The Privilege of Mother’s Day

As I write this, it is the morning of Mother’s Day. My husband and daughter are asleep, and I am alone with my thoughts, maybe for the first time since Sofia was born two years ago. I should be basking in my untethered time, and, in fact, I’m going to go brew a pot of coffee to make the moment last. But I can’t stop thinking about Mother’s Day.

Mothers baby animals
This Mother's Day, I want to celebrate cuteness. Image from

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.

8 mart
I love the feminine form of the 8.

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.

By Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

10 replies on “The Privilege of Mother’s Day”

I very much appreciate this. Mother’s day is also hard on those of us who have mothers who are not positive forces in our lives (although for me, Father’s day is MUCH harder.) I want to recognize the many wonderful moms out there, but the message becomes largely about how awesome ALL moms are, and well…that’s just not the case.

I’m not a mother and I don’t know when I’ll ever get the opportunity to become one (my dating troubles go deep) but I would never want to keep one from expressing the joy they might feel in being a mother or loving their mother so much. But then, I am not one to find comfort in misery. I find it in celebrating others’ joy. Inside, it does kinda suck that I don’t have a family (yet?) but having friends share their experiences is worth everything.

Of course, I know others feel different – or so it seems since my friends keep sharing their misery when I’m depressed. But I thought I would just share my perspective. I for one love to hear about the joys others find in Motherhood.

I only have a couple of friends with fertility issues but for them, I try to offer love, support, optimism – and cupcakes. Because that’s what friends do. And I keep my fingers crossed. :)

(as an only child, I also do not have the opportunity to be an aunt until some inlaws come around)

I couldn’t agree more, Susan.

After questioning my own desire for children and watching a very close friend go through 3 years of failed infertility treatments, I am much more aware of how insensitive it is to ask a woman or a couple about children and just how often that question comes up.  Infertility is so common, but you’re absolutely right – it’s invisible and heartbreaking.  I found my friend crying at work last year on Mother’s Day and I felt so angry at everyone celebrating.  This year, she wisely took off… but I’m with you.  I wish there was a better way to acknowledge mothers without shoving it in everyone else’s faces.

I love moms, but I fucking hate Mother’s Day.

I’ve written about both my lack of a uterus and my mom’s death, Mother’s Day feels like the universe is giving me the finger. I can’t say that out loud, I have lots of friends who are (under appreciated) moms. If I were a mom, I’d totally want a finger-painted card covered in glitter and breakfast in bed. I can’t begrudge any mom a day where she gets to sit the fuck down and put her feet up for a change. This was my second Mother’s Day without my mom and my third without my uterus, I don’t think I’ve handled any of them very well.  This immediate past MD wasn’t as bad as the other two, but it still sucked.

I’m all in favor of a day for women, and I’m always in favor of telling the women in your life why they’re important to you any old time you feel like it, just because.  I don’t feel right asking moms to give up their day, or dads to give up theirs, though.

Anyway, thanks so much for writing this. I’m ever so fond of you.

This is a really kind, thoughtful post, Susan. It is certainly a privilege, and it takes an effort and some thought to keep more aware of it. That’s why I also appreciated my (pregnant, happily, as she wasn’t sure she could be) friend’s post recently on her own blog, reminding folks about Infertility Awareness Week. It’s why I sometimes have to sigh when well intentioned folks grill others about their plans for first kids (or more kids), not realizing how rude and invasive it is on the lighter end of things, and how triggering and depressing on the other side. I’ve been working hard to deprogram myself of those bad habits.

BTW, I still never can remember when to know it’s Mother’s Day, but March 8 (Zhenskiy Den’) is pretty much forever firmly rooted in my mind, thanks to Soviet upbringing :)

Susan, never stop being sensible and wonderful. I really like the day of celebrating women. I’ve recently just learned that my fertility is up to fuck (PCOS whoop whoop) and more and more recently people keep asking when I’ll start having kids. It’s very hard to respond “Well first I have to find out if that’s going to be possible or just really difficult”. Women are not just mothers, we’re fabulous and  complex and have more than just one identity.

Yes, this. I too have had weird things happening with my uterus since I started menstruating and  am not quite at the age where people expect me to start having kids but where they ask about my/my SO’s plans for the future. Our approach is one of “we’ll see if it’s possible and then decide” but that’s really hard to explain to an acquaintance, or your parents’ friends, or a stranger.

Oh Susan, thank you for this. As we were sorting through how to create our family with children (doctors! tests! surgeries! paperwork! homestudies!), it was really hard to be around people with young children. Which is hard when you’re around 30 and live in the suburbs and work in a preschool. And that was well before Facebook took over the entire world, and mom bloggers were still in only one small corner of the Internet.

The idea of International Women’s Day is much, much, much more inclusive, and it doesn’t focus on just one relationship a woman may or may not have. Let’s celebrate that next year, I like it.

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