I know a lot of amazing moms. I HAVE an amazing mom. Mothers deserve to be celebrated. But, what, then do we do for those who experience Mother's Day like a sword to the heart?
I love moms, I love the moms I know and the moms I see caring and struggling and sacrificing.
I love the way that my sister in laws try to give their children the best childhoods they can full of adventure and lessons and love. I love the stranger I see in the grocery store, struggling to get the shopping done with three kids under 5 and yet still managing to share their kids’ excitement over a cookie or a balloon.
I also hate infertility. I hate the resentment it brings, the anger and bitterness it can harbor, and the loneliness and isolation it carries with it like a shroud. I hate that it strains relationships and distances people from family and community. I hate that is a sorrow that is carried every day, unavoidable and inescapable.
And thus I love and hate Mother’s Day. It’s THE DAY that all of this is held up and revered in a way that it ought to be, and yet in a way that makes me feel small. It makes me feel ignored. It makes me feel unheard, both by God and by the church. Because I want to be in this club so desperately but I can’t find the admission key. So when all of the moms are celebrated, I celebrate for them and ache for me.
And I ache alone. My pain is often not seen. We celebrate the moms. We hold up this IDEAL of Godly women, that motherhood is the ultimate expression of God’s favor. And those of us who struggle thus are excluded from His favor. We may not explicitly say it but we heavily imply it.
I know that it is no easy thing to hold happiness and sorrow together. I know this because I experience both emotions, together, every day of my life. So I know that what I am about to ask of both the fertile and infertile alike isn't a simple or easy request. It requests that both sides come together and help each other celebrate and grieve in concert.
So… How do we do this?
- Celebrate the moms you know. Don’t stop. I don’t want them to be uncelebrated, they are amazing and deserve to be honored. Acknowledge the important role they play and the multitudes of ways they love and sacrifice.
- Celebrate the WOMEN you know. I know many women who aren't mothers who do amazing things in other ways. Take a moment and tell them “You matter. I see what you do and you MATTER” It doesn’t need to be flowers, or a parade. Just a simple, heartfelt “I see you.”
- Acknowledge the HURT. Whether it’s infertility, estrangement or loss, acknowledge that there is hurt and brokenness. Give a hug. A hand on a shoulder. Say “I am sorry today is hard for you”
- Offer help and support. Mother’s Day isn’t the only day that’s hard. The day before is hard. The day after is hard. The week after is hard. The month after is hard. Check in periodically. Pray often. Ask often. From my experience infertile women aren’t used to being vulnerable ( and women in general seem to struggle here!) so ask often. “How are you today? How can I pray for you today? What can I do to support you?” Most often the answer is probably “The fact that you care enough to ask is enough” I know this is true for me. What means the most to me isn’t perfect prayers or perfect speeches, it’s the people who tell me “I don’t know what to say. I wish I could help more. I am sorry you hurt.” It’s honest, it’s real and it touches parts of my soul that nothing else can.
What can the church do?
- Support support groups!! Nothing helps a hurting person like realizing they aren’t the only ones in this pain. Don’t have a group? Pray that God will raise up a leader! Encourage, encourage, encourage! And advertise support groups. Let women know there are places for them to go as they are dealing with this hurt. We need community.
- Encourage women to reach out. Have people available outside for prayer during and after the service. Have people available during the week for those women to reach out to again if needed. BE AVAILABLE.
- Don’t shy away from it! We are already broken and ashamed. If pastors won’t embrace it, won’t discuss it, then we feel even more ostracized. Learn about it, find out what sort of resources are in your community and have them available somewhere after the service. A prayer during service is great, but it’s 1 minute during a year or years of pain and grief and loneliness. Resources for the coming days, weeks, months and possibly years will have a lasting impact. Even more than the resources themselves having an impact will be the act of caring and acknowledging that having such resources shows: “I see your pain, I know you are suffering, here is a safe place that can help.” Is there anything more powerful than that to a hurting soul?
- Don’t have the moms in service stand up. Nothing hurts more than longing so desperately to stand and having to sit. It also draws unwanted attention to us by being an obvious sign that we are LACKING somehow. Rather, have all of the women stand and then speak a blessing over the moms, over the sisters, over the daughters. Or, have everyone applaud for moms while everyone remains seated. Celebrate the moms without isolating or shaming the infertile.
- Don’t have people asking women who walk in to service “Are you a mom?” and handing out flowers. Ouch. And while appreciated, handing a flower to every woman does little to ease the pain; it just makes us more aware of how we are suffering in silence. If you want to have flowers or some other gift for the moms, have them available for them to take as they walk out. It's much easier to opt out and quietly walk by than it is to have some well-intentioned person pushing it at us.
- 1 in 8 couples will struggle with infertility. This is too high of a number to ignore. They are wounded and limping, trying desperately to find solace and happiness in worlds turned upside down by the physical, emotional and financial strain of this disease. I haven't been to a Mother's Day or Father's Day church service in years, because I know that I am potentially walking into a minefield of hurt. How wonderful would it be if instead of avoiding these Sundays the church became a place where celebration and grief could happen at the same time and help and community could be found?