Special thanks to Sherrie for sharing this with us!
As Mother’s Day approaches, the concept of motherhood and mothering cannot be avoided. Greeting cards for Mothers, Grandmothers, and even Fathers who have been the “mother” at home appear on the shelves. As usual, I search for the plainest, most dull card around- sometimes even getting a blank card with a flower on the front. I write on the inside, “Happy Mother’s Day”, sign it and send it to my mother.
I have had a strained relationship with my mother stemming from abuse as a child. At best, I speak to her twice a year- and that is plenty for me. When I was 15, and finally starting to overcome and look forward to exiting my painful home life, I was diagnosed with Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser Syndrome– in my case, I have no uterus (but I have fabulous fully-functioning ovaries). Quite in character, my mother began a series of lectures on how I was evil in the pre-existence, how children were being protected from me because I would be a terrible mother, how God choose to punish me in “this way”, how adopted children were violent/bad/sickly (therefore the reason they were up for adoption) not to mention accusations of unchaste behavior.
Soaking all of this in and fully believing that no man would ever want to marry me, I stopped going to church on Mother’s Day. I hated my mother and never would be a mother- so why go? I could not stand and receive a carnation as a “future mother”. I could not bear testimony of my adoration for my mother. If there was ever a place I did not belong, it was in church on Mother’s Day.
I did have a testimony, so although seriously doubted and disbelieved my own worthiness for membership, I kept attending church. Having left home a few years later, I queried an Institute teacher about how to not be sealed to one’s family. I did not want to be “sealed” to my parents, though I loved my father, my sense of betrayal, resentment and frankly, downright hated for my mother was keeping me from emotionally progressing. I didn’t date returned missionaries for fear they might see through what I thought was my inherit wickedness. I thought they would demand to know why I had not repented for whatever I had done to beg the infertility curse from God. I hated who I was and wanted to be free, so I assumed that other than apostasy, there must be some way I could be “un-sealed” from my parents. This query startled my sweet, almost elderly institute teacher, and he invited me in to his office to talk about why I might not want to be sealed to my parents.
The meeting was short, yet profound. I briefly told him who I really was. (Keep in mind, my mother taught me some very warped and incorrect things about sealings- i.e. children are sealed to their parents as virtual slaves for eternity). This sweet institute teacher told me that I need to be eternally grateful to my mother for giving birth to me. Beyond that, he said, ‘You owe her nothing”. I was knocked out. I owed her nothing but gratitude for birth. I cannot express how liberating that was for me… and yet, how difficult it was to come to terms with being grateful to her for giving birth to me. Since the age of 7, I had entertained ideas of suicide, finding myself jealous when I heard people being diagnosed with cancer, and being killed in car accidents (no kidding!). I thought I had no reason to live. Somehow, this advice liberated me. I was not trapped as an eternal slave. I was infertile, but not trapped.
Through the next few years, I learned that I can forgive, but not have a relationship with my mother. And I am truthfully VERY grateful to her for a number of things. Wacky doctrine and neglect aside, she taught me about the Book of Mormon, how to sew and how to drive a car. Those things deserve an annual card with the words, “Happy Mother’s Day”, nothing else.
But the Mother’s Day church thing… still wasn’t okay with that. I was very uncomfortable sitting in sacrament meeting with people professing such gratitude for their parents and children. I realize now that I was deeply envious; they had mother who the believed with all their heart loved them and I was infertile. What was the point for me? I felt like an orphan who would never be a mother. So, about 10 years ago, as another horrific Mother’s Day approached, I decided to focus on nurturing and mothering, not the ability to bear a child, but the ability to love a child. I wrote heartfelt letters of gratitude to the Young Women leaders who taught me, my seminary teacher who I loved deeply and an aunt who had always listened to my hopes and fears without judgment.
For the first time, Mother’s Day meant LOVE for me. I am eternally grateful to these women- who taught me about make-up, set marvelous examples for me, complimented me when I looked nice, encouraged me to pray and study and live the gospel, and more importantly- one brilliant YW leader who told me that being infertile meant that I would really, truly marry a good man who would love me for me, not for my body. A few short years later, she was right, I did marry a wonderful man.
Finally with an extraordinary man at my side, the emptiness on Mother’s Day ended and it simply became a day of primary talks, not directed at barren me. I could sit through the meeting without anger, though I still had sadness and a sense that perhaps if I were really a good person, I might deserve to be blessed with a child. It was all based on me being good…could I ever be good enough? How were these pregnant single mothers still “more blessed”, therefore more righteous than me? Then I read Following Christ. It hit me, somewhere in-between the pages of this book- that my infertility was a result of the fall of Adam- i.e. mortality. I had done nothing to offend God, I was not “blessed” with this challenge, I am simply mortal! I am mortal! That is all! Not good, not bad or otherwise- just human. 100% Dumb luck. What an epiphany! (I now think: “duh”!!!) But it took me ages to really learn this and apply it to me. Infertility wasn’t my fault. God didn’t hate me. He loves me. He wanted me to have everything, so He sent His Son. I FINALLY understood it, and begged His forgiveness for the past anger towards Him.
So now- Mother’s Day- I love it. My fabulous husband has always bought me cards, flowers and/or gifts on Mother’s Day because I am a mother in spirit, I am the woman of the house, I nurture, I love… and my husband is fabulous. I get to celebrate Mother’s Day as a holiday for me BECAUSE I am a woman. I understand now, that being a woman is all I ever needed to be maternal. I understand that not everyone is like me, emotionally, spiritually, physically. But we- as women- all are mothers in one way or another. Our potential for nurturing is beyond limit.
So this year, I am looking forward to Mother’s Day with a greater joy than ever. If I were not infertile, I would still be considered within child-bearing years, so I have time and ability to begin alternative processes of becoming a mother. I understand that infertility NEVER limited my ability to be a mother, it just meant I needed to take a different path. And there is nothing even remotely wrong with that.
One of the most profound conclusions that I have come to over these trying years is that a significant number of women also struggle with Mother’s Day. Perhaps they are adopted, feel unsettled, imperfect, have lost a child, lost a spouse, or feel motherhood as oppressing. For me, as soon as I decided that motherhood wasn’t about me and my experiences/limitations, but the celebration of nurturing in mother earth, in admiration of imperfect but loving women who set tremendous examples for me, it became a day of celebration. No honor, but celebrating the women sitting by me who church shush their babies, celebrating the elderly women who give me a kiss and a hug every Sunday just because they can, celebrating the character of nurturing, true motherhood. The celebration of nurturing and womanhood became more glorious and applicable to me than ever before.
Happy Mother’s Day to all women out there! All women regardless of our unique situations because we have the ability to love and nurture and are mothers, regardless of our mortal place in time.