A mother is not defined by the number of children you can see, but by the love she holds in her heart. ~Francesca Cox
Honoring your Parenthood By: Rose Carlson, Program Director, National Share Office
I had my fourth miscarriage in April 1993; it rocked me to my core and brought me to my knees. That loss, more so than the previous three, left my heart completely shattered, and my hope, well, gone. Gone forever, I thought back then. Mother’s Day that year, just a few weeks later, was so incredibly painful, and I had not been expecting that. I had a living child at the time, my sweet little boy who was almost two. I loved him fiercely, but it was impossible for me to not think of my losses, the last two of which had happened only three months apart. It was impossible for me not to think that I should be celebrating motherhood not only as a mom to my son, but also as an expectant mom glowing and full of a new life after experiencing heartache and loss. It was impossible for me not think about how I should be spending that Mother’s Day filled with excitement about my growing family. Instead, I was a mom who could not get through a day without crying. I was a mom who had to force herself to leave town to visit her own mom on Mother’s Day. Even though I really did not want to, I went to church that Mother’s Day with my mom and my aunt. My faith, just as my heart, was tattered and torn, and I hadn’t been to church since the miscarriage. But, church was important to my mom and my aunt, so I put my anger at God aside, and I went. And then came that inevitable moment that grieving parents know so well—the moment when the priest invited all the mothers to stand. While I was already brokenhearted and sad, I wasn’t prepared for the tears that began to flow as I stood in the church where just a few years before, I had stood full of joy, hope and promise as my husband and I exchanged our wedding vows. I didn’t have to wonder if I should stand as a mother like those who don’t have a living child often wonder, and yes, it was a day I was celebrated as a mother, but it was also a day woven through with sadness and grief as I was no longer the mother I wished to be. I hadn’t yet fully recovered physically, much less emotionally, and that Mother’s Day was a wistful reminder of all I had lost. It was a day of confusing mixed emotions that I did not know how to deal with. That day, I remember feeling so envious of all the smiling moms in church, sure I was the only one who was feeling so heavy-hearted; with the perspective of time, I know now there must have been others just like me…moms missing children who were no longer with them. Neither my mom or aunt asked why I had cried in church. Back then, I had no one to tell me what I was feeling was completely normal; no one acknowledged the deep sense of grief I was feeling, and I kept my thoughts to myself. I felt rather silly, even a bit crazy, to be honest. Who was I to cry and be sad? I had a precious little boy sitting on my lap. I should be feeling happy, right? I wondered what was wrong with me, why I couldn’t just be happy for the child I did have rather than focus on the ones who weren’t there with me. Unfortunately, once you have experienced the loss of a baby, nothing is as it should be, and feelings are not so black and white. If this is your first Mother’s or Father’s Day since the death of your beloved baby, or even if it is not, whether you have living children or not, you may be dreading the holiday. You may have very jumbled up emotions and wonder how you can possibly celebrate as a mother, or even celebrate your own mother, when you are feeling devastated and heartbroken. However, with some planning in advance, it may be possible for you to find a peaceful way to spend these painful days. Hopefully, some of the following stories from other Share parents will give you ideas for ways you can comfort and honor yourselves as the very special parents you are. What most all parents want and need is to simply be acknowledged as a heartbroken parent, whether or not they have living children, and several moms shared meaningful ways they have celebrated and been honored as parents. Robyn, a mom whose first baby, Grace, was born still eight years ago, clearly remembers her first Mother’s Day. “I dreaded the day for weeks. I knew I was a mom, but I worried that no one else would remember me on Mother’s Day. I think I dreaded that more than anything! I wanted everyone to embrace me as a heartbroken mama who was desperately missing her girl.” Some of Robyn’s friends and family members did reach out to her, and she is grateful for that. “I will never forget the touching messages I got that day. It made my heart swell to know that other people looked upon me as a mother, even though my baby was not here.” Another mom, Holly, expressed a similar sentiment. “What meant the most to me on that first Mother’s Day was knowing that I was not the only one who thought of me as a mother.” Both Robyn and Holly, along with other moms, agree that the touching gifts they have