Dealing with Mother’s Day after the death of a child

Guest post by Laura Young
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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. 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.

Laura and Zoë at Children's Hospital Boston. Photo by Mary Louise Delano.
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 to never 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 who have lost an infant and/or child. 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 Dealing with Mother’s Day after the death of a child

  1. oh sweetheart. I’m so sorry for this loss. While I have not lost a child due to death I have placed my first and only child for adoption. The first Mother’s day sucked. I did spend it with good family friends but I was just numb through the whole day. I wish I could say the rest of the mother’s day gets better, but it hasn’t for me. Sure the rest of the year is easier minus a few key days but this day is always hard. Keep your chin up and don’t feel ashamed if you have to go cry. If you can’t handle something just simply excuse yourself and do what you need to do.
    Send hugs and prayers your way.

    • Amalaa, I respectfully insist that you ARE a mother, in the only way that really counts! You put a child’s needs and future ahead of yourself. That is pure love and devotion, and speaks to the very heart of motherhood. Believe me that somewhere out there some people are thinking of you and thanking you for your sacrifice so that they could have the wonderful family life they have today. I’m taking a minute to say that thank you for them, where ever they are, because I have experienced the joy of adoption (my brother was adopted, 37 years ago.) Thanks and happy belated mother’s day to you, Amalaa

  2. Laura, thank you so much for sharing your personal story with all of us—mothers, notmothers, horeh shakuls.

    Mother’s Day is so loaded, and such a trigger, both at once. We’re supposed to make it all flowers, brunch, and Hallmark but people are in pain all around being reminded of their losses and griefs. Their mother just passed away, they lost a child, their daughter is a heroin addict no one’s heard from in two decades, they had an abortion as a teenager and were never able to conceive as an adult. During my acute grief I hid during Mothers Day and that turned out to be best for me.

    I don’t know you, but I will be thinking of you this Sunday.

  3. I am not a “crier,” but I read your post and instantly began to weep. I cannot imagine what you have been through or how you feel, but you have put things in perspective for me regarding my own children. My heart goes out to you and even though we are strangers I will think of you on Mothers day. Thank you for sharing.

  4. I watched my parents go through losing my younger brother eight years ago. I don’t know if I’m a strong enough person to go through what my parents and you have had to deal with. But you are still a mom even if your baby isn’t here anymore.

  5. I am so, so sorry for your loss. Judaism teaches us to say “may her memory be a blessing,” and it sounds like this is deeply true for your daughter.

    Our daughters were born on the same day. I cannot even imagine what you have gone through, but just an inkling of what it must be like made me cry. HUGS.

  6. There’s also a word in german. I think the fact there is no word in English is very telling. We like to pretend that this never happens and I think that this leads to ignorance for many people which adds to an already impossible situation for mothers whose babies have died. I hope that on mothers day you do whatever you need to get through it. If you want to celebrate and feel you can the do it. If you want to not get out of bed then that’s fine too.

  7. I am so very sorry for your loss. This is my 2nd mother’s day after the loss of my daughter Harper, who was stillborn. I was blessed to have to children before her but it is still hard. As the months have passed I am finding that instead of terrible 2’s I have the terrible blues. I hope tomorrow is easy on you.

  8. My heart aches and goes out to you on Mother’s Day. I just became a mother 2 weeks ago and knowing the love I have for him, and you have for your daughter, I could not imagine the pain you are feeling. My thoughts will be with you and the other mothers who have lost a child. It is truly heartbreaking.

  9. This year was the first year since the passing of my little one (UK Mothers Day was March 18th, and sadly, also my birthday) and it broke my heart to see everyone talking about their children and their bumps, I had to embrace that I’m a mother too. Big hugs x

  10. You are now and always will be Zoë’s mommy. NOthing can take that from you my beautiful one. This is not the Mother’s Day we intended, but we will still love and care about her and you and make the best of the hand we have been dealt.

  11. So sorry for your loss. I can’t even begin to imagine.

    My mother in law lost her second child when he was just a few months old. Even though only his older sister ever “met” George, my fiance and all of his siblings still count him in the sibling roundup. As in, “I’m the youngest of five kids” instead of the four that grew up to be adults. I wanted to tell you this because it always comforts his mom to have George remembered by his little sister and brothers. Even though your daughter was only with you for a little while, she’s still a part of your family and her memory will always be with you.

    Hugz!

    • I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful this is to read! I hope that my future children will all count Zoë as a sibling. I told this to my husband, and it made his day. It sounds like your husband, and his family are some amazing people.

