When Mother’s Day Never Comes

By May 7, 2015 July 4th, 2016 Bioethics, Infertility
easter 1960

I’m thankful for my own mother who, when I miscarried, wrote, “We are both grieving for our children.”

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.

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Vickie Phelps says:

    I have experienced so many Mother’s Days similar to what you describe. I’ve never had children and always feel left out on this day; felt I was less than normal. I’ve often wondered why churches sometimes go overboard in the celebration when they know there are those who aren’t mothers. I don’t begrudge those who are for having their special day, just wish it didn’t make the rest of us so conspicuous.

    • Sandra Glahn says:

      Ouch, Vickie. I’m so sorry! Thank you for saying so. Hopefully as more of us speak out, people will listen and realize we need to celebrate all forms of parenting, whether bio or otherwise.

  • Teri Gasser says:

    Pass me a kleenex, Sis. Thanks for reminding me to weep with those who weep! I loved the many constructive examples of giving honor to those who desire God’s blessing of children and haven’t received it yet.

    • Sandra Glahn says:

      Thanks for your encouragement, Teri. There have been other examples as well…churches that give carnations to ALL females and emphasize mentoring; the church that interviewed me about infertility/loss as part of their Mother’s Day sermon. Lots of places are getting it right. May their tribe increase.

  • Emme says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I was looking for the link to share on my FB page.
    My old church used to give out pens every Mother’s Day. The only thing was, it still made you feel bad. Some said “mother” the other ones said “woman of God.” So unless the usher handing them out knew you well, it was still a very painful question to answer.

  • Sandra Glahn says:

    I received the best Mother’s Day gift ever this morning. It was a message from my “son” from Culiacan:

    This Sunday, May the 10th, 2015, I want to honor YOU, as my “mother in Christ”, as well as many other women who go through a very hard time seeing M-Day as a day of grief.

    Breaking old traditions… and culture, we are not going to ask mothers to stand up or come forward in order to pray for them… we are not giving recognition to the oldest or the newest mom… we are not overemphasize the M-Day during our greeting or our message… Before the sermon, I will announce to our congregation that, from this day forward—borrowing from your nieces’ words—, every second Sunday of May, we will be celebrating: “El Día del Afecto Maternal” (Maternal Affection Day).

    We’ll have a flower arrangement of white rose buds, adorned with pink and blue ribbons, and I’ll say to everyone these words: “These rosebuds 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. We want each one of you dear ladies, mothers or not, to feel included on this prayer. 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. —After our service there will be a lunch specially prepared for you. You are welcome to stay. But if you rather prefer not to, we understand… We want to acknowledge our mothers’ sacrifices, but we don’t want to inflict unnecessary pain on those of you who mourn. We want you to know that you belong here in this church, and that we love you with maternal affection.”

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