"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep" - Romans 12:15
Everyone loves a celebration! Good food, sweet cake, decorations, flowers and gifts. Millions of women every year are celebrated because they have been blessed with the role of raising children. They are mothers. But for every 8 women who are mothers, there are 2 women who are not. Some of these women have chosen not to have children, yet many have had that choice made for them through infertility, disease, finances, or never marrying. Others tragically lost their children through miscarriage, abortion, or death. Some women are birthmothers who courageously and selflessly put their children up for adoption, yet still grieve. Additionally, there are many who have had difficult relationships with their mothers, lost their mothers, or never even knew their mothers. For millions of women and some men as well, instead of Mother’s Day being a day of celebration, it is a day of deep pain and silent suffering.
The purpose of this blog post is to acknowledge the pain of those silenced, who are standing on the periphery while those on the inside get applause and a flower (although probably secretly desire a day “off” by themselves, I’m sure).
Mother’s Day has been difficult for me the past few years and I've posted the same status update on Facebook the last two years to let others know they are not alone:
♥ ♥ ♥ Much love and big hugs ♥ ♥ ♥ to all the mothers who have lost children... to all the woman who never had a chance to be mothers despite the constant yearning in their hearts and years of trying... to all the people who have lost their mothers... to all the people who never had a chance to know their mothers... I know how hard today will be for some of you... you are NOT forgotten!
My typical Mother’s Day consists of sending my dear mother and mother-in-law cards, skipping church so I don’t have to hear the pastor gush over all the blessed mothers, then going shopping with my husband and spending a lot of money to numb our pain and jealousy, and then maybe take my mother-in-law out to eat. I usually enjoy the day for what it is and then have the “what now?” revelation. Of course I don’t need five new blouses! That money certainly could have been spent in a more edifying way.
So what about this year, will Mother’s Day be any different… will it be better?
Ten months ago, after years of trying to conceive both naturally and through fertility treatments, I miscarried my first and only pregnancy at 6.5 weeks. It was the most difficult thing I have ever gone through. (You can read my blog “Revealing My Broken Heart” for more on this, such as how I realized I am a mother who lost an unborn child… and recognizing that reality was the beginning of my healing process.)
Since then I’ve experienced a lot of emotional ups and downs but, to be honest, I haven’t really thought about how I was going to handle Mother’s Day this year. Would it be the typical response I have to difficult things – push it down so I don’t have to deal with it – or would I allow myself to accept the fact I may never give birth to and raise a biological child… Originally my guess was the latter since I feel Rich and I have reconciled the idea we will no longer pursue fertility treatments and have finally begun researching adoption. The possibility of mothering a child still exists! Yet I understand that our life may continue without the opportunity to parent a child. Rich and I recently spoke about coming to terms with that potential reality.
I have felt good, really good, lately… and am very hopeful and optimistic about the future no matter what happens. I’m discovering God’s purpose for my life means loving others and helping people (women especially) find their worth in God. A friend told me I could mother others without being “a mother.” I know that to be true now.
There is a peace in my life that I didn’t have before just a few months ago. Writing about my miscarriage and attending the Justice Conference with Rich really put everything into perspective for me and helped us refocus how we want to live our lives.
However, today as we were preparing to leave for a brunch at a new church we have been attending, anxiety and panic began to take over. I began crying. At first I couldn't figure out why I was so anxious. But once I allowed myself to experience my grief, and cry on Rich's shoulder, I realized that I was angry that I was becoming emotional but also fearful of what might happen at brunch. What if they make a big deal about mother's day? What if someone asks if we have kids and if not, why not? What do I say? How much do I tell them? What if I become sad watching the adorable children run around and interacting with their mothers? What if...
Rich asked me to enjoy the day for others, those who we should be acknowledging for the love and sacrifice they've given for their families. "Of course," I said...
We arrived and to my relief there was no pomp display, no asking mothers to stand, no flowers or gifts. I also enjoyed watching the sweet children with their mothers. It was a clear reminder that YES, I still want to raise a child so I can't give up hope yet... we must continue pursuing adoption and let God take care of the rest. Lastly, everyone was super nice and I really enjoyed the entire morning and conversations. My anxiety for the rest of the day dissipated through the process of building relationships.
