Human Interest

Commemorating International Bereaved Mother’s Day: ‘You are your child’s mother forever’


Mother’s Day, celebrated on the second Sunday in May each year, is a day on which we celebrate mothers — and it has an amazing history of how it came to be. But often, mothers who have suffered the loss of a child struggle with that particular day every year.

Lesser known is the first Sunday of May — International Bereaved Mother’s Day — a chance to reach out to the mothers in our lives who have suffered devastating loss, and to grieve with those who grieve.

History of Mother’s Day and Bereaved Mother’s Day

Following the Civil War, Ann Jarvis planned Mothers’ Friendship Day to bring former enemies in the North and South back together. Ann had given birth to 13 children, but only four survived to adulthood. After Ann died on the second Sunday of May, her daughter Anna honored her with what is now known as Mother’s Day.

“She wanted Mother’s Day to be a very private acknowledgment of all the mother does for the family,” said Katharine Antolini, a history professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College. “It was very sweet.”

Ann was a mother — a bereaved mother who had suffered the loss of nine children due to diseases such as measles and typhoid fever. The original Mother’s Day honored a woman who was only able to mother most of her children for a short time. But today, Mother’s Day has become a more commercialized event instead of a private celebration.

In 2010, Carly Marie Dudley started International Bereaved Mother’s Day as a way to honor the mothers who have lost their children. These mothers, she said, are often forgotten and left out of the Mother’s Day celebration. “The traditional Mother’s Day has proven to be an emotionally exhausting day for so many mothers around the world,” she said. “Just because your child died does not mean that you are not a mother anymore. You are your child’s mother forever, and people need to start recognizing this fact.”

International Bereaved Mother’s Day is a day for these mothers to talk about their experiences their losses, and their children. Everyone knows a mother who has lost her child either through miscarriage, stillbirth, disease, or sudden tragedy such as SIDS or an accident. This day provides the opportunity to let them share.

READ: Parents of miscarried children are ‘starving for their grief to be legitimized,’ says author

How to Help a Bereaved Mother

  • The logistics. In the initial days after a baby or child dies, a mother will need help with the logistics, such as caring for their pets and their other children, making arrangements, writing the obituary, cleaning, paying bills, answering calls, returning calls, planning meals, and more. Help her, but don’t expect her to tell you everything she needs. Make specific offers of help.
  • Say the child’s name. As time moves forward, some people struggle with how to continue supporting a bereaved mother. One of the most important things a friend or family member can do is to say the child’s name and talk about them. Some people worry that this will “remind” the mother of her baby, but she hasn’t forgotten him or her and she needs to know that you haven’t either. Knowing that other people think of their child and remember their child helps bereaved mothers feel less alone.
  • Listen. Don’t be afraid to ask her how she is and let her talk about her baby and how she is coping with the loss. It can be hard to know what to say, but just being present and listening is enough. Don’t say, “You can have another baby,” or “At least you lost the baby earlier.” These statements minimize her suffering.
  • Cry with her. When you don’t know what to say, cry with her. Hug her. It will help her to know that you aren’t bothered or scared off by her tears. Having someone she can be truly open with, who can sympathize with her, is a gift.
  • Share your own memories. If you were able to spend time with the baby or child prior to his or her death, share those memories with the child’s mother to remember the joy her child brought to your own life.

Women who have lost their children are still mothers who carry their children with them in their hearts and want to talk about them just as any other mother does. Be open to listening to their stories, saying their child’s name, and remembering their child with them.

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