A couple of years ago, about this time of year, I was talking with a pastor friend of mine. I mentioned how hard Mother’s Day is for women who are struggling with infertility and for birth mothers who have placed a child for adoption. I suppose I thought I might be helping to educate her on the complexities of this day of celebrating motherhood. She sighed and surprised me by saying that Mother’s Day is a nightmare for the church, and that she was always thankful when it was over. It’s not just the infertile who find this day painful, but also anyone who has lost a child or is estranged from a child. Women whose children are struggling with addiction or are in jail often find Mother’s Day sad too since some feel like failures as a mother. Single women who want to be a mom and feel time passing them by feel their loss more intensely on this day set aside to celebrate the joys of motherhood. And then there is the view from the other side of the mother/child relationship: women who have lost their mothers or are estranged from their mothers may dread this day that reminds them of their loss. Wow! I felt humbled.
I thought of how myopic I’ve been. As a daughter, I liked having a day to honor my mother. As a mom, I liked having a day where my kids and husband honor me. As someone immersed in the world of infertility and adoption, I was aware of how Mother’s Day affects the infertile and birthmothers. If I had taken the time to think it through, I would have realized of course, that they aren’t alone in their suffering, but honestly, I hadn’t taken this time.
So many who suffer through Mother’s Day are invisible. Other than your close friends, you don’t know who has had three miscarriages, or hasn’t spoken to her mother in years, or doesn’t hear from her grown son other than once a year, or who placed a child for adoption years before. But then pain is often invisible unless you’re the one feeling it, isn’t it?
So as you sit in church this Sunday or at a restaurant surrounded by your family at your celebration lunch, look around you. Really look at the people who are there and recognize that not all are celebrating. Also notice who isn’t there; who is holed up at home watching a Law & Order marathon with a gallon of Ben & Jerry’s because it is simply too painful to participate.
I feel for those, such as clergy, who have to navigate this complex web of emotions, and I respect those that acknowledge the difficulty. If you feel like your church is tone deaf to this suffering, you might want to share this wonderful essay by Dr. Russell Moore, Mothers Day and the Infertile.
Mother’s Day is a particularly sensitive time in many congregations, and pastors and church leaders often don’t even know it. This is true even in congregations that don’t focus the entire service around the event as if it were a feast day on the church’s liturgical calendar. Infertile women, and often their husbands, are still often grieving in the shadows.
It is good and right to honor mothers. The Bible calls us to do so. Jesus does so with his own mother. We must recognize though that many infertile women find this day almost unbearable. This is not because these women are (necessarily) bitter or covetous or envious. The day is simply a reminder of unfulfilled longings, longings that are good.
Some pastors, commendably, mention in their sermons and prayers on this day those who want to be mothers but who have not had their prayers answered. Some recognize those who are mothers not to children, but to the rest of the congregation as they disciple spiritual daughters in the faith. This is more than a “shout-out” to those who don’t have children. It is a call to the congregation to rejoice in those who “mother” the church with wisdom, and it’s a call to the church to remember those who long desperately to hear “Mama” directed at them.
What if pastors and church leaders were to set aside a day for prayer for children for the infertile?
In too many churches ministry to infertile couples is relegated to support groups that meet in the church basement during the week, under cover of darkness. Now it’s true that infertile couples need each other. The time of prayer and counsel with people in similar circumstances can be helpful.
But this alone can contribute to the sense of isolation and even shame experienced by those hurting in this way. Moreover, if the only time one talks about infertility is in a room with those who are currently infertile, one is probably going to frame the situation in rather hopeless terms.
In fact, almost every congregation is filled with previously infertile people, including lots and lots who were told by medical professionals that they would never have children! Most of those (most of us, I should say) who fit into that category don’t really talk about it much because they simply don’t think of themselves in those terms. The baby or babies are here, and the pain of the infertility has subsided. Infertile couples need to see others who were once where they are, but who have been granted the blessing they seek. …
It’s almost Mother’s Day again. They seem to come so quickly. I’m sure you are planning a very special service for all of the mothers. I know that it is such a special day for them, and I do not want to spoil anyone’s joy. It is important for all of us to rejoice with each other, and even those of us who are not mothers can give thanks for those who are mothers.
All I ask is that you remember that this day can be extremely difficult for a number of members in our congregation. For women like me who struggle with infertility, Mother’s Day can be the most painful day of the year. I’ve thought about staying home, but I know I need to be in God’s house.
The most challenging part of the service is when all the mothers stand and the congregation smiles and applauds them. It feels awful to be the only one still sitting. I want to be able to stand with them. I want more than anything in this world to be a mother. It’s something I have always wanted. I have carried children, but they were taken before they were ever born. I do have children in heaven, but I’m not a mother in the eyes of those here on earth.
So, on Mother’s Day I often go home and cry, not quite able to understand why I am unable to become what so many in the church consider to be “God’s highest calling”…a mother.
It is not only the un-mothers who feel lonely on this day. It must also be a painful day for single women who have never married, for mothers who have lost children, and for moms who have sons or daughters wandering from the Lord.
As Mother’s Day approaches, I pray that you will remember that it is not only a day of rejoicing for some, but a day of painful reminders for others. I know that God will help you to be a blessing to our congregation as you minister to us on this Mother’s Day.
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