Mother’s Day and Baby Loss
Mother’s Day is supposed to be a time for happy families and honouring all the things mums do. But it can be difficult or distressing if you’ve lost a baby recently or in the past. Grief can leave you feeling isolated and lonely, and you may feel you have to hide this from others, particularly if your friends or relatives have been awkward or unsympathetic about your loss(es). You may also feel under pressure to keep up a ‘perfect mum’ persona that leaves no room for feelings of bitterness or anger about your loss. Or you may simply be unsure how to mark the day.
The impact of loss on you and your family
At a time of year where you’re expected to be around children and celebrate motherhood you may struggle if you are missing a baby you lost, or are navigating family gatherings where you might feel envious of those who have children. If you’re struggling with fertility problems or have experienced multiple losses this time of year can be especially hard. For those who’ve had children you might want to take pride in being a mum but struggle to adjust to not having the baby, or babies, you lost with you.
Partners may feel similarly but not necessarily feel able to share their emotions or ask for help – particularly on a day that’s supposed to be about the person who carried their babies. If you have young children they may not be so aware of your losses but still can be affected by grief; while older children may be struggling but unsure how to ask for assistance. Everyone in the family may have different ways of coping and managing those reactions can be tricky especially if what one wants to do contradicts someone else’s needs. While it’s not often talked about it isn’t unusual for mums or their wider families to find Mother’s Day a tricky time – particularly if it’s your first anniversary following bereavement.
Your parents may also react in varying ways. They may be supportive and respect your ways of marking the day. Alternatively it may be painful for you to cope if your parents are making your losses all about them. If anyone in the family isn’t managing and making it your problem you may find it easier if you encourage them to use other support networks rather than sharing their sadness or disappointment with you. If you are separated from your family Mother’s Day can be a reminder of feeling rejected, moreso if you are estranged over bad behaviour following your loss(es). While if you have lost your mother or grandmother, the double sorrow of mourning her and your baby, or babies, can feel overwhelming.
When you can’t escape Mother’s Day
Shops are full of cards; TV adverts have happy, smiling families; social media suggests Mother’s Day gifts for you. Shopping online may prompt other Mother’s Day recommendations, or stores you’ve previously bought from alert you to Mothering Sunday gifts. This can be triggering and difficult to avoid. While some companies are becoming more aware of the impact of reminders and advertising and offering people the chance to opt out of alerts. But it’s still difficult to completely shut out images you’d prefer not to see.
Some people find limiting their use of media (including TV, radio and social media) for the period before or around Mother’s Day can help. As can accepting you are going to find it hard to navigate and to try and find ways to distract yourself (saving movies you want to see, creating a playlist to help you switch off, or a book to dive into as an distraction).
For those who haven’t had babies that have lived, there can be an anxiety about how others react to you. You know you’re a mother, but not everyone else is sympathetic and tactless comments – or even deliberately hurtful ones – can make an already difficult day into something more traumatic. Remembering you have every right to mark your day your way, to remember your babies how you wish, and to refer to yourself as a mother may be necessary – especially if others are not supportive. Using helplines or support groups on or offline may give you space to vent, as may finding sanctuary and solidarity in groups for those who are child free not by choice. Or connect with others using the hashtag #weareallmums on social media.
Embracing and understanding your grief
There are no right answers to grief. There’s no set time by which you’ll feel better. Instead there will always be good and bad days. This can mean Mother’s Day becomes a powerful time for remembrance, or a trigger for heartbreak. You have permission to mark the day exactly as you want to – noting that how you end up managing Mother’s Day may not be as you anticipated – and it can vary year on year.
It’s fine to tell others how you are doing and how you’d like them to support you. That may include asking them to not make a big deal of Mother’s Day, or to join in your celebrations making sure everyone remembers your baby (or babies) that aren’t with us.
Support groups are a good place to connect with other people who have experienced losses. In the run up to Mother’s Day and during the day itself making use of online forums, groups on Facebook or charity helplines or email advice services can be very reassuring.
Making new traditions after loss
– You can include the names of your baby or child that died in any celebrations you are having (and if you’re sending Mother’s Day cards, flowers or gifts, and you know the name(s) of the baby or child that died, make sure to include them). Or send yourself a card from your baby.
– You might want to pick a meaningful place to visit like a walk somewhere peaceful, a beautiful beach, or somewhere she feels happy.
– Alternatively your preferred Mother’s Day treat might be something that’s focused on your children or those of other relatives or friends, while remembering any babies not with us.
– Meaningful dates can be good times to make memorials or give gifts so Mother’s Day could include planting a tree, lighting a candle, getting a nice piece of jewellery, creating a memory box or scrap book, raising awareness, or joining an online memorial page.
– If your baby has a grave to visit, spending some time there on Mother’s Day either alone or with all the family can feel important and meaningful. You may want to take flowers or other mementoes; and take photos to keep privately or share with others in your family or on social media.
– You might ask for donations to a babyloss charity (lots are listed here), made in the name of all your children or that of the baby (or babies) you’ve lost.
– If you are religious, celebrating the day through your faith, either alone in prayer or at your place of worship, may help you feel more connected to your baby or babies.
When you don’t want to mark Mother’s Day
Not everyone wants to celebrate after loss. That might mean doing very little to mark Mother’s Day; or wanting to spend the time quietly or on a retreat with other parents who’ve been through loss.
If other people wish to celebrate the occasion and you don’t, you can resist pressure to go along with situations that make you feel uncomfortable or sad. It’s fine to say you prefer to be alone, or you don’t want to do anything. It doesn’t mean you don’t care, or are being selfish. It means you are doing what makes you feel most secure. This also extends to avoiding family gatherings where others are pregnant or have babies or children. If that is too much for you, send your good wishes, while explaining it is just too much for you at this time.
It’s your day, so you get to define, change and mark it in whatever way works best for you.
There are ideas on supporting yourself every day in Coping With Pregnancy Loss.
A version of this post appeared in Families Magazine, April 2019.