By Paulina Grace Hay
Mother’s Day is looming and, once again, I find myself waiting for it to be over. It feels like I’m holding my breath underwater, hoping that no one sees me, the water creating a lovely muffle to drown out all the celebrations around me. When it’s over, I come up and gasp for air, crawling back to the shore.
Last year, even though I did my best to become a record setter in holding my breath, I had to come for air a lot. Some breaths were easy and others were labored. Before I went under, I filled up my oxygen tank with some good feelings. I started my day by reaching out to my fellow childless friends and my friends who have lost their mother or aren’t close with their mothers. It makes so happy when they seem genuinely surprised and touched that someone thought of them on Mother’s Day. Sure enough, I had a friend unload how she was having a triple whammy of a day – it was her birthday, the anniversary of her mother’s death and she’s childless. I didn’t know what to say, but offered an ear if she needed it and to share my plate of brownies with her.
Then I received a text from my brother wishing me a “Happy Mother’s Day – hope it’s a great one!” I just wanted to say, “Are you serious? You know what I’ve been through. How can you say that to me?” Instead I wrote an email both my brothers, with an honest account of how I spend my day. I finished with how on days like this it would be nice to hear from them that they appreciate how I try to make their kids feel special and that I watch over our parents so they don’t have to. I was proud of myself for being vulnerable and stating what I needed.
Until they responded.
One wrote back quickly stating yet again that he cannot be expected to understand how difficult it is to have gone through a miscarriage. He always tells his girls, he said, how lucky they are to have me (even though I rarely get to see them.) I was hurt but not overly surprised by his response. Learning through Brené Brown why such comments are painful has been so helpful. His comments create distance not connection. That happened to you, not me – thank god. “I can’t understand” means “I really don’t want to try to understand.” Telling his girls to appreciate me is not telling me he appreciates me.
The other responded a bit later with a more seemingly thoughtful response. He was kind in saying that he does appreciate me every day. Then he went on to share a few stories to “one up” my sadness. Essentially the message was, “Stop whining. There are people that have it a lot worse than you.” He closed with how he would pray for me. It is devastating when someone belittles your pain, but Brené helped me reclaim it. My pain is my pain and it hurts like hell, even if he can’t see it. Also, his comment to pray for me felt like, “I can’t handle this but this makes me feel good about myself.”
My siblings aren’t bad people and if nothing else I hope that sharing my story helps them find a path to empathy, even if that’s a road we never travel together. I am proud of myself for standing in my truth regardless of the outcome. Going forward I likely won’t share another vulnerable moment like that with them. It’s time for me to move on.
I reached out an old male friend and asked if he had time to talk. I knew he wouldn’t be celebrating Mother’s Day because he was estranged from his mom. Over our decade of friendship, he’s occasionally given me a glimpse inside his fractured family. We talked for a long time about life and work. I never mentioned my pain. I was just content to remind myself that I had a good male connection in my life that cared for me just as I am. I later texted him and told him briefly what our conversation had meant to me, even if it seemed rather ordinary. He gave me a gift without even knowing it so I wanted him to know.
Later I received an e-mail from a family friend’s daughter who said that it had meant so much to her over the years that I always reached out to her on Mother’s Day since her mom had passed. She was now sitting down to do the same for another family friend. It was a much-needed breath of fresh air to know my small gestures did change her outlook on this day.
As I prepare for Mother’s Day this year, it helps to know I am not alone. That there are people who love me for who I am, and that I can make a difference to others helps me to take a deep breath and keep living.
I disappear for a day and treat myself to what I want to do. I don’t want to hear from people, I don’t want to hear their stories and FB is switched off.
I know this probably sounds negative in light of your uplifting ending Paulina, but with the advent of FB and social media, we get two helpings of the Mothers Day nonsense – one for the UK in March and then the one in May (which I think is the US, Australia etc…).
Putting it frankly I don’t want to be positive about this as it’s the one that cuts the deepest for me having found out I couldn’t have kids days before Mothers Day (UK) last year. I’m not ready to find a positive spin and until society recognises that there are those of us out there that deserve a day of celebration for not being mothers, this nonsense can do one, as far as I’m concerned.
***edit – I’ve read this back and I’m having a bad endo day…so I apologise for the negativity, but I think it needs to be said. There are days I don’t have the energy to think positively and my bad back has made it one of those days***
Mother’s Day is full of triggers of the pain of childlessness. I rarely check Facebook anymore regardless of the time of year because of all the baby and children pictures. In May, I try to stay away from all the Mother’s day cards and gifts.
Mother’s day has gotten easier in the past couple of years though. I know it will be tough, so I do my best to prepare myself. I plan friends I can see and I cherish those moments that are becoming more frequent where I can say, “it is okay that I do not have children.”
