Just hearing the words “Mother’s Day” and I feel this knot in my stomach. It’s everywhere, from radio and tv commercials to displays at Target and coffee shops. The imagery of flowers and hearts, cards and candy. So much emphasis on this day as a happy one. I can’t be the only one that feels a mix of emotions, love for my own children, yes, but also an overwhelming sense of anxiety and sadness.
Since I was a little girl I remember always wanting to be a Mom. I don’t have siblings, but I played house often and looking back it was always alone. I spent a lot of time alone. Not just because I was an only child, but because my Mom was emotionally unavailable. It wasn’t until I was an adult did I have a better understanding of the abuse I suffered, emotionally, verbally, the isolation and lack of support that led to my own challenges with self esteem and feeling worthy of relationships and receiving love.
Becoming a mother, our ability to have healthy loving relationships, is directly tied to relationships we have with our parents, specifically our Mothers. As much as I pride myself on my strength and resilience, there is no denying that so much of what I learned about parenting, the habits that continue to need attention, come directly from my own experiences as a child. It’s like a constant reminder, a persistent voice that continues to take me back to a childhood that was less than ideal and left me longing for so much more meaning and comfort. A feeling of safety and support that never was, and a deep worry that my own children will feel the same. The hurt is deep, it’s generational, and this is how it is passed down in families.
My journey to Motherhood was an ideal one, we didn’t struggle to conceive, however as a doula and postpartum professional I am surrounded by women, by families who’s journey to have a child has been filled with unbelievable amounts of heartache, money, relationship stress, the clock hanging over their heads and so much unknown. Infertility is another reason why Mother’s Day can come with more than just feelings of love, gratitude and happiness.
What about birth? With such high rates of trauma surrounding birth, unnecessary interventions and surgical births, the emphasis on “at least you have a healthy baby”, as if our own feelings and the right to process isn’t important. There is so far to go with making birth a process where the birthing person is heard, given all the information and time to process and feeling respected and supported throughout the process. That immediate feeling of love that is so ever present in media isn’t a reality for many. It can be shocking, surreal to experience birth, and then you’re handed this tiny human and expected to care for it. Having a baby born premature or with health complications can also bring about complicated feelings and trauma. Not being able to see or hold your baby immediately, being separated from baby, is often described as one of the most difficult things to be challenged with as a Mother. Let’s not forget too that postpartum depression and taking medication, support groups and therapy are still stigmatized and not near enough are getting the help they truly need and deserve.
For those that have experienced the loss of a child, miscarriage, stillbirth, or having placed a child up for Adoption, this day may not be one for celebration, something a greeting card and flowers fixes. There is also those who’ve lost their Mother, whether your relationship was ideal, distant, or you were estranged, we need to acknowledge that the complex feelings surrounding this day are real, they need to be honored. For those that are caring for a Mother, or who’s Mother is slipping away due to dementia or watching her health decline, this day can be excruciating. Raising a child or multiple children alone also comes with its own complex feelings, as does raising children with health complications or developmental challenges.
When my Mother died in 2011, it felt surreal in so many ways, still does. I often wonder what would have been often, especially seeing my beautiful, happy children who I’m certain would have been the light of her life. But that’s if she had been healthy, and had she not been an alternative version of herself as an addict. She was often mean, manipulative, and our relationship hollow. I used to call her in the car and talk with her about what was going on in my day to day life, because emotionally I think this was all either of us could handle. I forget sometimes she is gone, all these years later, especially when something big happens, and then I go to dial her number and I’m reminded. On this day it doesn’t mean I don’t love and appreciate the cards my children make me, or their excitement wishing me a happy day less meaningful, just more complicated.
Deprogramming what the day “needs” to look like can be a part of healing process. Whether you don’t want to acknowledge the day at all, you want to sleep in, time alone, you want to go to therapy, a day at the spa, or your favorite food, ask for what you need. There is no right way to spend the day, your feelings are important, unique and your own. The pressure to celebrate or even communicate and have a relationship with a Mother who is toxic needs to stop, you don’t owe anybody anything. Your mental health is important, and that may mean discontinuing a relationship, or setting firm boundaries, and working through it with the help of a mental health professional. Many don’t have the ability, time, means, the privilege to simply take the day off, that doesn’t mean it isn’t important to them or on their mind.
How I ended up working with Mothers and families is likely not a coincidence. It’s the intensity, the unique mix of emotions that I love about this time period in a person’s life. There is nothing that helps you to look at your own life, your identity, your own relationships and even mortality like bringing new life or a new person to your family. Becoming a Mother can rock you at your very core and challenge you in ways you never imagined. Some days can be happy, others sad. Some go smoothly, others leave you crawling into bed a heaping mess. Maybe this is a metaphor for the greater experience, the journey as a whole. I’d like to think as women and as Mothers there are brighter days ahead, where support and community is more available to us, we are respected, heard and paid the same. Our health outcomes for birth and postpartum are improved, our birth experiences heard and acknowledged. We hold positions in our community and are key to social and economic growth and change. Part of the healing is recognizing the importance of our place in this world, the ability we have to shape and change the World around us. Whether this day is one of happiness or pain, I see you, I honor you and your feelings. You are not alone. You are important, there is a place here for you.
Photo Credit: Intuitive Images Photography