#40 Not good with Mother’s Day
A letter about grief
I'm not good with Mother's Day. I don't think anyone else who has lost a child can ever be a hundred per cent happy with celebrating motherhood when they will always be missing their child. It's an ache that never really leaves you sometimes, it's a dull throbbing you can almost put up with, and you seem to get on with life for a while.
On other days the grief is so powerful that it squeezes your inner organs and makes the tears well up whether you want to or not, and you have to stop, acknowledge it, and let it all flow out. I thought I could open and close the tap, but your pipes will burst if the water pressure builds up. Who knew grief could be described so aptly with a plumbing metaphor? Life is surprising.
Emotions tend to sneak up on me in a pretty unique way. It will be 16 years since I lost my firstborn little girl, Estella Carmela Desiree. She was stillborn.
Estella got all tangled up with her umbilical cord. The doctor who performed my cesarean and untangled her said her long cord was wrapped three times around her neck, and as she turned around into the birthing position, her foot pulled at it, and she suffocated. It was a freak accident, like a child playing, hitting its head, and suddenly dying. I still can't believe such a thing can happen in the womb.
You'd think the womb is the safest place to be. I didn't feel anything, which would have been impossible to know. Even the doctor said to save a child, you'd have to be lucky enough to be monitoring him at the precise moment he is in distress, and even then, there would be no guarantee that you'd be able to save them in time. Having a child isn’t easy, so many things can go wrong, carrying a child to full term is a miracle.
I lost Estella at thirty-eight weeks, towards the end of my pregnancy, when everyone knew and preparing for her arrival. I was expecting to hold her in my arms.
Instead, I woke up with a terrible sense of emptiness and longing that had never left me. I remember the pain of the operation, the nurse who made me stand up, the blood that ran down my leg, staining my slippers, and the sense that the whole pregnancy and suffering had been for nothing.
The ripple effect of Estella's loss was felt collectively by my friends and family. They were all as heartbroken as I was. But you try to be brave. You wake up in the morning and try to function despite missing a part of yourself. I felt like I'd lost my faith, hope, a piece of my identity or soul. I felt so lost for the longest time. Even today, nothing is worse for your self-worth than losing a child.
If grief has ever taught me anything, it comes from love. The more deeply you love the thing or person you grieve, the more heartfelt your sorrow will be. Even though losing Estella felt like dying, I am comforted that my grief comes from a love I'd never experienced.
I have this theory about love; it's something you cannot control; you must let it out of you, or else you'll burst a blood vessel. Love cannot be contained; it's bigger than we are. That's why people are said to be glowing when they fall in love. People do stupid things when in love because they don't know how to express their feelings; it's often overwhelming.
My love for Estella never leaves me, whether you believe the soul stays near. I prefer to say she's still in my mind, in my thoughts, and she manifests herself somehow. Her birth/death date is coming up on the fourteenth of May, so I know I'll be emotional this week. I try to pray, light a candle, or visit her grave at the cemetery to commemorate her.
The fact that the year my daughter was born (2007), the date of her birth coincided with Mother's Day day etched itself into my subconscious.
One year for Mother’s Day, I woke up at five am after the strangest dream. I dreamt that my house had been robbed.
Then the realization hit me. During the week, I'd been following the story of Denise Pipitone, who had disappeared at Mazara del Vallo in the province of Trapani nearly 20 years ago. Sympathizing with her mother, Piera Maggio, who still believes her daughter is alive. The press revisited the case after a Russian girl with an uncanny resemblance to Denise was found. However, a DNA test confirmed she wasn't Denise.
I remember thinking that's how I felt as if my daughter had been stolen. An irrational part of me is still waiting, longing for her presence in my life. So the dream wasn't about my house being robbed but about those emotions, the sensation that I'd been robbed of my daughter.
Then the tears came welling up. I hadn't cried for Estella for a while, so I must have needed to express my love for her once again. So I let them flow. It is so unfair to be denied your child, but there is nothing much you can do when something like this happens.
The best thing is always to remember them, say their name, include them in conversations, in everyday family life, and talk about them with your friends. If you have pictures, keep them close; visit them if you have a gravesite.
