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  • Jackie Wiermaa

You are a Wonderful Mother Even When You Feel Like a Failure



If we are honest as mothers, we admit we sometimes feel like a failure. We envision ourselves as a wonderful mother, yet our present reality does not seem to measure up. Our hopes and dreams are shattered at these low points. We even wonder if our children will have any chance to live a “normal” life given all of our perceived shortcomings.


We have all been there- probably many times. This true story (although the names have been changed) will encourage you to keep on fighting the good fight and running the race of motherhood.


I met Sam when he was just 18 months old. He was previously an orphan in a country that was devastated by various tragedies at the time. There was also nuclear contamination of the environment due to a spill. He was adopted at about 12 months of age by a wonderful family.


Unfortunately, the day I met this beautiful child and his family I had to deliver the bad news that their precious son had liver cancer, most likely from the nuclear spill in his country of origin. I spent the next year and a half falling i

n love with this little angel as he underwent chemotherapy and eventually a liver transplant from his adopted mother. Despite her heroic sacrifice of a lobe of her liver, little Sam died at three years of age of metastatic cancer.


I remember visiting him in his home when he was on hospice. I will never forget him standing and looking out the window, playing with his favorite Thomas trains on the window ledge. Despite his pain and suffering he was doing what children do- playing and using his imagination. He died peacefully the next day at home.


I felt like a failure. I had wanted to help this child who had such a rough start in life but then had a chance to start over with his new loving family. It seemed so unfair, my heart was breaking. What was the point of my career anyway?


I made a practice of attending the funerals of all my patients that had died during my twenty year oncology career. It was necessary for me to make peace with each child, family and heartache I had just experienced in order to preserve my sanity and maintain empathy. In the preparation for Sam’s funeral I learned some new information that transformed how I felt about the situation.


A picture is worth a thousand words. In the process of spending time with the family while preparing pictures for Sam’s memorial, I saw a photo of Sam at age 12 months, just prior to his adoption. He was the weight of a newborn, just a little over 7 pounds despite being 12 months of age. He had an empty look in his eyes, like no one was home. He could not even babble one syllable, could not roll over or sit up or even smile. It was horrifying. I asked the family how this situation was allowed to occur. They explained that the orphanage was well equipped with food and clothing and was very sanitary. The children were fed adequate amounts of nutritious food. The issue was there were so few caregivers and nurses for hundreds of orphan babies, that each child received no individual attention besides the necessary diaper changes and baths. They spent each day alone in their crib. Little Sam was wasting away, emaciated and near death because he was not given individual attention and love. He was not the center of someone’s world and did not have his own family. Since he was not loved by anyone, he was dying.


I couldn’t believe it was the same child in the before and after photos. After his adoption, within a matter of weeks, Sam began gaining weight and soon had chubby cheeks. He was learning to walk, talk, play, sing and smile. This was the Sam I knew and was familiar with. I realized that even at the worst times in his cancer treatment, he still had a twinkle in his eye and laughter in his voice because he knew he was loved. Sam was wanted and was part of a family. Sam belonged. This made all the difference.


His mother showed me a photo taken a couple months after his adoption, where he was thriving and said lovingly “ he looks like such a cherub in this picture.” This moment is forever etched in my memory because her voice sounded so proud , so loving, so happy to be his mother. He had such a beautiful face, with rosy and chubby cheeks and he truly looked like an angel on earth. You could tell that he knew he was loved.


This child had a profound effect on me. Cancer and dying early did not seem like the worst tragedy anymore. Rather, the tragedy was that he almost died of a broken heart, alone and unloved, at age twelve months.


So, take heart all you Mom’s who feel inadequate at times, like I do. When we look at our children with love overflowing, knowing there is nothing we wouldn’t do for them- we are meeting their deepest need. They may even roll their eyes when you try to hug them. They may get exacerbated when you tell them for the hundredth time that you love them. Our love for them is obvious- it is old hat for them by now. We are giving our children the ultimate gift - a family and a sense of belonging. Our children are important to us, are accepted, and are loved. They understand this. This gift far outweighs all of our imperfections and is really what our children need the most. It is easy to forget this and get overwhelmed with the details.


Our love will carry our children over the finish line.

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