Mother’s Day Grief: dealing with the day after infant loss

Guest post by Laura Young
Laura and Zoë at Children’s Hospital Boston. Photo by Mary Louise Delano.

Mother’s Day is approaching like a freight train with no breaks… and it is heading right at me.

Normally Mother’s Day has been a day of mild celebration. My brothers and I would get a small gift for my mother, maybe a card, and we would tell her we love her. We are not a family that puts a lot of emphasis on holidays. But this year was going to be THE year. It was or is my first Mother’s Day, and I don’t know how to react.

Maybe I should explain. My beautiful daughter Zoë Faye was born on October 22, 2011. She passed away from a Malignant Rhabdoid Tumor on April 1, 2012. Zoë was my first baby, my only baby. And now here I am counting down the days to Mother’s Day.

I don’t know how to react. My body says I am a mother, with stretch marks, and widely set hips, and breasts that won’t stop lactating… but I don’t have a baby. I am suffering a loss so great that I cannot begin to explain it.

I guess I have two choices when it comes to Mother’s Day Grief

I can curl up and ignore it — change the channel on the radio when commercials for flowers come on. Stay out of stores, keep the television off, and hibernate until it is over.

Or I can embrace it. I can set out and purchase my small Mother’s Day gift and maybe a card for my mother. Visit with my family and acknowledge how wonderful it is to be a mother.

I know that somewhere, someone will wish me a Happy Mother’s Day. This is something that began happening to me years ago before I was even trying to have a baby. I was always shocked by bold strangers who would take a shot in the dark and wish me a Happy Mother’s Day.

I made it a point never to say such a thing to a woman unless I knew emphatically that she was a mother. What if I was saying this to a woman who could not conceive, or put a child up for adoption? Now I think what if I say it to someone like me… someone who lost a baby. Their only baby.

There isn’t a word in the English language for someone like me, a mother whose child died.

We can say that someone is an orphan (but only if they lose both parents), or someone is a widow. But there isn’t a way of describing the parent who has lost a child. Which makes it so much harder to explain to people why I am the way I am. I cannot easily say to that bold stranger, “I am sorry I am a _______. But thank you for wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day anyway.”

Losing a child is a tragedy that is not easy to ease into a conversation. There is not an easy way to say, “I am sorry I am a bit spacey today, I lost my baby last month.”

Someone said to me today, “Man, all I want to do is stay in bed all day today with this rainy weather.” I just responded with, “You have no idea.” I feel like my ability to even have small talk has slipped away.

I am feeling like a small canoe lost at sea.

I am floating around, and I look rather normal up close. It is only unless you look a little longer and see the bigger picture do you see just how lost I really am. So here I go lost and floating around out into the greater world waiting for that stranger to boldly wish me a Happy Mother’s Day. I will smile and say, “Thank you.” I will think of my Zoë, and do my best to be her mother on this very scary Mother’s Day.

Editor’s note:

There are many phenomenal support groups and websites for those dealing with Mother’s Day grief and infant loss. I asked my friend Kirsten, who lost her first child, Ewan, on October 4, 2011 for a few resources that helped her. Kirsten also started Say Their Names in honor of National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day. Please feel free to add your own in the comments:

She is someone who has experienced infant loss, and has some really beautiful and artistic ways of helping other women heal from similar losses.

I am the Face is all about generating awareness, educating on the truths of miscarriage/stillbirth/infant loss, and putting faces on it. Really awesome site.

I just discovered this site — it has some good, basic, helpful things for friends and family and resources for bereaved parents as well (including how to stop unwanted “hey, you’ve got a new baby!” mail. Ugh. Hated that stuff (and now I’m getting “hey, you’ve got a toddler!” mail).

Comments on Mother’s Day Grief: dealing with the day after infant loss

  1. Honest and beautiful. My heart goes out to you for your tremendous loss! You are a mother through and through. That will never change. I hope that as the years go by, Mother’s Day won’t be such a dreadful time for you. I think that it should still be a day to celebrate you.

  2. Yes, yes, yes. All those emotions and more. I lost my son Johnathan in December 2005, and this is one of the most difficult times of the year.

    I can’t say it gets easier, but the grief does change, and over time the loss becomes integrated into your life. One day you feel happy again, and another day the loss will overwhelm you. And over time the happy days outnumber the overwhelming days.

    And your Zoe becomes part of it all.

    Be kind and gentle with yourself, especially this first Mother’s Day.

  3. Wow I am crying so hard right now. It is hard losing someone and I can not begin to imagine the pain felt. Though I have never lost a child, I suffered a different kind of loss. I went through a grief support group to understand the pain felt because when people say things like “time heals” is bull crap. This is an emotional wound that never goes away and never heals. I was surrounded by woman and men that have lost their child and I could not believe the strength they had inside of them even though their exterior looked beaten down. The days will pass, some tears will fall but you are the living memory. You are a strong woman for staying as tough as you can. I envy your strength. Sorry for the extended comment. Just felt the need to acknowledge the courage this woman has.

