Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Post Mother's Day Reflections

For many women with infertility, the week after Mother's Day feels like a time to let out a deep breath. We haven't just been holding that deep breath on the holiday itself. No, we took that deep breath some time in early April when the first advertisements from retailers began to remind us that Mother's Day was approaching. And we, unlike the mothers in our midst, began to wonder how we would survive the holiday this year.

So did we survive it? How did we handle it? And why does it matter? I'll start with why does it matter. If you emerged this year emotionally unscathed, then you probably entered the Mother's Day season with a mind set or an action plan that worked for you. If you emerged emotionally wrung out, then this is the very time to sit back, breathe deeply, and reflect on what you can do now to learn from this year's difficulties. I know, I know, you have every hope that by Mother's Day next year you'll be able to celebrate with a baby in your arms. However, we all know infertility can be a long journey, and it's worth it to store this year's reflections as important insights into how you handle your vulnerabilities and how you try to anticipate emotional potholes.

So when you reflect on how this Mother's Day could have been less painful, given your infertility, what thoughts come to you? Over the years my clients and I have discussed everything from being caught by surprise, to feeling "out of place" amidst one's parents and fertile siblings, to feeling smothered by the presence of infants and toddlers at family celebrations, to feeling torn emotionally that you want to honor your mother (or mother-in-law) at the same time you want to bolt from the scene. Couple this with the bouquets of flowers that you send but don't receive, the special attention some religious leaders give to mothers in their congregations, and the impossibility of finding a quiet restaurant where you and your partner can have a calm meal (without being greeted cheerily by a staff person who wishes you a happy Mother's Day), and this day clearly emerges as filled with emotional challenges.

Each year I have tried to find a creative way of sensitizing others to the pain felt by families without mothers on Mother's Day. In an earlier blog I mentioned how, years ago, I spoke with the religious leaders in my community in February to help them be more sensitive in their Mother's Day remarks. This year I approached my local newspaper and asked that they do a feature on how infertile people experience Mother's Day, and the result was a full page spread that I have heard touched many hearts in our community. And in the years in between I have politely reminded well wishers that my infertility makes this holiday difficult (which at least made them aware that infertility hurts, and at best may have made them more cautious about assuming that every female is a mother). Also this year, in the two university courses on family relationships that I teach in the spring, I have included a unit on infertility and used a case study focusing on Mother's Day to bring my points home. So, for those of you who want to take on this holiday in the spirit of public education, there are all sorts of ways you can sensitize others. Begin thinking now how you (perhaps with a few friends) can reach out to make a difference.

But if you, like many readers, are not in the mood to be quite this vocal, think back to what you wish would have happened differently this year. Talk with your loved ones about how you need to approach this holiday differently next year if you do not yet have a child. Make some notes to yourself, so you can remember these reflections over time. Think about how you can reframe this day in the future so that it resonates as little as possible with feelings of loss and, instead, provides opportunities for you to feel hopeful or thankful for some aspect of your life. But DO think about this now, because when next year comes you may want to feel more emotionally steady as you enter the holiday fray. Ideas and strategies that worked for you this year are welcome! Feel free to make a difference by sharing them.

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