What Mothers’ Day Feels Like After Stillbirth

I want to be honored as Genevieve's mom

Motherhood, and Mother's Day in particular, is supposed to be a jubilant, messy affair. Commercials show vibrant bouquets of flowers, crayoned cards, and joyous brunches at fancy restaurants. Everything is external. For those of us who have lost a baby to stillbirth, Mother's Day, just like motherhood, is internal. I cannot imagine going out to a restaurant or celebration surrounded by people whose experiences were so much happier than mine, but this day is still for me.

My daughter died, but I am still her mother. This vision of motherhood looks nothing like what I expected and hoped for. I do not tote an overflowing diaper bag for her, but I still quietly carry her with me every day. I see a little girl the same age as Genevieve would have been and feel my throat tighten. I pore over recipes trying to find the right birthday cake for a toddler who isn't here – maybe lemon.

The question is not whether the mother of a stillborn baby should be acknowledged on Mother's Day, but how. Directness is best. Ask the mom how she will spend Mother's Day. This gives her a chance to say whether she prefers to ignore the day or be quietly honored. One of the greatest gifts for me is when others acknowledge that I continue to be Genevieve's mom. Rather than a Mother's Day card, a blank card with a simple message fits perfectly. "I was thinking about you and Genevieve because it's Mother's Day."

It's good to hear other people say that they wish my daughter were here and know that I'm not alone in missing her. I'm always grateful for the chance to talk about her. Most women get to talk about their children every single day. Those of us who have lost babies seldom do, even though we too think of our children every day.

For someone with a recent loss, ask about the baby. Who did he look like? How was her name chosen? Always use the baby's name. Choosing a name is one of the few normal things parents of a stillborn child get to do. For someone whose loss was longer ago, ask whether there are any new plans to honor the baby, such as planting a tree or donating to charity. Also, ask how the mother is doing with the grieving process. Many people stopped asking about my wellbeing a few months after my loss, but it takes years to adapt.

Mother's Day is confusing and painful for those of us who have lost a baby, but small gestures from friends and family can help ease the sadness. The root of motherhood is a woman loving a child unconditionally. And we do. We should be honored for that.