This last Mother’s Day was new to me. In the past few months, we unexpectedly found ourselves in the lucky position of increasing the numbers in our household, with the end goal/hope/prayer to permanently adopt. It has been a wonderful adventure and my husband and I are absolutely thrilled. Still… I faced Mother’s Day with trepidation. The first time I was wished a Happy Mother’s Day outside of the foisted “future mother” carnation at church, I was a young single adult. It was in a simple, yet beautiful card from a gay friend. He was also Mormon, and a close enough to know that I could never carry a pregnancy. As he recognised that we both had impossible mountains to climb if we were to gain the families we desired, he wished me a Happy Mother’s Day in a beautiful card with a hand-written addition, to the “Mother in embryo”.
Since then, other men, usually men I dated or close friends, including my husband, wished me Happy Mother’s Days. Most often, children I know—nieces, nephews, Sunday school children who all know I do not have the worldly status of “mother” have always wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. Dear, beautiful, precious close female friends also have wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. I’ve loved this and always felt that was… well… normal. So, when we first married, my husband and I made the choice to celebrate our pre-eternal selves. With this, we have always given each other gifts and celebrated each other for Father’s and Mother’s Days.
This always seemed quite normal to me, until one May when I went Visiting Teaching. At that time, my companion and one of the sisters we taught had toddler sons of similar age who often plays for hours in a very informal visit. The other two women asked each other and chatted openly about what they had been given for Mother’s Day. Thinking it a mistake to not ask me, I joined in. “In our house, we celebrate all women as mothers, so I received…” They both stared at me blankly, and said nothing. The shock on their faces was clear. I was not a mother to them. At all. I was later told that I did not have the spirit with me that day, and needed to be more prayerful before I spoke. I was confused and hurt by this… politics aside, if the prophets of the church teach that all women are mothers, why was it so wrong for me to enter a conversation about gifts I received celebrating my maternal nature? I still do not understand.
Yet even when I finally developed the ability to face Mother’s Day with confidence, I usually skipped church and opted to indulge in some way or another. Last year, my husband and I gorged on scrumptious carbs at a local pancake shop, for example. But this year, I have a child in Sunbeams. And my new darling LOVES going to church. So I could not skip church because of my Mother’s Day anxiety. So I went. And it was weird. For the first time in my life, women who were not close friends, openly wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. It never struck me before that I had not be wished a Happy Mother’s Day by women in general, but for the first time, I had emails, texts and wishes from women wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day.
In particular, an acquaintance who had also dealt with a period of infertility, wished me a “Happy First Mother’s Day”. Her message made me angry. Did she really think that all of those Mother’s Days spent in emotional degradation were somehow not real? As if the day never occurred for me before?
Processing all of this, and trying to appeal to her conservative nature, my response was this:
Thanks for the Mother’s Day wishes! But it isn’t my first mother’s day. If we believe Sheri Dew and Julie Beck that all women are mothers/have mother’s hearts, regardless of birth status, then I have lived through decades of some good and some horrific Mother’s Days. To say this is my first Mother’s Day is like making all of those painful Mothers Days into nothing, which would then remove my empathy for childless women. I did go to church on this Mother’s Day, something I don’t normally do, and then as a family- we delivered cookies and wished friends and childless friends a Happy Mother’s Day with a visit. Do women only see women with children as Mothers? If so, why do you not believe Julie Beck and Sheri Dew?
Happy Mother’s Day to you, and all women, as it should be- even if you don’t have children.
Her curt reply stated that she believed all women were mothers, but that “it just feels different when you have your own little ones to watch over. It makes it a little more meaningful.” Hmmm. I agreed with her that it felt different, but to be honest, for me, it felt a little more vacant than normal. It was meaningful in a new way; no more, no less.
And I was still uncomfortable. I think it is because I realised that women who have given birth by and large seem to only wish a Happy Mother’s Day to other women who have also given birth. That stung. It still does. I am still processing it. After all, it seems that these women who finally addresses me on Mother’s day for the first time are the same ones who refused to see me as a mother until I came into the position of having a child in my care. It triggered a memory of Sheri Dew’s talk, Are We Not All Mothers?. As a childless woman when I first heard that talk, I was relieved because I thought that women with children would then take me more seriously and understand that I had insights to offer them. Epic fail on that thought. Women with children assigned the talk to me as a band-aid for infertility, in complete opposition to what I thought the talk expressed, making the talk into part of the cadence of second-class Mormon womanhood. Blech.
But my past-infertile acquaintance’s response did not end there. “Also, I think the women are more sensitive to the waiting for a baby moms and don’t want to wish them a happy moms day and hurt their feelings. You never know,” she wrote. I was floored. Is this why women in the past never wished me a Happy Mother’s day? Because they thought it was better to ignore me, and ignoring me was “more sensitive”? Hey, I get that not all childless women want to be wished a Happy Mother’s Day. Some women with children probably don’t want to be wished a Happy Mother’s Day. But my heart bled knowing that I was willfully ignored by the majority of women at church before this Mother’s Day. Why go to church or speak to people on a day when they feel that it is best to ignore you? Is ignoring women without children really the best answer to the enigma that is Mother’s Day?
My head was still trying to process this when I spoke out loud to a non-Mormon friend. I told her how in years past, I realised that only very close friends, inclusive of women, men and children wished me a Happy Mother’s Day, but this year… women in general also wished me a Happy Mother’s Day, and I was perplexed as to why. “I think that women who have kids get how hard it is,” she said. “So they wish a Happy Mother’s day to other women with kids, especially single mothers because sometimes the dads don’t have the kids do anything.” Empathy! In her words I could see some logic behind the wish of child-laden women wishing other child-laden women a Happy Mother’s Day… it was because Mothering a dependant child full time is such an all-inclusive, exhausting job. But yet… is there no room for empathy, or recognition for childless women by women with children? Have we come to a place where if we do not understand the place of another woman, we would rather assume and ignore rather than celebrate and communicate? Especially on the only Sunday of the year where the church meetings celebrate women?
I don’t know. And I am still wondering. Because this wasn’t my first Mother’s Day…. and I have the scars to prove it.
Did you wish a Happy Mother’s Day to any childless women or single fathers?
Have you ever asked a childless woman what she plans to do for Mother’s Day (and if you can join her)?