Death Cursed Mom
by Kara L.C. Jones

This is a difficult subject. In writing about it, I'm going to have to admit feelings of isolation, envy, jealousy, hurt. But grief has no "easy" subject about which to report, so why not go for it?

What is a "death cursed mom"? (This phrase could easily be "death cursed dad" or "death cursed parent" as well.) Best way to describe it is to say that a "death cursed parent" is:

-definitely, one whose child has died
-possibly, one who is open in everyday life and conversation about the dead child
-and most likely, one who is acutely aware of sometimes being treated as a bit "eccentric"

Recently, one bereaved mom whose child was stillborn describe "death cursed mom" syndrome to me this way:

That weirdness that envelopes you as you try desperately to make conversation without staring at her huge protruding belly, rich with life, trying to think of things to say, all the while thinking that she is thinking that she hopes your death curse isn't contagious. Sometimes I feel like I should qualify the things I'm saying to them like "Well if your baby doesn't die, then we should...." OR "If your baby does die, then we should..."

Personally, I've also had experiences like the following which seem to stem from the fact that my child was stillborn:

Pregnant women who are having difficult pregnancies will avoid me. Never sure if they are afraid they'll catch something from me or if they are afraid I'll bring up death to try and get them on my grief bandwagon. (There is no bandwagon, folks!)

Or families where the child in is a neo-natal fight for life. While the child is still alive, they won't come within ten feet of me because I might somehow jinx the tiny string of life that is holding their child here.

I know, I know, it is awful to say these things. Awful to think them. I know that these people are stressed out themselves and possibly in shock coming to terms with their own looks at mortality. And their experiences are so NOT about me at all. But those are precisely the times that the "death cursed mom" syndrome descends upon us. And we feel icky, or tainted, or isolated and alone.

Okay, so what can we do about the "death curse"? How can we be pro-active in addressing this?

-Well, first and foremost is to provide yourself with good self-care. Make sure you have support outside those pregnant friends, aside from those happy newborn families. Give yourself some space, either in an online group or at an in-person support group, where you can be frank and honest about these things in a safe space.

-Once you are solid with the self-care, then it is possible to venture into discussion with people. Maybe you wait until after the other mother's child is born or maybe you venture to discuss it now. Let the other person know something like, "I'm really struggling here, and I'm very sorry, but seeing you so pregnant, making plans for the future is so at odds with my experience of my child's death. I'm afraid you will think I'm acting weird or that you will treat me weird because it is so odd to talk about life and death in the same breath." And see where it goes from there.

-Or you can approach the family whose child is in a neo-natal fight and offer them resources for families like them. Let them know that your work with bereaved parents has a secondary mission of trying to support families to have healthy outcomes to birth and/or neo-natal struggles. And let them know that you are will to help -- BUT only let them know that if you really are willing to help. If you are more comfortable just giving them resources and then going away to do some self-care on your own envy or jealous or other shadow issues, that's fine! Just offer what you can to get past that weird "death cursed" syndrome moment. But don't compromise the reality and validity of whatever you feel either.

-Same goes for the women who are having difficult pregnancies. Just speak up and let her know something like, "I'm really sorry if I seem to be acting weird, but I was afraid you'd want to avoid me since you are having a difficult pregnancy and given our experience with our child's death. But I really hope that we might connect past that because I wanted to let you know that I have some great resources for women who are experiencing.." -- and then fill in with whatever the specific difficulty that mom is having. Let her know that there are supports out there, that there are other parents who had thus-and-such tests done when having the difficulties she's having, etc.

-Again, do this if you actually do know of resources for them. If you don't know exactly what's going on for her, you might offer something like, "I'm really struggling in trying to communicate with you because I'm worried for you and want to help if I can, but I'm afraid that you might think I'd be morbid in helping you because my own child died. So I just wanted to try and connect with you to say that in addition to helping bereaved families, I have a secondary mission which is to help families to try and have healthy births, too. So I have a lot of access to resources and information about difficult pregnancies, and I was wondering what exactly is happening for you? Maybe I can help find some support resources for you."

Okay, now, how the other person responds is a total gamble. And here is the risk. Before we open ourselves to the steps above, I think we have to be ready to run for our self-care support system to address whatever may come up.

You might get a totally warm and amazing connection with the other person. She may totally open up with a sigh of relief and say that she's been wanting to talk to you about things, but was afraid to upset you, etc.

Or you might have the person hee-and-haw and sort of very uncomfortably say that she doesn't really want to talk about this and so sorry that you feel that way. And then walk away from you.

Or you might get a polite thank you for the offer of help but "everything is fine" kind of of brush off.

Or you might get a more forceful push back that says the other person is not going to talk about this, and really doesn't want anything to do with you or the death that follows you around or whatever!

You never know. You can be pro-active in your own responses. You can be pro-active in your own offers for open communications. But you can't know how the other person will respond. So just keep your own self-care system close at hand. Take the risk, but know that you might end up back in discussions with other bereaved parents about how icky this experience was or about how isolated you feel. Or whatever will come up from it. By the same token, be ready to go back to your self-care system and say, "Whoa! I'm totally scared because I opened the door of communication and now this person really does want to communicate and I don't think I can get myself to her baby shower!!"

And then you are on to a whole new frontier with grief that you didn't really know was coming. That's part of the journey. Don't give up. It's hard work, yes. But you are not alone on the path. There are many of us out here, men and women, who are struggling, searching, and finding balance again as we live life after the deaths of our children.

Stay in touch!!

About the Author
Kevin Smith fan, zine creator, bookmaker, movie watcher, dreamer, tool of the peace movement, sometimes grumpy, would rather just write and never edit or publish again (but can't seem to extract herself from it!), sometimes inspired, always awed by the beautiful minds of people like Nash, advocate for bereaved parents everywhere, creator of the long forgotten Iowa GRRL, and so much more. If you have questions or comments, send email to

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