Mother's Day evokes bittersweet emotions in bereaved mothers everywhere. The pain of loss may be especially poignant for mothers without living children. Memories of loss transposed onto a world awash in flowers and greeting cards leaves women reeling. Too often, their experience of motherhood is largely unacknowledged by society. Taking place in May, a month that pulses with such tremulous beauty in long-awaited spring, Mother's Day can threaten to break the best of us.
Says Toni Brabec, whose only baby daughter Olivia died in 2013:
Before, I saw Mother's Day like most people do. A special day to honor our mothers... [I]'d pick out cards, a small gift... Now on Mother's Day, I would rather stay in or just have a small gathering... [F]or me, who has no evidence of children other than the photos in my house, I am overlooked and/or it is assumed I am not a mother at all... it is difficult because in my heart, I know I am a mother. But the world doesn't always see it like that.
This is what loving family and friends can consider doing to help support mothers without living children coping with loss.
1. Do acknowledge and affirm her standing as mother.
You can absolutely include bereaved mothers in Mother's Day events. This may feel initially awkward, but it truly is both appropriate and helpful. The tone of inclusion may feel a bit more subdued, but the mother without living children should have her heroic struggle to mourn, remember, and find meaning marked. She will decline if she is not comfortable, but she will appreciate the invitation.
2. Do send a card.
It is comforting to receive an acknowledgement in the mail regarding loss. These cards are evidence of the existence of babies gone too soon, and these apparently slight things carry precious love to shore up mothers mourning and remembering.
3. Don't try to talk her out of grief.
Resist the impulse to try to make her feel better. Instead, let her miss her child. Most expressions of grief that tow with them an undercurrent of the "at least," will only inadvertently push the bereaved away.
4. Do ask her questions about her loss/her birth/her stillbirth.
Depending upon your relationship to the bereaved, dialogue can be helpful. It promotes the integration of grief and complex healing. Loss, when processed, can reveal phenomenally painful truths about being alive. However, the other side of the pain is the recognition of the beauty that is also inherent in living. Bereaved mothers don't take much for granted. They can teach a great deal in this regard.
5. Do take care to acknowledge the loss of their baby.
If you see a Facebook post pertaining to loss, the mother is reaching out. Go ahead and comment -- add your voice to the supportive community. You may not know what to say, but "I am thinking of you," is a powerful statement.
Part of the isolation born of perinatal loss is the lack of shared memories. It is for this reason that efforts to invite the sharing of memories have great import. The bereaved mother is working to find her place in a whole new world. It is a lonely journey and she does appreciate the company.