It’s Mother’s Day today in the UK, a tricky day for many: those of us with babies in heaven and those of us still waiting and hoping for earthside babies to arrive. And it’s complicated, too. How do you celebrate being a mum when there’s no handmade card, no little hands to help dad make breakfast? Granted, Dottie would only be 8 months old if she were here and fairly oblivious to the day itself, but still. Friends have commended me for the way I “parent” Dottie in heaven, how I talk about her, honour her, and try to keep her memory alive. But really, I’m just surviving, day to day, with nothing practical I can do to nurture my daughter or watch her grow up. But I carried her, and I birthed her. All I could do in her short lifetime.

I was her mother for those 9 months and I am still now.

Mother's Day cards and flowers - Issy's Bump Day Blog, Week 27: What Makes a Mother?

Author’s Personal Collection/Issy Jorden

And now there’s another baby that I nurture and grow with my body. He takes my energy, my nutrients, my sleep. I’m doing what I can for him for now, but I’m also hoping to bring this baby home, alive, and watch him grow up. We hope to nurture him with more than my body but also our love, our time, everything we have. Will I feel more like a mother then?

Dottie became Dottie at 16 weeks, after finding out she was a girl. We had long had the name Dorothy chosen for our first daughter, so it was an easy decision. If she had been a boy, she might have become an Isaac or Arthur. Yet I found it hard to bond with her, my first baby. In my mind, she was a stranger. Despite my growing tummy and increasing kicks and flutters, it was hard to believe there was an actual baby in there. I couldn’t picture what she might look like, what it would be like to meet a baby made from ourselves. I planned to bond with her when we met, when I could see her for myself. Then we lost the chance to meet her, except for her precious, quiet body. In some ways she is still a stranger to me, as much as I imagine who she might have been, and talk to her in my mind.

It’s been different the second time around. I can imagine this baby, he is real to me. I imagine he’ll look a little like Dottie.

I find it hard to think about different types of baby loss.

I have never had a miscarriage, never had to consider medical termination. In the most significant way, we are all in the same boat, and yet our experiences are all completely unique. In the early days of grief last summer, I tortured myself over what kind of loss would be better or worse: do I wish Dottie was born alive, then died at a few days old? Do I wish we’d lost her earlier in the pregnancy, to be less “attached”? Would I still consider myself a mother if we’d lost her at 6 weeks, or 12 or 20? Who decides these things? Recently, in the UK, it became possible to apply for a certificate to commemorate a pregnancy lost before 24 weeks (considered a miscarriage in the UK). Many have been grateful for the opportunity to see their baby’s name on a document, to have their losses recognised. It’s made me think about all the bureaucracy we faced just days after Dottie was stillborn: an awful appointment at the Registry Office in town, postmortem consent forms, decisions about cremation, and planning a funeral. Were we “lucky” to have our daughter recognised as a real person, made permanent by paperwork?

But it’s silly to compare. Why should I judge the mother who loses her baby at 12 weeks, just because she doesn’t have to go through the exact experience I did? Who am I to decide if she considers herself a mother or not?

Parenting a baby who has died and parenting a baby yet to be born are complicated things.

There is no right and wrong, no comparison to be made. If you consider yourself a mother, to babies on earth or babies gone ahead, then happy Mother’s Day. If you are still waiting for your chance to take on that role, then I wish you a gentle time. We do what we can for our babies, here or not, and only we get to decide what makes a mother.

Read Past Bump Day Blogs from Issy:

More on this topic:

Share this story!