Mother’s Day is this Sunday. It’s a day of celebration and family dinners and flowers and cards.
Unless you’re a hidden mother.
It’s been just over two years since we lost our Gabriel. I very distinctly remember the pain of my first Mother’s Day without him. It was supposed to be my first Mother’s Day with him, and instead my womb was empty. Thankfully, I had a wiggly toddler that I had to take to the back of the church, who spared me from having to stand during the infamous “Mother’s Day Blessing.” I sat in the back of the church with my two-year-old, comforted by the child in my arms and thinking of the mothers I knew who had suffered miscarriages and didn’t have a child to hold in the midst of their grief.
Since losing Gabriel, we have been blessed with a baby girl — a sweet, easy baby who brings us joy. Yet, as much joy as she brings us, she is not a replacement for her brother. And so, on Mother’s Day, we will join a crowd of hidden mothers — the mothers who visit the cemetery on Mother’s Day, to have all their children physically in one place for a few minutes. We’ll couple that Mass, when we’ll all be able to be spiritually together.
I know that I’m not the only mother who visits the cemetery on Mother’s Day, to visit the grave of a lost child. Thankfully, my visit includes a brood of rambunctious, sweet, living children who fight over who gets to dust off their brother’s grave marker. Not all mothers are so fortunate.
I know one woman who has miscarried multiple times, and another who lost her firstborn to miscarriage and hasn’t conceived again, yet. Neither one of these mothers has a living child to hold, but they are mothers. They are hidden mothers.
As a millennial, I also know several my single peers who desperately wished that they were married and had a family of their own. These same women show my children incredible kindness, but it doesn’t mask their own pain of an empty womb and empty arms. Yet, these women are spiritual mothers. They are hidden mothers, too.
Then, there are those women who are happily married and yet haven’t been able to conceive. The pain of infertility is their constant companion. They have no children to grieve, but rather an even more painful grief — the grief of each cycle, each month, having the dream of a child dashed. For those suffering from infertility are grieving all the children who could have been, while hoping and praying for the child who may yet come. Through their love and suffering, they are hidden mothers, too.
There are those women who have living children (and maybe babies in heaven, too) who are desperately hoping and praying for more. These women have one or two children, and everyone assumes they must be using birth control. Yet, they aren’t – they are suffering from secondary infertility. Although their living children are a comfort to them, there is still the ache of a home that is not as full as they dreamed. They are also hidden mothers.
Then, there are mothers who have placed a child for adoption, or who have had a child removed from their home and placed into foster care. There home is empty of a child who once was there, and their motherhood may be hidden from many.
There are women who are spiritual mothers. There are women who are godmothers and who are religious sisters. Both are vocations that call a woman to spiritual motherhood in a very formalized way. Yet, their motherhood may be hidden and forgotten.
There are also mothers who have foster or adopted children but no biological children. They know the joy of a full home but may still have the grief of not being able to conceive themselves. Like the mother suffering from secondary infertility, the children in their arms comfort them, but it doesn’t remove the hidden grief of knowing they were unable to physically carry a child in their womb.
Some women may have had a foster child (or children) in their home days, weeks, or years ago. They loved this child as their own, but he or she was reunified with biological parents or placed in a different foster home. These hidden mothers grieve children that once filled their homes with noise and play.
There is the grief of a mother who is estranged from a grown child. This may be coupled with the grief of a mother who is estranged from her own mother. Maybe there is history of abuse or a parent who has disowned a child. These hidden mothers suffer, too.
There are those who are facing their first Mother’s Day since the death of their own mother. Although she may have living children of her own, this hidden mother is filled with the pain of losing her own mother.
There are also women who may have chosen to have an abortion. Maybe they were pressured, maybe they freely chose it, but either way they are filled with grief and shame, and their motherhood is hidden, too.
On Sunday, all these mothers will face a country that is celebrating mothers. Yet, their motherhood is hidden, and they may feel forgotten.
Particularly painful will be when their pastor may invite “all mothers” to stand up for a blessing at the end of Mass. Do they stand? What if their motherhood doesn’t include a child in their pew?
What can we do to love and support these mothers?
Send a Card
A card, flowers, or just a simple text message saying, “Happy Mother’s Day!” can mean so much. You may be the only one who wishes them Happy Mother’s Day, and your words can be a game-changer.
Offer a Blessing for All Women
If you are a priest or are part of planning your parish’s liturgies, please include a blessing for all women. It is part of the vocation of women to be spiritual mothers, and on Mother’s Day, we want to thank women for their spiritual motherhood, too.
Don’t Wish Every Woman Happy Mother’s Day
For some women, this may be a reminder of their hidden grief. If, however, you know someone’s personal situation, feel free to wish them Happy Mother’s Day, as is applicable to their hidden or visible motherhood.
Pray for all of those who are suffering on Mother’s Day. Pray for their healing and pray that they may know that they are truly loved and appreciated.