Licensed mental health therapist and Support After Abortion CEO Lisa Rowe says people – families, church leaders, and others – need to have awareness of women who have experienced reproductive loss and show compassion on Mother’s Day. “My overall message to women on Mother’s Day who have experienced reproductive loss – miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, adoption, loss of older children – is that it can be an emotionally packed day.”
The celebration of Mother’s Day is a cultural connection that is everywhere – cards at Target, promotional emails from retailers, recognition at church. “The bittersweetness is that it’s a joyous day for so many people – they’re going to dinners and having celebrations,” Rowe said. “Yet it can be an overwhelming and triggering experience for those with strong feelings connected to it due to reproductive loss, especially abortion.”
Rowe has spent nearly 20 years helping girls and women from at-risk teenage girls to women experiencing unintended pregnancies to women escaping sex trafficking. She described three stages of change that apply to a multitude of situations including coping with grief after abortion: awareness, acceptance, and action.
“Some women avoid Mother’s Day not knowing why they feel off or why they avoid church that day,” Rowe said. “Undealt with grief can come out as avoidance, anger, sadness.” She described how one mom related that she struggled for years to go to church on Mother’s Day after her abortion. Now she stands up to be recognized as a mother to honor her daughter’s life. Other moms have shared that they want to stand up, but don’t out of fear of being asked about their children.
Rowe explained that acceptance is being able to say this hurts, I need healing. She said the day can be particularly challenging for women who have a mixed experience – celebrating with their living children while feeling the loss of children who aren’t with them. Some of the day might be really good, and some of the day might hurt. Rowe suggested, “Maybe on this day I need to take the first hour to myself to experience the grief, so I can enter into the joy of the moment.”
One mom, decades removed from her abortion, shared with Support After Abortion, “My two living children made the day special, but there was a deep sadness in the back of my mind thinking what would it have been like if my other child were here, too.” She shared that one trigger has been going to church on Mother’s Day when her pastor recognizes all mothers and includes those who miscarried or whose child died, “but abortion is never, ever mentioned as a loss.”
Rowe explained that action involves facing these things with tools, resources, and help. She said it might involve calling a person who is supportive, making a counseling appointment right before or after Mother’s Day, or reaching out to Support After Abortion.
“Healing actions are unique to the person and help them embrace their feelings and the present moments, perhaps in ways they may not have before,” Rowe said. Another woman, who doesn’t have other children, shared that Mother’s Day “is a little weird.” In the four years since her abortion, she hasn’t done anything particular to mark the day. Yet she said, “Every Mother’s Day there’s a part of me thinking about it and my baby.” After going through Support After Abortion’s healing program, she said, “A part of me would really love to do something to celebrate Mother’s Day, but I don’t know what that would look like exactly. Maybe this year I’ll plant a flower or do something to memorialize my baby in some small way.”
“These are the experiences we’ve journeyed through with women and it’s taught us a lot,” Rowe said. “Working through emotions after abortion is already hard enough, but on Mother’s Day it’s like a spotlight is on it.” Rowe encourages friends, loved ones, and church leaders to show love and compassion for the women in their lives who are navigating Mother’s Day after experiencing reproductive loss, especially abortion. Be aware of the potential for the day to stir up a lot of emotions for them. And, don’t just avoid mention of abortion loss.
Consider asking your loved one how she would like to be acknowledged on this day rather than assuming that she would or wouldn’t. Engage her in conversation. Some women may want to just survive the day. Others may want to go on a nature walk and talk about their abortion loss with you. Others may wish to have a brunch or have a seat set at the table to honor their missing child. Recognize that her experience may be different each year, so if you have talked about it in the past, ask how she would like to approach it this Mother’s Day.
About the Author: Michele has experienced reproductive loss through three miscarriages and stillborn twins. She lives in Greenville, SC with her husband and three daughters.