    • That is comforting to me and my husband, also. We lost two babies(pregnancies) in the past year, and we always thought of them as our kids still. We were so excited when I was pregnant the second time and we planned on telling him all about his sister, Hope, in Heaven. We lost the second baby late January. We named him Josiah. Now we think about them often, and plan to tell our future kids about their big sister and brother. =] Thanks for sharing!

  12. Happy Mothers Day <3

    After my miscarriage, dates such as my due date and mothers day drove me to tears for a long time. As cliche as it is, time and looking towards the positive things in my life got me through it. Hopefully one day the happiness she brought you will overpower the tough times.

  13. Laura,
    You are truly an amazing person… There are no words for the loss of a child because, it’s not suppose to be that way but,sadly sometimes it is… I will be & have been thinking of you as Mother’s day has gotten closer & I do say a prayer for you… Maybe when you see your Mom grab a couple of balloons & send them to Zoe.. I’m still in awww the day we did the baloon release.. EVERYONE around the word sent picts. So, maybe you could try that.. I’ll be thinking of you… ♥

  14. Wishing you a really good mother’s day with lots of hugs to a very special mother. I used to hate mother’s day because my mother passed away when I was a teenager and I really resented strangers reminding me to send something to my mother. It just hurt. It still does. But I remind myself that Mother’s day (originally) is about celebrating those aspects that make women wonderful mothers to all of us- whether they are our birth mothers or not. So this day is about women who are caring, nurturing, protective and wonderful people and I celebrate them.

    I celebrate you as someone who has already added to the world in many beautiful ways. Zoey was lucky to have you in her life for her short time here.

  15. I’m afraid of not responding to this, but i’m also afraid to respond to this. There is nothing i can say to make you feel better but you are in my heart today and I will think of you and how you are doing from now on. You are a mother and always will be and don’t let yourself let go of that. Being a mama is all about strength and you have more of that than i can ever imagine.
    Have peace

  16. I am so so sorry for your loss. Thank you for being strong enough to talk about this. My brother-in-law lost his only son this past March, and reading your story just made me realize that I have no idea what to say to him next month, what would have been his first Father’s Day. Being a mother I can’t even imagine what you are going through. Happy Mother’s Day Laura. I know your little Zoe is smiling down at you.

    • Katie I don’t know how your brother-in-law will feel on Father’s Day. But I can tell you that friends and family wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day felt lovely. Those who did so quietly, and just said, “I love you”, were the best.

  17. I am a total blubbering mess after reading this. Your beautiful daughter was born two days before my sprout. I can not imagine how hard this must have been to share and I am deeply sorry for your loss 🙁 I hope you had the best Mother’s day possible. xxx

  18. You are most definitely a mama and you always will be.
    Loss is so personal, there’t no one right way to handle holidays. You do what you feel you should. (obviously it has passed and you did what was good for you)
    The first Father’s day after my husband lost his son, he requested we stay in and just go about a normal day and not really talk about what day it was or call anyone, our respective fathers understood. It was too much for him to deal with.
    The following Father’s day, we had a new baby. So it was low key but we got him a card and he called his dad.
    This year, he has already hinted and what he would like as a Father’s day gift.
    It has already been said, it doesn’t get easier, but it changes.

  19. although we lost our pregnancy early on, i think back to the first moment i saw that heartbeat on the sonar.

    the moment it dawned on me that we were, and would always be parents.

    while it ripped us apart, loosing our little one, i’m so very proud that we made something and someone that beautiful.

    it breaks my heart we never had the chance to hold our little one. a sadness made worse by the thought that a miscarriage is seen as ‘less’ of a loss than any other

    i could never have imagined how fast i could have fallen in love with that being… or have given the world for her or him.

    i hope that in time, like the song goes, your grief may pass.

    i hope that when that time comes, what remains is a love like none other, gentle pride and unforgettable memories of a precious, brave and beautiful baby girl.

  20. Hello,
    I am crying as I read this because I lost my one and only child 27 days ago, He name was/is Emerson. He was almost 6 months old, I woke up to find him blue and not breathing, I tried CPR but I new he was gone. This was my first Mother’s day too. I am so alone, sad, and grieving….God bless Zoe, you for your story, and my son Emerson.

    • Naomi,

      I am so very sorry for your loss. I wish I were alone in my struggle, but sometimes it is helpful to know that I am not. If you would like to PM me feel free. My email is [email protected]. Love and Hugs

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