Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Are You a Mom? Yes/No/Maybe.

Over the weekend, my mom and I went to Old Navy. She was looking for capri pants and I had $10 in Old Navy rewards to spend, so I thought I could probably pick up a little something for Zuzu (sure enough--found her a St. Louis Cardinals t-shirt!). 

Anyway, they were running a special over the weekend for moms who spent a certain amount of money and got a $5 gift card as a Mother's Day gift.

(I'm sure this seemed like a really good idea in theory to someone high up in marketing at Old Navy.)

So I'm checking out and the girl working the cash register is a teenager. I pay for my stuff. Keep in mind that I am seven months pregnant and have gained 25 pounds, pretty much all in my belly and my boobs (the thigh-spread will come this summer as I pack on another 15 pounds--just wait).

The girl looks at me and says, "Are you a mom?"

I said yes, because I AM a mom and what the hell, it's a free $5 coupon. I also wanted to say, "Are you EFFING kidding me? I had to use your restroom even though I peed right before we left home because this baby is kickboxing my bladder. Do I need to give birth in the store for this pregnancy for make me a mom?"

But I also couldn't stop thinking about how I would have answered that question just a few years ago.

Would I be a mom if my only child were stillborn? Would I be a mom if I were seven months pregnant with my first child instead of my third? What if this was my first pregnancy after having a stillborn baby? What if an adoption I'd had my heart set on had just fallen through? Would I be a mom if I'd already started buying things for a nursery even though I'd had three miscarriages in a row? Would I be a mom if my child had died before coming home from the NICU? What if I weren't pregnant but a surrogate was seven-months pregnant with my baby? Does that make me a mom? I mean, WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME, Old Navy? How are you defining motherhood? Is there an option besides yes or no? Could I attach an explanatory essay? Is the angst that this question has produced even WORTH a lousy $5 coupon? (In a word: No.)

If I had been asked that question the May after Eliza died, or even the May after that, I can pretty much guarantee that I would have started crying. Maybe I could have made it the car before I burst into tears. Maybe not. 

The fact is that it's a loaded question for a lot of people, people who are desperate to have babies or people who are desperately grieving babies.

I know the girl who asked that question had NO IDEA the kind of emotional trigger it could be for a lot of people. I'm sure when I was 18, I thought that the question of whether or not you were a mom was yes or no, cut and dried, easy to answer. But that's simply not the case.

So, my suggestion, Old Navy, is that if you want to give away a $5 coupon, you just assume that every single person coming through your store is either celebrating Mother's Day or wishing people would shut the hell up about it and just give away the damn coupon without giving us an existential crisis about the definition of motherhood.

* * *

Later that night, David and I went to Lowes after dinner, leaving my parents to do bath time and bedtime with Zuzu. Like our Trader Joe's date the weekend before, going to Lowes at night (!) without Zuzu (!) felt exciting and almost romantic. (Yes, I know how sad that is.)

So, I mostly dealt with Mother's Day by keeping myself busy with projects (will update on that later--my main project is extremely frustrating so far, so we'll see how that turns out). This means that we were going to Lowes to buy a mirror (to replace the glass in the one that David's grandma bought me), to pick up PVC pipe and fittings, and some paint for the back door. All kinds of nice, distracting things.

Anyway, we were walking through Lowes and holding hands and feeling like we were on a date and as we checked out, the girl at the counter made conversation with me about my pregnancy. She wanted to know if it was a boy or a girl and how we were going to decorate the nursery if we didn't know. So I was answering her questions by saying that we just want a healthy baby and describing our gender-neutral nursery.

Then she leaned forward and said, "E-lizz-uh?" 

She was trying to read the names on the necklace I was wearing. I have a beautiful necklace that my BFFs from college gave me on Eliza's first birthday. It's a silver disc that says "Eliza" and has her birthdate on the back, and after Zuzu was born I bought a matching disc with her name and birthdate on it. 

I wear it pretty often. A stranger has never, ever asked me about it.

I touched the two silver discs on the necklace and said, "Oh! It says Eliza and Caroline. We already have two girls."

