Mother’s Day is fast approaching. We know it from the catalogues that invade our letterboxes. We know it from the gift guides in the newspapers. We know it from the primary school stalls filled with $5 or less trinkets (usually made or supplied by mums themselves). But what is Mother’s Day really all about?
The history of Mother’s day belies the commercialism that surrounds the day today. It was originally created in 1908 by an American woman, Anna Jarvis, as a memorial to her own mother. Some also attribute the origins of Mother’s Day to Julia Ward Howe who in 1870 organised a protest of mothers who had lost their sons in the Civil War. In either case the day was created with remembrance in mind. Yet today it is largely about celebrating and recognising living mothers.
For those whose mothers have passed away, or for mothers who have lost children, or those that dearly wish to be a mother but cannot, the day is a painful reminder of what is absent in their life. Every Hallmark card, every shopping centre advertisement, every gift guide is a stab to the heart.
Last year I was exposed to the tragedy of stillbirth and neonatal death. I knew about these things before, but I did not truly know them. In June my old school classmates lost their eleven day old baby girl Arielle. Eighteen days later my best friend’s son, Walter, was stillborn. In the days that followed their deaths I saw some of the saddest sights you can witness – a father carrying the coffin of his baby daughter into the church and two brothers reading their baby brother the bedtime stories he would never get to hear whilst his mum and dad looked on in tears.
In the months that have passed since Walter and Arielle’s deaths I have learnt a lot. Sometimes it seems as though we can deal with death in its immediacy. We can send flowers, attend funerals provide some home cooked meals. Yet as the weeks and months roll by and parents continue to grieve sometimes we begin to treat their family as if their lost children never existed. Their names are never mentioned. Their death becomes the elephant in the room. It’s like we’re afraid to bring up the memory – afraid to open an old wound. Yet as Elizabeth Edwards writes mentioning someone’s lost child can never open an old wound – a parent will never forget that their child died –they will carry the weight of their child’s death forever. As Edwards writes by talking about it with them “What you’re reminding them is that YOU remember they lived and that’s a GREAT, GREAT gift”.
The online world is a great comfort to many bereaved parents. There are forums, blogs and memorial sites. Online Baby Loss Mums and Dads can reach out to others with similar experiences and they can also escape the enveloping silence parents often find themselves in the real world. Despite the incidence of stillbirth being far more common than SIDS the silence surrounding it can leave parents isolated in their grief. Parents suffering the grief and loss of miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal loss latch on to some phrases to help express their experiences and grief. Phrases like “stillborn is still born”. When we push pregnancy, stillbirth and infant loss under the carpet we not only deny parents their grief but deny them expressing the memories of pregnancy and birth. On Mother’s Day this can be especially so.
West Australian mother Carly Marie knows too well the pain of Mother’s Day having walked the road of pregnancy, infant and child loss. She wants to ‘heal mothers day’ from the rampant commercialism that surrounds it and acknowledge within it the need for remembrance – for those mothers who have lost children, or indeed those children who have lost mothers. It’s a difficult challenge. To start the process Carly created International Bereaved Mother’s Day to be held on the first Sunday of May (the Sunday before Mother’s Day). The intent is that it will be a temporary movement until Mother’s Day truly remembers and recognises all mothers.
So this Sunday – International Bereaved Mother’s Day – let’s help Carly’s cause. If you know a mother who has lost a child (or a child who has lost a mother), drop them a note or a card, drop by or give them a call and give them the greatest gift you can. Remember their loss and remember their child – honour their child’s memory (or their mother’s memory). And on the following Sunday – Mother’s Day – whilst recognising the amazing mums who are still with us let’s allow a little space to grieve mum’s and children we’ve lost. We’ll all be the better for it.