I was at a networking event sitting at a table of about six women under a sparsely shaded area outside in the sweltering summer heat. Half of us sipped on wine while the other half fanned ourselves profusely to keep from melting in our chairs. To my right, was a young woman, noticeably pregnant. We began the usual round robin introduction of self to each other. After the woman to my right announced she was pregnant, my friend to my right then stated, “So now that you’ve mentioned you’re pregnant…..because I know it’s rude to assume…..when are you due?” The conversation spiraled into some of us sharing if we had children or not and how many. I felt like I was watching a ping-pong match as ladies shared experiences and showed pictures. What am I going to say if they ask ME that question?
I am the mother of an invisible child. I am a mother whose child is not with us in the physical realm. I am the mother who has to decide, when situations like these occur, if I am going to say, “No, I don’t have any children” or “Yes, I have a child who is no longer with us.”
Liam Elijah Wesley Boatwright is his name. My only son. He transitioned from this realm on November 15th, 2016, and since that day I have attempted to maneuver through the “How many children do you have” or “Do you have any children” questions. After almost three years, I still wrestle with the anxiety that surfaces when the conversations come up. On that day, it wasn’t just the heat that had me sweating, but pure nervousness. I wanted to jump out of my seat and Usain Bolt my way to my car for safety.
What was I desperately desiring to run from you ask? I wanted to run from the pity looks. I didn’t want to be a killjoy of our light and bubbly baby conversation. I didn’t want to hear the, “Oh no! I’m so sorry!” I didn’t want to have to preface my motherhood status with, “I hope I don’t offend anyone” followed by “my baby passed away three years ago” for fear I may scare the pregnant woman. I didn’t want to endure that awkward silence then abrupt transition to a totally different conversation. These are situations I’ve had to endure in the past, and the thought of it happening again wrecked my nerves!
I am more settled when in a more intimate group or speaking with someone individually. In these instances, I am fairly comfortable with giving a response, and my response differs depending on the situation or who I’m talking to. Sometimes I say I have no children. Sometimes I say I have a child who passed away. Sometimes I say I have an angel child. I roll with whatever I feel like saying in that moment. I am still a work in progress and I have to constantly remind myself that I experienced an extremely traumatic event that only happened just recently. So, I share with you some things I remind myself when (and in some cases after) I am confronted with the “Are you a mom” question.
Be compassionate with yourself: I know it may sound crazy, but I put hella judgment on myself when I expect myself to have the “perfect” response to others that won’t offend or kill the mood. When I operate with self-compassion, my TRUTH comes forward. There is no maneuvering through TRUTH- It just presents itself. Besides, the truth is so much more comforting and doesn’t come from an anxious place. Truth comes from a place of love, strength, and compassion.
You are not responsible for other’s reactions. Don’t let it be your burden: I have to remind myself that if I walk in my truth, then everything I speak will come from a place of love. If others are offended then that’s on them. I also have to be ok with letting people feel how they feel. If it’s pity they feel…it’s ok. If it’s hurt they feel…it’s ok. If it’s pure sorrow they feel…IT’S OK! I don’t have to be the Emotional Expression Monitor. The only feelings I control are my own.
YOU ARE A MOM: I have to remind myself, “Tiff! You are a mom you know?” The absence of a living child does take some getting used to. It’s like having all of the motherly instincts we were equipped with, but no child is connected to them. I think subconsciously, I invalidate my motherhood title because my son isn’t present, which makes me feel as if I am not worthy to take part in motherhood conversations. But I am worthy! My story is different. My motherhood is different. I am a mom!
Your child isn’t invisible: “But the title is Invisible Child Tiff.” I know that’s what I called this article, but in order for me to be settled mentally, combat my anxiety, walk in my truth, and ultimately get to a place of healing, I have to commit to the narrative that Liam is NOT invisible! He is alive and well in and through me! He has a story! He has a legacy! He deserves to be celebrated, memorialized, talked about, and jokingly reprimanded when I hear a bump in the night (I do believe my son visits me from time to time). When I honor him and his place in my life, I operate from an unapologetic space, which has no room for anxiety or fear. When you see me, you will surely see him!
I encourage all my moms, angel moms, soon to be moms to validate your experience and your feelings. It is more than ok to feel what you feel, and those feelings are REAL! More importantly, as a licensed mental health professional, I urge you to seek professional help if you feel like your mental wellness is at stake. This journey is tough and I wouldn’t wish this traumatizing experience on anyone, but you can survive! Take the time to love on yourself, be true to yourself, and honor your (In)Visible Child.
MasterPeace Counseling Services
Liam Lives Foundation