that though our little one wasn’t in arms, that I had conceived and worn that title of mother. She reminded me that I had loved and nurtured children in our congregation. She reminded me that I was seen and loved and that the way I mothered others through prayer, hugs, and a listening ear was valid and appreciated.

Through tears, I held the rose to my nose and breathed deep of its sweet scent.
For the first time in a long time, I felt like maybe there could be room for me on Mothers Day too.

This year, Mothers day was celebrated in the midst of potty training my toddler. It was a mix of snuggles, running a little naked bum to the toilet, and falling asleep at 7:30pm. I will ever be grateful for these crazy days I wasn’t sure would I would ever get to have.

In the years of our infertility and grieving the loss of our first babe, I always felt outside the “motherhood” club. The club of women who talked often about the awfulness of morning sickness, the lack of sleep, and reliance on caffeine. The moms who talked about long days and short years, and how each stage really does just keep getting better.

I now understand those things in a way that I couldn’t relate to before. Where I once felt angered at the complaints about nausea and lack of sleep because I would have gone through these things a million times over just to have the privilege of carrying a baby to term, I now understand that even though you wouldn’t trade your sweet babe for anything, being sleep deprived and sick is really hard to go through in the moment.
I understand that lattes feel like a lifeline some days.
I understand the blur of the days and weeks just melding all together and wondering how it is only lunch time, yet all the while looking back and wondering how your little baby is walking and talking and using the potty all by herself.

This day after Mothers day, I think of the whole of my motherhood journey.
The journey through infertility and loss, pregnancy, and living as a mama with a toddler under foot; through seasons of pain, longing, expectation, joy, and the wrestle with the day-to-day.

What makes a Mother?

Maybe it’s more than pregnancy announcements and baby showers.
More than labour pains and sleepless nights.
More than reading story books and wiping tears.

Maybe a Mother is made not necessarily by the growing of a babe in her womb, but by the growth that happens in her heart.
Maybe a Mother is formed in the longing and in the waiting, in the loving and in the losing, in the nurturing and loving and laying down your life for another.
Maybe a Mother is formed in letting her heart so expand in love that it feels like it will burst, knowing that she can get hurt, but choosing love anyways.
Maybe a Mother is made by seeing the one that others don’t see. Calling out the potential in the one that can’t find it in themselves, teaching another about living and loving, standing beside the one that desperately needs to know that someone is for them.

Maybe a Mother is made by loving with our whole hearts and being a safe place for another who needs it; whether that be for the children of our bodies, children who take on our name, or simply the children of our heart.

I know I have had many mamas in my life who have loved me, led me, and taught me the ways of life and of love. And for them I am incredibly grateful.

This day after Mothers day, I pray that wherever you are at in this Motherhood journey that you would feel my hand behind you on your shoulder. May you know the loving glance of someone who has walked just a little bit in your shoes enough to know that you do belong here.
There is room for your heart.
For the messy and undone, the aching and grieving, the bursting with joy, and the overflowing with gratefulness.
There is room here for all of it.
There is room here for you.

Happy (day after) Mothers Day.

All my love,

Jalene Elsa

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