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“No one prepares you for how traumatic this time of year is”: how Other’s Day is helping people who find Mother’s Day difficult

When Robyn Donaldson and Emma Hopkinson both realised how difficult they found Mother’s Day, they decided to start ‘Other’s Day’, and it quickly gained a huge following. 

For lots of people, Mother’s Day is a happy one: a welcome chance to dote on the people who’ve shown you that special, unparalleled feeling of unconditional maternal love. But, for others, motherhood is shrouded in loss and grief. Whether it’s through bereavement, estrangement or being unable to become a mother themselves, for some people, the run-up to Mother’s Day brings sore, painful feelings to the surface, with the day itself landing like “a punch in the gut”.

This is how Emma Hopkinson, an interiors content creator whose mother died from breast cancer when she was 26, describes it. “I was in the room with her alone when she died,” Hopkins tells Stylist. “There’s so much trauma and pain, especially when you’re at an age when you don’t know how to talk to anyone about it. I was a wreck.”

Hopkinson met arts project manager Robyn Donaldson when they were both in their early 20s and they soon bonded over their “complicated mum stuff”.  

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Donaldson, who is estranged from her mother, lost her grandmother to cancer when she was 24. “My mum has substance abuse issues, so my nan – who was 36 when I was born – became my mum in all the ways you can imagine,” Donalson tells Stylist. “I had a fun but chaotic childhood, but my nan was my reliable safe space. When she went, it was terrifying. I went straight back to all that instability I’d known as a child.”

Through their shared losses the pair developed a profound connection. “Realising there was someone else out there who understood me was invaluable,” says Hopkinson. “Robyn was my life raft and we glued ourselves together.”

As the pair navigated the bruising throes of grief together, they both found that traditional parent celebration days were particularly painful. “No one prepares you for how traumatic and lonely this time of year is,” says Donaldson. “Or, the weird guilt about feeling sad that goes with it,” adds Hopkinson, “You feel guilty about being upset on a day when everyone else is and should be celebrating.”

It got the two thinking, what if there was a safe space where people who felt the same way about these seismic days could band together when they popped up in the calendar?  

The pair, who also run the interior design Instagram accounts @around.robyn and @thecrapflat, floated the idea to their followers and the response was overwhelming. “So many people got in touch and we thought we’ve just got to do something,” says Hopkinson. And in 2019, Other’s Day was born.

Initially starting out as a blog and Instagram account, Other’s Day largely exists online and is a space on social media, a place that so often becomes full of smiling family photographs on parental celebration days, where people who find it hard to interact with that side of the day can find some solidarity.

Using the Other’s Day Instagram account, Hopkinson and Donaldson use big parental celebration days to talk about their experiences, share people’s stories and start conversations away from the traditional celebrations.

It’s one of many watershed initiatives in recent years that have helped make these days more bearable for those who find them difficult. It’s common now to see brands now offer opt-outs from Mother’s and Father’s Day marketing and advertisers have become more keenly aware of the mixed emotions the day can bring.

“Generally, the response has been overwhelming. People have been so supportive,” says Hopkinson. “It really feels like there’s a community effort on the day to get the word out and support people. That feeling of solidarity is incredible.” 

Hopkinson and Donaldson are keen to acknowledge that there’s no right way to approach these days. “We want people to join in however they see fit because we’re aware people approach these days in completely different ways and there are many reasons why people might want to engage with us,” says Hopkinson. “People come to us with stories of miscarriage or infertility challenges, there are people who want to adopt and can’t or people who just don’t feel they are able to fit into a traditional mother or father role.

“One man who contributed to our blog had a son, but was really struggling with postnatal depression and felt that his baby hated him. It’s always been important that all different kinds of loss are included in this day.”

For Hopkinson and Donaldson, starting Other’s Day has also taught them lessons about their own grief. “Robyn and I are quite extreme examples of introvert and extrovert, so our coping mechanisms through grief are wildly different,” says Hopkinson.  

“Emma kept everything very close and didn’t tell me her mum had passed away for a week afterwards, whereas I texted everyone I knew as soon as I left the hospice after my nan passed away and fully immersed myself into misery,” says Donaldson. “We hit both ends of the spectrum and we want people at all points along it to be able to join Other’s Day. We want everyone to feel seen.”

Other’s Day continues to grow and evolve. Hopkinson and Donaldson have chronicled their differing reactions to grief into a book, It’s Your Loss: Living With Grief Is Hard. We Hope This Book Will Help, which outlines their two opposite responses to loss with expert opinion from a psychologist. It also ruminates on different kinds of loss from death and relationship breakdown to unemployment with insights from the likes of Adam Buxton and Catherine Cho.

Bringing in as many perspectives on loss as possible is what the pair see for Other’s Day’s future. They hope it will become just as ubiquitous as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, so people know there is a space for them on these landmark days without having to seek it out.

“There’s only so much we can do and we want Other’s Day to become bigger than just two of us,” says Donaldson. “We want it to grow and become self-sufficient, something that’s a given. So people know that however they’re feeling there’ll always be a source of comfort.”  

It’s Your Loss: Living With Grief Is Hard. We Hope This Book Will Help by Emma Hopkins and Robyn Donaldson (£13.95, DK) is available now.  

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Images: Alexandra Cameron