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Mother's Day Messages
Am I a Mother? Am I a Father?

Preparing for Mother's and Father's Day After the Death of a Baby
by Sherokee Ilse

A miscarriage. A full term stillbirth. Marama and Brennan William. My only two children, yet one look at me and it appeared there were 'no' children. Mother's Day 1982 was a confusing and lonely time. No acknowledgment came, but the pain and love was there.

The next year after Brennan's death, Kellan David was born - alive! Mother's Day 1983 was extra special. I had a son to mother, to hug and to show off. Out of kindness and thankfulness, my mother sent me a card on that special day. Its bittersweet words still stand out in my mind, "Congratulations on your FIRST Mother's Day." I know she cared and was doing what seemed right to her, but it hurt to think that she didn't admit or acknowledge that I already was a mother. That was what I was expecting or what I needed. I tried to be understanding of my mom. She was so happy for us, and she was trying, yet this wasn't my first Mother's Day or David's soon-to-be first Father's Day. We'd experienced the worst initiation a mother or father can bear, the death of our children, and never could we go back and NOT be their parents.

The death of a baby puts a strain on a family, especially during family times like Mother's and Father's Day. Whether you now have no living children or you still have some living children, you may be hurting as you approach this special day. You may also be confused about how you will (and should) be treated and about whether or not to focus on your parenthood of this beloved baby.

Usually the weeks leading up to the day are worse than the day itself. The mounting fears of what people will say, or not say, of what will happen on the day, can lead to out of control feelings and anxiety.

Where possible, take control, be clear and be direct. What do you hope will happen? What do you need and want to happen? You have every right to celebrate your parenthood and to remember your child, even if you still have other living children. Below are some brief suggestions to consider as you plan for this holiday and others that will follow:

  • Examine your attitudes and expand your thoughts and options. What are you worried about, what do you hope will happen?
  • Speak up. Acknowledge your feelings. Don't wait for people to "guess" what you need.
  • Take care of your physical health.
  • Seek support from people within and outside your family, as you also take care of your emotional and spiritual health.
  • Be realistic and plan ahead. Don't overdo, do take some control.
  • Be open to change, yet maintain some meaningful traditions.
  • Be patient with yourself and keep the memory and spirit of your child alive in your heart.
  • Think of ways to reach out to others in memory of your baby.
  • Look for moments of love and joy. Spend time remembering, especially the good.
  • Most of all, do what is meaningful for you and your family. Don't let the pressure from others keep you from doing what you need and want to do.
Give your family specific suggestions of things you might like to happen. If telling them directly is too hard for you at this time, you can either write them a note or tell one family member (whom you trust will be open and direct with others) and ask them to pass on your wishes. You could even make a copy of this article and pass it on to them. Circle or highlight the ideas that are most appealing to you. Below are but a few specific ideas for you to explore as you attempt to determine your own needs to share with others:
  • Carnations, roses or a special flower that has meaning for you
  • Mother's or Father's Day Cards - they could use a blank card and write a nice message.
  • Seeds and bulbs - give them to people to plant in memory of your child (one mother did this and asked people to take pictures when the flowers came up, which she then put in her baby's memory book.)
  • Tell your clergyperson by phone, in person or through a note what you hope for. You could write up a few sentences for the church bulletin. A number of times I sent a note to the pastor asking for it to be in the bulletin on Mother's Day. It often was, "Please say a special prayer today for all Mothers who have had a child die and all who have had a mother die."
  • Brunch or lunch - go out or invite relatives and special friends to your house.
  • Light a candle honoring your child.
  • If it is too hard to participate in the family events this year, leave town and do something special - ignore the day if you want. If that will help you feel better, do it. Maybe next year, you will be better prepared to face the day.
Remember, people are waiting for your cues; they don't quite know how to act. Find ways to communicate with them and your partner.

How will you experience Mother and Father's Day? Will you share your hopes and expectations with others so you might get the support you need? Or will you quietly keep them to yourself hoping others will read your mind or just know what to do? Only you can decide this. You can have a great influence on how the day goes if only you will make some plans and tell others what you want and need. Just remember, you are the parent of this baby who has died. No one can take that away from you. You deserve to celebrate their life, remember them and treat yourself special for the loving parent you are.

Many of the above ideas are discussed further in the short booklet, Coping With Holidays and Celebrations by Sherokee Ilse. It is published and distributed by A Place To Remember, deruyter-Nelson Publications, 1885 University Ave, Suite I 10, St. Paul, MN 55104, 612-645-7045.

Sherokee Ilse has suffered the loss of three babies and is an internationally known consultant, author and trainer on the subject of infant loss and bereavement. She has authored many books and booklets including her ever-popular Empty Arms: Coping With Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Death. Sherokee is also the coordinator for the National Coalition for Positive Outcomes in Pregnancy.

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