Mother's day is just around the corner, and no doubt you've seen a growing number of ads on social media inviting families to "celebrate" the special mothers in their lives through a variety of ways. These pop-ups and hashtags focusing on mothers and their children might trigger deep feelings of pain and loss. If they do, you aren't alone.
For more women than you know, mother's day is a deeply painful and challenging holiday. Women who have experienced babyloss face a host of intense emotions on this day, struggling with self-blame, judgment, and questions about if they really are mothers at all, since they aren't currently caring for a living child, or their family feels incomplete with a child missing. If you've recently ended a wanted pregnancy or experienced stillbirth or miscarriage, you may be feeling like you want to pull the covers over your head and wait until mother's day is over. Instead, I invite you to consider a few suggestions to help you face the day.
1. First and foremost, know that you are a mother. The presence of a living child is not a requirement for motherhood. Imagining, conceiving, and carrying a baby for any length of time required you to think beyond your own needs and extend your love into the idea of your baby. You may have never met your little one or only had the opportunity to spend a few brief moments with your baby, but it's likely you imagined who he or she would become or how your relationship would unfold, and that little person was real. During pregnancy, perhaps you suffered through morning sickness, changed your diet, or altered your lifestyle to ensure that the baby growing inside you could thrive. All of these choices involved mothering, and in creating and sustaining a relationship with the baby you so deeply loved and wanted, you became a mother. I celebrate and honor your journey as a mother today.
2. Know that you can still be a mother to your baby. There are no rules stating that the connection with your baby has to end with death. You can maintain a relationship with your baby by journaling or writing letters to him or her, planting memorial flowers and tending to a garden, or even choosing an animal totem that reminds you of your child. You can create rituals to feel closeness with the baby you carried through prayer, chanting, playing inspiring music, creating art, communing with nature, and more. A simple walk on a local nature trail may help you to feel more connected, or you might want to challenge yourself to trying something new that would have scared you before. If you're comfortable, talk about your baby with your surviving children and include them in your ritual. Choosing to live your life fully by marking the day, complete with grief and love, honors the baby you lost, and in so doing, you continue to be a mother.
3. Try to connect with other mothers. You belong to a community of loving, grieving mothers facing the day together. Consider joining the mother's day gift swap at Modern Loss (http://modernloss.com/tag/moth...) to send and receive some comfort on a day you'd rather ignore. Focus on creating a new relationship with another mom that might be struggling, or allow yourself to commune and find strength with other mothers if you need somebody to lean on. Google "International Bereaved Mother's Day" if you'd like to spend some time on a day outside of mother's day acknowledging and honoring your loss.
4. Be mindful. Mindfulness isn't just about silencing your internal critic or narrator. It's about a decision to radically accept all of your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Mother's day might provide you with an opportunity to beat yourself up, questioning or doubting the decisions you made during your pregnancy. It's natural to feel anger, shame, or other negative emotions every day after experiencing babyloss, but mother's day might cause these feelings to intensify. If you're in need of some mindfulness, try this brief exercise: Inhale slowly through your nose for 3 counts, filling your belly with air, and avoiding tightening your shoulders. Hold the breath for a moment, then exhale for 4 counts through your mouth. As you inhale, picture or softly say to yourself, let. As your exhale, picture or softly say to yourself, go. You can imagine your negative thoughts floating away, or becoming wrapped in a gentle, empathetic embrace as your breathe through them. Don't push them away. Allow them to come, lovingly acknowledge them, and let them go. The use of a mantra can be helpful in helping you to focus on the present moment and abandoning self-judgment. The most effective mantras are simple affirmative tools that you can repeat as frequently as you want. You might use your baby's name, if you named him or her. You could choose a short sentence like "I grieve because I love", or a positive affirmation like "Keep going". Choose a mantra that is meaningful to you.
Mother's day can be tough, but you don't have to go it alone. There's also no wrong way to mark the day, so if you want to stay in bed, that's OK too. I can't promise that the passage of time will make the holiday easier, but it will provide you with more ideas and opportunities for getting through. Breathe, mama. You've got this.