This year, we celebrate International Bereaved Mother's Day on May 2, a holiday celebrated on the first Sunday of May.
It is no coincidence that Bereaved Mother's Day falls the Sunday before Mother's Day. It gives women who have experienced the death of a child, those struggling to conceive, or those who are unable to fall pregnant at all a little breathing room. Mother's Day can often bring feelings of immense pain, sadness, and isolation, leaving one unable to connect with the outside world.
Society is quick to celebrate mothers with living children and often forgets to recognize all mothers. So today, on Bereaved Mother's Day, I want to celebrate all the moms with empty arms. Mother's Day didn't start as a commercialized mess with cards, flowers, and husbands scrambling last minute to get candy at the nearest CVS. Anna Jarvis created this memorable holiday in 1908 to honor her mother, who gave birth to over twelve children, four of which made it to adult age. Anna Jarvis praised her mother not for her ability to birth a dozen children but for her ability to endure the indescribable pain of child loss.
International Bereaved Mother's Day is an attempt to get back to the heart of the holiday. It's to recognize all mothers and celebrate all life, no matter how long or short, whether in the womb or out of the womb. All mothers should be recognized, celebrated, and loved.
Let's start the healing now. Today's blog post will cover:
Three stories from bereaved mothers' making a difference in their community
Five ways you can help a bereaved mother on Mother's Day
Seven hand-selected articles just for you to help get you through Mother's Day
3 Bereaved Mother's Making A Difference
Hudson's Mom, Amy
A STORY ABOUT HUDSON, A BEAUTIFUL BOY DIAGNOSED WITH HLHS (HYPOPLASTIC LEFT HEART SYNDROME). AFTER A STRONG FIGHT, HUDSON WENT TO BE WITH THE LORD AT EIGHT MONTHS OLD. AMY SHARES THE COMPLEX EMOTIONS THAT COME WITH BEING A MOM, A MOM OF LOSS, AND A MOM WAITING TO ADOPT.
"Our oldest was only nine months old when we found out that our second son, Hudson, was on the way. We were surprised in the best of ways. We started thinking about how close our boys would be growing up together and the money we could save with the hand-me-downs and shared toys. Everything changes when you find out you are pregnant. You start thinking in timelines and planning based on the arrival of this incredible bundle of joy.
About halfway through my pregnancy, we found out that Hudson had a severe congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. A few months after that diagnosis, they told us he had several other complications and that our best bet for his survival was an immediate move from North Carolina to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. So, in a whirlwind, we dropped everything, including a full-time job, and moved.
We were in Philadelphia for nine months, where we welcomed our precious second-born, and we also lost him after many surgeries and an intense fight. I feel incredibly honored to be Hudson's mom, and the experience of loving him has forever changed who I am. I experience his absence all of the time, whether in big moments or small ones. I see where he belongs at the dinner table and in the backseat next to his brother. I miss out on buying gifts for his birthday and Christmas. Tears come easily and regularly, and sometimes I have to take the day to grieve my precious, strong heart warrior.
As my husband and I have worked through and faced our devastating grief, we talked about growing our family again. We both remembered conversations we had during our dating and engagement about hopes for our future. One of our dreams was to have biological children and also to adopt children. We would say to one another, "Have two. Adopt two."
We are now pursuing adoption to grow our family. We have completed all of the many requirements to be approved for our home study and by our agency. Now, we wait for THE phone call that says we have a match with our child. As you can imagine, I always check my phone!
There are many roads to motherhood. I married in my mid-thirties, and honestly, in my single years, I had moments where I wondered if I would have the opportunity to become a mom. But, I certainly never, ever dreamed that I would be a mom of loss. No one wants that title. With God's grace, I will constantly be juggling the deep emotions of loving my first-born son, grieving the loss of my second-born son, and the exciting anticipation of becoming a mom again through adoption."
AMY IS THE AUTHOR OF THE FORTHCOMING BOOK: WHOLEHEARTED TRUTH: A DEVOTIONAL FOR A HEART IN PIECES DUE TO BE PUBLISHED IN 2021. YOU CAN FIND AMY SHARING ABOUT ADOPTION AND WRESTLING WITH GOD, AS WELL AS SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGEMENT AFTER THE LOSS OF A CHILD OR PREGNANCY ON INSTAGRAM.
