Mother’s Day is Not Always a Day of Celebration

Dawn Davenport


Mother’s Day is Sunday. Will you be celebrating, hibernating, or going through the motions? For so many people for so many reasons, Mother’s Day is not always a day of celebration.

when it's hard to celebrate Mother's Day

A couple of years ago, about this time of year, I was talking with a pastor friend of mine.  I mentioned how hard Mother’s Day is for women who are struggling with infertility and for birth mothers who have placed a child for adoption.  I suppose I thought I might be helping to educate her on the complexities of this day of celebrating motherhood.  It turns out that she needed no education on these complexities.

My pastor friend sighed and surprised me by saying that Mother’s Day is a nightmare for the church and that she was always thankful when it was over.

Who Dreads Mother’s Day?

Mother’s Day can bring with it many unhappy emotions for those of us dealing with loss.

It’s not just the infertile who find this day painful, but also anyone who has lost a child or is estranged from a child.

Women whose children are struggling with addiction or are in jail often find Mother’s Day sad too since some feel like failures as a mother.

Single women who want to be a mom and feel time passing them by feel their loss more intensely on this day set aside to celebrate the joys of motherhood.

Moms who have placed their children through adoption may feel their empty arms more intensely on Mother’s Day.

And then there is the view from the other side of the mother/child relationship: women who have lost their mothers or are estranged from their mothers may dread this day that reminds them of their loss.

Suffering Silently Through Mother’s Day

I thought of how myopic I’ve been. As a daughter, I liked having a day to honor my mother. As a mom, I liked having a day where my kids and husband honor me. As someone immersed in the world of infertility and adoption, I was aware of how Mother’s Day affects the infertile and birthmothers. If I had taken the time to think it through, I would have realized of course, that they aren’t alone in their suffering, but honestly, I hadn’t taken this time.

So many who suffer through Mother’s Day are invisible. Other than your close friends, you don’t know who has had three miscarriages, or hasn’t spoken to her mother in years, or doesn’t hear from her grown son other than once a year, or who placed a child for adoption years before.  But then pain is often invisible unless you’re the one feeling it, isn’t it?

Mother’s Day can be a time of feelings of great loss and sorrow.

So as you sit in church this Sunday or at a restaurant surrounded by your family at your celebration lunch, look around you.  Really look at the people who are there and recognize that not all are celebrating.  Also notice who isn’t there; who is holed up at home watching a Law & Order marathon with a gallon of Ben & Jerry’s because it is simply too painful to participate.

Mother’s Day and the Infertile

I feel for those, such as clergy, who have to navigate this complex web of emotions, and I respect those that acknowledge the difficulty.  If you feel like your church is tone deaf to this suffering, you might want to share this wonderful essay by Dr. Russell Moore, Mothers Day and the Infertile.

For those dealing with infertility, Mother’s Day is a particularly difficult day to be a part of.

Mother’s Day is a particularly sensitive time in many congregations, and pastors and church leaders often don’t even know it. This is true even in congregations that don’t focus the entire service around the event as if it were a feast day on the church’s liturgical calendar. Infertile women, and often their husbands, are still often grieving in the shadows.

It is good and right to honor mothers. The Bible calls us to do so. Jesus does so with his own mother. We must recognize though that many infertile women find this day almost unbearable. This is not because these women are (necessarily) bitter or covetous or envious. The day is simply a reminder of unfulfilled longings, longings that are good.

Some pastors, commendably, mention in their sermons and prayers on this day those who want to be mothers but who have not had their prayers answered. Some recognize those who are mothers not to children, but to the rest of the congregation as they disciple spiritual daughters in the faith. This is more than a “shout-out” to those who don’t have children. It is a call to the congregation to rejoice in those who “mother” the church with wisdom, and it’s a call to the church to remember those who long desperately to hear “Mama” directed at them.

What if pastors and church leaders were to set aside a day for prayer for children for the infertile?
In too many churches ministry to infertile couples is relegated to support groups that meet in the church basement during the week, under cover of darkness. Now it’s true that infertile couples need each other. The time of prayer and counsel with people in similar circumstances can be helpful.

But this alone can contribute to the sense of isolation and even shame experienced by those hurting in this way. Moreover, if the only time one talks about infertility is in a room with those who are currently infertile, one is probably going to frame the situation in rather hopeless terms.

In fact, almost every congregation is filled with previously infertile people, including lots and lots who were told by medical professionals that they would never have children! Most of those (most of us, I should say) who fit into that category don’t really talk about it much because they simply don’t think of themselves in those terms. The baby or babies are here, and the pain of the infertility has subsided. Infertile couples need to see others who were once where they are, but who have been granted the blessing they seek. …

A Letter to Give to Your Pastor on Mother’s Day

You might also consider sending your minister this Letter to My Pastor, with thanks to the wonderful Infertility ministry of Stepping Stones.

