This morning in the Sunday newspaper, in an article of essays about being a mother, I found a German term: Verwaiste Eltern.
It means “orphan parent,” and it means me.
During my first marriage, I became pregnant three times—and each time, I miscarried early, before we announced it to anyone, before I really showed. And it hurt, more than anything else has ever happened to me, more than other deaths, more than health problems, more than pain after car wrecks and other accidents.
It hurt so much I could not even talk about it with my own mother for three years—and when I did, she didn’t want to hear it, I discovered, because she had herself had three miscarriages between my older brother and me, and suffered terrible anger, guilt, shame, grief and depression afterwards. Her reaction to my stumbling words about her unborn grandchildren was, “It isn’t as if they were real, if they weren’t born. Don’t wallow!” and walked out of the room. I felt as if I’d been slapped. We never spoke of it again.
But her reaction was more defensive, I think, than anything else. Years later at a women’s conference, I met a professional grief counselor for the parents of miscarried,and stillborn children, and those infants who do not survive. She listened to my bewildered anecdote, because above all, my mother was NOT a cruel or cold woman, and then she said softly, “Oh, my heart goes out to her! That tells me that she's never really grieved, she’s never let go of all those heavy emotions! The only way she can endure them is to shut them away behind a wall of denial, and she’s been dragging them around ever since she lost those babies, all these years!”
But the hardest, besides all the times, particularly when I was in my childbearing years, were the nights I woke from dreams of searching for my lost three children.
My first husband and I were very active in a church that we attended during and after this period. Every November 1st, All Souls Day, there would be a special service. Its highlight was the reading aloud of the name of each person who had died during the year since the last such service, as family members were given carnations (red for a male, white for a female), to solemnly bring up to two huge vases on the altar, as everyone mourned and celebrated those lives.
There were no carnations for my sons and my daughter, nor for my unborn sisters and brother.
I’m a story lover who has always been immersed in tales. Like everyone else, I make sense of life events by making stories. This is one I have not told before. How long it took me before I began to not just mourn, but to celebrate them, I cannot tell you. They live in my heart. I know their names, the shape of their hands and feet, the sounds of their laughter and tears. I would know them immediately if I met them tomorrow, and I rest in the certainty that someday I will, that Mother has already been reunited with her lost babies, and at last has been relieved of her long burden.
I think today of all those my mother mothered: my brother, my sister, and me, and the many girls in her Brownie and Scout troops, and probably others during her long life whom I've never met. I hope that the tales, myths and legends I tell, and the songs I sing and play on my harp, are of use to those who hear them.
• Who takes the child by the hand takes the mother by the heart. – German and Danish
• God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers. - Jewish
• The greater love is a mother's; then come dog's; then a sweetheart's. - Polish
• An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy. - Spanish
• What the child says, he has heard at home. - African
• A rich child often sits in a poor mother's lap. - Danish
• In every woman there is a Queen. Speak to the Queen and the Queen will answer. - Norwegian
• A baby is an angel whose wings decrease as his legs increase. - French
- The mither’s breath is aye sweet. - Scots
• Friendship reminds us of fathers, love of mothers. - Malagasy
• The warmest bed is mother’s. - Yiddish
• A mother’s tears are the same in all languages. - Pacific Northwest
• Mothers hold their children's hands for just a little while... And their hearts forever. - Irish
• Is blàth anail na màthair. - Warm is the mother’s breath. - Scots Gaelic
I don’t know, and haven’t been able to find out about, the lady who said this, but I am delighted to quote her, and I hope it becomes a modern proverb:
My mother is a woman who speaks with her life as much as her tongue.-- Kesaya E. Noder
May that be true of all mothers, visible and invisible, today and every day….