If you find Mother’s Day painful then you’re not alone

Mother’s Day is one of those dates in our calendar that takes a megaphone to the pain of those who won’t be sending or receiving cards and loudly confirms their greatest fear – that they don’t belong.

I remember the first time my husband and I chose not to go to church on Mother’s Day. The decision we made that Sunday in March was different to the familiar last minute impulse on a Sunday morning to hit snooze just once more, because this time we’d planned it.

I’d like to say this was the only time we didn’t go to church on Mother’s Day, but it wasn’t. We intentionally avoided church that one Sunday in March for three years; the same three years my husband spent training to be a vicar. As a future vicar and vicar’s wife, our deliberate avoidance of church on this one Sunday a year didn’t exactly set the best example, but during those three years of vicar-training I’d also had my fourth, fifth and sixth miscarriages and everything had changed. Not attending church isn’t exactly my most radical rebellion, but my decision to stay at home on Mothering Sunday was far more significant to me and my faith than it may have appeared from the outside.  I knew God loved me, but that one day filled with daffodils and the celebration of motherhood told me my story and my pain didn’t belong in church.

The influence of Mothering Sunday is no longer restricted to a church service at the end of March – it’s everywhere! Just like Christmas or Easter, the build-up seems to start earlier and earlier each year, with marketing emails and shop window displays appearing at least a month before. Until I had my first miscarriage, I had never considered the pain this day could cause to those who were struggling. But when you go through a season of suffering, it changes you and the way you see the world. My experience of recurrent miscarriage made me feel very isolated from the world around me, everywhere I looked there were pregnant women or women holding tiny babies reminding me of what I’d lost and what I longed for. Then Mother’s Day appeared on the calendar which made me feel even more like an outsider because I knew my losses meant I wouldn’t be receiving a card or flowers that year.

We all want to feel like we belong, but Mother’s Day is one of those dates in our calendar that takes a megaphone to the pain of those who won’t be sending or receiving cards and loudly confirms their greatest fear – that they don’t belong.  The pain around this day isn’t just confined to those who have lost children; there’s a long list of people in our communities whose hearts are hurt by the celebration of Mother’s Day including those who have lost mothers, never knew their mothers, have difficult relationships with their mothers, long to be mothers but can’t, as well as the solo parents working hard to be both mum and dad to their children.

Ever since I decided to skip church I have wrestled with the reality that the church holds a yearly service that people avoid and four years ago, I started the Mother’s Day Runaways Service with a vicar-friend of mine who, as well as being an adoptive mum, also carries a very painful story of infertility. We wanted to create a space for people who normally avoid church on Mothering Sunday, to help them acknowledge their pain around this day, but also to remind them that their pain does not mean they don’t belong in the church or in their communities. There are now a number of Mother’s Day Runaways services held across the country and I hope this number will continue to grow. We’re not the only people working to represent the voice of the grieving on this day and  I’ve been so encouraged by how the conversation around the pain experienced by many as a result of Mother’s Day is continuing to grow. Last year the online florist Bloom and Wild offered an opt-out from Mother’s Day marketing to their mailing list clients, the overwhelming positive response to this has led to the creation of the ‘Thoughtful Marketing Movement’, with a growing number of business signing up to be a part of this. Bloom and Wild’s campaign was even mentioned in Parliament as  Mark Warman MP suggested “if other companies were to follow suit, the dread—and I do mean dread—around this day might be mitigated for many people.” As well as a change in online marketing, ‘#othersday’ is being used on Instagram to remember those who feel excluded by the celebrations of Mother’s Day.

In a world that celebrates the strong and successful it can be hard to work out where the grieving fit. I know I’ve struggled to find my place in a world that doesn’t know what to do with my story of recurrent miscarriage and celebrations like Mothering Sunday don’t help with this. But all these new initiatives from church services to marketing campaigns serve as a powerful reminder that you’re not alone – you’re not the only one who finds this day hard. Secondly, these initiatives also show us that it’s okay to grieve – acknowledging your pain is a really important part of the grieving process and this includes how you feel about Mother’s Day. Thirdly, the increasing number of voices expressing their struggle with this day are an encouragement to everyone who struggles – that your story matters, your pain matters and you matter.

 

Lizzie is an author, speaker and church planter living in Liverpool. She loves talking about the messiness of life and creating safe spaces for people to share their stories. Lizzie writes about miscarriage, infertility, childlessness and faith in her book Salt Water & Honey and on www.saltwaterandhoney.org, she also founded the Mother’s Day Runaways service in collaboration with Rev Sonya Doragh and Liverpool Diocese.