Dear Pastor,

It’s almost Mother’s Day again. They seem to come so quickly. I’m sure you are planning a very special service for all of the mothers. I know that it is such a special day for them, and I do not want to spoil anyone’s joy. It is important for all of us to rejoice with each other, and even those of us who are not mothers can give thanks for those who are mothers.

All I ask is that you remember that this day can be extremely difficult for a number of members in our congregation. For women like me who struggle with infertility, Mother’s Day can be the most painful day of the year. I’ve thought about staying home, but I know I need to be in God’s house.

The most challenging part of the service is when all the mothers stand and the congregation smiles and applauds them. It feels awful to be the only one still sitting. I want to be able to stand with them. I want more than anything in this world to be a mother. It’s something I have always wanted. I have carried children, but they were taken before they were ever born. I do have children in heaven, but I’m not a mother in the eyes of those here on earth.

So, on Mother’s Day I often go home and cry, not quite able to understand why I am unable to become what so many in the church consider to be “God’s highest calling”…a mother.

It is not only the un-mothers who feel lonely on this day. It must also be a painful day for single women who have never married, for mothers who have lost children, and for moms who have sons or daughters wandering from the Lord.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I pray that you will remember that it is not only a day of rejoicing for some, but a day of painful reminders for others. I know that God will help you to be a blessing to our congregation as you minister to us on this Mother’s Day.



Originally Published in 2012; Updated in 2018
Image Credit: Dennis Oba
Image Credit: Anka Odgiiv
Image Credit: ebal skeep

09/05/2018 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 20 Comments

20 Responses to Mother’s Day is Not Always a Day of Celebration

  1. Natalie Semon Natalie Semon says:

    Thank you for this post and for all the comments that followed. I am currently a proud aunt and Godmother to my oldest nephew and we celebrated his 1st communion on Saturday evening. As it was the eve of Mother’s Day the priest paid extra special attention to all the moms in the congregation and asked them all to stand and be recognized. Then they all received a rose. I have never been one to begrudge anyone the joy of being a mother, but it just hit me at that moment, or perhaps the time I’ve waited to actually be a mom is starting to weigh on me, but I just felt like I was the only grown woman in that church still sitting in the pew while everyone else stood up around me. I had to fight back the urge to tear up. It was a fleeting moment that quickly passed, but I try to remind myself that one day I’ll be one of those proud moms and thanks to your post and others comments, I’ll also be praying for those still sitting and those standing, that while standing, still have a sadness in their hearts.

  2. Tara Bradford Tara Bradford says:

    I feel it’s so very important to acknowledge ALL the moms in an adopted child’s life in perspective of what they are able to handle. I was brought up only honoring my adoptive mom with there never being discussion of my birth mother. I personally wish that had been done differently. Now as an adoptive mom of older children I believe it’s imperative to honor their birth mother the best that I can as their adoptive mother. Not all birth mother’s want to be “found” but as adoptive parents I think we can still teach our kids to honor their birth mother and view her in a positive light despite how she approached the adoption path. I just wrote on this yesterday based on a conversation I had this weekend with my daughter about her birth mother:. I hope this might help give others a perspective from a real conversation with a 9 year old adoptee.

  3. Avatar Wanza Leftwich, The Gospel Writer says:

    I can remember feeling left out on Mother’s Day – that is until I got insight from God. Truthfully, when you’re infertile, it’s not just Mother’s Day that make you feel bad. Almost everytime you see a pregnant woman, you cringe.

    It was until God opened my eyes and my heart to the truth. You can not allow a day, a holiday or your current circumstances to control your emotions. When you have a promise from God, you must stand firm and believe. I know some days are not as easy as others, but the truth is infertile women/couples have to change their mindset when it comes to Mother’s Day, baby showers and anything else that involves babies.

    And yes, I was infertile for years until the Lord opened my womb. I’ve been there – cried for days, wept from the hurt of unexplained infertility. I wish I could write it all here but I can’t.

    Just know that when you want to become a mom, Mother’s Day is a great day to show appreciation for those who are already where you want to be.

    In love.

