The first balloon ever released...

The first balloon ever released...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What is a mother?

Ever since McKenna's passing one thing that has constantly been on my mind is "How am I still her mother?" It's very confusing because when you stop and think about all the things that make you a mother I no longer fall under these guidelines. I am no longer there to tuck her into bed. I am no longer there to brush her hair and get her ready for school. I am no longer there to prepare her meals and play with her. So who am I to her in the eternities? Who is her mother? Does she even need a mother anymore? Of course I know that biologically I am her mother and that she is my daughter but I have always taken the term mother as more then just a blood bond, I define mothers by their actions.

Coming from a childhood where I never had a strong motherly role in my life the idea of being one frightened me. I remember being pregnant with Dominic and wondering if I could be a good mom. What if I wasn't any good at it? What if I was selfish and annoyed by him? What if I couldn't handle it? What if I became like most teen moms and I was a terrible mother? I felt like I had no strong role model to look too and I wasn't even sure of who I was yet. My life was broken, nothing had gone to plan so far. Here I was 8 months pregnant and had just split with the father. I had no job, I was at community college struggling to keep up, and I was 19, so how could I bring another human into the picture and expect to be a good mom?

At first I kept talking like it was inevitable. As if there was no way around it. My mom tried her best and she was a disaster, it was guaranteed that I was destined to end up the same. I mean you can't run from your past right? You are who you are? No one really ever changes so I had been told many times. I had made so many promises to myself about what I would not put my children through after growing up in my crazy environment and yet here I was in almost the exact same place. I had failed. I was destined to fail. I didn't know what a good mom was or how to be one and I started to let Satan whisper in my ear "Even if you tried your best, you will never be good enough. We all know you who truly are, you have tried to change a 1000x and a 1000x you have failed. It's time to stop lying to yourself. You will always be a disappointment."

I fought this mental battle for months during my pregnancy and felt very alone. Surprisingly, this was very helpful for me. Since I had no arms to comfort me, no one to talk too, no one to hold me, I was forced to turn to myself. Looking inward for the first time in my life I saw my reflection in the mirror and realized that the biggest lie I ever told myself was "I can do this on my own, I can fix this." See this was the true problem. I expected myself, a very imperfect human being to change with no help or guidance but from more imperfect people. If I really wanted to change I needed to develop a real relationship with my Heavenly Father who was perfect and then maybe I would have a fighting chance. It was during this time that I learned how well God knew me personally. I prayed all the time, I dug deep into my scriptures, I reflected on my actions daily in a journal. In those moments I was so humbled, instead of feeling sorry for myself for being a single mom or hating myself for the mistakes I had made, I just felt humbled. For the first time in EVER I was starting to see that I had a lot more to offer then what I had been letting the world tell me. The possibility of being a good mom was achievable. It would be difficult but there was no reason in the world that I could not only be a good mom, but a great one.

Soon it was time to go to the hospital and deliver Dominic. Although I had truly changed in many ways I still felt fear inside of me. "Oh I hope I can do this, I don't want to screw this kid up!". After being in labor for what felt like eternity and feeling pain that I wasn't even aware existed the nurses threw a very slimy, bloody, tiny human on top of me and I flinched. I just remember thinking "Uuhhhhh, what now? Is that it? Am I really a mom now?" Seconds later they took him off me and he was gone on the other side of the room where I could no longer see him, hovered by family members dying to hold the new little prince. My brain was still trying to process the situation. Nothing felt real. I was going through the motions, I was pregnant, I had experienced labor, and now he was here. Is this real? The moment felt very surreal. The day continued and he was passed from loving arms to loving arms while I laid in bed and tried to take in the reality of everything. I knew my life had just reached a new stepping stone. Somehow the entire universe had shifted and we were now about to start a completely new journey filled with responsibility, diapers, and sleepless nights but nothing felt real yet, why?