I have a little shrine with photos of my grandparents and Dad. A small glass vase of crystal flowers represents Estella. I always speak with Estella; everything I write expresses my love for her. The grief therapist I saw after her loss said that I'd be okay because my writing would help me, and it does.
Mother's Day is difficult because I lost Estella, but it is also tricky because of her little brother Matthias, born two years after her. Because now I have to be a mother to him. I must be brave for him; he cannot see me crying. I need to be present for him. We do speak of Estella, and he loves her very much. But he, too, is very much aware of her absence in our lives, and it is a void to fill.
This past week, while watching the new Ed Sheeran documentary The sum of it all, I saw how Sheeran took his personal experiences with grief and tragedy and turned them into songs.
The documentary charts his career and ends with the last couple of years which saw the death of one of Sheeran's best friends and collaborators and his wife's diagnosis with cancer while pregnant with his second daughter.
It was fascinating to see his creative progress as he used his songwriting as his own personal therapy. While performing his new album to a live audience for the first time, Ed Sheeran expresses his concerns about sharing many personal emotions and whether the audience will enjoy them. I don't think he needs to worry, as great artists have told their personal stories ever since art existed.
Part of an artist's work is to express the human condition, to make something out of life's difficulties. An artist makes something beautiful from the negativity to remind us how we are built to survive despite the obstacles life throws us. Ed Sheeran's new album is his best yet, as it will help people through many difficulties and losses.
Sometimes I feel as if my loss is tattooed on my face; sometimes, I forget not everyone knows, despite it being constantly on my mind. I might mention my loss if I feel it is information that is open to be received. Other times when someone asks how many kids I have, I say one because it is easier.
Dropping the subject of a deceased baby is a heavy one to bring up in any conversation, and most people will not know how to react. Many of you may not know, so I'm telling you now and letting you know that it's okay to mention the loss to mothers who miss their children.
Seeing so many expecting mothers on social media show off their pregnant bellies is difficult for me. Don't get me wrong, I love babies, and I'm always happy for other women having babies. But sharing intimate photos brings back so many memories of my trauma.
I wish people would be more sensitive to others' losses. One in four people has lost a child through miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth, SIDS, illness, or other terrible incidents that steal children from their mothers, fathers, and family.
When my son was born, I kept him to myself. I shared his photos only with friends and family because I didn't want to trigger other people's grief. I've rarely shared anything personal about Matthias; even now that he is 13, I still don't put him on public display.
I'd say to anyone on social media that your child is beautiful, unique, and loved, but this public forum is not the place to share. You can share little proud moments and snippets, but this isn't what social media is about. It's more about advertising, selling products and networking, not sharing personal things. I'd also debate if social media is nowhere to share opinions, but that's another topic.
There's no harm in wishing everyone a happy Mother's Day, celebrating your mother, or sharing a newborn photo. It's just about being aware of other people's struggles. Those that feel sadness in their hearts when they remember their pregnancies. And those who are still struggling in their motherhood journeys.
Celebrities will always push their brand or sell their photos for more followers or influence. Honestly, there is no need to publish your entire maternity photoshoot; you aren't famous.
So please be gentle to suffering mothers, those crying into their pillows in the early morning of Mother's Day or their angel child's Birthday.
Please, be kind and sensitive to others.
I hate to be long-winded, so I will stop here now.
I'll keep trying to write something worthwhile, well thought out and new here every week, perhaps more often if I get in the zone.
Thanks for subscribing, and be sure to send this to a friend or someone you think might enjoy it.
This week's excerpt from my travel memoir, Sicilian Descent, is exclusively for paid subscribers. Be sure to subscribe if you haven't already.
Every week I publish a free newsletter with a letter and postcard from Sicily.
While on the weekend, a paid version goes out with a serialised version of my memoir: Sicilian Descent.
I usually try to share a list of things I think are worth sharing with you including random reading, viewing, listening and other randomness I've stumbled upon.
So please do keep in touch.
Cheers to you
with love from Sicily
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to A load off my mind to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.