received over the years mean the world to them. Lucy, who experienced a stillbirth and an early pregnancy loss before giving birth to her healthy son in 2013, will never forget her group of close friends who sent her drawings, cards, photos and other images of butterflies on the first Mother’s Day after her first loss. “They planned it so I received something in the mail every day of the week leading up to Mother’s Day. I cried every day, but they were good, healing tears, and as long as I live, I will never forget the love and gratitude I felt for my friends during that horrible time.” Robyn cherishes the letters her mom writes to her each year on Mother’s Day, letters that start out, “Dear Mommy” and end with, “Love you forever, your darling Grace.” Robyn also received a Mother’s Day gift she treasures from her husband on her first Mother’s Day after their second daughter was born—a necklace with both of their daughter’s birthstones. What makes it extra-special for her is that both of their daughters were born in the same month. “It would have been easy for him to only put one stone in the necklace to represent both girls, but I love that he put two.” Not everyone has family and friends who honor and recognize them as parents on these difficult days, which can feel like salt in your wound. They may think that sending you a card or doing something for you on Mother’s or Father’s Day will make you too sad, so they avoid reaching out to you. While it can be hard to not take this personally, try not to. Most people who love and care about you simply do not know what they should do or say. Do something memorable for yourselves, even if others do not.
© If you are spending the day with others, find a way to include your baby. Bring a bouquet of your favorite flowers or a candle to light during the meal. © Find a meaningful way to honor your baby. Spend the weekend performing random acts of kindness or make a donation to your favorite charity in your baby’s name.
© Write a letter to your baby telling him or her how becoming a mother or father felt along with all of the things you wish you were doing on Mother’s/Father’s Day. It can be very healing to get your thoughts and emotions down on paper, and if you make it a yearly tradition, you will have a treasured keepsake.
© If you attend a church that honors parents in a special way, take part in the celebration because you are most definitely parents! Sari, mom of twin boys who died, recalled, “I went to church with my family and when they asked for all the moms to stand, I stood up, crying the whole time, but I was a mom, I am a mom, and just because I wasn't carrying my babies in my arms, I was/am still their mother!”
© Plant a garden in your yard using colors you love or plants that have special meaning. Add to your garden each year, and don’t forget to take photos!
© If you enjoy being outdoors, plan a hike, picnic or other outing to either your favorite place or one you have not been to before.
© Make or purchase a piece of jewelry. Give a duplicate to your own mom in honor of her grandchild.
© If you have other children, set aside some quiet time by yourself early Mother’s and Father’s Day morning to remember, reflect and think about your baby before moving into the happy celebrations later in the day.
© Prepare your heart for others to not acknowledge how painful these days can be for you. If you have had another baby since your loss, you may feel hurt if someone sends you a card congratulating you on your first Mother’s and Father’s Day.
© If you are like Ashley and “just want to disappear through May” and do not feel up to celebrating these two days, that is okay. Give yourself permission to do whatever feels right to you, even if that means staying close to home or taking a trip away.
© Do not hesitate to tell others what you need. As already mentioned, most of your loved ones will be unsure as to how to best support you, and it is perfectly fine to tell your friends and family members how you want to acknowledge these days. Sometimes, just knowing that you want to be honored and celebrated on Mother’s and Father’s Day is all that others need to know to tell them you want them to celebrate you as well. Perhaps the most important thing of all that you can do on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is to find a special way honor your parenthood. Take Mya’s advice: “This year would be my official Mother's Day. It's kind of sad, but when I think about it I am still a mother. I plan on doing little things to pamper myself and make me feel good. Get a new outfit and get my nails done. We are still moms even though our child isn't with us physically. Our babies are still with us and would want us to enjoy and be recognized like everyone else.” Make it your priority to tenderly care for your grieving hearts in the same loving way you care for your baby’s memory. Embrace the day and celebrate yourselves as parents. Bridget’s mom, Laura, sums it up perfectly. “I just hope everyone remembers that they are a mommy. Please don't forget that.”