This question echoed in my mind. In the days after my daughter’s premature birth, I often wondered if I could call myself a mother. It sounds a little silly now, but back then it was a very real question. I was unable to do motherly things like breast feed and snuggle my newborn or even change a diaper. Who was I and where did I belong? My emotions were raw and unpredictable as I tried to navigate my new world. Stumbling through the hospital corridors with physical and emotional pain that was suffocating, I felt broken and I was sure that everyone saw me as the failure I was. I was so angry and incredibly scared which prevented me from seeing things clearly. Nothing made sense to me anymore.
Mother’s Day in 2010 fell exactly one week after my daughter was born. While her frail and tiny body was struggling to survive, moms everywhere were enjoying this special day. I wasn’t sure whether I fit in this category and I certainly did not feel like I had anything to celebrate. Despite the “happy mother’s day” cheers I got from well-meaning family and friends, I just wanted everyone to stop talking about the day. Didn’t they realize that I didn’t qualify to celebrate? I wasn’t able to do the most important job a mother does – gestate a baby long enough for them to be ready for this world. And worse, now that she was here, there was even less I could do to comfort her. Every dream I held of being a mother had been stripped away from me and I was reluctant to celebrate what I feared would never be.
Fortunately, our NICU hosted a Mother’s Day brunch. I walked into the room with my head hanging low. I was more interested in getting food from some place other than the hospital cafeteria. Looking up, I was surprised to see other moms chatting, some even laughing, sharing their stories of how they ended up here. I was impressed by these women and their ability to find happiness despite the circumstances of being in the NICU. I connected with these moms and saw in them what I had thus far been unable to see in myself. They were wonderful mothers who had accepted their reality, and even better, they were embracing this special day. I walked out of that room with a new attitude and a changed perspective.
What I have learned through my journey is that a mother is not defined by tangible experiences like cuddling, breast-feeding, rocking and snuggling. It is defined by love. A love that is so fierce and runs so deep it is unlike anything I have ever known. Only another mother can understand this love. This love was planted when I first saw two pink lines on a pregnancy test and it hasn’t stopped growing. It was a mother’s love that triumphed over fear and pushed me to participate in my daughter’s care. It was love that prodded me to pump breast milk around the clock until more blood than milk was produced. It was love that brought me through the doors of the NICU day after day, learning to cheer for every small step forward. Love helped me find a voice when I needed to advocate for my daughter. And I have grown to understand that this love will never go away and can never be diminished. It is forever and always and that is what makes me a mother.