Updated: May 15
Holidays, in general, are rough while you are in a season of grief but for bereaved mothers, Mother's Day seems especially piercing. While every single TV commercial, piece of mail in your mailbox, and internet post or advertising is wishing all mothers a Happy Mother's Day, there are many women that are feeling a punch in the gut with each one.
What Exactly are the Qualifications of a Mother?
Does it have to be only a woman who has given birth?
Mothers come in various forms and have different titles- adoptive mom, stepmother, foster mom, dads who are taking on the role of mom, grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren, mother-in-law, treasured aunt or friend, and dog mom. We all know those women who have children but they don't care for them properly yet are still given the esteemed title of mother, so not every woman who gives birth is a true mother. Motherhood can be any woman (or man in the mommy role) who truly loves and cherishes the gift of a child (or in the case of a dog mom an animal baby).
Where Does that leave a Loss Mama?
So in all of those definitions of what a mother is where does that leave the moms who almost had a child? Or had a child but don't get to raise them? Are they still considered a mother? I think absolutely yes. Unfortunately the mothers I just listed are celebrated because they are actively mothering a child of some age, but the mothers who don't have a visible child are often forgotten. This causes those of us who don't get to raise our babies so much pain because we wanted motherhood so badly.
I want to revise the above list (and let the world know) that the definition of a mother also includes mothers who didn't think they wanted a baby but found themselves pregnant and instantly fell in love only to lose them before they were born, mothers who desperately want a baby and refinance their whole life to afford the medical procedures to increase their chances to conceive, mothers who are pregnant and experience a loss at any stage before birth or women who have a live child at any age and tragically lose their life. There are so many interesting and beautiful versions of mothers, and so many children in the world who want and need the love that if you possess the kind of love a mother does for her child whether or not they are physically yours, you need to be celebrated.
The Forgotten Ones
I think the biggest issue that comes up on Mother's Day or any holiday is the thought that your baby is forgotten since they aren't visible. It's real. It happens even in the best of families. Again, we are dealing with social stigma and many people have a very limited definition of what a mother is so they may come to you with a "maybe next year you'll be a mother" or "you'll be a good mother when the time is right" and it's your job to remind them that you are a mother. It is OK to ask that your baby not be forgotten and that they were very real and loved. The moment you found out you were expecting you added a new person to your family. My twins died on November 5, so for Christmas that year I gifted each of our parents with an ornament with the girls' names and birthdates on it and it did become a special reminder to them each year after. My husband's parents hung it on their wall after and it is still there to this day which means a lot to me that they too don't want to forget.
Ways to Honor our Babies on Mother's Day
Mother's Day is approaching and you can lessen the blows by staying off of social media or silencing email notifications that keep coming in with advertisements for the perfect gift, and you are valid and welcome to cancel any family plans and ignore them altogether if you wish. I am giving you permission to do so. However, you, if you choose to you, could spend this holiday honoring your baby and the love you acquired by their presence in your life. Here are some ideas:
*If you are attending a family gathering consider gifting each family with a special memorial gift of your baby. Maybe a plant they can plant and watch blossom every year, a special candle or some sort of figurine or special ornament. It is a way to let them know that you want your baby to be remembered and that they were a special part of the family even though they are not still here.
*You can indulge in a special self-care day for yourself. One that starts with journaling, a long bath, and a delicious home-cooked meal, or a long walk in the woods and in the sunshine. You could even treat yourself to a spa day with a massage, (you could include your partner if you wish) pedicure, or even just a day on the couch in a blanket binge-watching the Johnny Depp trial (it seems like the best thing on TV right now!).
*If your baby has a burial place you could visit and talk to them about what you might be doing today if there were with you. Thank them for giving you the opportunity to become a mother and feel the capacity of love a mother has. I love writing so I always think writing letters to them is helpful. It feels like you can have a direct line to your baby right along with praying
*Shopping therapy always works well for me and if it makes you feel better to buy some new clothes to feel good about your body again then spend the day shopping and celebrating the body that is strong enough to survive all that you've been through.
However it is that you decide to spend this day I want to encourage you to look at it as a celebration of what is and not what's missing. I'm not trying to paint a Pollyanna picture about this because I know the pain is real, but I think the kindest thing you can do for yourself and in honor of your baby is to listen to yourself. If you can find some shred of enjoyment and celebration this Mother's Day I want you to hang onto that! You ARE a mother and don't allow anyone else's words to take that away from you. If you need to be with family, do it. If you need to be with just your husband, do it. If you want time alone, find it. Mother's Day is designed to celebrate Mothers and since you are a bereaved mother you get to decide what is best for you. Don't let the pressures of others telling you what you should do influence your plans.
I work with women who struggle after the loss of their baby to heal and begin to move forward so that they can live a life full of possibility again. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about how I can help you and to schedule a free support session. Also, check my website https://www.jennifersenn.com to download my free e-book "10 Questions You Ask Yourself When You Lose Your Baby" and 3-part video series "The Truth About the Loss of Your Baby" and find me on Instagram @navigatingbabyloss.