Saul's Mom, Kimberly
A STORY ABOUT A FAMILY MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN THEIR HOMETOWN OF NEW ORLEANS. AFTER THE HEARTBREAKING LOSS OF THEIR BABY SAUL IN THE NICU, THE NOVOD'S STARTED A NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION, SAUL'S LIGHT, TO SUPPORT OTHER FAMILIES IN THE AREA THAT EXPERIENCE SIMILAR LOSS. IT'S ENCOURAGING TO WITNESS HOW ONE TINY LITTLE LIGHT CAN BRIGHTEN A ONCE DARK SITUATION.
"It was a normal pregnancy, with all the usual milestones. Nausea. The insatiable appetite. The butterfly flutters that turned into little kicks. The kicks that turned into mighty wallops. I loved knowing that my baby was inside of me. I heard the heartbeat for the very first time—that solid beating heart.
Then, in the early hours of June 7, 2014, the cramping started. I was 28 weeks pregnant. Earlier that week, I had some light bleeding, but when I called the obstetrician's office, a nurse assured me that it was nothing to worry about, that it happens all the time.
But the bleeding continued, and this time it was accompanied by pain. My husband, Aaron, and I headed to the hospital. We had to make sure that everything was okay, to be reassured once again. We talked about the upcoming baby shower and whether I would make my prenatal yoga class later that day during the drive.
At the hospital, a doctor ushered us to a room—just some routine tests. As the tests proceeded, something in the room changed. Now there were a lot of whispers. Nurses were exchanging glances. Something was going on, but whatever it was, they weren't sharing with us.
When the doctor came into the room, we searched his face, looking for clues—hoping for the best. He was the one who broke the news.
I was in labor, and the baby was coming now!
Suddenly, everything was moving in fast-forward. A nurse wheeled into another room for an emergency C-section. A nurse raised a sheet. Aaron and I could hear what was happening on the other side of that sheet — the doctor's instructions, I heard instruments passing around me. And I felt an odd sensation that told me that my belly was opening, though I was experiencing no physical pain.
Aaron held my hand. Together, we cried and prayed for our child, who was on the way into this world too soon. I don't know how long it was – it could have been 5 minutes or 5 hours – when the doctor proclaimed that we had a son!
I will never forget seeing him for the very first time. The wonder of him. His beautiful face. His tiny hands. His nose looked just like mine. We named him Saul, which means 'prayed for.'
The doctors were soon telling us that Saul was doing well – he was big for his gestational age, and he was already breathing on his own and digesting breast milk! We knew that Saul wouldn't leave the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for months. But the doctors said there was a 90% chance that he would survive. Yes, there may be developmental delays. But he was okay; things were looking up.
Until they weren't.
The night after Saul was born, the NICU doctor burst into our hospital room. Something had happened, he told us. We hurriedly followed him to Saul's side. We soon learned that Saul's heart rate had suddenly dropped, and he was having difficulty breathing. A few times, his heart had stopped altogether, and he had to be resuscitated.
No one could tell us the cause. Perhaps there was a problem with Saul's heart. Or maybe it was a brain bleed. All they did know was that they didn't have the necessary resources to treat Saul.
We watched as professionals wheeled away Saul, then transported him by helicopter to Children's Hospital. It was unclear if Saul would survive the journey.
Hours later, the call finally came. Saul had reached Children's. And he was alive. But not long after, another call. Saul's brain was full of blood. His prognosis had plummeted. Survival was unlikely. If he did live, the consequences with regards to the quality of life were dire.
"I have to go be with my son," I told the nurses as I struggled out of my hospital bed. They begged me not to leave because I wasn't strong enough. That I still needed medical attention. But that didn't matter anymore. What mattered was that Aaron and I be with our baby.
Aaron and I drove as fast as we could to Children's Hospital. The doctor asked if we wanted Saul to continue to be resuscitated if his heart stopped again. It was all too much. Yes, of course, resuscitate him. He's our son! We're his parents! We need to protect him! The doctors asked if we had any questions. All we could bring ourselves to ask was whether there was still "a chance." A chance for Saul to love, to learn, to experience happiness. They told us yes, the chance was slim, but there was a chance.
A few days later, Saul was stable enough to undergo a scan meant to reveal the extent and location of the brain tissue damage with more specificity. We dreamed that we would soon learn that the damage was not as extensive as the doctors had feared. Maybe he would be blind. Perhaps he would be deaf. But he would live. He would be able to smile, to laugh.
