By Huong Diep
Hi, there. I see you. Yes, you.
I know that Mother’s Day is hard for you. Perhaps you have experienced pregnancy loss(es). Maybe you have lost your mother. Maybe you are grieving the loss of the possibility of being a mother. Whatever this day holds for you, I hope you recognize that it is valid. Your feelings are valid.
According to Webster’s dictionary, a mother is defined as “A female parent of an animal. A woman who gives birth to or has the responsibility of physical and emotional care of specific children.” This description is too limited in my opinion.
Can you still celebrate Mother’s Day if you do not fit the definition mentioned above? Yes. As a clinical psychologist who works with trauma, grief, and pregnancy losses, particularly with BIPOC queer folks, the answer is a resounding YES. We all came from a mother, and we all mother each other in this often chaotic and painful world.
I just finished reading Crying in H Mart by Korean-Jewish American Michelle Zauner this week. I did not realize this would be such a raw yet appropriate book for Mother’s Day. Zauner writes about her experience returning home to Eugene, OR, to care for her dying mother. It is a heartbreaking, achingly authentic portrayal of the dichotomies of parent-child love, tenuous connections, and how food can be a mediating force. After her mother’s death, Zauner begins to cook her mother’s old recipes and struggles with finding the right balance between bitter and sweet flavors to remind her of home. Her memoir made me think about the concept of home and what home means, especially after a loss.
There is a Welsh word, hiraeth, that is difficult to translate. Loosely speaking, it connotes a sense of homesickness tinged with grief and sadness over the lost or departed. It can also embody the feelings of nostalgia and missing a home that was never quite home to begin with.
I wonder how many of us are feeling a bit of hiraeth today. For a loss. Losses. For a dream that never materialized. For the mother we wished for or for the daughter we wished we could be.
I urge you to do whatever you need on Mother’s Day (and every day) to take care of yourself. Here are some practical tips:
Cancel — Do NOT go on social media. I repeat, DO NOT go on social media. You will not gain any benefit from looking at anyone’s carefully curated posts. You have no idea about their mother-child relationship status or the conversations they had before they mustered a smile. Cancel any other extraneous activities you do not need to engage in without an apology or explanation. Those who love you will understand.
Cocoon — Create a mini cave for yourself filled with your favorite snacks, good smells, feel-good shows, etc. If you live with other people, tell them of your plan to hide in your den, whether it’s for 10 minutes or 10 hours, take extra care of yourself and cocoon yourself in warmth and goodness. Your cave might also be outside and going to a quiet area (but try to steer clear of parks or other areas where families may be congregating). I give you full permission to go into hibernation mode.
Connect — Let a friend or loved one know that you may need extra support and for them to check on you. Even if it’s sending a heart emoji and you sending one back to let them know you’re alive. This could also mean connecting with yourself and journaling your feelings. You don’t have to re-read what you wrote. Just write and get the words out of your heart and brain.
Care — Treat yourself the way you would treat a loved one. If you notice any negative chatter, shush that voice away. It can come back another day, but today is for you. What does care look like for you? Is it a gentle walk? A yin yoga class? Crying in the car?
Commemorate — Whether it’s celebrating and commemorating a life that has been lost or celebrating and commemorating yourself for making it through another day, what is one small way you can mark today in a way that is meaningful for you? Some people like to plant a plant to see it grow, some people like to find a rock or twig to save, and others create a visual memory board. Rituals and traditions have a way of grounding us and making us feel safe.
Whatever you choose on Mother’s Day, I hope you know that you are not alone.
Here’s to coming home into the body that may have betrayed you, home to the mind that may trick you with negative thoughts, and finding hiraeth in your heart that constantly awaits you with every beat.
This post was written by Huong Diep, co-author of All the Love: Healing Your Heart and Finding Meaning After Pregnancy Loss.