She handed me the receipt and said something like, "Well, maybe you'll get a boy this time!" and I left with the strangest feeling. To talk about Eliza and omit the fact that she was dead--it felt like I was cheating her death, somehow. Like I was living my dream-life, where I'd go home to two sleeping girls and we'd wonder how we were going to manage with three kids under the age of four. 

(Okay, confession: Three kids under the age of four is NOT my dream life, but I'd take it if it meant they were all alive and healthy. You get me, right?)

My friend Brandy said that when she's had encounters like this, she feels almost like she's gotten away with something. And it's a good feeling--like she gets credit for going through three full pregnancies and birthing three babies. I felt the same way. After all, we already DO have two girls. 

The shitty and heartbreaking part that I didn't share with the girl working the checkout counter on a Saturday night at Lowes is that we only got to keep one of them.

* * *

And that's where the weekend left me. A mama who's raising a baby and expecting a baby and missing a baby. Not exactly a blissful Mother's Day, even though I did get a pedicure with my mom on Saturday.

Sunday night I was getting Zu ready for bed. I put her in her favorite pjs. (She is starting to have opinions about such things--wanting to choose the bib and the hat and the shoes she wears--I'm already dreading her having strong opinions about clothes! I just want to dress her like a little doll who doesn't care what she wears so I can dress her to suit myself!). Anyway, the pjs have elephants on them and the shirt says "I love my family." 

So we talked about who is in her family. I said "Mama" and "Daddy" and "Bubba" and she repeated each name while pointing at us (David and Coop were also hanging out in the nursery). Then I said "Eliza" and she said "Eliza!" and pointed at the bracelet I wear everyday that has Eliza's name on it. Whenever Zuzu notices it or plays with it, I always say, "That's Mama's Eliza bracelet." 

She really loves to identify things and she was so excited to make that connection between the name I'd said and the bracelet I was wearing. So then I hugged her and kissed her and cried because that's her only association with her sister. And damn, Mother's Day is a grief minefield and getting through it wears me out.


  1. Oh, Brooke. It's never going to be simple.

  2. What a stupid idea to only give coupons to Moms anyway. I hear you about triggers though. If I'd been asked that question a few years ago I would have probably run out of the store crying.

    Nice one Old Navy.

  3. Oh, my gosh - if I had been at Old Navy and been asked that question, I would have burst into tears on the spot. What a loaded question. I agree with you - they should just give the coupon to every woman who comes into the store. Your post brought tears to my eyes.

  4. This happened to me last year at Whole Foods. Someone came rushing up to me and asked, 'are you a new mom?' and I was immediately suspicious and wary. I had M in the sling - he was about 2 weeks old - and I was definitely a new mom, but I couldn't stop thinking about Mother's Day 2012 and how I was also then a new mom though no one would be able to tell from looking at me and I was the saddest new mom in the world. It IS stupid - I agree: give everyone the (measly) $5 and be done with it, or just shut up.

    A complicated day, indeed. I am still - three days later - trying to figure out how I feel.

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  8. I worked and was grateful. It's much easier to be miserable and cranky when people aren't trying to celebrate you joyfully.

  9. Good lord my internet and/or computer hates me.

  10. That coupon is thoughtless and cruel. Beyond thoughtless and cruel. If that had happened to me between the girls I would have been driven to my knees in agony. If it had happened last year, I would have felt guilty about the fact this was the first year I FELT like a mother.

    All round, that is the most moronic and thoughtless way to create a great deal of pain in people just wanting to buy cheap clothes.

    E---Lizz-a? UGH! It is Eliza,fool. I agree, walking away you feel like you cheated but yet have paid such a price. Mother's day, what a mess of emotions. I am just now beginning to crawl out of the fog.

  11. We should all keep in mind that anytime we have to think, "WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME, Old Navy?" that this world is not the place we ever thought we'd be, and thank goodness for your writing that I can laugh at this with you. Been in these spots too many times.
    I was so very prickly that mother's day the year following her death. I was 6 months pregnant with #2 and all of the "mother-to-be" wishes crushed me. I guess that means, yes I was a mom when pregnant with her all along.