“Happy Mother’s Day!” my spin class instructor called out.
I lurched to attention, having been yanked from my “spinning zone”. This weeks’ class had given me time to think and engorge my lungs with prana after a week of little physical activity. Visions for my future, for this life I didn’t chose, had finally started to creep in and I used the class to focus on them. And I was feeling GOOD.
“Happy Mother’s Day to you all!” she called out again. It was only Wednesday.
“Huh” I thought as I prepared myself for any direct assaults. I noticed my breathing escalate only slightly, my heart barely started pounding.
This is a remarkable physiological change for a Child Free Not by Choice Survivor of Infertility who had to cease her pursuit of parenthood for the purpose of averting emotional, psychological, spiritual, financial, physical and marital ruin.
“Have a great Mother’s Day!” she called out AGAIN as we were dispersing.
Yeah. I think we get it.
As I wiped down my bike my mind floated from what I would say if someone addressed me personally (“I’m a survivor of infertility, so for me it isn’t”) to the greater conundrum of identifying the issue and coming up with a social protocol that includes us all. I know from my six years of experience with infertility and grief I could very well need a week long spin class for that.
It’s not that people shouldn’t say happy Mother’s Day. And it’s not that people shouldn’t celebrate it. Not at all. Many have plenty to celebrate on such a day and they should absolutely do so. What appears to be lacking is an awareness of those who also have losses to mourn.
It all too often feels as though the happy Mother’s Day brigade is not aware infertility is a disease that affects one in eight people. That one in every four pregnancies ends in a miscarriage. That almost 20% of women over the age of 45 in this country do not parent, and that the majority of this group is not child free by choice. That one in every 160 births is a stillbirth. That a failed adoption is a wrenching loss. More so, are people aware that these events are life altering? That they entail very real pain, grief and trauma? That people in their spin classes and every day midst are dealing with them constantly?
Truth is, Mother’s Day is not a happy day at all for so many. Where there is great love, there lies the potential for great grief. Though my children never got to be, I truly fell in love with them during the four years of my life I spent trying to bring them here. And as my grieving process has revealed to me, love does not die. Indeed my love for my children continues through their nonexistence.
My first Mother’s Day without my children was an act of emotional survival. I spent the day reminding myself to keep breathing and pushing myself through moments where I wasn’t sure I could. I sobbed when I had the energy. I stared in disbelief at the little handmade music box where we placed the photographs of our 24 beautiful embryos that were to be buried a few days later. Way too raw for any further reminders of my lack of motherhood, I had my blinds drawn, my TV off, electronic devices dormant.
And thus I also spent the day wondering. On a day so flooded with what I had been denied, would there be a place for me in the world? Why are people like me so forgotten? A close friend had her minister include a prayer at her church for people who want to be mothers but don’t get to be. This was a most wonderful thing. As churches on Mother’s Day can be undermining environments for those dealing with infertility of any kind, I’m hopeful that it helped other people too.
It’s been suggested to me that I celebrate my own mother as a “solution” to Mother’s Day grief. (Dismissive much??). My Mom has been a fierce and loyal supporter of my husband and me throughout our infertility and grieving process. But not everyone in the infertile community is so fortunate. I’ve heard too many stories of people’s experiences and needs being excluded, or even shunned from the family structure, thus Mother’s Day can be a double whammy for those living with infertility. So, along with our usual mother-daughter strife and tension, I appreciate my Mom every day. When someone abides with and supports you in such a way, you don’t need some peripheral holiday to know how lucky you are. It’s something you are naturally aware of on a regular basis.
Furthermore, there is no “solution” to grief. It is something that is experienced, not something to be solved. And another fundamental truth I’ve learned? There is no replacement for real pain, not even my love and appreciation for my Mom can wipe out the experience that is losing my children, parenthood and grandparenthood. It ALL is. And like any good mother, my Mom wants her child to have what her child needs. For me, it’s the space to grieve my losses and process my experiences.
I often wonder if a general awareness of the full scope of human reproduction, not just the happy stuff, would generate a more inclusive social protocol. And more respect for those who are suffering and recovering from such losses.
Wishing Happy Mother’s Day to a random group of people is like wishing Merry Christmas to a group of people of whose religious affiliation you have no idea. It’s common knowledge that Christmas is not something everyone is celebrating and that including other religions in holiday well wishes is simply the normal thing to do. As humans, we want to include and be included. Perhaps happy Mother’s Day wishes could be accompanied by “and please remember your friends and family struggling with infertility and its losses” every now and then.
What could help this day is people becoming more open to giving those who struggle what they need. And acknowledging those who not by choice walk the less conventional path of non – parenthood. Some want to be left alone. Some want the day ignored entirely. Some want to attempt traditional participation but can only do so in limited capacity. Some without living children want to be acknowledged as a mother. Some chose to celebrate their friendships. Some want to be acknowledged for their societal and community contributions that are no doubt every bit as important as parenting. Me now? I wanted parenthood badly. I’m grieving and adapting to not raising children. I welcome acknowledgement from friends and loved ones that this day is rough. That it is not what I had hoped or worked so hard for. And I’m sure I’m not alone. Oh, and dark humor? Always welcome.
For people like me, Mother’s Day and the days leading up to it are a constant barrage of what we’ve lost. While there may be no way around the perpetual bombardment, at least the bombardment could be more inclusive as I go about my daily life in spin class and everywhere else.
The spectrum of reproductive experiences certainly renders its share of questions. One thing I do know for sure is that Mother’s Day should not be a day where anyone in pain, and I can assure you, there are a lot of us out there, is expected to slather on a happy face for the sake of those who aren’t. We all matter, therefore we all get to be as we are.
As for me this year? Well. I learned long ago grief is an unpredictable flow you must ride without a saddle. And I will continue to do just that. Last year however, my second Mother’s Day without my children, I noticed a few differences from the year prior. The day was more of a subdued hell. I was able to be goofy again. I actually turned on my computer and communicated with a few humans. For me, Mother’s Day may become a day for noting the trajectory of my healing and even celebrating the progress I’ve made in acclimating to the absence of motherhood. I know this day will never be what it once was, as I am forever changed by the loss of my children. I also know whatever it becomes it will be authentic to my experiences as a human being, and to the love held in my heart that will not die.