When Mother’s Day Is Not Happy

Happy Mother’s Day. 

How those words fill my heart with such a mix of emotions. For many of you, your heart is bursting with the happy of it all. Your plates are full, but so are your arms and your hearts. You feel so blessed every time you look at your sweet children (especially when they are actually being sweet). There have been struggles, yes, but today rolls around and the clouds fade and the sun is shining…shining through the breakfast in bed brought by earnest dear ones, shining through the ugly flower pot covered in sloppy hand prints that you will treasure long after the tulip in it has withered. Today is your day. You work hard, you love hard, and we honor you. Your work is kingdom work. You are making an impact for eternity. You are amazing and wonderful and so beloved.

But this post is not for you. 

As a mother now, I share your feelings of happiness and bliss. But I also feel deep sorrow, raw ache, and a tidal wave of grief every time this day hits. And the reality is that there are so many others for whom that is true.
You see, four years ago on this day, I sat in church feeling like I didn’t belong, churning with bitterness and longing and despair. Instead of a child to love, I had a prognosis of infertility. Instead of hope, I was filled with discouragement and doubt.

Three years ago on this day, I woke up aglow with the secret of the child growing in my womb, so excited for my first Mother’s Day as a mama, only to have a nightmare unfold. As quickly as the joy came, so also came the loss and the debilitating grief as my body began to turn against me and fail the young life I carried. Losing my first baby on the morning of Mother’s Day–a morning in which my heartwrecked husband had to leave me to go lead a church body in worship–seemed to me the cruelest hand that life could deal us. The bitter irony of it was more than I could bear.

Two years ago on this day, I sat in church weeping, grieving my first child in heaven, longing for the two children that had been matched with us for adoption, wondering when–and if—they were ever going to join us.

Today my pale hands stroked the tears from the sweet brown face of my son as he wept out his sadness and confusion over the birth mother he lost and the foster mother he left. I felt his pain, raw and real and ever present, and realized my love will never be enough to completely bind up all the wounds of his sorrow. 

And I thought about how many of my sisters around the world feel anything but sunshine and happiness on this day. 

For those of you that woke up dreading this day, questioning whether you could summon the courage and energy to drag yourself to church and plaster on a fake smile and utter “Happy Mother’s Day” to dozens of women, all while aching with the hollow rattle of bitterness and injustice and sadness and loss in your heart…
For the sisters who decided to just stay in bed because your grief feels so lonely and overwhelming and out of place…for you who just couldn’t dig deep enough to find a fake smile, and knew the word Happy would taste sour and wrong and insincere coming through your lips…

This post is for you. 
To you, I will not say Happy Mother’s Day. It’s not. For me to say so would serve only to rub salt in an oozing wound. And I know from experience that there is little I can say that will comfort you and meet you in your grief. But I also know that saying nothing can be far worse. You know too well the awkward dance of others’ avoidance and tiptoeing and whispers and changing the subject, when they don’t know what to say to your sadness and so they make every effort to go out of their way to say nothing about it at all. And the avoidance, the lack of acknowledgement is often as painful as the grief itself. For me to say nothing would serve only to solidify your belief that you are less than…failing…alone…invisible. So I will say something to you, to my beautiful fellow image-bearers of God, because you deserve to be acknowledged. 

To my sister who has been trying to get pregnant without succeeding…the one who feels like a failure. Who feels a stabbing pain in her stomach with every pregnant belly or baby announcement she sees. Who has waited countless times for the longest ten minutes of her life, staring at that pee stick and willing the second line to appear, only to be disappointed yet again. Who feels like infertility is both a death sentence and an off-limits topic in such a momcentric world…
You are enough.

To my sister who has nurtured a child in her womb, lovingly changing her diet and taking her prenatals and planning her birth announcements. Who fell in love the minute she saw that pink line, and dreamed a thousand dreams of her life with her baby…yet never got to see him take a breath. Who feels like her body and her God and the universe all failed her…
You are cherished.

To the hopeful adoptive mama waiting to be matched…waiting and waiting…and waiting. Who has filled out mountains of paperwork, and held her breath a thousand times only to release it in the painful exhale caused by another gut-punching failed match. Who wipes a thick layer of dust off the windowsill of a nursery that’s been ready for one year, two years…ready and empty. 
You are not forgotten.

