I think this is always the question in mother’s minds when they have a close friend or family member struggling to add to their family if they have not struggled themselves in the same way. There sometimes is the guilt of privilege since so many moms know that it’s not always easy to get pregnant, stay pregnant, and take a beautiful child home from the hospital. I hope it’s clear that I don’t feel this guilt is warranted, but I am acknowledging that these women are compassionate and aware of an unequal playing field when it comes to what is so breezily named “family planning.”
As this is my third Mother’s Day wanting – but not having – a little one in my home, I’ll share my perspective. I cannot speak for anyone but myself and, if I have learned anything about this journey, it’s that emotionally sensitive topics like this are polarizing in opinions…and sometimes I find myself being very inconsistent in my feelings and/or reactions, so in no way can this post speak for everyone with infertility or a history of pregnancy/infant loss. But, here are my thoughts anyway, hoping to shed at least a little bit of light into this corner of the room.
I spent the first Mother’s Day I was trying to start a family pregnant. Freshly pregnant. Glowing. Oozing with joy from my secret. “Happy Mother’s Day!” I shouted to anyone who would listen. Happy, Happy Mother’s Day to all the hard working moms out there, the cuddlers, the mess-cleaners, the tear-wipers, the brave women paving the way for the new phase of my life. I couldn’t wait to share in this club, joining so many family members and friends with silly little ones running around in backyard sprinklers and holding hands crossing the street.
By the second Mother’s Day on this journey to start a family, I had survived three miscarriages. I chose the word “survived” not to be dramatic, but to remind or illustrate that there had been hardship. There had been sadness. There had even been a tragic delivery of a sweet, perfect, baby boy. It makes me weepy just thinking about that perfect boy without the heartbeat; the one whom I held with all his fingers and his toes; the one whom changed my world forever. This second Mother’s Day, I felt like a mom already.
Because I had this second trimester loss (many not knowing of the other two losses), others already thought of me as a mom, too. One dear friend sent a text out to remind many of us that our self-worth did not hinge on “how much action our collective uteri had or had not seen” which struck me as the perfect sentiment since so many of us feel so much shame when our bodies fail us in this way and, in many ways, Mother’s Day is another day to struggle internally with that shame, sadness, and confusion. The holes in our hearts are gaping open on this day.
Paradoxically, I will also add that I still had joy for those moms whom seemed to hold that title in a more “real” or legitimate way since they had brunches and crayon drawings announcing, “We love you, Mom” to prove it. There can be sadness in the midst of joy for others. There can be pain in the midst of celebration for life and all the sacrifices these wonderful women make everyday for challenging tots, tweens, and adults that will always seem young to their moms.
On this third Mother’s Day, marked tomorrow, I feel jaded. Four miscarriages and 1.5 years into international adoption, I know that this moment will pass, but I feel close to hopelessness. My “timeline peers,” as I will call them, in the Haitian adoption process, are getting soft matches (unofficial/dependent on other factors/tentative matches) with children, and I feel desperate as I, for the moment at least, am left behind again. For years now, I’ve watched women have one and then two kids while I wait, and now the adoptive moms are moving ahead too. This is all good. It’s good! I do believe that. But I don’t want to be left behind again. I don’t want to ache for my children anymore.
Interestingly enough, this is what many describe as fundamental in motherhood: the ache for your children. You want to eat them up and keep them close to you. There is an endless place in your brain focused on them even when you are sipping margaritas several hours away from them on a much-needed adult vacation. They are attached to you like nothing else. So, on Mother’s Day, I would tell the “real” moms out there that I feel like a mom too. I might not get brunch and a crayon “I love you, Mom” drawing, but an acknowledgment from friends and family of my journey fills my heart to the brim. It makes me feel validated and loved in the midst of my journey. I know one day this awkward place will be behind me, but – for Mother’s Day – I don’t pretend to know all the work that goes into caring for a child in a physical sense, but I feel I do understand your “mother heart,” that piece that is always attached to another.
Happy Mother’s Day, fellow moms, whether your children are in the sky or sitting right next to you in this world. Happy Mother’s Day to those yearning for a little one after months or years of infertility. This is one of those moments I believe in the power of intentionality. I do not say that to minimize the work and care of those mothers who need a day off from the kid chaos, but only to try and acknowledge all whom yearn for a place at the table. If you know of a “non-mom mom,” such as me, a “thinking of you” is simple enough to make her feel a little braver and more understood as she faces another non-mom day.