It’s mother’s day and many tightly wound strings are plucked by unsuspecting fingers. There are unspoken expectations, comparison, envy, and love all vibrating restlessly. Each of us of has her own deep currents of expectations about what her life ought to look like, the kind of mother we ought to be, the kind of woman we thought we would be. And each of us has fallen short or been denied some aspect of that mythic womanhood. So, today, a silly an sweet cultural holiday, while we celebrate and perhaps are celebrated, let us remember the many who are longing.
The single woman.
She’s been fed a healthy diet of “You don’t need a man” and “Good for you, pursuing your career like a boss.” But at the same time people keep asking…or maybe they’ve stopped asking “So, are you seeing anyone?” She wonders what is wrong with her. She wonders why, while she tries to make all the right decisions, her friends couple off one by one and leave her behind. She tries her best to enjoy every aspect of her “free and easy” single life, but there is a loneliness beneath the surface for something she is missing. Yes, she knows that a marriage won’t complete her, but companionship is still one of our deep human urges. She may also long for children and with each passing year she wonders if this will be a possibility for her, “natural” conception and childbirth. There is an ache deep inside for something she feels she is meant to do, but something over which she seems to have no real control. She is so far away from motherhood in her own mind, it scares her.
She’s tried everything, so please don’t ask. Maybe she is considering adoption. Maybe adoption isn’t for her. Maybe she has tried IVF and it has failed, maybe she doesn’t feel comfortable with IVF. Maybe she has health concerns and maybe there is no explanation. Regardless, for what may have been years, she has been on a monthly rollercoaster of expectation, maybe even hope, then pain. To add insult to injury, with each “failure,” she literally bleeds. She has shed so many tears over this, she has made herself sick. She has bought so many pregnancy tests she switched pharmacies so people wouldn’t begin to wonder what was wrong with her. She dreads this day. She has watched so many of her dear friends as their middles expand, as their faces glow, as they are showered with gifts and hopes and expectations, as they labor and snuggle and breastfeed and even complain about sleepless nights. She wants all of it. She is happy for them, but her heart feels starved, sometimes even numb at this point.
The miserable mama.
Motherhood is supposed to be all Instagram smiles and gushing love. But there are mamas who are drowning. There are women who have lost their entire sense of self and cannot remember who they are anymore in the piles of laundry and the added weight and the sticky fingers. There are women who give birth and do not feel that sudden rush of joy and attachment. There are women, many women, who literally feel they are feeling at every aspect of life – parenting, work, relationships, housekeeping, you name it. There are single mamas who feel they will never be there for their kids in the way they wish they could. There are stay at home mamas who wish they could work. There are working mamas who wish they could stay home. There are women who wonder if they should have been mothers at all. Over each of these women rests the daily stress of shame, like a heavy blanket. She longs for freedom, the freedom to enjoy her children, freedom to rest, freedom from her to-do list.
There are other categories as well. And there is no easy message of freedom for any of us. There are no ten steps for embracing your singleness, your infertility, your misery. There is, of course, counseling (counseling is fantastic!). But, perhaps the only message from all of this messy longing is that we are not alone. Perhaps unsatisfied longing is actually the most common human denominator. Perhaps what we really need is honesty and communion with each other. Listen to one another today. Listen carefully to hear the vibrating strings in the women around you. And then say simply “me too” and sit with them. It’s ok if you want to celebrate today and revel in where your life is. It’s ok if you are right in the middle of pain and longing. Whoever you are, you are not alone. Not today. Not any day. We feel your pain and, though not in the exact same way, our pain vibrates along with your pain.