By Karen Shiffman
Last year, even days afterwards, I was still recovering. (And no, this isn’t a rant against Mother’s Day. I salute Moms. Hooray for flowers, manicures, homemade cards. I bought my mother earrings with blue lapis to match her eyes. I hope to borrow them, soon.)
But for me, Mother's Day is the hardest date on the calendar: I can’t have children and will never be a biological mother. Bad genes, bad luck and a huge cancer scare a while back left me without a womb and a few other body parts.
But at least I have no cancer; I dodged the big one — twice. After my surgery, friends danced around the fertility issue, but I shut them down with this effective retort: “I’m lucky to be alive.” Looking back, I think they were just projecting their own anxieties about their biological clocks. I, on the other hand, was fine.
And I continued to feel fine for a while. I looked at condos. Got back in the pool. Went back to work. Everyone marveled at how quickly I’d bounced back. Then Mother’s Day came, and I fell apart. Bam. I couldn’t even buy my mother a card that first year. It was ugly.
The following year, as Mother’s Day approached, I didn’t do much better. My family went out for a celebratory brunch; I stayed home. I said it was too painful to be out with all those happy moms and families. I took my mother out to dinner later that week.
I confided to a friend about my struggle. He listened, comforted me and then did something extraordinary. The Sunday after Mother’s Day he lifted the chalice at his church, and spoke these words to the congregation:
“I light this second candle for all the special women for whom Mother's Day last Sunday brought pain and anguish. For those women who are infertile or medically unable to conceive a biological child."
He went on to talk about women who had suffered miscarriages or were estranged from their children by divorce or misunderstandings. He ended the blessing this way: "May our prayers and concerns be with all of you, this day."
He got it. He heard me. I wasn’t alone.
Over the years, I’ve made peace with my loss: I dote on my niece and I’m honorary aunt to many of my friends’ kids. At one point, I considered adopting a child and raising her on my own. But I decided that wasn't the right path for me. And hey, I'm pretty lucky: I have a job people envy and a full life.
Still, all these years later, when Mother’s Day approaches, those old feelings bubble up; I'm pretty sure they always will. So every year, I reach inside my special box and re-read my friend’s kind words. They got me through those first tough years, and still do.
So on Mother’s Day, celebrate to the hilt. And the week after, check in on a friend who might have struggled that day. After all, we’re all special women.
Karen Shiffman is executive producer of On Point at WBUR. This post was updated from a piece Karen wrote just after Mother's Day last year; she says this year is easier and that "writing it down and putting it out there" helps.