Three Times a Mommy
Jennifer Harris Dault
I am currently in my final month of pregnancy, waiting for the birth of the little boy who will be the first child to call me “Mommy.” But despite the fact that he will be the first to voice the word, I have mothered two babies before him — each born way too soon. His older siblings, Avelyn and Benjamin, each made their way into the world before I had time to relax into the second trimester.
Many say a successful pregnancy heals the wounds of pregnancy loss. And while I cannot speak for others, that has not been my experience. This pregnancy has been a mixture of incredible joy and absolute terror from the beginning. I never expected to carry this baby to term. This was the third and final attempt — the last loss I could bear to put myself through. And to be honest, I became pregnant again before I was ready to be — while admitting to myself that I would never be ready. How could one ever be ready for what seemed a sure loss?
I have attempted not to hold onto unnecessary worry, but I have also tried to honor where I am and recognize my reactions are both normal and honest. Sometimes that requires acknowledging I am frightened, naming it out loud, and talking both to my child and to God. One of the most helpful things has been to connect with other women who have experienced what I have — whether talking with real people I know or reading their stories in books or blogs.
Mothers of loss know that we do not hold the power of life and death. This life inside feels far too fragile, and I know my body is not enough to keep the life signs going. My incredibly strong will cannot force this child — or any child — into being. More often it feels as if my body is doing everything it can to prevent life, so each week it manages to hold on feels miraculous and like the calm before the approaching storm.
I have found myself resonating with the biblical stories of exile, tales of a people who lost everything they thought they knew. As the exiled Israelites asked what it meant to be the people of God in a foreign land, I found myself wondering about my own identity. Who was I now that I was broken? What was my identity as “mother” now that my children were dead within my womb?
I still wonder that as I come to the end of my third pregnancy. I am routinely asked if this is my first child, and I cringe each time. I have three children etched in my heart and memory, not only one. But, to much of the world, we are becoming first-time parents. Even many who affirmed our parenthood with the deaths of our first two often reference our coming child as the firstborn and say they cannot wait for us to be parents. I understand and appreciate their remarks, but a part of me aches deeply every time I hear those words. It is like my children are being slowly erased.
I take comfort that God remembers my children. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15). Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, suggests that the triune God is like a miscarrying woman at the point of Jesus’ death. God takes that death into herself, bearing death in her own being. [Serene Jones, Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2009), 148–49.]
I love this image. Even in my darkest place God understands. God, the creator and giver of life, has felt death within God’s womb. Perhaps God, too, sang lullabies over her deceased son, hoping and knowing that a parent’s love extends beyond the grave.
Our newborn son’s name is Simeon. When the biblical Simeon met the infant Jesus, he blessed the baby. His words of blessing to Mary are both powerful and haunting: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34–35). I find it strange that such words are considered a blessing. But then, I recognize that all of my children have been blessings. I know I am better for having Avelyn and Benjamin in my life — as short a time as it was. I know Simeon will bring all manner of new challenges and heartbreaks. And I am thrilled that I get to be the momma of these three — pierced soul and all.
Jennifer Harris Dault is associate pastor at St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship in St. Louis, Missouri. She and her husband, Allyn, are the parents of three children, Avelyn, Benjamin, and Simeon. This article is excerpted and adapted from her chapter, “Three Times a Mommy” in Still a Mother: Journeys through Perinatal Bereavement, Joy Freeman and Tabatha Johnson, eds., (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2015), 48–66. Used by permission of the publisher. Order at judsonpress.com or by calling 800–4-JUDSON.
The views expressed are those of the author or authors alone, and not those of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies.