Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy? Mother's Day

I woke up early to the feel of one small body and 8 paws pouncing on me, my three little ones languidly draping themselves over various parts of my body, licking my face (dogs) or elbowing me (Bridgette). 

So much for my request to sleep in.

As I lay there under the soft ever-moving pressure of fur and skin, I started thinking about Mother's Day, and all the reasons I should write this post.

Because Mother's Day can be hard. 

Here's where I get uncomfortably personal. It's my way.

For a long while, I didn't think I would ever have a child. 

I'd known since high school that not bearing my own children was a possibility, and if the time came, I was very pro-adoption. But something happened when reality hit.

At a certain time in my late 20s, I wanted to be pregnant. It had nothing to do with the teachings of my child-bearing religious culture. It had nothing to do with trying to further a family line.

It was all me. I developed an intense desire to have a baby that was half of my own DNA. I wanted to feel a teensy-tinsy person hiccuping inside my uterus. I wanted to birth, raise and love another human to (hopefully) contribute to the world in her own unique way.

There were a couple of years in particular filled with raw longing. Every other woman's pregnancy, every baby I saw hurt my heart. The closer the person was to me, the more it hurt. The easier it was for someone else to become pregnant, the more I cried.

As Mother's Day is on a Sunday, for much of my life, it meant being surrounded in the pews by families with children, listening to the good-word over the lectern. About mothers. 

These sermons so often included messaging not just about the Godliness of mothers but also the trust given to women by God when they have children. "I'm so glad God trusted me enough to have this baby." If I had a nickel for every time I've heard those words.

There were messages of gratitude, of the responsibilities and joys of womanhood, of the divine purpose of motherhood and of the mother-child relationship. There were lots of specific examples of fairly-perfect mothers. 

It left me wondering, does God NOT trust me? With all these empty rooms in the house, am I not worthy to fill even one of them? And if so, why are there so many abortions? Or 15-year-old mothers? Or women who put their babies in trash cans? 

Individual belief-systems aside, I didn't intend to claim great knowledge or great faith. I hadn't developed copious maternal qualities or homemaking skills. Everyone knows if there's a flat surface in my home, it's covered in stuff.

But I knew I wouldn't throw my child away.

Perhaps most destructively, it left me with the impression that my primary purpose as a woman was to bring God's children to Earth. And if I had bought into that, it would have left me with a terrible sense of self-worth, wondering, "Why was I even born? If I can't fulfill my divine role of motherhood, why do I even exist?" 

Fortunately, I feel strongly I have intrinsic value. No one, or lack of someone, defines who I am. I am not defined by my own child, and she is not defined by me. 

At the end of the main service, it used to be that they asked all the mothers to stand and receive a small gift: a flower, a chocolate truffle, a tomato plant.

In recent years that has changed. Where the gift-giving tradition continues, now they ask all women 18-years and older to stand, regardless of their child-status.

Still. Coming to church surrounded by mothers/children, listening to these messages, being married and wanting a child. Mother's Day during those non-child years were rough and always ended in tears. 

I've never felt so completely isolated as I did standing up in front of a crowd, completely alone, to receive a potted plant. 

I started skipping church on Mother's Day and going to the movies instead.

The funny thing is, I've been a mother for almost 5 years (closer to 6 if you count pregnancy), but I still cry on Mother's Day.

That's because I'm still sensitive to those past feelings. And to the current feelings of others around me. 

In a way, I hope that never changes.

As anyone reading this knows, I did become pregnant, and it was a way-beyond-surprise on so many levels. 

Then of course my daughter joined us with surprises of her own. The type of surprises that make me question whether or not I should have more children.

But that debate is for my family and no one else. In fact, it's a debate that leads to a whole new round of Mother's Day questions.

In the meantime, I've become hyper-aware of other people squirming in the pews. 

If I hadn't been so self-absorbed at the time, I think I would have noticed earlier.

