Without: The Unspoken Pain of Mother’s Day

I will never forget the first Mother’s Day after my son Carter died. Only three months had passed since we buried his infant body under a blanket of Indiana snow, and I was raw.

Carter Benjamin Westfall

My Carter Benjamin

I’m sure my husband Ben and our oldest son Cohen (then a toddler) did something to make me feel special that year, but grief overshadowed it. What was meant to be a happy occasion—a celebration of what I am—became only a reminder of what I was without. Carter’s absence filled all the spaces where he should have been: in the backseat on the way to church, in my arms at lunch, his name on my Mother’s Day card.

I was grateful to have my oldest son Cohen, the boy who made me a mom. I’m sure he got a hundred extra hugs and kisses that day. But I longed to have our other son there with us. The day felt incomplete, a bittersweet reminder of the baby boy my arms ached to hold.

Over the years, I’ve learned to find joy in Mother’s Day again. Like many mamas, I grow expectant of what it might bring. I send my husband not-so-cryptic text reminders and cross my fingers that I will be greeted with sweet treats, a little rest, and a colorful “I Love You, Mama” written in my boys’ scritchy-scratchy handwriting.

But the ache remains. The joy in what I have is never far from the pain of what I’m without.

Mother's Day notesphoto credit: Mother’s day gift via photopin (license)

Yes, my heart will hurt a bit this Sunday—and I know I won’t be alone.

The more I learn women’s stories, the more I realize that few of us are untouched by loss. TIME recently published an article stating that around 30 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. This statistic is disheartening, and it doesn’t even begin to cover women who face infertility, child loss, and the list goes on.

Unintentionally, Mother’s Day holds a magnifying glass up to what death, miscarriage, empty wombs, and shattered dreams have stolen from us. Grief is there front and center, in our faces, and knowing how to respond can be emotionally exhausting.

I don’t share these things to boycott Mother’s Day. Heavens, no. Mama still wants her day of no dishes, lunch out, and an afternoon nap. Plus, Mother’s Day is a beautiful chance for us to celebrate the important women in our lives, to stop and appreciate what often goes unnoticed in the day-to-day.

But on this Mother’s Day, don’t overlook the mamas you know who have lost—especially if it’s her first Mother’s Day knowing that absence.

What’s allowed me to reclaim the joy of Mother’s Day is having people who don’t avoid my pain. They take time to remember, to ask questions. They ask about Carter’s story or how I’m doing. Talking about Carter—even saying his name out loud—makes me feel like his mama, and he doesn’t seem so far away.

Be willing to step into the pain, to be that person for another hurting mama. Don’t turn away because it’s uncomfortable for you, you don’t understand the hurt, or you’re afraid you’ll say the wrong thing. Trust me: Silence is almost always worse. All you have to do is take a minute to say, “Hey, I know today might be hard for you,” and then hug the crap out of her.

By doing so, you give that aching woman permission to remember rather than feel like she needs to forget. And perhaps, even on Mother’s Day, she will feel a little less without.


6 comments on “Without: The Unspoken Pain of Mother’s Day”

  1. Cynthia says:

    Thank you for sharing with us and being so open. Love you! *Hugs*

  2. Lois Moore says:

    It has been over 20 years and I still feel the pain of infertility! Not just for me but Mark and Danny as well. ( especially on National sibling day!) I must say that having a grandchild has really helped. Sarah I love your blog! Your really good at hitting some things from the heart front and center. There is great writing talent in you! Thank you and I hope you keep it up!!!

    1. Oh Lois, I’m sure. Thank you for your openness. And you’re right about our men. While they experience it differently, it doesn’t mean that they don’t go through their own grief.

  3. Hi, Sarah! I’m praying you’ll have a good Mother’s Day. I hope you won’t mind if I share a prayer I wrote for a friend whose child had died. Consider it in lieu of a hug, since you’re not within hugging distance.
    _ _ _ _ _ _

    Planting in Hope

    The storm rages.
    What hope is there,
    To plant a seed?
    And yet I plant in faith,
    You are in the storm,
    In the howling wind,
    The drowning rain,
    The spirit-numbing cold.
    I plant,
    Allowing the roots to sink deep
    Into the bedrock knowledge—
    You are faithful.
    Faithful as the sun.
    And when You rise,
    With healing in Your wings,
    My precious seed
    Will sprout
    And rise with You,
    Bursting into Life—
    A perfect bloom.

    1. So beautiful, Marcia. Thank you. Wish I could hug you for real. 🙂

  4. Judith Bennett says:

    Beautifully expressed, and your description is right on. I watched my daughter go through this with the death of her first child, how my heart ached for her, and you when you went through this Sarah, but in the midst of the sadness, I was reminded over and over again of the presence of The Prince of Peace. The hurt never leaves, but that “peace that passes all understanding” also thrives.

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