Before writing this post, I put a request out for stories so we could honor those who have a difficult time making it through Mother's Day. I wanted to allow for their stories to be heard and acknowledged among the inundation of stories of amazing mothers doing amazing things. I’m not saying that we need to stop celebrating mothers but…
Wouldn’t it be great if we recognized the beauty and diversity of the spirit of women in all forms, acknowledging both the blessings and the pain that women go through in their individual journeys?
Amy Young said it best in her blog, “An Open Letter to Pastors (A Non-Mom Speaks Out)”, where she asked church leaders (especially) to acknowledge the wide continuum of mothering. Click here for the full list.
One person responded to my request for a personal story which I would like to highlight. Toni Partington is a wonderfully gracious, beautiful, intelligent woman… she’s a poet, a life coach, and my soon to be sister-in-law. In 2010, she has published a full-length poetry book, Wind Wing, dedicated to her late mother, Agnes, who suffered from mental illness. Her disease took its toll on Toni’s family, especially during Toni’s childhood. These excerpts from the foreword of her book look at the complexities and heartache that can come from having a mother with a mental illness, acknowledging the truth that some mothers can be absent both physically and emotionally and the impact will continue with a person for the rest of her/his life:
As a child, I didn’t understand the odd behavior my mother exhibited; the withdrawal and sleeplessness of long nights, and the unpredictable paranoia that crept into our conversations. She was in agony and nobody seemed to understand. The unspoken code required whispers and never saying the word crazy out loud.
Before her numerous breakdowns I had an idyllic childhood. As an only child my mother doted on me, indulged my interests and provided complete adoration. She made a hot breakfast each morning before school – no cold cereal for me. She took me to tap dance lessons and sewed costumes for performances. She coiled my hair into ringlets and ironed each piece of clothing – even my underwear. I’m sure I was spoiled, but her unconditional love taught me appreciation, kindness, and compassion….
Mom left when I was ten years old and never returned home. On my first visit we touched fingers through bars at the county mental ward. Later, my Father made weekend drives to Patton State Hospital. I sat with her while she chain-smoked and chewed Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum. She kept my school pictures in her pocket and asked about my grades and boys, just like a regular Mother. But, we both knew that her mental illness had killed our family life. As hard as she tried, she was unable to get well…
In her final years Agnes shared a tiny apartment with a woman she met in a group home. She cooked huge Italian dinners on a three-burner stove and made the best chocolate cake I’d ever tasted. She was a sweet grandmother to my daughter. When she died from a stroke at the young age of 57, I thought she had finally found relief. Still, her legacy lived on. Her struggle served as a motivator for my pursuit of a Social Work degree. Most of my subsequent work was with women who desperately deserved appreciation, kindness, and compassion. I worked hard to bring them the support and tools to make significant life changes. My quest was to make a difference in their lives – for Agnes and for me.
We all have lived our own unique experiences, which have created in us visceral responses to certain things, responses others might never fully understand. However, we cannot pretend they don’t exist or affect others. Our lives aren’t experienced in a vacuum… we live among one another, but all on our own individual journeys with different blessings and different pains. It’s important to recognize both for all people. It’s called empathy, compassion and love. This is where building authentic relationships with family and friends is so important.
My prayer is women, especially, can learn to support one another through the good and the bad. Remember we’re all standing alone in our personal experience but we need a band of sisters surrounding us to celebrate the joys in each other’s lives but also to lift us up from the depths of sorrow when we tragically find ourselves there.
I believe that when all is said and done, our identity and worth as women does not come from whether or not we have children or mother a child… but is solely based on the love and grace provided to us by God through his son Jesus Christ. There is nothing we can do to earn that love or grace. It's freely given... That is where my hope and peace in this journey comes from. I wish the same for all who are reading this… that you will find peace in your own personal journey so we can all "rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."
Over the past few days I found several other blog posts and articles about this topic of Mother’s Day and how it can be a difficult day for many. It’s great to get different perspectives. These are the ones that spoke to me personally. I hope you find something of value in them as well.
Are Women Really Saved Through Childbearing? by Sarah Arthur
How God Makes Beauty From Barrenness by Colleen Carol Campbell
Mourning with those who Mourn on Mother’s Day by Courtney Reissig
Mother is a Verb by Laura Ziesel
Happy Hope Day by Erin Banda
What does Mother's Day mean to you? In what ways can we continue to celebrate motherhood in all its forms while also recognizing the women (and men) suffering in silence on Mother's Day?