Dealing with Mother's Day after the death of a child

May 11 | Guest post by Laura Young
Laura and Zoë at Children's Hospital Boston. Photo by Mary Louise Delano.
Mother's Day is approaching like a freight train with no breaks… and it is heading right at me.

Normally Mother's Day has been a day of mild celebration. My brothers and I would get a small gift for my mother, maybe a card, and we would tell her we love her. We are not a family that puts a lot of emphasis on holidays. But this year was going to be THE year. It was or is my first Mother's Day, and I don't know how to react.

Maybe I should explain. My beautiful daughter Zoë Faye was born on October 22, 2011. She passed away from a Malignant Rhabdoid Tumor on April 1, 2012. Zoë was my first baby, my only baby. And now here I am counting down the days to Mother's Day.

I don't know how to react. My body says I am a mother, with stretch marks, and widely set hips, and breasts that won't stop lactating… but I don't have a baby. I am suffering a loss so great that I cannot begin to explain it.

I guess I have two choices. I can curl up and ignore it — change the channel on the radio when commercials for flowers come on. Stay out of stores, keep the television off, and hibernate until it is over. Or I can embrace it. I can set out and purchase my small Mother's Day gift and maybe a card for my mother. Visit with my family and acknowledge how wonderful it is to be a mother.

I know that somewhere, someone will wish me a Happy Mother's Day. This is something that began happening to me years ago before I was even trying to have a baby. I was always shocked by bold strangers who would take a shot in the dark and wish me a Happy Mother's Day. I made it a point to never say such a thing to a woman unless I knew emphatically that she was a mother. What if I was saying this to a woman who could not conceive, or put a child up for adoption? Now I think what if I say it to someone like me… someone who lost a baby. Their only baby.

There isn't a word in the English language for someone like me, a mother whose child died. We can say that someone is an orphan (but only if they lose both parents), or someone is a widow. But there isn't a way of describing the parent who has lost a child. Which makes it so much harder to explain to people why I am the way I am. I cannot easily say to that bold stranger, "I am sorry I am a _______. But thank you for wishing me a Happy Mother's Day anyway."

Losing a child is a tragedy that is not easy to ease into a conversation. There is not an easy way to say, "I am sorry I am a bit spacey today, I lost my baby last month."

Someone said to me today, "Man, all I want to do is stay in bed all day today with this rainy weather." I just responded with, "You have no idea." I feel like my ability to even have small talk has slipped away.

I am feeling like a small canoe lost at sea. I am floating around, and I look rather normal up close. It is only unless you look a little longer and see the bigger picture do you see just how lost I really am. So here I go lost and floating around out into the greater world waiting for that stranger to boldly wish me a Happy Mother's Day. I will smile and say, "Thank you." I will think of my Zoë, and do my best to be her mother on this very scary Mother's Day.

Editor's note: There are many phenomenal support groups and websites for those who have lost an infant and/or child. I asked my friend Kirsten, who lost her first child, Ewan, on October 4, 2011 for a few resources that helped her. Kirsten also started Say Their Names in honor of National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day. Please feel free to add your own in the comments:

She is someone who has experienced infant loss, and has some really beautiful and artistic ways of helping other women heal from similar losses.

I am the Face is all about generating awareness, educating on the truths of miscarriage/stillbirth/infant loss, and putting faces on it. Really awesome site.

I just discovered this site — it has some good, basic, helpful things for friends and family and resources for bereaved parents as well (including how to stop unwanted "hey, you've got a new baby!" mail. Ugh. Hated that stuff (and now I'm getting "hey, you've got a toddler!" mail).