I wrestled with this question a lot after August was born and died: Am I a real mother? Do I count in the “mommy club”?
I tried to reason through it logically: I had had a child. Physically, by definition, that made me a mother. But I didn’t have that child anymore. I never got to raise him. In my mind, a mother was someone who had a child in her care, someone in charge of a little person’s life and wellbeing. That wasn’t me. So I wasn’t a mother.
The phrase “childless mother” ran through my mind a lot. Often in the cold months after August’s death, I would go running, and as I ran, alone, the chill air rushing in, out, in, out of my lungs, my arms pumping, my feet rhythmically hitting the sidewalk, I would think about those words. Childless mother. I would turn them over and over in my mind and frown to hold back tears as the air chilled my eyes, making them water anyway.
When other women, friends and coworkers, talked about their pregnancies, I would weigh in, adding my own experiences and memories — but I would cringe inwardly as I spoke. I felt as if I was faking something, being too desperate — “Me too, I was pregnant too…!” It was such a profoundly uncomfortable space to occupy: having experienced and enjoyed a whole, entire pregnancy, but having no baby to show for it. Did I get to take part in the conversation? Was I in the club? Did I count as a mom?
Another question I wrestled with: Was August really born? I remember saying something to my sister about that once, and she looked at me as if I were nuts. But I couldn’t figure it out. Obviously, August had come out of me, into the world; but he wasn’t alive. I associated being born with starting life. To me, his life never started. Had it? After all, he hadn’t qualified for a birth certificate (something that bothered me deeply for a long, long time).
But he had qualified for a death certificate. Sometime later, a friend pointed out, “If something can die, then it was alive.” That comforted me, and I added it to my logical arsenal — my case for August having been alive, having been here, having mattered.
And by that definition, hadn’t his life, in fact, begun? It started inside me, and ended inside me, just before I pushed him out.