Two words that shake me to the core. I don’t know that I can, in one post, adequately and eloquently get the words out of my head and heart and onto my computer screen. But here goes my best attempt…
My first major panic attack happened on a Mother’s Day. I didn’t know that’s what was happening at the time. Instead, I chalked it up to hormones, and blamed myself for being overly emotional, because this day had not really previously bothered me–at least not to this extent. I think this was around the time of our second trip down the road of infertility treatment, but to be honest, over time, the details have become fuzzy and, perhaps out of self-preservation and an attempt to keep moving forward in this journey, I have blocked so much from my memory.
Over the last decade or so, Mother’s Day has been a series of triggers for me. And, if I’m being totally transparent, it’s a day that I am also filled with extreme guilt. I want to celebrate others. I really do. But indulge me for a minute. Borrow my shoes for a short walk…
Mother’s Day at churches: We’ve probably all attended the Sunday sermon where roses or carnations are passed out to all the mothers. Practically every woman proudly walks forward, smiling and taking her flower. You, on the other hand, sit still and smile, trying to find something to count to distract the tears from falling– ceiling tiles, beams, freckles on your arms. You try to make yourself small and pray that no one is looking at you. Sometimes, though, they pass out flowers to all the women who enter, and you panic, wondering if you should explain that your lady parts don’t work, and then wonder if that’s a weird thing to say to the 60-year-old deacon with a bucket of carnations. (Answer: Yes!) But, they’re also handing them to little girls too, telling them “someday you’ll be a mom.” Ten-year-old Stephanie smiled while taking the flower and thought that was true. Hell, Nineteen-year-old Stephanie thought that was true too. In fact, allow me to interrupt this post with an excerpt from 19-year-old Stephanie’s journal that she wrote while teaching English in Africa.
Oh, sweet girl, you are so naive. Those words don’t even feel like my own, and as I read them I have this strong desire to protect her from the heartache that she’s going to face in the coming years. In a couple years, she will learn that having children “may be difficult”, but no one, maybe even including herself, will take that warning seriously. Little does she know that her optimism was just given a shelf life. Also, let’s not tell her that even though she is currently pursuing a degree in Communication and Business, she will, upon graduation, reflect upon this very experience and decide to teach English, so she needn’t stress about that six-figure salary and “career woman” mentality. I still can’t read those lines without cracking up. For the record, 40-year-old Stephanie is damn proud of the career I have built.
Family/Friend Gatherings: Cue the guilt. You want to be happy…especially for your own family. You try to pick out perfect gifts and gather to celebrate all who have entered the exclusive club that is Motherhood. These feel a lot like baby showers. You smile and pretend. Your situation is ignored because, frankly, it makes others uncomfortable to talk about or acknowledge it. Sometimes there are jokes and often there are unintentional hurtful comments. Sometimes they say things like, “Well, you’re kind of like a mom to all the kids you teach.” You smile and nod, knowing they mean well, so you refrain from screaming that it’s not the same at all, and this day is the single worst day of the year. All you want is for someone to say, “I’m sorry this day sucks so badly for you. It’s really not fair.” That doesn’t happen, though.
Restaurants (or any public place, for that matter): Everyone tells you “Happy Mother’s Day” because you’re a grown woman. You have gray hairs peeking out at your roots and wrinkles around your eyes. You are clearly well over the expected childbearing age, therefore you must have children. Those are the rules of being a woman. So, again you are instantly panicked with whether you should just smile and say thank you (like a normal person), or do you issue another explanation of your lady parts. (That’s never the answer, Stephanie! No one needs a detailed report on your lady parts!) We obviously don’t eat out on Mother’s Day.
Okay, you can take off my shoes and give them back now. I’ll need them to get through the rest of my journey…whatever it holds.
I am actually writing this post on April 30th, about a week before I will post it on the blog. I can’t anticipate what my headspace will be like in seven days, because I already start shallow breathing just thinking about it. I do, however, have much to say.
This Mother’s Day, for the first time in my entire life, I will be taking care of me. While this has always felt too selfish of a thing to do, this year it feels necessary for survival. And I am going to try my best to not feel guilty for protecting my heart. That doesn’t mean that I don’t love all of you who are mothers. I do. Wholeheartedly. My own mother deserves an entire month devoted to celebrating how gracefully she handles motherhood.
My hopes are that each and every one of you are doted upon by your children and families. Cherish your Motherhood Membership card. Take the carnation with pride. You deserve it. Being a mom is hard work. But, if it’s a hard day for you (for whatever reason) and you need to bow out for a day to protect your heart, that’s okay too.
(five. six. twenty-two)