Often the worst day of the year for an infertile woman is Mother’s Day. On this holiday going to a house of worship can feel more like going to the house of mourning.
During the decade when my husband and I experienced infertility treatment, lost multiple pregnancies, and endured three failed adoptions, I found it difficult enough to see all the corsages on M-Day. But then the pastor asked mothers to stand, and I remained conspicuously seated. Some years the worship leader would even call for the youngest mother to stand, and then he smiled awkwardly as a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old unmarried teen got to her feet. On such occasions I would sit wondering about God’s mysterious ways of supply and demand. Following most such services, each mother would receive a carnation as she headed out the door. But to exit she first had to answer “yes” to the question, “Are you a mother?”
On a number of occasions, however, I experienced Mothers’ Day as a day of grace. On the one following my first miscarriage, a message in the church bulletin said, “The altar flowers today are given with love and acknowledgement of all the babies of this church who were conceived on earth but born in heaven and for all who have experienced this loss.” The couple who dedicated these flowers had six children, and through their validation of our pain, we caught a glimpse of the one who is acquainted with grief. The husband crossed the aisle and stood by my husband during the music. And with tears streaming down our faces, we found new strength to bring our sacrifice of praise.
On several Mother’s Days, a pastoral prayer has included requests that on this special day God would bless the motherless children, those bereft of mothers, mothers estranged from their children, infertile women, and those who wish to become mothers but must wait on God’s timing. Apparently someone figured out that about half the church was mourning along with the celebration. On such occasions I felt like I belonged.
One year during Mothers’ Day, I was with a mission team in Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico. A man stood at the door after the service handing out carnations to all the mothers. Having heard that my husband and I had just experienced another pregnancy loss, he looked at me through misty eyes and thrust his entire bouquet in my hands.
My niece, who is married without children, calls the holiday “mothering day.” In this way she broadens the meaning, making it inclusive enough to include all who nurture. And this seems a fitting practice for the church. We are family. The one without a mother finds mothers in Christ. The parent without children finds children in Christ. Families of one and of twenty all find a broader family in Christ.
My mourning on M-Day was not because I wished in any way to diminish our practice of honoring mothers for the thankless work they do. (I myself have one of the best moms on the planet, and it is a joy to honor her.) I wished only for the Body of Christ to find ways to acknowledge our mothers’ sacrifices without inflicting unnecessary pain on those who mourn.
This Sunday, we have the opportunity once again to minister grace both to the one in six couples who experience infertility and to the rest of those who experience Mother’s Day as a day of grief. May we rise to the occasion. Because while the preacher in Ecclesiastes tells us it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting (Eccl. 7:2), it is also better if that house of mourning is full of empathic family members. As they reach out with the arms and tear ducts of Christ, we remember what will always be true about us: We are not alone.