How to Face Mother’s Day When You’re Coping with Infertility
Mother’s Day is not just another Sunday in May for women who are already dealing with the challenges of infertility. It’s a big splashy, impossible-to-miss holiday with flowers, cards, brunch and family get-togethers. Unlike other holidays that more broadly focus on families or couples – like Christmas and Valentine’s Day – Mother’s Day celebrates one unique and treasured relationship. For women with an infertility diagnosis, the holiday can feel especially painful and isolating.
RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association recommends planning in advance for Mother’s Day and other holidays that focus on children or parenthood. Thinking about how you want to handle the holiday beforehand may help you get through it. Some experts suggest dealing with Mother’s Day by either sitting it out or jumping in – the choice is yours.
To decide how you want to approach the holiday, Andrea Mechanick Braverman, Ph.D., a Pennsylvania health psychologist who specializes in infertility counseling,suggests taking your “emotional temperature.” Try thinking about how Mother’s Day really makes you feel. If the answer is awful, talk to your own mother about the need to take care of yourself and celebrate together another time.
It’s perfectly reasonable to choose how you want to handle the holiday in any way that makes it less painful. Give yourself permission to cope in a way that feels healthy. There’s no need to feel guilty about not participating in family events – you’re going through a difficult time and need to concentrate on helping yourself and your partner.If that means scheduling a spa day and skipping the Mother’s Day brunch, go for it.
Keiko Zoll, who writes on infertility, recommends that if you don’t want to join in, just respectfully decline any invitation that may involve a celebration of Mother’s Day. That way you can avoid the dreaded questions or comments: “When are you having children?” Or, “It will be your turn next year!”
Carolyn N. Berger, LCSW, a New York City therapist who specializes in infertility notes that“Mother’s Day often means getting together with family members to celebrate their motherhood…difficult for a woman who is trying hard to have a baby but hasn’t yet succeeded.” She suggests reaching out to someone who may also be struggling to let them know you’re thinking of them, and notes this may serve as “the card, bouquet of flowers or lavish brunch that they won’t receive for being a mother.” Mother’s Day is a good time to reach out to others – including other women challenged by infertility or the loss of a child. Helping others not only makes us feel better, it can help distract from our own difficulties.
If you choose to sit out the holiday, consider finding an activity you enjoy or find relaxing. With your partner – or friends who don’t have children – go see a movie, take a hike, or have a great meal. Keiko Zoll recommends a weekend getaway with your partner or spouse to relax, play tourist and be far enough away from Mother’s Day celebrations. You might also choose to do some of the things that usually help you cope with the stress of infertility including exercise, messaging with a support group, writing in your journal or talking to someone supportive who may be facing the same issues.
If you think you’re up to jumping in on Mother’s Day, consider making your mother the center of the holiday. Taking the attention off yourself by planning a brunch and inviting others can temporarily distract you from your sadness at not being a parent. This can be a successful strategy according to Berger, especially if you and your mother are close and she’s been supportive during your infertility battle. If you’re in your 30’s and your mother is in her 50’s or 60’s, you have the benefit of so much research and advanced treatment techniques. Still, if she had difficulty getting pregnant, your mother may be wondering if your problems are related to hers.
A Mother’s Day get together might not be right time to discuss your mother’s reproductive history but knowing her experience can provide useful information and insight. Research reveals that genetics plays a role in the likelihood of developing several infertility-related conditions including endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), repeated miscarriages and premature ovarian failure or early menopause. The age when your mother reached menopause may be predictive for you. Getting to know the age when your mother had children, how long it took to get pregnant, whether she had painful periods or a history of miscarriages, are all part of the support she can provide on your infertility journey.
Psychologist Jamie Long, Psy.D – who also faces infertility – notes that holidays like Mother’s Day can add “additional emotional stress to an already complicated situation.” She agrees with the RESOLVE strategy: by planning in advance and acknowledging that holidays may be uncomfortable, you can prepare yourself and improve your chances of getting through them.
Long also advises that whether you join in Mother’s Day celebrations or choose to do something else, be sure to practice self-compassion – empathy turned inward – that some researchers consider the most important of all life skills. As someone who deals with this issue personally and counsels others, Long believes it is important to be yourself and recognize, not ignore, your feelings. They are valid and understandable given that infertility is a major life crisis and you are entitled to those feelings every day and certainly on Mother’s Day. Most importantly, she adds, no matter what you do on Mother’s Day, please remember you are not alone. Your partner may also be sad but is there to support you on the infertility journey that you share. And, working together as a team is good practice for the day when you may become parents.