The Secret Pain of Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is coming up. Most of us will spend the day with our moms, celebrating the sacrifices they’ve made in raising us, giving them flowers and candy and jewelry, and eating dinner as a family.

Those are all good things. There is, however, a secret pain lurking behind the celebration of Mother’s Day. It may not be present in every family, but chances are, it is. For some, Mother’s Day brings more pain than joy.

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Mother’s Day of 2011 was honestly one of the worst days of my life. At that point, my husband and I had been trying for nearly three years to get pregnant. I had endured numerous medicines and procedures in our efforts to get pregnant. Just a month previously, we had transferred to a fertility clinic. As odd as it may sound, that was a hard step for me because it made me truly feel like a failure. After three years of the struggle against infertility, I was nearly at the end of my rope.

Then Mother’s Day came. I wish I’d stayed home that day. I knew that church would include a Mother’s Day presentation honoring the mothers. As they were asked to stand, I sat, looking at my lap and trying not to cry. (At this point, only a small handful of people knew about our struggle, so I was trying to suffer in silence.) I managed to make it through the presentation and thought I’d escaped the worst part of it. Nope… Then the pastor got up and spoke about Hannah, the woman from 1 Samuel who desperately wanted a child but was barren. At times during my infertility battle, I had issues with Hannah. Instead of seeing hope in her story, I hurt because her story was not yet mine. In 1 Samuel 1:27, Hannah is celebrating the birth of her son by saying, “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.” I struggled with that. Had my husband and I not been fervently praying for a child? I knew (in my head) that God answers prayers in His timing rather than ours, but I struggled with the fact that His timing didn’t match up with mine. So, needless to say, I spent most of the sermon trying to tune out the preacher so I wouldn’t start crying.

As we left the sanctuary, one of the deacons was at the door handing out small gifts to all the mothers. He tried to hand one to me. It felt like a knife in my chest. Our church is fairly small, so I knew that he knew I didn’t have children. I simply said, “I’m not a mom.” He said they had plenty for all the women, but that didn’t stem the hurt. Funnily enough, I still have that gift – and I’ve never used it…

I spent the rest of the day in a fog, trying to tune out every mention of motherhood so that no one would see me cry.

You know what else makes Mother’s Day hard for women struggling with infertility or infant loss? It’s apparently a great day to announce pregnancies. It makes sense – what better way to celebrate your mom than to tell her that she’s going to be a grandma? However, things like that are simply another knife forced into the infertile woman’s heart… and that day, I was wondering how many stabs I could survive.

(Note: Do not take that previous paragraph as an indictment against those who make a pregnancy announcement on that day – or any other. I’m only asking that you be aware that if you have an infertile friend, telling her on Mother’s Day that you are pregnant exponentially increases her difficulty in processing that announcement. I’m sure any infertile woman would tell you that we do not begrudge you for becoming pregnant when we are unable to; we simply need time to process the news before we can share in your joy. Consider telling your infertile friend at a separate time, in private, so that she can have time to process things before you make a public announcement where she is expected to show joy like everyone else.}

Ever since that day, I’ve been much more aware of the hurt some women feel on Mother’s Day. Last year, our pastor read something at the end of the service that I’d like to share with you. It spoke not only of the celebration of the day but also of the pain the day can bring. The original is found here, and she provides a printable version of it.

The Wide Spectrum of Mothering

To those who gave birth this year to their first child – we celebrate with you.

To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you.

To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you.

To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away – we mourn with you.

To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.

To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you.

To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you.

To those who have disappointment, heartache, and distance with your children – we sit with you.

To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you.

To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience.

To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst.

To those who have aborted children – we remember them and you on this day.

To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be.

To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths.

To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren, yet that dream is not to be – we grieve with you.

To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you.

To those who placed children up for adoption – we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart.

And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising – we anticipate with you.

This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.

While God did (eventually) grant my prayer for a child, we are facing a second battle against infertility. While I am joyful at the prospect of another Mother’s Day spent with my miracle baby, I am again dreading the pain of facing another Mother’s Day without the family I always dreamed of. Please remember that Mother’s Day can bring a lot of pain for a lot of women.

If you know a woman who will be feeling pain this Mother’s Day, please be aware of that. Consider the following things:

1. She may not want to leave home that day. Don’t force her. Don’t shame her for not wanting to celebrate the day with her family. Know that sometimes, dealing with the pain is simply too difficult to do in the presence of others.

2. Hug her. Let her know that you’re aware of her pain and that you love her. Be there for her if she needs to cry.

3. Tell her that you’re praying for her – and then do it, perhaps even with her at that moment (though you’d better be ready for tears!). I often was so depressed and worn down by our battle with infertility that I didn’t even have the strength to pray myself.

4. Knowing that many women will receive gifts from their children that day, perhaps consider buying her a “just because” gift – chocolate is always a good idea. (At least it is to me – but then again, I’m an emotional eater!)

5. Consider talking to your pastor about being more sensitive with the Mother’s Day presentation. Perhaps recommend that the mothers not be asked to stand (everyone knows who they are anyway). Pass along “The Wide Spectrum of Mothering” and ask that it be read as part of the presentation or sermon.

On a day that is supposed to be full of joy and celebration, many women will be harboring the (sometimes) secret pain of heartache, disappointment, and dashed dreams. Be aware of who these women are so that you can give them the encouragement and support they need on this extra-difficult day.

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