How You Can Show Love to Mamas Who Had Empty Arms on Mother’s Day


Freshly picked bouquets stacked in bunches, lovely hydrangeas planted in bright pink pots, cards spilling out into the store aisles and 1-800-BUY-HER-THIS commercials repeating on the radio: all reminders that Mother’s Day was on the horizon. Envious, I longed to be pampered, fussed over and honored. Desperately, I wanted to expect cards in the mailbox and notes in my inbox. I fantasized about getting one of those carnations they give out to all of the moms after church.

I wanted to be just like every other mama on Mother’s Day.

But I was not.

Mothers are special people. Well, all people are special, but only a mama can contain and grow life within her. Many sacrifice their bodies in order to nurture wholly new persons. And even those moms who don’t carry a person in their wombs, cradle sons and daughters in their heart. Mothers give up sleep, comfort and personal space in order to satisfy the needs of another. It’s no surprise that we’ve designated a day in order to shower them with attention and praise. Except for some women, like I was, Mother’s Day can seem more like a cruel date on the calendar than a joyful celebration.

My arms were empty that first Mother’s Day. There was no cooing babe swaddled in my arms, no wriggling toddler perched on my hip. I had no stroller to push, no diaper bag to haul nor cradle to rock. My firstborn had died the previous summer, so I bore no “proof” of my continuing motherhood. I felt like a mother, but I appeared to be a childless woman. Ashamed by my conflict, I was caught between two realities (the one my heart understood and the one the world saw).

An awkward position in a time when people are heralding children as a choice, the unseen child cannot be justified by many. Then others, who aren’t sure how to comfort a grieving mother, think it best to ignore what has been lost.

How I wished that I could remind everyone that my son had been real, not some temporary dream or imaginary person. He had been flesh and bone. And his very existence in the world, while brief, had changed me into someone new. That first son had made me a mommy, but his absence left me in a (painful) limbo.

I am not suggesting that we scrap the holiday in some ridiculous politically-correct attempt to “level the playing field.” No, mothers deserve recognition and we all need to remember the countless ways in which women give of themselves to care for their children. The truth is that when a woman becomes a mother, some part of her becomes forever entangled with her child. A lasting imprint gets left on her heart and in her mind.

Thankfully, my own mother sensed my grief that first lonely Mother’s Day and sent me a delivery of sweet-smelling roses. My husband knew my dilemma firsthand and he, too, gave his best effort to make me feel cherished. Those tokens of support and acknowledgment meant a great deal to me. They also allowed me to shed my shame and embrace the reality that I was truly a mama.

If you know someone who has lost a child, especially a mother who’s lost her firstborn/only child, please remember that it’s not too late to reach out, whether it’s to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day or otherwise. Send her a note, a text or a card, call her on the phone or drop some flowers on her doorstep to remind her that you recognize her motherhood. Tell her that no matter how long she was able to carry her child (whether in her womb or in her arms), she remains a mother forever.

A version of this post originally appeared on Blessings in Brelinskyville.

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