Mother’s Day is the Worst
The twentieth anniversary of my mother’s death is in eighteen days. I was seventeen years old and one week away from graduating high school. When I decided on a simple black prom dress months before, I had no idea that I’d be attending my mother’s funeral on the same day. The older church ladies chastised me for wearing my black pants and sweater to the funeral, but I couldn’t make myself wear my black dress to both events. It was too much grief for a prom dress.
My experience of her death was complicated by the quality of our relationship and the manner of her death. She was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and treatments at that time were not effective at managing her condition. Needy and impulsive, she wasn’t the stable, healthy woman that I needed her to be. I was angry, so angry, with her the last time we spoke. She had treated my sister poorly again, always harming the people closest to her. “I love you,” she spoke hopefully the last time we talked, but I hung up the phone. I was done in teenager terms, but she was done for real. My mother overdosed later that night. Mormon women are supposed to be happy, not die by suicide.
It shouldn’t have surprised me that becoming a mother brought so much fear and anxiety and depression, though it did. An unexpected pregnancy too soon after the first one did not help. Before long, I was drowning in motherhood. Drowning. I tried to talk with my visiting teacher, but she changed the subject. My husband didn’t know what to do. I had difficulty making friends in a new place. I felt devastatingly alone and those feelings were beginning to threaten my existence.
I discovered Mormon blogs a few years before my first pregnancy and started visiting Feminist Mormon Housewives more and more after my second daughter was born. I read a backlog of posts about women struggling with motherhood. I clearly remember reading about Lisa Butterworth’s periodic mothering breakdowns and Nat Kelly’s difficult relationship with her mother, who was homeless and addicted to drugs. So many posts presented motherhood and daughterhood as complicated fraught relationships and experiences. I was comforted by the grief of others, who challenged General Conference narratives of motherhood with their messy life stuff. Maybe I wasn’t alone in my brokenness. Maybe this wasn’t just me. Maybe.
I’ve come a long way since that time. Fear, anxiety, and depression no longer rule my life in the way that they once did. I love my two daughters and I’m thrilled with people that they are becoming. I am proud of my marriage and my husband and I are about to celebrate fourteen years together. There are many sources of joy in my life and many happy, healthy relationships. But Mother’s Day and my mother’s death anniversary are still hard. They are the two days each year when I still grieve, the only times when I get upset enough to cry about what I never really had and then lost too early in life.
I don’t share this story so that you will pity me; pity just isn’t that useful. I share this story so that those whose mothers and daughters have also experienced severe mental health problems, breakdowns in relationships, moments of overwhelming regret, or the intense pain of surviving a family member’s suicide can read the story of someone who has been through something similar. Growing up, I thought I was the only kid whose mother lived in a mental health hospital. Today, I am confident that I am not alone in the particular conditions of my grief, in the details of my trauma. The vulnerable stories of other women saved me in a way that nothing else did. I shy away from certainty in my religious beliefs, but I know the power of those narratives. These are the sacred stories of my community.
On this Mother’s Day, I want to celebrate this sharing of hard stories. A few days ago, my co-editor Sara K.S. Hanks and I published Where We Must Stand: Ten Years of Feminist Mormon Housewives. It is an anthology of blog posts from FMH, which first showed me that I wasn’t the only Mormon woman who had a complicated relationship with motherhood. I offer it to you, dear reader, as the very best Mother’s Day gift I can give to you. Whether you are a mother or a daughter or both or neither, I invite you to read this book and find something that resonates with your own situation and challenge you to understand something new about the diversity and complexity of Mormon women’s experiences.