And Now for the Other Side of Motherhood

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and Facebook was cluttered with joyful pictures of mothers and children, reminding me of the old days when Ma Bell would be overloaded with people trying to reach their moms to wish them well. It’s great that so many people have loving families to celebrate with.

But what about the other mothers out there? For them, seeing all the Mother’s Day hoopla must make them feel like you do when you get one of those Christmas letters — you know the ones I mean. What about those women who have never known labor pains and sore nipples because of infertility or missed opportunity? The women who lost babies to miscarriage or stillbirth or who placed their children for adoption? The moms who lost older children to disease, accident, violence, or the claws of society’s worst evils? What about the women who did their best, gave it their all, and now are left grieving for the grown children who have voluntarily estranged themselves from their mothers, whether emotionally or geographically or otherwise?

In my novel, Lynn placed her daughter for adoption thirty years ago but still feels that loss. Beth grieves for the children she was never able to bear. Raina is losing her daughter because of choices she’s made and perhaps, too, because of factors in her life that were beyond her control. While I didn’t initially set down to write a story about the pains and sorrows of motherhood, I have come to realize through this writing process how important it is to recognize the stories of these other mothers.

I’d like to think that, in general, we as a society are becoming smarter and more sensitive to the many shadows surrounding motherhood, and the recent award-winning movie Philomena encouraged me further. In that story, Judy Dench plays the woman who has never overcome the grief from having a son taken away from her, and decades later she finally is given the chance to search for him. I won’t spoil the ending to tell you what happens, but it’s not a spoiler to say that she makes it beautifully clear that she always, always loved him. That’s the thing about mothers. For most moms, that love never stops, even after the child is gone for whatever reason. Even for many infertile women, the love for the children they never bore remains alive and well, longing to be poured out on someone who will drink it up.

In “Waterwings,” Cathy Song writes of her son:

This is sadness, I tell myself,
the morning he chooses to leave his wings behind,
because he will not remember
that he and beauty were aligned,
skimming across the water, nearly airborne,
on his first solo flight.

Mother’s Day is a fine holiday, and I’d personally like to thank the late Anna Jarvis, the instigator of the first Mother’s Day observance in 1908, for encouraging each of us to spend a day with our mothers. I know I certainly appreciate the loving sentiment from my own kids when they write out a card or buy me a special gift or have dinner with me. I absolutely think we should all continue to remember our mothers with joy and song, by telling them we love them, and by thanking them for the great things they’ve done and the lessons we’ve learned.

But I’d like us to take it a couple of steps further.

First, I’d like to see each of us use that day as a time to acknowledge the physical pain and sacrifice that our mothers, and so many other women, have experienced. I’d like us to tell Mom that we recognize her journey was peppered with sorrows, including that heartbreaking day when she realized we would someday grow up and leave her.  I’d like to think we’d open our ears and hearts and let her tell us more.

Also, I’d like to see us take the time to reach out to the less fortunate mothers we’ve known — those who find Mother’s Day difficult. Let’s invite them to our tables, and encourage them to tell us their stories, too. Let’s listen to their fears, their sorrows, their losses, and even their regrets. Let’s give these forgotten mothers a voice, a chance to sing their own songs.


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