To the birthmama who carried her baby for the better part of a year, and then handed her to someone else. Who questions her choice a million times a day. Who longs to see her eyes, her mouth in the face of her offspring who calls another mama. Who weeps with the grief of her loss and yearns for what might have been….
You are so brave.

To my sister who has birthed and nursed and nurtured and loved her child…who poured her heart and soul into her offspring, dreaming of who and what he or she would become. Who then had her dreams stolen from her when that child preceded her in death. Who has experienced the pain of loss in a way none can understand and words cannot describe. 
You are stronger than you know.

To my sister who is single, who feels like each year is a ticking clock in her heart and body. Who feels a thousand steps away from ever being a mother. Who feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere, and wonders if life will always feel this lonely. Who feels invisible in a sea of wives and moms.
You are valuable.

To the woman who has dedicated her life to loving littles who may never be hers, in blood or in name. Who handles the appointments and the visitations and the court dates and the tug of war of bio-parent reunification. Who sacrifices her heart on the chopping block to be a steadfast pillar of light to a child who has only known darkness. Who knows that “foster” is just a word that doesn’t even begin to explain the depths of how much of a mother you truly are. 
You are fierce

To the mama who is doing it all without much help. Who never dreamed that she would be doing this without a partner. Who doesn’t have time to stop and kiss the boo boos because she is just trying to put food on the table. Who has to choose between a new coat that actually fits or school supplies because both aren’t an option. Who serves as sole breadwinner, disciplinarian, protector, and nurturer. Who worries about her sons needing a male role model and feeling the sorrow of not being able to provide that. 
You are incredible.

To the mama of the child who is ill, be it physically or mentally. The one who worries about doctor bills and therapies and clinical trials. The mom who wishes others would stop complaining about the little things because she would love to be able to worry about bad grades or tantrums or the mean kid in class, instead of wondering if her baby will make it to next year. The one who feels like every day is a gift but also a slow torture of watching her child suffer.
You are inspiring. 

To the brand new mama with the sweet newborn whom everyone oohs and ahhhs over…who is weathering a secret storm fraught with guilt and despair. The mama who feels she can’t talk about the deep depression that is assaulting her daily because everyone expects her to be glowing in motherly bliss. Who looks at the baby she delivered and wonders why she doesn’t feel as connected to him as she imagined she would be. Who is wracked with guilt because her motherly instincts just don’t seem to be kicking in amidst this sorrow. Whose hormones are betraying her day after day. 
You are an overcomer.

To my sister whose mother is no longer living. Who reaches for the phone to call her best friend, her mom, only to remember the shocking reality that no one will pick up on the other end. Who aches and wishes for just one more chance to hug and chat and laugh with the woman who raised her and loved her. Who has lost her confidante, her advice giver, her listener, her biggest fan. 
You are beloved.

To the adoptive mama who understands that the beauty of adoption comes with the cost of your child’s tragedy. Who continually sacrifices herself to put her child’s feelings first. Who unflinchingly absorbs the screamed “you’re not my real mom”s and then cries in the closet alone. Who uses words like attachment and trauma on a regular basis, and fields questions to which she never really knows the right response. Who prays every day that her love can undo deep layers of damage, but knows the reality. Who forever shares her child’s heart with the one who gave that child life.
You are resilient.

To the mama whose child has chosen to walk down a dark or wayward path. Who sits back helplessly watching her baby self destruct, begging God to answer her prayers and bring the prodigal home. Who relives her life a thousand times in her mind, asking herself what she could have done differently. Who would give anything for a do over. 
You are not a failure.

To my sweet sister who is wracked with shame and burdened with the guilt of a decision she made to end her child’s life. Who was deceived by the enemy’s lies that our culture has fed her, and has been paying for it ever since. Who didn’t realize that freedom of choice meant a lifelong sentence to the prison of regret. Who feels she will never be able to do enough pittance to make it right. 
You are forgiven and so loved. 

To the child, young or grown, whose idea of what “mother” even means is marked by pain and confusion. Who has felt neglected or abused or rejected or alone. Who has been wounded deeply by the one who was supposed to protect her from all wounds. Instead of safety and nurturing and security, her life has been uncertainty and loneliness and a hunger for love. 
You are precious.

To all of you, for whom Mother’s Day is many things, but not happy….

You are seen. You are worthy. And you are loved. 

May this hard day for you be filled with the grace to keep breathing in and out. May God show you beauty amidst the ashes. And may you know that you are not alone.


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