I have a good friend who survived three miscarriages in two years. One evening, after a day spent hanging out with a handful of our mutual mama friends and handfuls of all our own children, she called with a confession.
“You know when you refer to all of us as ‘the mamas’?”
I have a habit of using the term to direct my children when we’re in the group. You’re sippy cup is over there—no, near The Mamas. Don’t go near that wasp nest, stay close to The Mamas!
“I wanted to tell you that it’s triggering, and it hurts, when you use that language around me. Because I don’t have my babies, and I’m not a mama.” Her voice softened and shook. The most recent miscarriage Love-sledgehammered every last piece of her heart.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t ever mean it like that, it’s just, to me you are a mama. You help me, and all of us moms, mother and love our own children.”
“I know,” she replied. “Which is why I also want to thank you. You’re the only one who’s ever referred to me as a mom.” The softness in her voice and heart melted and dripped down her cheeks in the form of salty, silvery prayers. “I know I haven’t held them,” referring to the three, “but they’re still mine. And even though it’s hard to hear, I love being a part of the community of mamas we have.”
“Hug.” I said over the tear-soaked phone.
Something I joke about to those close to me is that, while I LOVE being a mama, I’m not a fan of parenting. Parenting involves the training-up of a child who probably shares your DNA. And when something shares your DNA, it means they also stir up all the shames and self-hatreds inside you, the parent. At least that how it works for me and every human I’ve spoken to.
Growing up, I had four women who served as my stand-in Mamas, and without them I would not be standing here today. God gave me a woman on each side to help protect the pieces of me that my own parents could not.
Parenting is different than mothering. Mothering implies the more tender mercies of the job, not that it’s easier—my four mamas held heavy things. But they didn’t snuggle into bed at the end of the day dripping with shame & regret over the numerous behavioral and emotional ailments they passed down to me. They weren’t tempted with thinking, if I had just done this or that differently.
You are a Mama if you hold a piece of a child that a parent can’t protect.
You are a Mama when you whisper (or scream) prayers for a baby, regardless of what the birth certificate says. If there even is a birth certificate.
You are a Mama when a kid gets more excited to see you than her own mother. (Yes, it’s happened to me. At first, it stung. Ooooh, I must be doing something wrong. Lucy loves Nana more than she loves me. Then it hit me, No, I am doing something right. I’m letting other Mamas help protect the parts of her that I cannot.)
That same friend met her first-born son a few months ago. All the pieces that God Love-sleghammered began to mend when she breathed in his sweet-smelling breath. The ooze will stop, and scars will remind her of the years she joyfully spent as a Mama, begging Jesus for the gift parenthood, too.
I give you permission to claim the title of Mama, even if you’re not a parent—if you want it.
Lord, thank You for all the Mamas out there. Thank you for providing surrogates to help bolster up all of my broken bits, and the brokenness of us all.
Thank you from the absolute bottom of my heart. Oddly enough, I saw your mom, Fi and Frederick for the first time in 10 years last night. I love you Clairey.
I wrote Fred, not Frederick. ?!?