But the following day, the nurse that greeted us had a difficult time making eye contact. Soon the doctor arrived. He told us that the scan had revealed everyone's worst fears. Saul had almost no viable brain tissue. The "chance" that we discussed earlier had evaporated. If Saul survived, his life would not be one filled with joy. Instead, joy would be an impossibility.
Over the next three weeks, we spent our days at Children's, sitting with Saul. We read to him and held his hand through the window of his isolet. We whispered our secrets into the isolette's small door.
On June 27, 2014, Aaron and I celebrated the Sabbath with Saul in his hospital room. We "lit" the Shabbat candles and said the blessings. I dressed him and combed his hair. We sang to him. We held our son and told him how much we loved him. That night Saul passed away in our arms. He was 20 days old.
This foundation is Saul's legacy. We have only been able to move forward because of the amazing support we received during and after Saul's life from our families, friends, and community. The goal of Saul's Light is to ensure that other New Orleans families who must endure the experience of having a baby in the NICU receive the same support..."
THE NOVOD'S GOAL IS TO PLACE A CUDDLE COT IN EVERY METRO NOLA DELIVERING HOSPITAL AND ALSO SUPPORT FAMILIES WITH BABIES IN CHILDREN HOSPITAL'S NICU. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO LEARN MORE OR DONATE YOU CAN VISIT THEIR WEBSITE. YOU CAN LISTEN TO KIM’S STORY ON THE BIRTH STORIES IN COLOR PODCAST.
Eason's Mom, Debbie
A FAMILY WHO TOOK THE LOSS OF THEIR SON EASON AND TRANSFORMED IT INTO GOOD FOR OTHERS. DEBBIE HELPS DONATE CUDDLECOTS TO THE N.C. WOMEN'S HOSPITAL SO OTHER MOTHERS WHO EXPERIENCE A STILLBIRTH CAN HAVE MORE TIME WITH THEIR BABY.
"On February 16, 2013, our third child, our son Eason Randolph Clarke, was born still at almost 37 weeks gestation. Despite a "normal" pregnancy, his sudden death threw my husband and me, our living children, our daughter, and our son into a spiral of pain and loss. Our lives unraveled on that day, and since then, we've been putting things back together and striving to honor his brief but important time on this earth.
The weeks and months immediately following Eason's death are a blur; all I remember is profound sadness and unbearable grief. Less than a year after our son died, my father passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. Once again, I was reeling with pain. The greatest gift I gave myself was time to grieve on my terms and on my timeline. My friends and family showed great compassion by allowing me the space to do this. I circled the wagons, so to speak, and surrounded myself only with people who helped me heal. Slowly, I began to re-emerge, and gently, I began to re-enter my life.
It became apparent that nothing was the same, and the word "normal" was meaningless. I had to recreate my way of thinking and feeling to carry this loss and go on living. A massive step in the process, for me, involved connecting with other grieving mothers. In March, I attended a healing retreat in Australia, spending a long weekend with 30 other women who also have seen their babies die. Some moms experienced stillbirths; others lost their babies just a few weeks or months after birth. All of us were devastated, and none of us wanted to belong to this awful club. All of us found strength and healing from one another.
I returned from the retreat with a profound sense of meaning and the ability to honor our son by helping other families who share this unimaginable journey. I've started talking about our experience, hoping that other families won't feel alone in their grief. My heart breaks for families who've had to say goodbye to their babies. It's unfair and unnatural for any parent to bury their child. In some small way, I hope to break the silence and continue to honor Eason's memory."
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CUDDLE COTS THAT ENCOURAGE FAMILIES TO SPEND MORE TIME WITH THEIR BABIES AFTER LOSS, SEE UNC HEALTHCARE'S website.
5 Ideas to help a bereaved mother
Every woman's experience with loss is unique and challenging. If you have the right ideas, it can be easy to bring a much-needed smile to their face on Bereaved Mother's Day.
Having experienced cancer during pregnancy, pregnancy loss, and an abnormal chromosome diagnosis I understand that grief is different for every woman. While I have never experienced the unimaginable pain of losing a child, I have friends who have. For bereaved Mother's Day, I want to provide five random acts of kindness to help your friend with her grief, no matter how new or old it is.