Paulina – M Day DOES feel like holding one’s breath under water – so accurate!! I love how you stood true with your brothers, regardless of their ultimately dismissive responses. Attitudes towards infertility and people without children will never change unless we stand our ground, and I hope as the years go by we are less and less forced to have to make a choice between our truth and connection with others. Ain’t no reason we can’t have both! Also really appreciate your ideas on reaching out to others on M Day, they will at least serve as kindling for my future years. I’m not sure I’ll be ready this year as this is only my second M Day officially without children…..which brings me to Sarah –
Sarah, I feel you. And I love your fire! I spent the day last year (I’m in the US, can’t fathom having to shovel that shit TWICE for goodness sake) the same way you describe, and that may be what I need this year too. I think the anger, rage and indignation parts of our experience are every bit as important as any measure of acceptance one may end up finding. I’ve mostly been in places over the past three years where forcing myself to put a positive spin on things is simply what is NOT in my best interest, and that’s ok. Sometimes, that may be what serves us. Others, we may need to let our anger breathe.
Lisa, I have had those experiences with my siblings. I try to not text or e-mail them on this issue because it’s so complicated, our feelings are so complicated, talking sometimes works out better. However, and even talking it out, they have a hard time because they are all parents. I’m grateful we have each other and friends that understand.
Sorry Paulina, I misread the author and thought this was written by Lisa.
I am so incredibly sorry to hear about the things your brother has said to you during this difficult time. You would think your family would be more supportive and understanding but having recently experienced my own miscarriage a few days ago after 3 years of unsuccessful IVF treatment, I have discovered family are the least supportive. My sister essentially said what your brother said to you, “There are people worse off than you. At least you have your health and a roof over your head.” My sister has a child after three months of trying for one.
Why are family like this I always ask myself.
This year’s Mother’s Day will be the hardest yet. Most Mother’s Day are for me, not only because I have been unable to be a Mother myself but I also lost my Mother to cancer a few years back. This year, my husband had planned to get something for me on Mother’s Day as at the time I was still pregnant and expecting to be a mother. Now it’s going to be all the harder because it’ll be a reminder that I was almost a Mother but it was snatched away.
Janet T says
Carmody, I’m so sorry for your losses. Be kind to yourself and know that you have so many understanding people here. Take care.
Thank you for the kind words Janet. The hardest part I think is knowing that was it, our last shot at having kids. The struggle is having to move on from that.
Paulina, I too love your underwater metaphor! And I am so sorry your siblings couldn’t be more empathetic.
Voldemort Day (as I call it — “The Day Which Shall Not Be Named,” lol) has gotten a bit easier with time — but it can still be tough. By the time it actually arrives, I find I am incredibly worn down by the incessant drumbeat of ads, Facebook posts, marketing messages, etc. etc. :p My favourite strategy is avoidance — staying away from places like churches & restaurants where mothers will be being celebrated by their families, hiding out at home or in a dark movie theatre.
Like Carmody, I lost my mom a few years ago to cancer as well, so I understand that added pain too. It is difficult for others to understand or sympathize with comforting words. I have adult stepkids who now have children of their own. I’m trying to do something special for them but I know when ‘M’ day arrives, I will still feel that ache and emptiness that always lingers in my heart. I will find a quiet place to be alone and grieve.
Last year on M Day I posted Happy Nurturing Day on FB and said ‘if you are a daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt, sister, godmother, granddaughter, etc..then this day is for you as well’.
I received SO many positive comments that I actually felt good the rest of the day. I felt like I had let others know that it’s not a day just for women who have birth a child, but it’s for all nurturing women.
Way to go! This day celebrates all women and our feminine genius which includes the gift of nurturing. I love how you used social media to get this message across and I’m awed by the positive response. It shows that you touched upon a profound truth.
I spoke to a leader in my church about how painful MDay is for childless women (and women who recently lost their moms) who are attending church that day. He spoke to our pastor and the day has been transformed. The focus is back on Jesus Christ and his message of salvation. During the prayer intentions part of our liturgy we lift up mothers, of course, but we also lift up all others who nurture life. I almost cried the first time I heard this prayer said out loud in our assembly.
For people who hate going to church on Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day!) please speak up to your church leaders. They may have no clue that they are being perceived as insensitive. If we don’t speak up, this will not change.
I am not talking to those who are grieving, who are still feeling raw emotions. I am talking to those of us who have healed and want to use our wonderful, powerful feelings, that are now cooled into passion, in positive ways, just like Sherry did on FB.
We are anticipating a call from my husband’s daughter any day now to say she is expecting his first grandchild. She left a message for him yesterday, in fact. I go back and forth on the idea of saying something about how difficult it all is for me – you are so brave to talk to your brothers, Paulina; people who are not in the same situation seem to find it amazingly hard to understand and can be so dismissive. I am not sure I could cope with dismissive/belittling reactions, on top of what is already so hard.
Unfortunately when you expose your feelings and your vulnerability you become the whiner, the bitter one, the envious one! When you do not and act like it’s a choice you are the selfish bitch, the child Hater, the one who s missing out the best things in life, the crazy dog woman! It’s a no win situation for us. I just hope as I get my next period that I learn tho live in spite of my friends and family s judgements. I know who and what I am, I am kind, I am generous, I enjoying helping people, lending an ear, I know what I m not. I won’t get cards on mother’s day, but. I have a husband who showers me with presents without a reason. I m happy to be who I am even if I will get my period today, tomorrow or the day after!
Mother’s day has always been hard for me because I am childless not by choice. Its even worse now because I lost my Mom 2 yrs ago. I will turn this bad day into a positive day by getting together with my father and cherish time together with him.