Dear Other Moms: This Is What It's Like to Mother After Losing a Child

mom holding child
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I know you have questions. I also know you're afraid to ask them. But it's okay. Really, it is! 

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Because when you ask me questions, that means I get to talk about my child who's not here anymore. I know you're afraid you'll upset me somehow. But trust me, you won't.

When you notice the necklace I wear with two initials, an "M" and an "N," and you ask my kids' names, please don't feel bad when I tell you that Miriam is 4 years old and Noah died in a swimming pool accident when he was 2. They are both my children.

Yes, I've done endless soul-searching. Yes, I live with feelings of guilt and crippling sadness. Yes, I've lost my appetite for weeks and then binge-eaten cookies and fast food. Yes, I've held my husband's hand in silence because there were no words for what we were feeling. And yes, we've struggled to stay strong together and separately.

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Noah died before Miriam was born. We were suddenly childless. A family of three on Saturday. Two lost people reluctantly waking up on Sunday. I know what it's like to lose everything in a matter of minutes. Noah was my everything. I was now a childless mother. No, I didn't see any purpose in going on without my child. But as hard as I wished him back, I knew it wasn't possible.

I want to tell you about how much I missed being called Mommy, and the fear of possibly never being called it again.

I remember after Noah was born, my husband started calling me "Mommy" as in "Have you seen the Costco flyer, Mommy?" or "Would you like coffee, Mommy?" I hated it. I never said anything then, but I hated that "Erica" had disappeared and I was now just Mommy. That's how it felt in my postpartum depression. It took a few weeks to work through the name change and then a few months to work through the identity change. And then I loved it. My husband became "Daddy" as an endearment.

When Noah died, Mommy disappeared. Poof. And the original Erica was impossible to find. I entered identity purgatory. Unsure of if I'd stay Broken Erica forever or become Mommy again.

Much has been written about the identity crisis women experience after having their first child. But my crisis was different. And I found myself pretty much alone.

Undergoing fertility treatments, I met many women dealing with the agony of failed cycles. For me, I knew what it was like to have that perfect baby all of us were praying for at 6 a.m. blood tests and during nightly injections.

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Let me tell you about my daughter, Miriam! She is pure sunshine! My heart skips a beat every time she calls me Mommy. The brutal years we spent in the world of fertility treatments were worth every tear we cried, every injection that stung, and every penny we didn't have.

Miriam twirls herself until she's dizzy, and I see flashes of Noah doing the same thing on our old red paisley rug. My mind is like a split screen. Yes, I search her face for traces of him sometimes.

How do you start over? How do you recapture what felt like the best dream you could ever have? The answer is ... you can't. A Facebook facade may make it look like nothing ever happened. Or now that Miriam is here, we can just concentrate on her and she will be our medicine. While that is definitely true, the innocent first-time Mommy I used to be is never far from my mind. After losing a child, everything is magnified. The awe is bigger, the smiles are bigger, the tears are bigger, the fears are bigger.

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Miriam's middle name is Phoenix. We gave her that name to symbolize the rebirth of our family. I reclaimed Mommy and it feels different this time. If I could spell it differently, I would.  

I've figured out how to mother while filled with fears. Some are rational and some are irrational. But after "that'll never happen to us" happened to us, fear is hard to shake. So please be understanding if I'm extra cautious with my child. I'm doing my best to give her the most normal life I can. And please understand if I'm on high alert for all children around me. My maternal instincts are stronger because I've lost Noah. When your children surround me at school pickup to see the Wonder Woman lanyard I wear my work ID on, I feel such an overwhelming joy.

The joy of a second chance lives side by side with the crushing sadness of losing it all. I've learned to mother in the moment. Because that moment is all we have for sure.   

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