  4. Avatar MJ says:

    There are some clergy out there who understand infertility from the inside…. I am studying to be a minister and my husband is in the ministry as well. We have been struggling with infertility for the last 6 years. Being infertile makes the church a very very hard place to be sometimes, but especially on Mother’s Day. Our church communities have been very supportive, but they prefer that we view our IF as a “private” (not SECRET) issue that does not need to be made public, so many days we suffer in silence. Last Mother’s Day was a prime example…on that day, my husband not only had to deliver a traditional MD service that was heavy on celebration of all things “Mom”, he also had to perform three baptisms for new young families in the church community. Well, it proved to be too much of a pressure cooker for him, and resulted in him breaking down in tears during his sermon and confessing to the whole congregation about our struggles with IF. Thankfully people were understanding and offered him much sympathy and support after the service. He was afraid that I would be angry with him for “outing” us on the IF issue, but I was the exact opposite-I was relieved to finally have the truth of what we were dealing with come out to our “church family” so that we didn’t have to hide our private issue any longer. I will dare to say that for clergy couples who are struggling with this issue, MD is a specially reserved circle of hell-because unlike others who are struggling with IF, we have to be in public carrying out our duties with smiles on our faces and a show of joy in our attitudes, even if we are really dying inside. I have tried to be proactive on this issue-I have created a Blue Mother’s Day Service for use in churches-it is modelled after the Blue Christmas Service that some churches hold for people who find Christmas an unhappy time. This service is designed for people who find MD a painful time, for whatever reason. It was poorly attended in our local churches, but I have submitted it for use in other churches. I have also preached on IF issues when I am a guest preacher in other churches-especially when I fill in the Sunday before MD. Some clergy DO understand IF….all too well. And so we do our part to promote sensitivity to those who need it. We may not succeed, but at least we are trying…sounds like a true IF couple. Thanks for letting me offer my 2 cents.MD makes IF infinitely harder for those who suffer, no matter what side they are found on Sunday AM. Thanks again

  5. Thanks Natalie for such a thoughtful response.

  6. Tara, your blog is beautiful! Thank you for sharing. I’m so glad your daughter feels comfortable about sharing her feelings with you.

  7. of course….I never let anyone get in the way of my enjoyment because I had an innate ability to love myself and see people for who and what they are…:) I like myself too much to let anyone bring me down…..Happy Mother’s Day BTW…

  8. Melinda, I’m glad you’re able to enjoy it now. You deserve that.

  9. to be honest my amom wouldn’t allow us to send her cards on Mother’s Day and my biomom was keeping me a secret so you see I didn’t get to do the Mother’s Day at all… sons have made up for it however as I am their bio mom and they send me cards and gifts which I love….

  10. Gabrielle, well said!

  11. It’s not just infertile women either who want to be mothers. Your article and the letter did mention single women. Thank you for that. But some of us who adopt are meant to be mothers through adoption, and aren’t necessarily infertile. I left church crying after Mother’s Day 2009 and told my husband that there wouldn’t be another Mother’s Day until I was a mother. We’d go away and pretend the day didn’t exist. Mother’s Day 2010 didn’t turn out quite that way. We did go away, took a weekend trip, but we were considering whether to accept a referral, which we did. I was a mom by Mother’s Day 2011. But that was after wanting to adopt since being a teenager and not finding my husband until I was 32, and five years of marriage waiting to adopt. Basically, it’s hard for anyone who wants to be a mother and isn’t, regardless of how they got there.

  12. Melinda, how do you navigate Mother’s Day as an adoptee with 2 moms?

  13. remember we have 2 mothers

  14. It is also very difficult for adoptees…don’t leave us out..thanks

  15. Avatar anon WP says:

    Thanks as always, Dawn. I’m one of those people who never realized the depth of pain resulting from infertility that some feel on Mothers’ Day, and I appreciate the awareness-raising post. As I’ve said before on this site, I’m also infertile, but though it certainly brings with it a whole heap o’ sadness, I don’t feel those emotions on that particular day. I would like to have kids…and I see myself as a “waiting parent” in an adoption process, but the word “mother” doesn’t yet apply to me, and I don’t have an emotional connection to the day in any way other than as my mother’s child. I hope that all those who do feel that pain found solace and support this past weekend.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      anonWP, you raise a good point. It is easy to portray all infertile people as one way, feeling one thing. I hate stereotyping any one group. Not everyone who is infertile feels intense sadness, not everyone who is infertile dreads Mother’s Day. Thanks for the reminder.

  16. Avatar Marci says:

    Thank you for writing this.

  17. Avatar Karen says:

    Thank you. I usually just “fog” over on this day and have as long as I can remember. Having you put it out there really helps. My mother died when I was young) and at age 47, I am still exploring motherhood, a dream that has not come to fruition for a range of the reasons you listed.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Karen, go ahead and fog over. It’s not a bad way to survive. Just know that there are some of us who see you pain through the fog. And for the record, I’m sorry for your pain.

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