Next Sunday is Mother’s Day for those in Canada, the United States, and a number of other countries. It is fair to say that I have been reflecting far more on this upcoming occasion than I would be if Leah was alive. While growing up, my family never commemorated Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day, for that matter) with memorable traditions, so it is unlikely that I would have given much thought to it this year if I was a normal mother whose daily existence was not defined by the anguish of infant loss.
In many ways, it is wholly appropriate that I write this post on International Bereaved Mother’s Day. Since 2010, this day has been set aside to honour the many women whose mothering journeys are shaped by the unique grief that accompanies child loss, and it is especially significant for mothers without living children. Even so, it is important for non-bereaved people to purposefully include loss mamas and their deceased children in Mother’s Day traditions, thereby validating the complex emotions and experiences that shape their day to day lives. Unfortunately, as I and the many mothers who have walked this devastating path before me know too well, this is not the reality of the culture we live in.
As Mother’s Day draws nearer, I have also been reflecting on how it will shape my first grief season as a bereaved mother. You see, my baby showers were held on Mother’s Day weekend, just over a month before my June 17 due date. It is ironic that, this time last year, Mother’s Day marked the beginning of the end of my hopes and dreams for Leah’s life. After eight months of grueling anxiety, I was finally confident enough to let go of my fear and plunge into the pregnancy bliss that I hadn’t yet allowed myself to feel. After eight months of cautious optimism and speaking about Leah in terms of “if” rather than “when,” I allowed myself to envision every aspect of my life with the daughter whom I had fallen head-over-heels in love with. And, after eight months of unyielding prayer that God would protect my baby from harm, I allowed myself to believe that He had personally escorted both of us to the finish line, and that He would continue to answer my daily pleas for her safety until I could finally wrap her in my loving arms.
My heart has never been so full of joy and gratitude as it was during those precious weeks between my Mother’s Day showers and Leah’s birthday. With my PhD dissertation defended and my teaching obligations for the year completed, my sunny spring days were filled with purposeful walks, thankful prayers, and unbridled anticipation. I was so ready to finally meet, hold, and kiss the girl who would complete my family. As I laundered her clothes, assembled her bassinet, and installed her car seat, I experienced happiness like I had never known before—a pure, untethered sort of happiness that grief will never allow me to feel again.
Needless to say, my current mothering journey could not be more different from what I had envisioned this time last year. For me, being a mother now means shedding tears each day for a dark-haired girl whose death has left an unfillable void in my life. It means never being able to simply enjoy occasions like Mother’s Day, Christmas, or birthdays without grieving for my firstborn daughter, whose absence will always be felt. It means living with PTSD that can be triggered by things that non-bereaved people may deem unreasonable, such as attending baby showers, hearing newborn cries in the street, or being inundated with photos of happy, intact families on social media. It means hesitating each time someone asks me how many children I have, knowing that my painful truth is probably not the answer they want to hear. It means lacking the emotional capacity to feel true joy during my current pregnancy, understanding that the son I now carry is not guaranteed a long, healthy life on this earth anymore than Leah was.
In my life, being a mother ultimately means claiming whatever space I can for myself and my daughter by speaking her name and sharing her story, even when it makes other people uncomfortable. Since bereaved parents do not enjoy the privilege of watching our children grow and change before our eyes each day, we care for them by continually reminding the world that they were here, that they are loved, and that their lives matter. To be sure, keeping our children’s memories alive cannot compensate us for the lifetime of memories we have been robbed of, but each day we seize these opportunities with every ounce of love that our broken hearts hold, because it is literally all we can do.
And so, to my fellow loss mamas, I wish you a gentle Bereaved Mother’s Day. To everyone else, I ask that you hold space for these parents and their much-missed children today, next Sunday, and on each bittersweet Mother’s Day the future brings.