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. This would have been my first Mother’s Day as a mom too. Unfortunately our daughter passed away at 5 months. I received lovely sentiments from family and friends and sent them. It’s tough and there is no easy way to enter it into conversation. I have found some great support through some online groups of other parents who have angel babies from noonans. Lots of love and Happy Mother’s Day. While we may not have our children to hold they still exist in our hearts and memories.

  2. You are mother to an angel. She will forever be with you and watch over your future children, she will keep them safe for you just like any big sister should. I offer you my sincerest condolences and I hope in the future this becomes an easier day for you. Happy Mother’s Day

  3. Scoti
    I will always be a mother to my precious son Justin who passed away January 17, 2004. However on Mother’s Day, I really wish people would not say anything to me, it is a painful, and hurtful day for me and I am not happy.

  4. My heart hurts for and WITH you! This is my 2nd Mother’s Day since losing my infant son Sam, an identical twin boy. And I feel as though I’m now a fake person, living life as 2 mothers. One that is busy with hectic chaos of motherly duties to my 2 living children, on robot mode most of the time as I muddle through the days. Then there’s the other side of me, the one whose heart never stops hurting, there’s a deep hole – a well inside of me that longs to hold my son Sam again, to sing to him, to kiss him goodnight. I sometimes curl up on the ground of his gravesite and wish I could reach down and hold him again (I rarely visit him, because as a mother to 2 other children I don’t feel like I can let myself grieve and hurt and fall apart – for their sakes). So I look whole and normal, but deep inside there’s an emptiness where my heart used to be. I can’t walk with my surviving twin without imagining the shadow of his brother right beside us. Would they fight? Would they be best friends? I always dreamt of watching them snuggle up together, my 3 children, but I’ll never see that day. Mother’s Day is particularly painful as people only recognize me as a mother to 2, without knowing that I am and will always be, a mother to 3

    • Heather, since I wrote this post years ago I have been blessed with 2 children. Today my now 4 year old daughter asked me where Zoë is and why we cannot see her. That feeling of having a shadow child is exactly how I feel. I have intense guilt the moment I tell someone I have 2 children instead of saying I am a mother of 3. Saying 2 is easier…but leaves me wracked with guilt. Saying I have 3 means explaining where my 3rd one is…. I wish you all the best in your life, and know that you are not the only mom who has a child in the shadows.

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