Three little kittens
They’ve lost their mittens
and they began to cry.
“Oh, mother dear, see here, see here
Our mittens we have lost …”
“What!? Lost your mittens, you naughty kittens.
Now you shall have no pie”
—— Miriam has been calling me “mother dear” for this past week. And I’ve been calling her “my little kitten.” She’s been wearing two mismatched mittens (that’s all I can find from last winter) and performing Three Little Kittens with such passion. When I mess up my line in the responsive reading, reminiscent of a High Holiday service, she simply stares at me and waits until I get it right. “And they began to sigh” gets confused with “and they began to cry” then gets confused with the darkly rewarding “I smell a rat close by.”
I called my mother ‘Ma.’ Not like Little House on the Prairie ‘Ma,’ but more like that guttural New Jersey accent ‘Ma.’ If my brothers and I were talking about her, we called her ‘Mommy.’ We’re all adults now and she’s been gone for six years; we still refer to her as ‘Mommy.’
When Miriam calls me “Mother dear,” it cuts through my chest into my heart and spreads like a warm fire complete with s’mores. To be called mommy, mom, mama, or anything maternal is still a shock to me. It stops me in my tracks every single time. And it happens one hundred times a day. I respond to it every single time with a smiling ‘yes?’
A big part of the pain was not being called mommy anymore. And the fear of possibly never being called it again. I remember after Noah was born, Hal 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 it. I hated that Erica had disappeared and I was now just mommy. That’s how it felt in my post-partum 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. Hal became “daddy” as an endearment.
When Noah died, mommy disappeared. Poof. And the original Erica was impossible to find. I now entered identity purgatory. Unsure of if I’d stay broken Erica forever or become mommy again.
Much has been written on the identity crisis women experience after having their first child. But my crisis was a little different. And I found myself pretty alone.
In the fertility world, there were many women in the emotional agony of failed cycles. For me, I knew what it was like to have that perfect baby all of us were praying for at 6am blood tests and during nightly injections.
In the child loss world, I didn’t find as many women who had lost their only child. Some days I wished I had another child to give me a reason to go on. Other days, I couldn’t imagine having to care for other children while I could barely breathe. Maybe the ones like me weren’t even able to show themselves in that damn happy sunlight that attacked me every day in those summer months. It said, “Ha ha, the world is going on and your son is gone. Too f’ing bad. You are now nothing.”
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 façade may make it look like nothing ever happened to some people. Or now that Miriam is here, we can just concentrate on her and that will be our medicine. While that is definitely true, the original mommy I ///used to be/// is never far from my mind. The awe is bigger, the smiles are bigger, the tears are bigger, the fears are bigger.
Miriam’s middle name is Phoenix. We gave her that name to symbolize the rebirth of our family. I reclaimed the name “mommy” and it feels different this time. If I could spell it differently, I would. Maybe add a snazzy prefix like über or hyper.