The Sorority of Silently Suffering Sisters
I remember the moment of desperation vividly. It was days after the birth of my second child. My mother-in-law had gone home, my husband to work and I was alone with my high-need pre-schooler and newborn for the first time. I stood, exhausted in the shower, blood running down my legs, milk dripping from swollen breasts, tears flowing from weeping eyes and thought, “How come nobody ever warned me it would be like this?”
Were there chapters in the “Handbook of Womanhood” I missed? In all of my preparations for pregnancy and birth, how had this moment of utter despair, emotional hopelessness, and crushing physical pain escaped my planning?
I called my mother and sobbed. I called my grandmother and sobbed. They both had the same rection: they laughed! How dare they?! Then, with sincere empathy, they each said, “I know exactly how you feel.” Separated by generations, all three of us walked the same path, and in an instant, I knew they understood. Nothing practical about my situation changed, but I changed. I wasn’t weird, or wrong, or some bizarre anomaly anymore. I wasn’t alone. And that made a huge difference.
That day I formed an imaginary association, making them and me the first members: The Sorority of Silently Suffering Sisters. (SoSSS = Help!) Not because suffering in silence is good, but since we all do it, we might as well do it together.
Would you like to join? No application necessary, the rites and passages of womanhood automatically qualify you for entrance at a variety of subscriber levels. Though it’s not meant to be an Olympics of Misery, you can imagine a girl-scout-type sash displaying your Merit Badges of Womanhood. Oh, certainly not for any public accolades, but to help you find an emotional ancestor, a merit-badge adviser to guide your journey. Badges could include: menstruation, sexual harassment, pregnancy, discrimination, miscarriage, infertility, birth, breastfeeding, childless, adoption, stretch-marks, menopause, plugged ducts, surrogacy, single, infidelity, divorce, death of child, single-parent, special needs child, caring for aging parents, post-partum depression, addiction, rape, abuse, mental illness, breast cancer, abortion, unemployed, family estrangement, transgender, working mom, stay-home mom, lesbian, birth control, in-school mom, caring for terminal spouse or child, faith transition, and widow, just to name a few of the potential milestones across the life of any woman.
Membership includes a community of empathetic, understanding women who have gone before your face, are willing to mourn with you, comfort you, bear your burdens, listen to you and share advice or words of support, that no sister among us might say, “…I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me…”
Solidarity out of solitarity. Silence dissipated by Sisterhood.
Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose which badges to work on, or when, but we can seek out advisors for them. Earning new badges seems like cruel hazing at first, but when we reach out to the wealth of experience surrounding us, buoying us up, and guiding us, we come to appreciate our embarrassment of riches. Compassion is our common ground, if not empathy.
The name, SoSSS, is ironic – all of us are suffering in some way — but by bonding together and speaking out our truths, we find strength and resolve. “If she got through it, so can I!” We need not be silent in order to “bear our burdens with ease” or to “submit cheerfully … to the will of the Lord.”
Perhaps the pressure to appear strong and faithful through trials cripples our ability to ask for help, particularly from other women who are keeping their own experiences under cover. No more! No woman is an island, entire of herself; every woman is a piece of the continent, a part of the main!
Perhaps we don’t want to be labeled by our struggles and wish instead to be known for our strengths. When we show our weaknesses with faith and humility, and call upon the grace of God, weak things become strong.
Perhaps we fear judgment or disapproval from others by exposing ourselves. Above all, we must commit that the lived experience of every woman is valid, even when – and especially if — it is not the same as our own lived experience. We must reconcile our own beams before digging out our sister’s mote.
As we continue this conversation over the coming months by highlighting stories from the individual badges, please return to share your experiences. To a neophyte, reading the perspective of one who has gone before can help ease the sting of their new pledge. If you are one that has gone before, share! We need your words! To those currently in the throes of the maelstrom itself, come here for respite.
We need acceptance and empathy-without-competition as a practical part of Relief Society — Christlike charity is paramount. The doctrine and theory in the footholds of Relief Society decree an unconditionally loving sisterhood! Yet many women lack such safe places in their local wards, and so it is for you – the sister who grieves in isolation — that I invite and open this space for your stories. What badges are you working on? Which have you finished? Which do you fear or anticipate?
As we unravel our stories to the very core of womanhood and the essence that makes us Daughters of Eve and Sisters in Zion, may our minds and hearts be inclined toward the great Mother God from whom we spring. Her presence and influence are embedded in the trials and the triumphs of womanhood. We will find Her here.
Likewise our Savior, who went forth, “…suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind…he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people…and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy…. that he may know…how to succor his people.”
“…a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”
Let it be our time to speak.