"People wouldn’t call her a mother anymore although she had given birth to a child. I felt that my cousin had put into words what I had felt for two years." - An interview with Sophie Kröher on painful loss, finding comfort and redefining motherhood.
A mother is: woman with a child. It’s that easy – or at least that’s what society taught us. But what if that woman loses that child, maybe when it’s still in the womb or maybe when it has been in this world for only a very short amount of time…? What does it do to the mother? Is she still being looked at as mother by society? Can she call herself a mother? For Mother’s Day we wanted to highlight a different look on motherhood. Sophie Kröher is a mother of three (her first son was still born), almost thirty and living in Leipzig, Germany with her high school sweetheart. And she’s currently writing a book about that term, that seems so simple and is so complex and full of sometimes painful questions, “mother”.
Your project's name is #definemother / define: mother. What is it that you do within that project?
In 2014 we lost our first son. In 2016 my cousin lost her first daughter. After her stillbirth, she texted me that she was mourning her daughter but also her lost „status“ as a mother. People wouldn’t call her a mother anymore although she had given birth to a child. I felt that my cousin had put into words what I had felt for two years. So I started asking myself: what is a mother? People always act as if that’s the most obvious question you could ask with the most obvious answer you could give: a mother is a woman with a child. But the real answer is that there is none. You cannot define „mother“ in a simple way. Over the course of time I had met many women who felt like mothers, who ARE mothers but not in this simple way of „woman with a child“. So I asked a few of them to share their own personal definitions of being a mother, in the light of their very own, often very painful stories of loss, because I deeply believe that we are „created to heal in community“ (Hillary McBride). #definemother started off as an online blog project but several months ago a publisher reached out to me. So, #definemother will continue as a book, mainly asking how the loss of a child changes women's perceptions of themselves, their worldviews, beliefs and also spirituality.
You said you wanted to write something that could have helped you when you were in the same situation years ago? What is that, what would have helped you? Did you feel helpless in a way?
First of all I have to say that my husband and I are beyond grateful for our friends who walked with us through all the hard times – them listening and not giving up on us certainly was a key. Talking to women who had experienced loss helped me a lot, too! I noticed that there are many women who rarely had the opportunity to talk and share which led to even more pain. The #definemother online project was therefore created to bring relief and healing in some way.
But still … I’m a person who needs the written word to process. Losing our son stirred up so many questions and doubts about life, about values and also about faith … I was thirsty to read from people who also felt this tension in their lives. But the books I found and read just presented unauthentic solutions and closed explanations. I clearly felt, this was not what my soul needed.
How are you now? For someone that is going through the loss of a child at this very moment, is there something you would like to tell them?
Thank you, I am well. Grief has changed, healing is in process. But I’m fine with that process. At the beginning I expected to be „over it“ at some point. I even imagined that someday I would tell people how I overcame grief and things like that. Then I slowly began to realize that „healing“ is not a place I would ever arrive at. It’s an ongoing journey, challenging at times, and sometimes even beautiful. And that is something I’d like to tell a grieving mother or father: grieving your child is a process, it will always be, so let it be.
In German there's the term "Sternenkinder" (“children of stars” – for stillborn children) - do you like that term, do you use it? Or do you think your focus is different, because you're looking at the mothers that often seem to be forgotten when people talk about "Sternenkinder"?
I like the hopefulness and tenderness inherited by the term „Sternenkinder“, although I don’t call my son like this. I just call him by his name. However, you’re making a point here. The focus of the #definemother project is more on the mothers. I guess the fact that these mothers often seem to be forgotten – or else: that they are expected to overcome their loss and stop grieving – was one of the main triggers to start this project.
When you talked to the mothers - did you sometimes also get the dads' perspectives? How do they cope, do they cope differently? Do they mourn fatherhood? Does society look at them differently than at mothers that have lost a child?
That’s such an important, but also such a difficult question. Yes, I sometimes did get the fathers‘ perspectives, there even will be some included in the book. The thing is: I am not a father, I’m a mother. I can only truly write from the perspective and speak for many grieving mothers. The only thing I’m sure of is that fathers definitely mourn fatherhood. But neither all mothers mourn the same way nor do all fathers. I assume that dads even more feel the pressure „to get back to normal“ and let go of their grief. I wish someday some fathers will speak up for themselves and reclaim their mourning processes.
What role does writing play in the process of becoming a mother or redefining the term „mother“? Do you find it helps?
To my mind, writing helps immensely to navigate myself through this process of my life, through all kinds of processes really. I always had different notebooks, designated to various topics. In the first months after the stillbirth of our son I addressed my thoughts and feelings directly towards him in a little book. Later, I started a new notebook writing down thoughts and quotes I read somewhere that spoke to me and helped me in my mourning. Now and then I take them out and travel back in time. Then I become grateful for all of my soul’s development until today.
Thank you so much, Sophie, for this honest and beautiful perspective on this very vulnerable topic. We hope this only furthers the discussion about the terms we use everyday and especially the way we look at motherhood and loss – and parenthood in general. All the best for your book!
Photo: Mirjam Klein