When You Have Empty Arms on Mother’s Day

Ways to manage the grief of miscarriage or stillbirth

For women who have experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death, Mother's Day can be hard. You might feel emptiness beside you where you feel your child should be and emptiness inside you. Your arms are empty, while the arms of the mothers you see around you – at brunch, in the park, on the street – are filled. Mother's Day can be equally hard for your partner because he is also grieving and may not know how to act or how to support you on that day.

If Mother's Day is difficult, here are ways to get support and take care of yourself:

Plan to get together with family members on another day, rather than trying to participate in a Mother's Day celebration that feels too difficult. Instead, consider making plans with someone who understands your situation and find an activity that takes you away from Mother's Day celebrations, like going to the movies.

Practice what you will say when people ask you about your baby. Whatever feels comfortable to you is ok.

Ignore comments from anyone who suggests that you are not a mother. Even though you lost your child during pregnancy or soon after, you are still a parent.

Take care of yourself. Eat well, get good sleep, and pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Choose healthy distractions, such as talking with a friend, going for a walk, or reading your favorite book. Let your friends and loved ones support you through this time.

Share your feelings about Mother's Day with the father of your child, trusted friends, or other women who have experienced a similar loss. It's important to talk with people who understand that you are grieving.

Remember that:

You are a mother. You carried your baby. You parented that child. Yes, the time you were pregnant or the time that you had with your child was way too short. The length of time your baby was alive is not connected to how much you love your baby. You conceived, carried, and parented this child for the baby's whole life.

Asking why and feeling guilty are normal. More than 50 percent of miscarriages and stillbirths are unexplained, so sometimes these questions really have no answers. Just be with your thoughts while also recognizing that these thoughts most likely come from a natural instinct to find out why something went wrong in order to prevent it from happening again. 

You might get stuck thinking the same thoughts over and over again (rumination). If you do, share these thoughts and concerns with someone you trust. And distract yourself by doing something that feels physically pleasurable – try brushing your hair, putting on some hand or body lotion, taking a bath, or cuddling with your partner. 

Your feelings are ok. It's normal to feel anger and jealousy when you see other moms with their babies. Tears are ok. Anger is ok. These raw (and socially unacceptable) emotions will shift and become less intense, less painful, and less unpleasant as you move through your grief and see what next steps are right for you.

It is good to share feelings and thoughts. Again, it can help to talk with someone you trust – perhaps your partner or another woman who has experienced pregnancy or child loss. If you find that you are having difficulty, you might find it helpful to participate in a support group or speak to a professional who understands the grief associated with miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss.

You are changed forever. Grief eventually becomes less raw and sad, but you will be changed. This change also involves creating new hopes and dreams for a satisfying life. Think of it as a new normal.

Here are resources for support on Mother's Day and any day:

11 Things You Should Know About Grief

Should I "Move On" From My Miscarriage?

The Seleni Institute

National Council of Jewish Women Pregnancy Loss Support Program

Still Standing

Subsequent Pregnancy After Loss Support