My first Mother’s Day as a new mom started with ice cream and a massage at 39 and 1/2 weeks pregnant. It ended with my incredible doula and amazing nurses at Seton preparing me to meet my baby whose heart stopped beating. His skin would show signs of being in fluid for too long without blood flow, they’d say. His body would carry evidence of bruising; his lips dark red and nail beds purple. I was in complete shock, overwhelmed with sadness. I just experienced childloss.
I didn’t know what to expect for my first Mother’s Day, though I did know this was not anything close to what I had in mind. In utter devastation and awe, what nurses weren’t able to prepare me for was how beautiful our child would look or how intense love and sorrow would take turns radiating. The moment he was delivered, I was re-birthed into a place where time stood still. Moving in slow motion, we went home from the hospital empty handed with a weight greater than my son’s nine pound, not living body. It was a new world, fragile and completely shattered. No prenatal class prepared us for how to spend the last moments with our first born. Confused by my birth outcome and angry it fell during the largest national celebration of mothers, I did what any new mother does — I consulted Dr. Google.
You may be surprised at what I discovered.
Founded in 1908 by Anna Jarvis, the first known Mother’s Day celebration was in honor of Anna’s own mother, who birthed nearly a dozen children only to have four survive. Knowing the first Mother’s Day more than a century ago was marked by a funeral, gave me unmeasurable comfort. Reading more about the history of the matriarchal celebration, I learned the founder of Mother’s Day devastated by the loss of her own mom also grew to disdain the popular holiday. In fact, she hated its growing commercialization as much as I did — so much so that despite her grief, Anna still managed to fight to have the day rescinded.
With Mother’s Day’s roots revealed, I began learning to accept that my own initiation into motherhood would forever be marked by a person missing. And yet it didn’t make this initiation any less meaningful. In fact, my first born’s birth into death made it the exact opposite. This loss marked my motherhood journey and embracing all parts of it, even the ones I hated, made it much more significant.
Six weeks later, I’d meet with my doctor who despite my own opinions on the topic would go on to reassure me — I was still a mother.
Her words felt terrible especially after my experience of a marathon 32-hour labor, a second degree tear from pushing and picking up a white box that would forever serve as the home for our child’s earthly remains.
This tragedy forced me to learn how to mother myself in the absence of a living child and in that deep sorrow the epitome of motherhood was revealed.
While the true meaning of Mother’s Day still often remains hidden today, the opportunity for greater sigma breakers and supporters to embrace the full possibilities parenting offers has never been stronger. International Bereaved Mother’s Day, for instance, was created to proactively support mother’s anticipatory grief leading up to Mother’s Day, a day many bereaved mothers still believe they’ve been robbed of celebrating.
Because many mothers have been robbed. When a pregnant person experiences childloss, sadly too often their bereavement is quickly forgotten and they are left to suffer silently in isolation. Try considering those in your life marked by a motherhood of loss including anyone grieving childloss through infertility.
Let’s reclaim the original inspiration for Mother’s Day, as every day could truly be Mother’s Day, by recognizing all types of mothers in your life healing from the many ways celebrating their powerful accomplishments has been hijacked. Give the gift of connection by sharing this truth to power.
For far too many of our Black mothers in this community, becoming a mother means lamenting the current maternal mortality crisis in the U.S. today. Pair that with other challenges on the path to motherhood and there is no shortage of support opportunities for any of us to participate in this year. Acknowledging this reality is just a start, I want to encourage you as you prepare for this Mother’s Day to spend an extra moment recognizing someone in your life whose motherhood has been marked by loss.
Help others discover a new way to reclaim Mother’s Day for themselves and you may be surprised at what you discover in the process.
Here are six other ways to consider honoring mothers in our community of caregivers:
- Give the gift of doula support through Maternal Health Equity Collaborative offerings
- Encourage my client, a local bereaved mother with a financial gift through GoFundMe
- Send a love and light postpartum care box with Cater to Mom
- Share the healing power of humor by mailing an empathy card
- Support a bereaved community by purchasing jewelry through Hope Again Collective
- Shop using our Austin Moms local Mother’s Day gift guide
Have another way you or the mother in your life has felt honored by your actions?
Share in the comments below to let us know.
By Linsey McNew
Linsey McNew has been in Austin, almost as long as she’s lived in Texas. After moving from New York mastering working remotely and meeting up with her husband while he was touring they settled into local living. Shortly after they were initiated into parenthood through loss with the death of their first born before welcoming their daughter the next year. Since asking the viral question — can my womb also be a grave, Linsey has been using words to explore the depth of human experiences through emotional agility and whole hearted living practices. Linsey’s clients and words have appeared in Inc, the Washington Post, New York Times, BuzzFeed, TIME, VICE, Refinery29 as well as featured on NPR, Good Morning America, and CNN on many topics including grief, caregiving and the cost of loss. When she’s not writing, Linsey is reading, gardening with her daughter, fly fishing with her husband and supporting others as a full spectrum doula. To connect or just learn more about Linsey, check out @linseymcnew on any social media channel.