Finally everyone had left and it was just Dominic and I in the room. He laid in a clear tiny bassinet next to me and I starred at him sleeping. I recited out loud to him because I felt like maybe we were both unaware of who I was in his new world, "I am your mom and you are my son". It still didn't feel real so I said it again to him, this time sitting up and pulling his bed closer to mine. "I am your mom and you are my son, Dominic." My brain felt like it was on the verge of solving a mystery case, I could feel it trying to make the connection of what was really going on so I took him out of his bed, held him in my arms and whispered softly "I am your mom and always will be... and you are my first born child, Dominic." With this statement I felt a love that I had never known before. I felt a bond so strong that there are no words to describe it. My heart grew 10x bigger then what it was, my mind opened and I could feel and see all the beautiful things we would accomplish together. Just like a snap of the finger I knew my role, I knew who I was. I was a mother and I would spend the rest of my life proving that to him. I fell asleep with him quietly in my arms. I had never known such peace.

This new love in my life was the cement to the truth that people really could change because I had just done it myself. I knew I wasn't the same person and I knew I never would be. I was so glad to know I had finally shed myself of the old Shannon and had found a happier, more hopeful mother to take her place. I didn't know it but I had been searching for that kind of love my whole life. I had no idea how beautiful the bond between a mother and a child was because I never had it. I never got that with my mom and I didn't know what a difference it makes in your life. It makes you feel so complete, it opens up every vessel and ventricle in your heart so that every inch of it is covered in love. I had never been happier, I had never felt more complete, I had found the cure to my selfish disease. I had my son, I had all his innocent and pure love, but more importantly I loved him more than anything or anyone I had ever met in my life and that kind of love changes you forever.

After Dominic I knew for sure that more children would have to come when the time was right. I just couldn't get enough of that special love and bond. Motherhood was the life for me, eventually I would get married and we would have a giant family with lots of little crazy babies running around and I would stay at home to take care of all of them... or so I thought but God had different plans for me. I was surprised to find myself 3 years later preparing to go to medical school and after a year of trying still not pregnant. Would Dominic be my only baby? I got pregnant so easily with him! What is going on? I finally took all the right steps, got my life straightened out, found a great husband, ready to get this baby train going and now there is no baby! Why? I was finishing up community college and had been accepted to my medical college when I finally found out I was pregnant with McKenna. Zach and I were so happy. I delayed school and got to be a stay at home mom with her for the first year of her life. It was beautiful and I loved every day of it.

I really didn't want to start graduate school. I had an associates degree and all I ever wanted to do since Dominic was born was to be a stay at home mom. School didn't come naturally to me anyway and I struggled much more then the other students did. Maybe my school path was over and I could finally just stay home with my babies? I prayed relentlessly about it, Zach prayed, my family prayed, we fasted, we talked to our church leaders and in the end I knew without a doubt that God wanted me in school. It was so strange. I thought for sure I would get to stay home but as usual nothing ever goes according to my plan. So after lots of denial and crying I finally started school when McKenna was about 1 and we all started a new journey. It was then that I learned a new role of motherhood. The one that I still play to do this day. This is when I discovered that the word "mother" is not a noun, it is a verb.

Taking on a full school schedule and still trying to play mommy was EXTREMELY difficult and harder then what I had imagined it would be. At first I was non-existent. Buried in a land of books and never ending homework. I had no time for my children or husband. I hated not being with them and often felt that old familiar fear that despite my efforts I was not a good mother. How can I be a mother if I am never there?  I then learned about a study from a psychology class I had taken. They had 2 groups, one had a stay at home parent and the other had 2 working parents. They wanted to see how it affected the children to have a parent who was home most of the day vs gone. They followed the children for years and measured success by happiness, responsibility, confidence, and overall well being of the children. At the end of the study they were surprised when they concluded that the working parents who made an extra effort to spend even one hour of their day with their children when they got home felt just as loved as the children who were home with their parents all day. It was because the children still knew they were a priority in their parent's lives and that even after a long day of work they still sacrificed to be with them. This changed my attitude about everything.

