For the more than 6 million women struggling with infertility, Mother’s Day can be painful. Here’s how to help.
by Chimere G. Holmes, LPC, Mental Health Editor
Mother’s Day is joyous for some, but painful for people struggling with reproductive infertility and infant loss. Everything from television commercials, social media posts, conversations with friends, and retail swag invoke sad memories and constant reminders of sadness and longing.
Infertility is a challenge that many women and couples wrestle with each year. According to the Centers For Disease Control, roughly 10% of American women (6.1 million) ages of 15-44 have difficulty getting or staying pregnant. Both women and men can have problems that lead to infertility—1/3 of the cases are caused by male problems and 1/3 are from female challenges. Remaining cases are attributed to a combination of problems.
Far too many women will agree that motherhood was the one thing they wanted more than anything else in life. The hard truth that motherhood may be woefully out of reach is both soul crushing and a vivid reminder of a void that may or may not get filled.
Too often, women and men suffer in silence because they are not comfortable sharing their stories. Many feel sad, stressed, embarrassed, ashamed, or fear judgement. When fertility treatments are not successful, women and couples are taxed by grief and loss. Some people describe this process as the most upsetting experience of their lives. But sharing personal stories can liberate countless other people struggling with the same challenges and feeling alone.
It is vital to shed light on that anguish and emotional turmoil. Not only is the topic extremely sensitive, sometimes there really are no words that encapsulate the longing, disappointment, confusion, frustration and grief. National Infertility Awareness Week is powerfully uniting millions of women and men who want to squash the stigma surrounding the way we look at families and the broken roads that lead to the building of them.
If you are coping with any of these issues, know that your feelings are valid are not diminished by the national celebration of Mother’s Day. Perhaps the healthiest way to process Mother’s Day is to take on a “both/and” perspective—the beautiful ugly that means different things to different women. It is okay to take care of yourself and do whatever you need to do to make it through those grueling 24-hours.
Even after Mother’s Day, grief, yearning, and loss continues for those suffering from reproductive infertility, pregnancy or infant loss. Each of these instances are devastating and call for ongoing self-care and adherence of mental and emotional wellness. From a therapeutic standpoint, I often encourage my clients to do whatever is best and safest for them. If you need to turn the channel when a sappy Hallmark commercial plays for the 100th time or you need to safeguard your mental health by sitting out this Sunday’s church service and family gathering, or avoiding the stores adorned with Mother’s Day merch … Do what you need to do.
You have permission to cater to yourself on this day and do whatever replenishes and brings you joy. The people you know and love will understand. Remember, you are not the only woman who will need to do this. Mother’s Day is all about acknowledging and celebrating the women in our lives who have sacrificed everything for their children. If you find yourself part of the 6.1 million community, then darling, who has sacrificed more than you?
Here are a few ways we can offer support and kindness to friends and loved ones who want to be mothers:
- Initiate quality friend time that helps her take her mind off of things for a little while. Ask her what she would like to do.
- Suggest a pampering and tranquil day at the spa or a walk in nature for a day of peace and relaxation.
- Approach her with zero judgement and total love. Keep in mind she is probably getting a lot of unsolicited advice from others.
- Offer to do the most non-Mother’s Day outing you can think of, like grabbing some cocktails!
Being there for a friend or loved one going through infertility struggles is invaluable. Keep in mind that conveying compassion or just listening can leave a lasting impact. Compassion statements that people may find comforting at this time include:
- I am sorry you are going through this right now; I hear you and I see you.
- Infertility is so challenging, please let me know if or when you want to talk about it.
- If you need to talk, please know I am always here for you.
- May I bring you and your family dinner? Is there anything specific you need at this time?
- Because actions speak louder than words, consider offering a hug, tender embrace, or surprising the person with a plant, fresh flowers and a “thinking of you card” during your next get together.
- If you subscribe to a particular faith, lift the couple up in prayers, extending light, comfort and lots of love.
For more of Chimere’s writing about maternal health, read Black Mamas Matter. And check out her podcast: Almost Doctors.