Being a mother is a hard job. This is especially true when your baby dies and the title and role of motherhood blurs. When Mother’s Day rolls around each year, it can be a challenging time for mothers without their children, for those who have had a miscarriage, stillbirth, early infant loss or any other kind of death.
When I was about halfway through my pregnancy with my second child, my husband Aaron and I received devastating news. Our unborn child had a rare disease and the doctors predicted he would be stillborn. My baby held on and was born alive at thirty weeks, but only lived a few moments before dying in my arms. Thus began my complicated relationship with Mother’s Day.
We named our son Zachary and I wept for him every day in the first, most difficult months. I soon discovered that my family and friends were uncomfortable talking about Zachary and didn’t know what to say. Some people offered encouragement that was not helpful for a mother’s broken heart, things like, “At least you can have more children,” and, “Everything happens for a reason,” and, “God has a plan.” I felt isolated and didn’t know who to talk to.
Zachary died three years and seven months ago and in that time I have learned a great deal about mourning. I came to see that there is a season for distraction and a season for intentionally facing grief. The pain was raw at first but time helped in its gradual way. There were situations and people I couldn’t face for a long time, like other pregnant women, other children a similar age to what Zachary would have been and males that shared his name. I also learned that there was no one right way to mourn; each person approaches grief differently and has unique needs.
About a year after Zachary died, I began writing a blog called Wanted Chosen Planned about life after the loss of a child. Through my blog I connected with moms like myself online and in person. I came to see the amazing bravery of these women, and their families, to carry on with life each and every day following their loss. It was heartening, yet at the same time I recognized the common experience of loneliness, and they too added phrases to the list of what not to say to bereaved families.
Roughly one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage; that is a high number of women, husbands, partners, siblings, grandparents, and friends impacted by the loss. When a baby dies you not only lose them as a person, but also the future they would have inhabited, the future of the whole family. I believe that openness around loss and struggle will ease feelings of isolation. When families share their stories, people may come together in support and empathy.
The single greatest gift a person can give a bereaved mother on Mother’s Day is that of a listening ear. Ask the mom how she is doing and then wait, let her answer, give her time. The mother does not want you to solve her situation or fix her pain. What she needs is genuine compassion through companionship and the ability to be vulnerable so she may express herself with honesty. The people in my life who have given this gift have had the biggest impact on my life and I appreciate them more than words can say.
The death of a child is the most unimaginable pain of motherhood, yet there is strength in community and openness. I believe that a woman whose baby has died, at any stage, is still a mother. Her love for that child lives on, undying, and will be with her always. This love and resiliency of bereaved mothers is inspiring and worth honoring, not only on Mother’s Day but every day.