For the past sixteen months I’ve had the joy of seeing the love between a mother and her baby up-close, every day. I can confirm: that relationship is every bit as mystifyingly powerful and beautiful as all the stories make it out to be. We all know the stories; they have been told since the beginnings of human history. But our family history is more complicated, having lost our first son Aemon at 31 weeks’ gestation. Like many couples, we were parents long before a living child came screaming into our lives. And where are those stories? Today we make room for them, recognizing International Bereaved Mother’s Day.
A quick thought about motherhood: I have always found the question of whether life begins at conception or at birth or at some developmental stage in between to be meaninglessly technical. In the only practical terms I’ve ever needed (and forgive the cheese): life begins with love. Once a mother opens her heart to the nurturing of new life, that life is created and takes on a universe of meaning. Even if that life disappears the universe still remains, sometimes only in the heart of the mother and wherever else she can make room for it. I say this just to stress that having a living child does not make a mother, and there are bereaved mothers with different experiences all around us. It’s good that we have this day to make some space for them.
A week from today is the traditional Mother’s Day, a day where we recognize the hard work, dedication and deep love of mothers everywhere. This is a good and worthy thing to celebrate, but it only takes a moment of thoughtful reflection to see how Mother’s Day, at least the way it currently looks, can be hurtful to mothers who have loved their babies and lost them. Picture Valentine’s Day for the lonely, times a billion. So until the regular Mother’s Day becomes more inclusive, we have today. What do we do with it?
We recognize that a mother’s love takes many different forms, and appreciate that while some of those forms might be unfamiliar to us they are no less legitimate. Carrying or wearing a special memento. The tender, careful assembly of scrapbook pages. Bravely taking on an awkward conversation about infant death or miscarriage; bravely taking on another trip to a fertility clinic. Shuffling through a small, limited collection of photos. Repeating a name just to hear it spoken out loud. Today we make time to recognize just how meaningful this love is.
I wonder if it’s presumptuous for me, as a man, to be weighing in on this at all. I hope the moms will forgive me. I’m just a fan. I feel credit ought to be given where it’s due. As for us bereaved dads, well…it’s just different, we know it is. Today is for the ladies. On behalf of the guys I’m going to go ahead and say: we adore you, you inspire us with the depth of your love and the breadth of your strength. Today is for you, you deserve it.
Click here to see the official International Bereaved Mother’s Day website, which includes a message about the day’s history in relationship to the traditional Mother’s Day, as well as a list of tips to help a bereaved mother.
And just for fun on a slightly unrelated note, if you want to read about how the woman credited with starting Mother’s Day in the U.S. grew to hate the commercialized holiday, boycotted the day for years and came close to suing Hallmark, click here.