Mother’s Day brings with it a lot of memories. And dredges up a heap of emotions.
Our son Josiah was due June 4. The excitement of meeting our firstborn was overshadowed by the disappointment of knowing his body was twisted and broken by severe spina bifida. The weight of uncertainty darkened our joy as we waited to see if his kidneys would work at all, our hope dangling precariously between certain loss and slim chances of life. Josiah was born on Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day Hydrangea
That afternoon, women in the maternity ward of the hospital were given a small potted hydrangea in honor of Mother’s Day. Like my premature son, the perky hydrangea offered the tiniest green buds, far from blooming, yet full of promise. My son was born alive, something we weren’t sure we could expect.
Josiah lived, hooked up to oxygen, IVs, and monitors, in a hospital across town from me, until the next evening. My Mother’s Day hydrangea was the only living thing I got to bring home from the hospital.
It eventually bloomed, and we enjoyed its beauty. But later that summer, the leaf tips crinkled and browned in the window where the sun must have been too strong. Even after planting it outdoors the following spring, this hydrangea has never thrived. That first summer outdoors, its leaves were again scorched, presumably from the heat. This spring, the tiny shrub’s promising new growth, stronger than last year’s, was nipped by a hard frost.
Maybe this Mother’s Day token is an apt symbol for my son. I cared for him throughout pregnancy, not knowing if he would live or die. Had Josiah survived, his life would likely have been a series of setbacks and emergencies.
Still I care for this pitiful little hydrangea, because it’s all I have left of my son to take care of. I water it, trying to coax life out of its shoots before the vigorous weeds close in around it. I keep doubled tomato cages around it to protect it from deer and careless children.
Of all my beloved garden plants, this one is the most pathetic. Its existence is so tenuous, I don’t even know if it will live from one season to the next. In fact, no nursery tag accompanied the plant, so I don’t even know what variety of hydrangea this is, or if it is even meant to survive winters in zone 6. My tiny hydrangea just takes up space in the garden. I allotted enough room for a large hydrangea bush, but I don’t know if this one will ever grow. It remains little (tinier than when I received it, if that’s even possible), overshadowed by the violets that take over every available growing space. It’s easy to forget as other flowers grow quickly and blossom, so I focus on the beauty of those, clipping bouquets to bring indoors. (Thus didn’t even think to protect it from the frost.)
Nevertheless, I have a sort of tender love for this little plant. I had to let go of my son, but I will hang on to this Mother’s Day hydrangea as long as it has life.
Gracious Reminder of Motherhood
Sometimes it feels cruel that my son was born on Mother’s Day, an annual mockery of my loss. (I feel it even stronger this year, as now I also have my stillborn baby Portia to remember on Mother’s Day.)
On the other hand, perhaps it’s a gracious reminder that I am INDEED a mother—a mother who has conceived, and carried, and borne, and loved, and grieved. Aside from these babies I lost, I am also a mother to the children who came to us through foster care—hugging, cuddling, listening, explaining, cooking and laundering, waking for frequent nighttime feedings (or to calm night terrors), correcting, sacrificing, enduring horrendous tantrums and meltdowns, soothing, teaching, celebrating hard-earned achievements, loving, giving up my relaxation for bedtime chats….
Maybe Mother’s Day is a reminder of the love, sacrifice, compassion, and influence that define the role of mother, whether via conventional means or not.
Maybe Mother’s Day is a celebration of strength, a call to live faithfully, to hope, and to influence powerfully for good those God has placed in our paths.