Consider these Mother's Day scenarios, all of which are real:
  • Wanting children, but being unable to bear them.
  • Trying to adopt, but either
    • not being chosen by a birth-mom yet, OR,
    • being in the middle of the long and arduous process--hoping, waiting, struggling, paying, praying.
  • Having been a birth-mom, wondering now on Mother's Day
    • whether you did the right thing placing your child with another woman
    • where your child is & how s/he is doing.
  • Being a woman who has lost a child, of any age, to death.
  • Experiencing miscarriage(s).
  • Loving your own mother dearly and missing her desperately after her passing.
  • Listening to messages of perfect mothering, knowing (of course) you are ANYTHING BUT.
  • Raising a child with challenges, who may never be able to physically show signs of affection or say the words, "I love you."
  • Being a man, whose wife has died.
  • Being a child, whose mother has died.
  • Raising your children alone, woman or man.
  • Being gay and not quite certain what that means for your future relationships and chance to raise children.
  • Being anyone/anywhere whose mother was NOT a good mother (it happens) and trying to reconcile that on Mother's Day.
  • Considering divorce. Wondering how it might affect your children.
  • As a woman, asking yourself what you did wrong that your child has chosen ____________ in his or her life.
  • Being single and childless but wishing you weren't. Wanting a family life.
  • Having a family life but wondering, "Was this choice right for me?"
  • Being a woman knowing she could have children but not wanting them. Knowing others want them and can't.
I've probably missed something. But do you see my point?

If I took a public survey of everyone in my church congregation, and they answered honestly, I'm guessing at least 50% would relate to one or more of those bullet points.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not sad specifically that there's a designated day to remind us to celebrate the work and love that so often is motherhood. 

And I love my mother. I'm grateful for our bond and friendship. I'm grateful she cleaned up my vomit when I couldn't make it to the toilet fast enough, and I love that she came to all my high school volleyball games, even the ones out of town. I will call her today and tell her so.

Certainly I hope and try to be a good mom, too. It's nice to hear my husband and daughter "quietly" preparing a surprise card for me in the other room while I type this.

But I'm also asking you to look around and see who is having it rough this Mother's Day.

Who's faking a smile? Who's smiling through tears? Whose tears have washed away any trace of a smile? And who is absent altogether? 

I can't tell you what to do to help them either because every soul is different. I suppose I could recommend listening. And distraction. And not pegging people into pre-prescribed holes.

You'll have to figure it out though: what to do and what to say, how not to act and what not to say.

Do your best. Best efforts count.

Let's help everyone have a happy Mother's Day.



You eloquently echoed much of what I woke up thinking about this morning. Thank you. And I hope this Mother's Day is full of smiles in your home today, especially those of your little one, who sure is something special. :)

Mary Liechty said...

Thank you
Kelly: )

JulieAnn said...

Thanks for this kelly. I remember that first mother's day at church after the doctor told us why we weren't pregnant yet and bursting into tears in relief society. Having people tell me "oh just relax and it'll happen." and knowing that they meant well but just couldn't understand...
My fav mother's day talk started with "mother's day is a damned if you do and damned if you don't holiday." It's so true.

So here's to all the people for whom mother's day is a difficult day of mixed feelings!

Lisa Merkley said...

Thank you! So true! I struggle too. Not wondering IF I'll ever be a mom, because obviously I have 3 wonderful souls that are mine. BUT wondering if I'll ever get the chance again to hold another one of my own. And wondering WHY I have to wait as long as I do. I'm not good at waiting. But going through this does make me think of many of the scenarios that you have listed. And how I relate to others who don't fit the molds we have made. I suppose one of the myriad of lessons I am learning from my secondary infertility is that I can have empathy to others who struggle in ways that I could have never imagined before.

Lovely post!

Rosemary T said...

Well said Kelly. This is the first time in years I haven't been at church on Mother's Day (at the hospital with my mom instead) and actually, I was quite relieved to not be there. I wonder why we have to make such a big deal out of the day with sermons and such? I was in FL for fathers day once and they had a regular program; in Ireland for mother's day and the same thing- regular sermons. We get caught up in "traditions." :)