In my practice, as a therapist who specializes in perinatal mental health, there are three common categories of women that Mothers Day is hard for (and some men too!).
1. Women going through infertility (and their partners)
About 12% of women (1 in 8) and couples struggle to get pregnant. It makes sense that a day that celebrates being a mom can be difficult for these people. We need to be aware of how painful it can be for a woman who so desperately wants to be a mom cannot escape that our culture defines success as a woman as being a mom. You can't escape it, especially around this time of year. Go to Target, and right when you walk in the door is the HUGE sign above the card display for Mother's Day. Commercials on TV. Pregnant women with their bellies and young babies going out on walks, as the weather warms. I remember wanting to just stay in bed with a blanket over my head for the month of May. But we have to live. So, if you know someone in your life who is struggling to get pregnant, make sure you acknowledge that Mothers Day is hard for them. Offer to get together and do something fun anyways. Or let her talk, cry, yell about how unfair it all is. And if you or your partner are struggling, it is OK to let people know you are sad. It is OK to be sad for you and happy for the women in your life who are mothers.
2. Women who have had a pregnancy or infant loss (and their partners)
Here are some statistics from www.hiringforhope.org:
- 90,000 children die annually in the United States before their first birthday.
- Nearly 2,500 babies are lost/year in the United States due to S.I.D.S.
- Nearly 30,000 babies a year are born stillborn. The number of stillbirths that occur worldwide jumps to more than 4.5 million/year.
- More babies die as a result of stillbirth than all other causes of infant death combined.
- Stillbirth occurs ten times more frequently than S.I.D.S.
- 15-20% of all clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage each year.
This means that it is very likely that you have experienced or know someone who has had a miscarriage or lost a baby. For the same kinds of reasons mentioned with infertility, pregnancy and infant loss is invisible. You can't tell just by looking at someone if they don't have kids by choice or not. And there is still a lot of misinformation and ignorance that some people don't consider miscarriage "a baby", or if a family has had other children, the one that was lost is forgotten. But moms don't forget. Moms remember every year how old that child would have been. Or how differently their family would have looked if that child had survived. So again, be kind, because we don't know what anyone's story is. But if you DO know someone, remembering that baby to them can be so so kind. Tell them Happy Mothers Day. Validate their sadness. And if you are a partner, talk with her about how she wants to acknowledge Mothers Day. Please don't ignore it or pretend it's not happening.
3. Those who have lost their own mother, or have a poor relationship with their mother
Stepping outside our own feelings of Mothers Day, about if we are a mom or not, and remember that we all have a mom somewhere. Some of our moms have died. Some of our moms are cut out of our lives for numerous reasons. And some of us still have our mom with us, but the relationship is very complicated and makes Mothers Day a challenge.
If you have lost your mom, the first Mothers Day will be particularly difficult. Think about how you would like to spend this day, and honor your mom. Share this with your partner or a close friend. Don't go through it alone.
If you have relationship challenges, make a plan. Do you need your partner or a close friend to take you out and keep you distracted? Let you share your emotions about it? And if you do still see your mom on Mothers Day, set very clear boundaries. It is OK to limit the amount of time that you spend with your mom. It is OK to feel sad, hurt, angry, or frustrated (or all of the above) that you don't get a happy Mothers Day with your mom. Try to plan something to do afterwards to vent and debrief.
This post is not intended to take away from the joy that Mothers Day brings. If you are a mom, you are to be celebrated. Just know that it is a very emotional day for many people, and to be kind, because we never know what people's story is.