Mother’s Day celebrates maternal bonds and honours the role mothers play in families and society. But what does Mother’s Day look like for women mourning the loss of that special bond through the death of a baby?

Each year in Australia almost 2,500 mothers experience the death of their baby through stillbirth, 700 more women lose their newborns within the first few weeks of life and it’s estimated that another 103,000 experience pregnancy loss through miscarriage. That’s 1 in every 4 women for whom the term ‘mother’ rests on shaky ground. Sands is an Australian organisation that supports women through miscarriage, stillbirth and newborn deaths. Sands CEO Andre Carvalho says that for the thousands of bereaved mothers his organisation supports, Mother’s Day can be an acutely painful time.

“Family celebrations and other significant occasions can be stark reminders of the absence of a baby who has died,” he said. “These are milestones that everyone takes for granted but for bereaved parents they can be very isolating.” Andre says that Mother’s Day can be particularly difficult, even many years later, because so much meaning is entrenched in the concept of motherhood in society. “A bereaved mother’s experience of motherhood is inconceivably different to someone whose journey has taken the typical path. Alongside the death of her baby she also loses her identity as a mother. Because hers is largely an invisible loss, her motherhood is not always recognised or acknowledged,” he said.

Since 2010, International Bereaved Mothers’ Day has taken place in the week before the traditional Mother’s Day to give grieving mothers an opportunity to honour their role. “International Bereaved Mothers’ Day is an important day to observe in the Sands community. It provides a sense of inclusion, community and comfort for women who’ve experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn death,” said Andre. “It gives bereaved mothers the opportunity to acknowledge that although they may not have a baby in their arms, they are still a mother.” This year, Sands will run a number of events to coincide with International Bereaved Mothers’ Day, ranging from informal meet ups and online tributes to memorial services.