The Unspoken Heartbreak of Motherhood

She sits beside her daughter’s bed, a quiet presence. Asma, her daughter, looks so beautiful lying in her bed after heart surgery, tucked up under a pink blanket and hair smoothed back into neat pigtails. For days now, Asma’s mom has come to see her every few hours. The nurse makes sure there is a chair for her to sit—she is older, and it’s hard for her to stand for long visits.

It looks like Asma is sleeping, but the truth is a little more complicated. Like the other children in the ICU, she had a complicated heart defect that could only be fixed with surgery. Unlike the other children in the ICU… Asma hasn’t woken up yet.

Asma’s mom knows that her daughter probably won’t wake up—the doctors are gentle but clear with her. She comes anyway, day after day. To sit at the intersection of hope and heartbreak.

This waiting, this loving regardless of the outcome—this is mother’s work.

For many, Mother’s Day is a joy. It’s a day filled with brunch, flowers, and homemade cards slightly crinkled from the trip home from school. It’s a day when generations of ladies pose together for keepsake photographs.

For others, Mother’s Day and the days leading up to it are all heartache—a time of remembering loss. This remembering, this too is mother’s work.

For mothers whose arms are empty due to infertility, miscarriage, or loss, your pain is mother’s work.

For mothers who bury their children far too young, because of war or disease, chemical weapons or tragic accidents, your grieving is mother’s work.

For mothers who pull their children from bombed buildings, hold sick kids they are powerless to help, or travel for miles in search of a doctor to fix a child’s broken body, your bravery is mother’s work.

For mothers who bury their parents, whether quickly outside a refugee camp or with time amongst a community of loved ones, and then have to explain to their children why their beloved grandparent isn’t coming back, this too is mother’s work.

For mothers who stretch themselves to the limit, trying to hold it all together when it seems like all the odds are stacked against them, this is mother’s work.

For mothers who face the terrifying reality of losing a spouse, who discover just how complicated it is to be a widow, then face your children’s fresh grief every day, even as you process your own, your struggle is mother’s work.

For mothers who make a home out of a refugee tent, a car, a homeless shelter, a suburban split-level house, but don’t know how there will be energy to do it again tomorrow… this is mother’s work.

Mothers in Iraq, Syria, Libya, the United States, Australia, Brazil, Singapore, and around the world… they are the same. A mother’s daily tasks look a little different in each culture, but the heart work is so much the same. A mother’s work is essential, it is beautiful, it is powerful—but it is often incredibly painful.

It’s been four weeks since we saw Asma. She still hasn’t woken. She’s still on a ventilator. Her mom is still keeping vigil by her bedside.

For Asma’s mom, and for all the mothers who think they have no more tears to cry only to be surprised again by salty trails traced down your face, we see you. We are with you. And tonight, we light a candle for you.