Time is a service
Ask your friend to text you their weekly grocery list. Offer to shop it and pick it up for them. Throw in a bouquet, a bottle of wine, or a lovely card when you drop it off. This random act of kindness is great for couples who still are not ready to venture out into the world or those who still want to keep their distance during COVID.
A basket of surprises
Collect your friends' "favorites" such as pajamas, inspirational quotes, music, makeup, magazines, snacks, and nail polish. Put them in a basket on their front porch or leave it at the front desk of their apartment. The surprise gesture says "I love you" while providing space. This random act of kindness is super fun for the giver and always a much-needed surprise for the receiver.
Attend an event on their behalf
Offer to attend a baby shower or birthday party on your friend's behalf. Grab a card and a small gift appropriate for the occasion. Your friend might not have the strength to smile around pregnant friends or children right now. This random act of kindness is great for a friend suffering from situational depression or mourning the loss of a child or lost pregnancy.
Experts advise people to listen to their grieving friends. But what if they don't want to talk? Many times, your friend just wants to feel normal again. They want to be treated normally and forget their dreadful situation for a few minutes. So just be you! Be yourself, and if your friend decides she wants to talk, then, of course, listen. This random act of kindness is the easiest because all you must do is be yourself!
Tell them you love them
It's that simple. Yes, supporting your friend can be hard, and your attempts at kindness may not be perfect. But telling someone you love them never hurts. Love washes over a multitude of things. This random act of kindness is one you can say to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
7 Articles to Help Bereaved Mother’s on Mother’s Day
If you are in need of more resources, I’ve provided 7 articles that may help you as a bereaved mother.
To the Grieving Mom on Mother’s Day - Carol Stoecklein
“Are you a grieving mom? Are you living that deep pain on this Mother’s Day weekend? The loss of a child is a grief that crushes the soul. On my first Mother’s Day since Andrew’s death, my grief is a huge, heavy weight that is a thousand times bigger than me and is somehow sitting on my heart, threatening to crush my spirit. I feel so small under the weight of it. It’s like I’m a tiny object being tossed around in a raging sea of confusion, loss, sadness, regret, anger, hurt… and emptiness. How could this be happening? How could this be my life?” – Read More.
What Mother’s Day is Like for Grieving Moms. – Angela Miller
“Moms often feel there is no place on this day. No place for you to honor both what is present and what is missing; no place for both your love and your pain, your gratitude and your sorrow; no place for you as a grieving mother – at Mother’s Day brunches, churches, gatherings, and celebrations. As grieving moms, we often feel left out – forgotten, ignored and misplaced on this day that was in fact founded by bereaved mothers themselves.” – Read More.
Love Bears All Things – Kayla Leibner
“The journey of a bereaved parent is full of misconceptions, false impressions, and understatements. It’s uncomfortable and unthinkable. There’s no possible way to help someone to understand unless they, too, are walking in our shoes. At some point, we were all on the misunderstanding end of this scenario. I know I once was. Until I wasn’t.” – Read More.
Bereaved Mothers During a Pandemic – Alison Ferrera
“Bereaved motherhood and a pandemic is complicated and there is much to say, but let me just start by saying COVID-19 sucks. It sucks for everyone.” – Read More.
When Mother’s Day Hurts – Karla Helbert
“The truth is though, for many, Mother’s Day can be a painful and difficult day. Women whose children have died at any age, women experiencing infertility, women who have had miscarriages, men, women, and children whose mothers have died—for these and others, Mother’s Day can be a day of sadness and loss.” – Read More.
This is my first Mother’s Day following the stillbirth of my daughter – Katie Ingram
As Mother’s Day approaches, I don’t feel the same dread as I did throughout the Christmas festivities; I don’t feel the fear of time passing as I did at New Year; I don’t have the same unease I had as my birthday approached – and I don’t feel the need to hide from it either. This is my first Mother’s Day without my daughter, but Mother’s Day without a child isn’t new for me.” – Read More.
Faithful and True – Betsy Herman
“Four months. Four months have passed since Noah's birth since the day we said our goodbyes. I haven't written about him on this blog, since most of my infertility, pregnancy and loss-themed posts are on my other blog www.hopeduringinfertility.com. But I want to share this one here as a reminder to myself of the character of God.” – Read More.
Traci is an Amazon Bestselling author, NIH analyst, and a miscarriage and cancer survivor. She is passionate about undermining the misguided stigma and shame of pregnancy loss with a Christ-centered approach.