When Mother’s Day Hurts

Today is Mother’s Day in Ireland and the UK. For the past few years I’ve written about Mother’s Day without my mother, but this year I hesitated to write it. I don’t want to be perennially moaning my losses – I’m sure people are tired of hearing me on this subject – but then I remembered the first year after my mother died when I googled for hours wanting to find someone else who understood the pain of that first Mother’s Day without a mother to celebrate it with. Each Mother’s Day, each birthday, each holiday we face without our mothers is painful, but that first is the hardest; the first sorrow wept without her.

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And I thought of all those invisible mothers, women who long to be called mother, but for whom the dream never materialises. For so many of us it’s a day of unspoken pain.  I’ve walked the hard road of infertility and  I know there isn’t another day so packed with sadness and emptiness for a woman trying to conceive or dealing with pregnancy loss, than this day set aside to celebrate motherhood.  My friend Justine uses the words “soul scars” to describe the pain of infertility, “but these forever scars are invisible to the outside world”  she says, “and many times are completely misunderstood, invalidated, minimized and sometimes even ignored”.

In an open letter to pastors, blogger Amy Young shared the following story about a Mother’s Day experience at her church. “A pastor asked all mothers to stand. On my immediate right, my mother stood and on my immediate left, a dear friend stood. I, a woman in her late 30s, sat. I don’t know how others saw me, but I felt dehumanized, gutted as a woman. Real women stood, empty shells sat. I do not normally feel this way. I do not like feeling this way. I want no woman to ever feel this way in church again”.

Motherhood is idealized in our culture and societal expectations about Mothers Day can open up raw wounds. There are many ways in which this day hurts – families who’ve lost mothers, mothers who have lost children, mothers who are distant from their children, and children distant from their parents; those who never knew a loving relationship with their mother, mothers who gave children up for adoption – the list goes on. So I write this post for all those who are finding today a painful reminder of loss.  Be gentle with yourself. And for those who know friends and loved ones who may struggle today, an acknowledgement of their loss would be a great kindness. Send a text, write an email, or call them to let them know you are thinking of them.  Validation, compassion, and kindness are among the most precious gifts we can give today.

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