Why mums put on a brave face, even when we are heartbroken

Posted in Family.

Content note: This post discusses stillbirth and the loss of a baby. – The other day I stumbled upon this series of heartbreaking photos of Joy-Anna Duggar and her husband Austin Forsyth, with their tiny stillborn daughter, Annabel.

She was just 20 weeks old.

The photos are awfully, awfully sad. Not just because Annabel didn’t get a chance to grow up, but also because we know this sadness will live on in the hearts of her parents for a lifetime.

But one photo, in particular, is also revealing. It is the ‘put on a brave face for everyone else’ photo. And every mum I know displays it from time to time.

And the reason why defines ‘mother’.

It was supposed to be a gender reveal

Jo-Anna and Austin discovered their daughter and little sister to their toddler son, Gideon, wasn’t alive at a 20-week scan.

“We had gone in for our 20-week ultrasound and gender reveal. It was a baby girl,” Joy-Anna reveals in an Instagram post with a picture of the couple processing the devastating news, along with the photos of their pregnancy announcement.

“I don’t hear a heartbeat or see any movement,” the radiographer apparently told the couple.

“Life is fragile and precious”

Then two days later, Joy-Anna shared a series of photos of her angel baby.

In one the parents are seen cradling tiny Annabel whose teeny footprints are the size of a quarter coin. They are peering down at her and we feel for a fleeting moment, just some of the agony they are enduring.

But it’s the second photo that has us also thinking.

The smile that doesn’t reach the eyes

It is of Joy-Anna and her friend who has travelled to do her hair and make-up for these special last photos.

Mum is smiling at the camera, which at first glance, seems a bit absurd.

“Why is she smiling in one of the photos? Her child just died.” asks one Instagram commentator.

But on a closer look, we realise the smile doesn’t reach her eyes, which look vacant. It’s like she is here but not here.

She’s smiling perhaps because that is what you are programmed to do when told to look at the camera, or perhaps for another reason.

Joy-Anna Duggar

The brave face

Joy-Anna is indeed heartbroken, but she’s putting on a brave face.

Her brave face is saying, “I will get through. Yes, I am in pain, but I will fight through it. I will be strong for my family.”

And that’s just it.

As mothers, we hold our family together. We are the sun in our family solar system, ever nourishing and ever giving. So when something derails us, or we feel ourselves falling apart, we put on a brave face.

We put it on for everyone else. We want to reassure them that we will be OK for them. That we are strong. That we will get through this, and because we will, they will too.

We do it, even when we are scared, even when we feel lost and even when we are heartbroken.

Because we are mothers. We are bigger than ourselves.

And that defines ‘mother’.

If you’re struggling with the loss of a baby, please don’t go it alone. SANDS counsellors are there to support you and provide helpful advice about living with loss.


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