Tuesday, March 1, 2016

To Be or Not To Be

Words are important. No one knows this more than a writer. The words you choose are the architecture of your story. They create sweeping entrances with pristine marble columns or humble stone doorsteps strewn with grass and dirt. They build palaces and cottages, soft, rounded arches and angled concrete corners. Language is the structure of thought. Language shapes and changes how people see an idea. Words influence images. It's why politicians have speech writers to craft the exact sentence structure needed to convey the point they want to make. It's why classic books are able to stand the test of time. It's why you get nervous before an important conversation - because you know that what you want to say is only slightly more important than how you say it. Or, maybe it's the other way around.

Language Matters. It's why we've stopped using certain words in our society to prevent the spread of hate, ignorance, and destructive ideas. Language can minimize the marginalized or give power to the powerless. Language can be the difference between confirming someone's current ideaology and creating another one. Language is important when discussing race, gender, sexual orientation, religion...really anything near and dear to the human heart. Language matters. The words we choose are vital to the message we wish to convey.

You see these phrases on baby shower cards and invitations. You hear them in conversation. "Congratulations to the Mother-To-Be!" "Welcome Baby-To-Be!" The words "to be" seem innocuous enough, but when paired with the word "Mother" or "Baby", their impact becomes greater than you think. "To be" implies "not yet", and while the majority of people may think it's not a big deal to consider a pregnant woman "not yet" a mother, an entire community would emphatically disagree. (To be clear, I am not talking about what consitutes a baby. This is NOT a post about the definition of life, and do not interpret my words as being part of a larger agenda. I am talking about Motherhood, not personhood.) So, why are the words "To be" so important they warrant an entire blog post? Because they influence how Motherhood is interpreted and how mothers are seen in society.

"To Be" makes it seem like Motherhood isn't already happening, like it's something that won't happen until a squirming, crying child is laid in your arms. "To Be" creates an end goal, and sets the expectation that pregnancy results in babies. "To Be" minimizes the connection between mother and child by implying that connection is not strong enough to occur before birth. "To Be" says: I'm not a mother yet, but I will be once my baby is born. Feeling her move in my belly is not enough to make me her mother. Passing her nutrients and oxygen through my body is not enough to make me her mother. Carrying her for weeks upon weeks as she grows and develops is not enough to make me her mother. She has to be born. She has to cry and breathe and look up at me with her brand new eyes - and then - wham! - then I will be her mother. "To Be" cultivates a sense of failure in the Heartbroken Mother. That end goal was never met. We didn't actually get "to be" anything but broken.

Mothers of Loss already have to work so hard to be recognized as a mother. I wrote blog post after blog post after blog post detailing my love for Kenley and my agony over losing her. I wrote daily for six solid months, and three years later am still writing about her and championing on her behalf. Honestly, if I wasn't so vocal, would you really think of her as my child? If I told you of her death and never spoke about it again, would you remember her name? Would you still think of me as a mother of two? I have actually had someone recently ask me if I wanted to give Piper a sibling, and when I explained she already had one, I was met with the words, "Oh, that doesn't count." Doesn't count?? Why? Because I was only pregnant with her? Because she didn't actually live outside of my body? How can she not count? Because, I was only a Mother-To-Be.

Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will break my heart.

"To Be" reinforces the idea that mothers are mothers when their babies are born - and born alive. "To Be" is the reason so many women who ARE mothers don't feel like them, why so many women don't think they have earned the right to carry that title. Because of this, "To Be" creates an atmosphere that promotes silence after loss since no one seems to be able to wrap their brain around a Mother-To-Be who didn't get To Be.

A majority of the baby loss community's skin prickles when they see the words "To Be" attached to a baby shower card or hear them in reference to someone who is pregnant. We see it as a slap in the face to our Motherhood - to our children. At this point, the less empathetic reader may be thinking "Oh geez, you're so sensitive. Why should I tiptoe around your feelings? Why do I have to change the language I use because you don't like it?" Well, the fact is, you don't. However, we really should care how we make others feel. We should care about whether or not our words hurt another person. It's simple human decency. The people who snivel about having to worry about hurting someone else's feelings frankly make me sick inside. Why wouldn't you worry about that? Why wouldn't you care about how what you say can affect someone else?

Really, it's not just about the feelings of mothers who have lost children. It's about the entire approach to pregnancy and motherhood. We can't keep promoting the idea that motherhood begins when a baby is born. It's just not true. Motherhood begins when a woman decides she is a mother. For some women, it starts with two lines on a stick. For others, it starts when her bladder becomes a punching bag. Rarely - so very rarely - does it delay itself until a squirming baby is laid in her arms.

Clearly, I don't have such high aspirations as to think I can completely change the way our entire society speaks about pregnant mothers. But, I do know change happens one person at a time. It starts with one person making a decision to do something different. So, I ask for all of you reading this to do one simple thing. Stop promoting "To Be." Stop saying it. Stop buying cards or gifts with those words. (Alternatives are out there. I know because I buy them.) Use different language. Be purposeful with the words you do use. Your pregnant co-worker isn't a Mother-To-Be. She isn't carrying her Daughter-To-Be. They are mother and daughter now. Birth will not change that. Neither will death. When choosing your words, remember that mothers are mothers, regardless of whether their children are in their belly, in their arms, or in the stars. Motherhood is not the culmination of pregnancy. Motherhood doesn't begin when pregnancy ends - it simply continues.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post. You're correct with every word of it. I was in the card section the other day, looking for a card for my friend's daughter's second birthday (and day she died). What kind of card does one pick out? I checked birthday cards, sympathy cards, etc. I noticed within the sympathy cards, there were so many bad ones - like, "God will never give you something more than you can handle." And I thought to myself, no wonder people say such awful things to me - our society (and the card companies) perpetuate much of it. Thanks for speaking out on this - what great points you've made. You're right neither birth nor death changes mother status. xoxo