When Mother’s Day is Complicated

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom and author
05/06/24  2:02 PM PST
When Mother's Day is Complicated

Mother’s Day is complicated for many reasons. For those of us who spent years trying to conceive, we remember that day as a celebration for what felt like the rest of the world and absolute isolation for us. For those of us who have lost a child, this day is full of mourning. For those with a complicated relationship with their mother or who never knew their mother, this day is empty and also full of feeling. It’s a lot for a Sunday.

My mother-in-law passed away recently after a much-too-short battle with cancer. We still managed to squeeze in a Thanksgiving, and a Christmas, and her birthday, and for that we are grateful. On this Mother’s Day, we will experience all the things at once. Joy over her life, exhaustion from grief, and gratefulness to have gotten the time that we did.

I spent my very first Mother’s Day in the NICU. My son Charlie had been born six weeks before and was not stable enough to come home. Not that we knew it at the time, but he would not see his nursery with the happy teal walls and white crib for another six weeks and when he finally would, that room would be filled with a pulse oximeter, tracheotomy supplies, emergency oxygen and later, a Kangaroo pump for his g-tube. But on that Mother’s Day, he was just a kid I was still getting to know whom I carefully snapped into a gray and blue striped onesie with an elephant on the back and held gently so as not to disturb the wires snaking out the sleeves.

It was a day that I remember being filled with fear for his future and total avoidance of other moms out on the street as we walked to pick up a quick lunch between visiting hours. They were brunching in their Sunday dresses while I stared at the hospital bracelet on my arm and ate my kebab as quickly as possible.

My in-laws came to visit a few weeks later, when Charlie would receive the trach that would bring him home. I remember my mother-in-law, sitting in the stiff rocking chair in his room, holding him so calmly, even as she confessed that all the machines and cords made her nervous. His heartrate stayed steady in her arms. She was a steady lady. She sang the “Skidamarink” song to him while I tried not to cry.

Two years later, when he no longer needed the trach or the g-tube, we began to travel more and would often make the three hour trip east to Knoxville to stay with my in-laws and tailgate at the UT football games. She bought him tiny pants and shirts in the school’s colors of orange and white and helped him clap and cheer. She sent me home with the recipe for her famous “Ugly Dip” that was filled with feta and corn and beans and meant to be scooped up generously with a Frito chip. That dip got me through my pregnancy with my twins.

When the twins came and it quickly became apparent that three children under three years old is basically impossible, she came to us. She taught them “Skidamarink” song too and made the dip and told me to take a nap. See? Steady.

Motherhood is a complicated thing. It requires us to be both soft and strong. To protect our children fiercely, but then as they get older, to learn to let them go. Thus begins the transition to that delicate dance of mother-in-law , of grandmother, of surrogate mom to whomever in your life needs mothering at the time.

Whatever happiness or sorrow or anger or bliss you bring to the table this Mother’s Day, I hope you grant yourself the permission to feel it all without judgment. Stay steady, my friends.


child with special needs
Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom and author.

Author of the middle-grade novels:














Recent GROW

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *