A dear friend of mine recently lost twins going into her sixth month of pregnancy, after years (and years, and years) of trying to get pregnant. Another close friend is watching her husband die of cancer and can’t stop thinking about her miscarriages, about the impossibility of having children with the man she loves. My sister is pregnant after a successful round of IVF, which took a lot out of her, physically as well as fiscally. Meanwhile, my motherhood is something that happened by chance, on accident, because of a slip-up.
I have a lot to celebrate on Mother’s Day — I have a healthy kid who makes me laugh, I have a healthy mother who keeps me grounded. But I’m struggling with the fact that we have a holiday, made more in-your-face by our consumer culture, that rubs salt in the wounds of those who have not been as lucky as me. For so many of us, motherhood just happens — unexpectedly, like for me, or after a few months of letting go of birth control. It happens so effortlessly that it is easy to forget that it’s not that way for everybody. And therein lies the injustice.
There are so many aspects of our society in which the ability to bear children is taken completely for granted. The assumption is that everybody can do it, and should do it, and that if you aren’t, it’s because you don’t want to. It’s not that people are insensitive to others’ pain — it’s that they are completely ignorant of it.
My own Facebook feed is smothered in pictures and videos and status updates about my kid. I think she’s hilarious, and she is the focus of all of my attention when I am at home; of course I post a lot about her. As do many, many people around my age. Somebody who is having trouble conceiving can hide me from their feed, of course, but if other people’s kid updates serve as reminders of your pain, it seems that the only option is to forego Facebook altogether.
People ask me all the time when we are going to have another kid — even relative strangers. I have seen people ask my friends who are struggling with infertility when they are going to bite the bullet; their hardships are completely invisible. If other people asking you about your plans to have children as though it is no big deal serves as reminders of your pain, it seems the only option is to forego interactions with strangers altogether.
My marriage was built around the eventual addition of kids. Sure, it was built on love and trust and butterfly wings, but there was always an assumption that there would be more to us than us. If a childless marriage serves as a constant reminder of your pain, it seems the only option is to forego marriage altogether.
But you can’t forego Mother’s Day. It’s everywhere. It’s on every television commercial, it’s in every store, it’s on the radio and on every website. It is a holiday that is, in some senses, a public celebration of those who are privileged enough to not have to worry about it.
Of course, that isn’t what it is for everybody. Of course, it is a day to celebrate how motherhood has changed your life, and how your children have changed you, and their time to appreciate your sacrifices and your time to appreciate their silliness and sloppy kisses. There is nothing wrong with wanting to celebrate that; there is everything right in wanting to celebrate that. But the celebration has become so public that there is no escaping it if it causes you pain.
In other parts of the world, there is no Mother’s Day, but instead, the 8th of March is International Women’s Day. I love this — I love that it is a celebration of all women. Children celebrate their mothers, brothers celebrate their sisters, women celebrate their friends. Instead of a day based on an individual’s relationship to another individual, it is a day based on the individual herself. This is inclusive of the voluntarily and involuntarily childless, and it does not presuppose that a woman is only really a woman if she has a child.
There are so many times in my life when I have the answer, or something that I think I can fight towards. Not with this. I don’t know how to lessen the pain of those around me who struggle with infertility, and I don’t know how to celebrate my own completely-by-accident privileges while not being so in-your-face and/or blind to the pain that others go through. Not everybody celebrates on Mother’s Day — women who want to have children but can’t, women who don’t want to have children and don’t want to justify it, children who come from broken or abusive homes. I guess, for me, the answer is to tone it down, to celebrate privately. I wish there were a better way to for me to rejoice in my good fortune without making others’ pain invisible.