My friend Cheryl Delaney wrote this last year on Mother’s Day and I thought the message was important and worth sharing with you. Thanks, Cheryl. Happy Mother’s Day, Friends.
On this Mother’s Day morning, I’m thinking of all of the traditional reasons to be grateful. My wonderful mother, my lovely children, my kind and generous mother-in-law, and all of the fantastic mothers I know who are constantly working hard to be good, and then better, at everything they do. But today my mind keeps coming back to all of the people (mothers and fathers alike, along with would-be mothers and fathers) I know who have experienced unbelievable pain in the process of becoming, or trying to become, parents. I say ‘unbelievable’ in part because so much of this was opaque to me before I entered the world of parenthood myself.
I don’t think I thought consciously about parenthood much before my siblings and friends started having babies but I’m pretty sure I’ve always had the underlying assumption that I would have kids. That version of me pictured pregnancy and child-rearing as more-or-less foregone conclusions. People who want kids have them. People who have kids have healthy kids and the world spins smoothly on its axis. I’m sure I knew that this wasn’t always the case but I think my perception of the frequency with which parenting-related tragedy was likely to occur was wildly off. The odds should be in the favor of me and everyone I know having things turn out delightfully. Then one, and another and another and another of my sisters, friends, friends-of-friends, family friends and dear acquaintances experienced miscarriage, infertility, late-term pregnancy loss, still birth, ectopic pregnancy… each one shocking and painful in its ability to strike what was expected to be a time of joyful anticipation.
As a society, we don’t do a great job of dealing with death. Our rituals are brief and no one knows quite what to say or do to help someone who’s lost a loved one. This is even truer of pregnancy loss. Unlike a funeral for a parent or grandparent, friend or spouse, a pregnancy is only really real (and even then it’s pretty abstract) to the parents involved. Usually they also have a community of people who wish them well and look forward to meeting their baby, but the parents-to-be are the ones who have envisioned their lives with a baby, who’ve spent time wondering what kind of person that baby will be, and who experience the loss of that baby in a score of ramifications that slowly unfold around them, and which are invisible to everyone else.
Life is full of different kinds of pain, just as it is full of different kinds of joy and wonder. Pregnancy-related grief, though, has as a particular attribute a sort of loneliness that (I think) is less common in other situations – longing for someone you haven’t even met, whose presence and habits and personality you can’t exactly miss but who had started to take shape in your mind and heart. If a small part of that loneliness can be dissipated by recognizing here that it exists, then the risk of alienating some or being a downer to others on an otherwise beautiful day is worthwhile.
Lots of sentiments voiced today will be about the mundane trials of motherhood – feeding, tending, driving around, remembering to pack lunches or sports equipment. The path to just becoming a mother is paved with more heartbreak than we tend to publicly acknowledge. There are plenty of people for whom this holiday is tinged with sorrow and I am wishing peace and love to all mothers, would-be mothers, and children of mothers for whom this day might be bittersweet. To everyone who is hurting today, even if I don’t know who you are or what you’ve been through, you have sympathy. To everyone else, you might not realize it but you certainly know someone who is feeling loss today. Today is a day to celebrate motherhood and mothers – of children we get to know and children we don’t.