I was called a mom the other day.
When I read the words on my phone, I started to cry. No one had called me a mom before. People had told me “when you are a mom…” and “you’ll be a great mom.” They had spoken about it in the future, as a thing-that-will-someday-be. But no one had ever called me a mom in the present tense.
I have imagined it for myself. Imagined hearing the first time my baby calls me “Mama.” Imagined being called “Mommy” by a little child who runs to me with open arms. But I have not thought of myself as a mother.
When do you become a mom? Is it when the doctor hands you your baby, all perfect and wrapped up in a blanket, and congratulates you? Can you still be a mom if that doctor’s face is ashen and sad, if she has no words of congratulations for you? Do you become a mom when you feel your baby move for the first time? Is it when you see that tiny white dot in a small black sac at your first ultrasound? Is it when you get the courage to step into a baby store and buy that first onesie? If you never see your baby on the screen, if you never go to buy that onesie, are you still a mom?
Do you become a mom when you learn that an egg and a sperm have joined together, have implanted in your uterus? Can you still be a mom if you never find out, if the embryo leaves before it has a chance to grow, before you have the chance to learn that you are pregnant? Can you still be a mom if that embryo gets lost and implants in your fallopian tube instead?
What is a mom? She is protective, is caring, is full of love for her child. Are you a mom if you cannot protect your child, even when that child is inside you? Are you a mom if your baby never takes a breath? If you labor not in a hospital bed but on the toilet, if you give birth not to a screaming, squirming child, but a few clumps of tissue mixed in with blood, are you still a mom? Are you still a mom if all your protection, care, and love were not enough to keep that baby alive? If you loved that child, can you still be a mom?
You are still a mother if the child who claims you as “Mommy” came not from your womb, but from another’s. You are still a mom if your child dies at age 2, 20, or 60. But if there is no living child to ever call you Mommy, to hold you and whisper “I love you”, can you still be a mom?
I know that I am a mom.
I never saw my children. I never held them, never touched their faces. They never grew fingers and toes for me to kiss and tickle, never opened their beautiful eyes to stare into the world. But I held them in my body for a short time, caring for them and protecting them for as long as I could. I gave them what I had. I gave them my love.
I remember those children, but hope for the living child. Someday, there will be a baby I can hold in my arms. I will hold that baby and care for her. I will kiss her fingers and tickle her toes. I will look into her eyes and love her, just as I loved all the others before her.