Motherhood and Loss

*Trigger warning – loss of baby

‘Can you be a mother if you don’t have a child?‘

This question plagued me for a long time. Our son Timothy was born prematurely. I gave birth to him, he lived for thirty minutes and he died in our arms.

Is there a word for a mother without a baby to hold?  

Is there a word for a mother who never sees her baby learn to smile, to sit, to walk?

Children without parents are orphans.

What’s the word for mothers without children?

I had always hoped to be a Mum and after a year of marriage my husband Brian and I felt ready to welcome children into our family. We were excited as we imagined our lives with a baby and we began to pray and hope and wait for God to bless us with a child.  

This took a lot longer than we had expected (that’s a story for another time). But eventually I fell pregnant through IVF. We were overjoyed, so thankful and relieved that God had finally answered our prayers. We were sure that our painful season of waiting and longing had finally come to an end. It was such a delight to share our news with friends and family who had been waiting and praying with us I will never forget their tears, screams of delight and enthusiastic hugs.

I loved being pregnant. We had a blissful few months looking forward to and anticipating the birth of our precious and much loved baby. We spoke to him, wrote to him, and prayed for him every night.  We couldn’t wait to meet him and hold him in our arms.

But at 22 weeks, two days after Christmas, on Brian’s 30th birthday, things went horribly wrong. Our obstetrician found that that our baby had no amniotic fluid around him. We were told that he had very little chance of survival – unless he could ‘stay put’ until 25 weeks, then maybe….

The next few days became an emotional rollercoaster oscillating between hope he would make it, and fear that he wouldn’t. Three days later, contractions started, I laboured, and on Wednesday 30th December 2015 at 8:05am, our perfectly formed and tiny son was born alive.

We had the great joy of spending around half an hour with him before he died. We could feel his heart beating, he moved his arms and legs and face and he responded to our touch and voices. We marvelled at this little person that God had fearfully and wonderfully made. We could see the resemblances to us –  he looked just like Brian and had a crooked pinky finger, just like me.

Timmy holding his Mum’s thumb.

We sang to him, prayed over him and read to him from John 14 and Revelation 21. We wanted him to know where he was going and not be afraid. His short life, and his death in our arms were extremely peaceful and serene. 

We baptised him Timothy. Timothy means ‘honours God’, and we are confident that he has gone on ahead of us to honour God in His presence for all eternity.

After several hours together it was time to say goodbye. 

I handed him to a midwife and I left him behind.  

Leaving the hospital without my baby, my little boy, my Timmy, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Instead of planning a baptism I planned a funeral.

Instead of deciding which pram to buy I decided what to do with my son’s ashes. 

Instead of maternity leave filled with newborn cuddles I had to figure out what to do with my life without Timothy. Instead of days filled with caring for a new born baby, my days felt empty and meaningless and I desperately grasped for ways to fill them. I had loved my work as a high school chaplain but returning to such public role felt impossible. I lost the hope of motherhood and I lost the work I had found such joy in as well.

The pain I felt after Timmy’s death was almost unbearable. I would wake up to find I’d been crying in my sleep. Losing him ripped me apart and laid me bare. The grief I felt was raw and ugly.  I felt physical pain and an exhaustion that went deep into my bones. My body expected to nurse. I envied other women and their babies and avoided being around them. I had so much longing to hold a living baby and was sadder than I had imagined possible. I felt I had lost a part of myself.

But in the midst of all this agony, Brian and I never doubted that God was with us. He met us and he carried us. Our Father sustained us with his loving kindness, he wrapped us in his grace, his compassions were new every morning.

I had been well taught on suffering and I am so grateful for this. As I wrestled with what had happened, I came to understand and take hold of the truths I knew in a new and deeper way that sustained and upheld me. And these are the truths that Brian and I have turned to again and again and found comfort and consolation.

We know that our God is good and sovereign and wise. We know that losing Timmy was somehow for our good and God’s glory. We tasted His kindness and faithfulness.  We knew He understood first hand the pain of losing a son. But his son Jesus didn’t die safely in his Father’s arms –  he died a painful, humiliating death on a cross. And because He did, we have hope.

We have a sure and certain hope that we will see our little boy again, one day. We know, without a doubt, that our goodbye is temporary.

Even though Timmy couldn’t come home with us, he has a better home than any we could give him. He is home with his Father. He sits around the throne where there is no death or mourning or crying. He is free from pain and suffering. Instead he knows peace and joy, delight and comfort, safety and beauty.   

And I know that I will meet him there one day.  What a sweet day that will be. I will take him in my arms and I will tell him how much I love him and missed him. And we will spend eternity together, with all the saints, honouring our great and faithful God. 

It’s been several years since Timothy died. The grief remains but it’s not as raw as it was. Sometimes it catches me off guard but I’ve learnt to carry it. We remember our son on his birthday every year. We tell our daughters about their big brother. His photo hangs alongside theirs. I think of him often. I miss him. God continues to keep us.

Eventually, I found the answer to the question I had wrestled over.

There is no word for a mother without a child. Perhaps because even if you don’t get to raise that child, you are still, by definition, a mother. A mother loves her child. A mother nurtures her child. A mother makes sacrifices for her child. I did those things. Throughout Timmy’s short life, in utero and in this world, I loved him, I nurtured him and I sacrificed for him.

Mother’s Day is a day when I remember a truth. I am Timmy’s mother. I always will be. Even if we’re apart for a time. And I count that as one of the greatest blessings of my life. 

Kate Snell serves as Dean of Students at Mary Andrews College. She is married to Brian whom she met while studying at Moore College. They have two daughters at home with them and a son at home with the Lord. They are members at St Philip’s South Turramurra where Brian is the Associate Minister. Next semester, Kate will be teaching Christian Ethics at Mary Andrews College

If you have found reading this article distressing and you need help or support, please reach out to someone or call Lifeline 13 11 14

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