Even though I couldn't be home with them all day like I was before I would just have to work twice as hard to make sure that when I was home they felt my love for them as if I had been there all day. I did my best to give them my undivided attention when I was home and if I had to study I still tried to take breaks and play with them for a little while. McKenna could never help herself from coming into the room when I was studying. My big bright shiny highlighters were too much of a temptation for her to resist playing with. Countless times she would sit on my lap coloring on my homework as I flipped through other notes and books. It wasn't exactly what I had pictured my motherly role to be but all that mattered was my children knew I loved them greatly and even though I had to fulfill other obligations in my life, nothing was more important then they were, nothing! So this is how we learned to function and have been functioning for the past 2 years. Now that I am about to graduate my schedule has lightened so much and I am saddened that McKenna just barely missed out on all my extra free time.

For most of McKenna's life I was a mother by action. I played with her, I sang to her, I bathed her, I fed her, I did all the things that mommies are suppose to do and now it's all gone. I don't like the role I play in her life now. I don't like that I am here on the side lines talking into space hoping she is hearing me while everyone continues to tell me "She is watching over you." What? That's not her job! That's my job! I am suppose to watch over her. "She is your guardian angel" Why? I am suppose protect her, guide her, lead her through this life. I thought that was my role as her parent? How am I her mother? I mean lets be honest, she has more knowledge now then I could ever hope to have in my entire lifetime. She has seen God himself! She fulfilled her journey here and is now in Heaven. She has all the answers, all the mysterious of life are solved. What could I possibly offer her? What words of wisdom could I give? What could I teach her that she doesn't already know? Everything I have defined on what makes a "good mother" has been done. What left is there for me to do?

I still talk out loud to her. I still tell her that I love her. I still try to do things that I think would make her proud but in all honesty I don't know what my role is in her life. I have gone back and forth on this question for the last 9 months and still have not reached a conclusion. I know that only time will tell me what the purpose of her death was and what my role is to play in this turmoil but for now I still don't know. The only thing that gives me comfort is a priesthood blessing I received a month after McKenna's death. A very simplified version of what our church (LDS) believes is when a "priesthood holder" which is worthy man who upholds to his responsibilities and obligations in the church lays his hands on a person's head and gives them a "blessing". The blessing is direct revelation from Heavenly Father telling them what to say and what you need to hear at that point in your life. It can be anything from guidance, peace, and even healing when sick. They are very special and sacred. They have played a major role in mine and Zach's grieving process with McKenna.

Before I got the blessing I was praying extra hard that month trying to survive the freshness of her absence and at the end of every prayer I spoke VERY sternly (in a motherly way) to God. I would always tell him "You better make sure you are giving her a hug from me every night and telling her that I love her every day! You hear me! Don't let a day pass without a hug and a kiss from me!" I said this every night and I never told anyone about it because I assumed it would not sit well with most people that I was bossing the big man upstairs around. One day was particularly hard so Zach offered to give me a priesthood blessing and I accepted. I don't remember anything that blessing said except for the very last sentence, Zach said, "Shannon, Your Heavenly Father wants you to know that he gives McKenna a hug every night and tells her that you love her every day. Do not worry that he does not hear you. She loves you and misses you very much too." I could not believe what I just heard, I was stunned. NO ONE knew that I prayed for that! NO ONE! Yet there it was, almost VERBATEM of what I had prayed for. I began to whimper then cry in disbelief. My baby girl knew that I loved her. God heard me. He fulfilled this mothers plea and I finally got to hear that she missed me too!

I don't know what goes on in Heaven. I am unsure of how things work and what the daily routine is up there but I am so grateful for that blessing of comfort and assurance that God hears my prayers. I miss her so much and it's beyond difficult when you had someone in your life everyday become gone in a matter of seconds. You have all of these details that you know about them, what they like, what they don't like, their hobbies, interest, and habits and then all of a sudden none of that information matters anymore. I would love to be at least a fly on the wall and see what she does all the time. I miss watching her, I miss playing with her, I miss singing with her. I am so glad that she is with a loving Heavenly Father who is telling her everyday how much her mommy loves her. I don't know what advice I can give her or how to guide her the way I use too but at least she knows that no matter what our circumstance is I love her very much and at least I know that she loves me too.


  1. McKenna is so gorgeous, just like you!! That blessing was just incredible, made me bawl! Have you read this ensign article? Much love from Mississippi!

  2. I have posted on each blog but wonder where they have gone.....I probably did something crazy.