Mother’s Day - Two Perspectives

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A mother’s perspective

Your baby has died. Amongst all of the suffocating grief you are feeling, you wonder if you are still a mother? If you refer to yourself as a mum, you feel like a fraud. But if you don’t, you feel an incredible sense of guilt.

Sadly, many of us can relate and for me, it was such a confusing time. My very identity as a mother had been shaken and upended when my daughter, Layla, died. I worried about what other people would think if I claimed to be a mother. I agonised over every single decision relating to my daughter and her memory. I questioned my value and my purpose. After nine months of planning and dreaming, now what was I supposed to do?

But as I stumbled through the fog of my grief in those early weeks and months, I made a decision that I was going to proactively manage the guilt and confusion I was feeling by choosing to be a mum to my absent child. After giving myself this permission, I felt so much lighter and, slowly, things started to make a little more sense. Around that time, I threw myself into a series of meaningful tasks and projects in my daughter’s name … I created a memory garden. I organised a memorial service for friends and family. I donated a beautiful mural in her name. I raised funds for stillbirth research. I created Layla’s travel stones, as a way of ensuring she was able to travel to beautiful places with us, and then maintain a presence there. I joined the Sydney 2 CAMberra family. And, I spoke her name each and every day.

My first Mother’s Day as Layla’s mum was enormously difficult. As with many significant dates, however, I recall feeling Layla’s absence more acutely in the lead-up to the actual day. I had read that bereaved mums often feel a sense of relief when a highly anticipated day finally arrives – and this was certainly the case for me. It was helpful that I had already grappled with, and overcome, the awful struggle around the legitimacy of my motherhood. Having already given myself that permission, I took time out that day to be sad, to be happy, to reflect, and just to be. I was also very conscious that it was more than just my day – and I made sure to spread some love to my mum; Layla’s nan, who I knew was struggling with her own emotions and reactions. The loss of a baby is so complex, with the grief felt by so many.

Layla should be turning seven this July, and this Mother’s Day is my seventh as a bereaved mother. I am incredibly blessed to have had three subsequent babies who are here on earth with me, and who distract me each Mother’s Day with noise and mess, squabbles, giggles, and beautiful sloppy kisses. This year, as I do every year, I will take some time out for Layla, visit her special place, and reflect on the baby girl who made me a mum.

A grandmother’s perspective

I am a bereaved Nanna; a title of which I am proud, but one that is tinged with heartache and sadness. The joy and anticipation of becoming a Nan was turned to despair and disbelief on 11 July 2011, when our precious, perfect firstborn granddaughter, Layla Emerald, came into our lives. Layla was born sleeping but her birth has had an immense impact upon our lives. Along with Layla’s Mummy and Daddy, her grandparents shared very precious moments and cuddles that were to last us a lifetime.

The weeks and months that followed Layla’s birth were the most difficult months of my life. I questioned myself constantly, why didn’t I realise something was wrong, how could I make this despair and heartache go away for my daughter, why couldn’t I fix it? Mums are supposed to be able to make things better for their children. What value was I to my daughter if I couldn’t make the pain go away? I had been my daughter’s protector since the day she was born, I had up to this point, been able to kiss her, put a band aide on it and make it better. This was so, so different. How could I make it easier, how could I help, how could I make the heartache go away?

The truth was, I couldn’t. I grappled with my failure as a mother, watching my daughter rapidly become a shell of what she was, the girl who once had a confident, determined stride, now walked with a broken heart and drooped shoulders. I realised that the only way to help was to be there, to wipe the tears, to hold her in my arms, to say nothing for the longest time, to be a constant force of support, to just be there.

At the same time, I was mourning the loss of my firstborn granddaughter. The hopes, dreams and adventures we were to share no longer existed. I had to find some way to honour Layla and to make sure she would be loved, remembered and honoured for my lifetime. I made Layla a promise that I would be the best person I could possibly be and that every day of my life I would do an act of kindness, whether it be just a warm smile for someone who looked a little down, or a helping hand for someone who needed someone to lean on. I will never understand why Layla didn’t get to stay with us but I do believe she has helped to make me a better person.

With the help of family, friends and the wonderful people at Red Nose, we all ever so slowly started to emerge from the fog of deep despair and grief. Little by little, we accepted our new normal; a life without Layla’s physical presence but her presence none the less. The guilt I felt if I laughed; the guilt I felt if I found enjoyment in something; the guilt of being here and that Layla wasn’t - it slowly eased and with time, disappeared. The day I walked behind my daughter and witnessed the determined, positive stride was back, I silently breathed a sigh of relief and thanks. She was ready to live again, albeit with a broken heart, she would make the most of this new normal and make her baby girl proud.

The process is slow, and accepting a new normal is so very difficult. But with time (there is that old cliché – but it is true), we do find joy and happiness in our lives again, although there is forever someone missing and a piece of your heart is always broken.

Special events are always difficult, especially the firsts; the first Mother’s Day etc. This will be my seventh Mother’s Day without Layla. But it will be a day like every other day of the year; Layla will be spoken of and remembered. The day will be spent with her family, with grandchildren all running around vying for our attention, a day of thanks for the love that surrounds us.

As I do every week, I will visit Layla’s place and sit and talk to her as has been my ritual for the past 6 ½ years. I will tell her what we have done throughout the week, but will add “of course you know that baby don’t you”? I will leave the most colourful flowers that I can find and promise to come and sit with her again next week.

When people ask me, how many grandchildren do you have? I proudly reply, “I hold one grandchild firmly in my heart and four firmly in my arms”.

Gillian Graham-Crowe and Kathy Murray
Layla Emerald’s Mum and Nan