  4. What a beautiful expression of your feelings! I am so sorry for the loss of beautiful Zoe. You ARE a mama and always will be, forever in your heart.

    I, too, lost a daughter. It’s been 7 years. Mother’s day is one of the most surprisingly difficult days. I choose to go to her ‘special place’ each mother’s day to ‘be’ with her. I often write to her, talk to her, simply sit and remember. Shed a few tears and then breathe a sigh of relief when the day is over. I often see hearts in the sky, I like to think of as a hello from Heaven!

    I shall hold you and Zoe in my thoughts. May you find peace in this difficult time. There is no right or wrong way to experience mother’s day, or any other day when you’ve lost a child. Just allow yourself to honor your feelings.


    • I am so very sorry for your loss Kim. I have been doing balloon launches when I feel the need to “talk” to Zoë. I write to her, then tie the note to a balloon and set it free. As much as the notes are personnel, but it also feels good to think someone may read them.

      I am happy to see that I am not the only one writing to my child.

  5. such a terrible loss…i can’t imagine. love and hugs on your first mother’s day. i have one of the titles you mentioned…widow. i spent my first mother’s day with my baby in my arms, but without the one who helped me make him, and with no other family to spend the day with. it’s not the same and i can’t pretend to know what it is your going through, but it hurt like hell.

    feel what you feel. my heart goes out to you.

  6. I lost my first child 13 years ago. It was a few weeks before Mother’s Day. My son, Isaac, was beautiful in every way but he was born with severe congenital heart defects and only lived to be 3 months and 3 days old. I remember being unusually strong after his rather sudden death. I put together the funeral, wrote the obituary, and helped comfort family. And, then when everyone left and it was quiet…I fell apart. The pain of losing your child eventually numbs. But, I think the experience is similar to losing an arm or leg. You intellectually know that you are missing a limb but part of your brain thinks that it is still there.

    My son changed my life and I think he impacted the way that I mother his siblings. He has a brother, a sister, and another brother expected to be born this year. I sometimes watch my children play and think how different things would be had my son not died. What I cannot fathom is how different I would be if he had not died. My little son changed my life and continues to affect our family even after 13 years. He made me a better mother and a better person.

    I hope that you find a way to make Mother’s Day special and meaningful for you this year.

    • Tracy I am so very sorry for your loss. I know that lost limb feeling. I wander around my house all the time looking for something. I know I will not find what I am looking for…but I cannot seem to stop looking anyway.

      Happy Mother’s Day to you too!

    • Tracy – my daughter is 7 and was also born with severe congenital heart defects. Thankfully, she is still with me, but I know that many others are now “angels”. You are always a “heart mom” like so many others of us. That badge never goes away.

  7. i just want to hug you so terribly now. i know nothing of loss you (and anyone else in this position) have felt. but i now feel the urge to curl around my little baby girl and cry for your loss.

  8. Hugs mama.

    Last mothers day was my first. My twins were in the NICU and one was very sick with Necrotizing Enterocolitis at the time. While my situation is different then yours, and I am so sorry for your loss, I can say that partying it up on Mothers Day helped me. I took myself out for dinner and drinks. I didn’t think I could emotionally handle brunch with all the other moms but dinner and wine was just right. I talked to my mom on the phone and had a nice day. I celebrated being a mom even though I wasn’t able to be with my children.

    Also, a website that we like We’ve donated their Lily Wraps to our NICU in the past.

    • Keren,
      I wanted to thank you for sharing our website here on Offbeat Mama. Laura’s story about Zoe is heartbreaking and too many of us can relate to her pain, especially with the passing of Mother’s Day. I also wanted to thank you for taking the time to share that you donated LilyWraps to your local NICU. I am happy to hear that you like them. If you have a moment to email me and share your story I would love to hear it. Much love ♥

  9. You made me get teary. There is nothing I could say to make it better. You won’t get over it, you’ll get through it. You probably won’t sprint through it, you’ll crawl. But you’ll get there. And you ARE a mother, forever. Don’t ever feel like you’re not.

  10. There truly are no word for this. Well there is one, heartbreaking. I have honestly just put my arms around my 2yr old harder than ever before after reading this. I say this to a woman no a mother I don’t even really know, but you are and will always be that beautiful little baby girls mother. No matter what has happened you are and will always be her mother. So this Mother Day you and every other mama who have ever lost a child should hold your head twice as high a those of us who have never had to feel the pain that you have felt. For you are one of the most beautiful mothers out there. I wish you the best first Mothers Day any mama has ever had. And know that there will be a silent prayer sent up for you and your baby girl this Mothers Day.

  11. Laura, you are a wonderful mother,I’m always following up on y’all on Facebook, and Zoe’s website. Take it easy on your first mothers day, because after all you are a mother, you carried Zoe in your womb for 9 months, you felt her grow, you cared for Zoe throughout her life, you loved her unconditionally, & you are determined to make her story known, and get her foundation going, and I admire you and Zeppo for that. You guys are always in my prayers. hugs.

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