Surviving Mother's Day During Infertility -- What It's Like & How to Help

@Mallika via Twenty20

@Mallika via Twenty20

This article is part of a series dedicated to providing support and visibility to motherhood in every one of its forms. To read more stories on what motherhood looks like for all types of women, visit This Is Motherhood.

My oldest son's birthday is coming up in June, marking 6 years and 10 months since my moment of claiming victory in my personal battle with infertility. The four years of that difficult journey saw some of the darkest moments of my life so far. My broken heart experienced such an unbearable pain at times that I found myself a sobbing mess on the floor of my bedroom or at a table in Starbucks while my BFF helplessly sat there with me. It’s hard to explain the grief you can feel over someone who doesn’t even exist.

The worst part is that the harder we tried, the more effort we put in, the rougher the crash would be at the end of each cycle when we'd find out, yet again, that it still didn’t work. I feared hope. I tried my best to squash it and convince myself that there was no possible way I could be pregnant -- because if I could just TRULY believe I wasn't, then I couldn't be disappointed and broken-hearted when my period inevitably arrived.

  • Eventually, however, we beat the odds, and our miracle happened.

    From the moment I finally saw that very first "PREGNANT" flash on what must have been the hundredth pee stick, I collapsed, sobbing once more, onto the bathroom floor -- I immediately charged full-force into my realized dream of motherhood.

    Yet no matter how happy and busy my life gets with two boys now (our second miracle baby was born 21 months later), every year when Mother's Day rolls around I find myself thinking of the women out there who've yet to realize that dream -- or worse, had it ripped away from them -- and it triggers a deep, mournful sadness in me. The grief that surrounds infertility is something that stays with you. A friend of mine described it like a "big jagged rock" in her pocket. She said, "Sometimes I'd forget it was there, but then you stick your hand in your pocket or lean in that direction, and oh yeah, there it is."

    If you’re reading this, you’re either likely to be one of those women or you know someone who is. As a gal who has been there and done that, I'd like to offer some practical advice on getting through Mother's Day this year.

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  • Allow me to first speak to the courageous (yes you are, even if you don't feel it) women who are in the midst of their personal battles with infertility.

    Mother's Day probably sucks. I'm just going to say it. And you know what? It's okay to admit that it sucks! Can I be the one to give you the permission to scream into a pillow and allow yourself to feel what you need to feel? If you have a mom in your life that you wish to celebrate, it does not negate your own emotions and thoughts about this day. Just because you're not a mom doesn't mean that you have to completely sacrifice yourself to the expectations you may feel are on you to acknowledge the moms who are in your life.

    If the thought of going out to brunch, attending a religious service, or whatever other celebration may be on the table brings a knot of dread to your stomach, then please go ahead and excuse yourself. If you're just not up for the amount of energy it takes to put on a brave face when it feels like your heart is falling apart on the inside, then don't do it. Run from Mother's Day. Barricade yourself in your home and consume an entire tub of ice cream while you binge watch Netflix. Cry. Distract yourself and don't cry. Whatever you feel YOU need.

    You can still send cards, flowers, or messages to your own mother, mother-in-law, or other applicable women in your life. Hopefully they're the kind of people who have compassion and understanding for this particular stage. (If not, then maybe conveniently post this link on your Facebook page …) But whether they are or aren't, check your boundaries and listen to what your heart is telling you about what you think you can handle this one day in the year.

  • Now for the friends of the women walking this infertility path.

    Did you know that you can actually buy infertility-themed greeting cards? No joke. I discovered one in a Hallmark store once and promptly bought several to send to some fellow suffering girlfriends one May. Etsy is another reliable source, if you have time. Literally, try a search for "infertility gifts."

    If you're out of time to purchase a card online and have it delivered, use the inspiration and simply send a text or email. Seriously, you do not need to "know the perfect words." Speaking as a woman who's been there, I can tell you that it's a comfort just knowing someone is thinking of you on a day when you feel lost in the celebration for something you fear you may never experience.

    "I know this day is hard for you and I just want you to know I'm thinking of / praying for you."

    "You are loved."

    "I am so sorry that you're going through this. I'm here for you."


    (Insert chocolate and wine emojis)

  • Stay away from common platitudes. 

    Avoid potentially hurtful words like "all in the right time," or "learn to be happy where you are," or phrases that start with "At least." Whether or not those words are true, it can do much harm to push those kind of sentiments at a time when the heart needs to have the freedom to mourn instead. If you reach out to a friend and she doesn't respond, don't take it personally -- she may not be emotionally able to engage at the time.

  • Some people are more open about their journey and wouldn't mind a special trinket of some kind.

    After my own dream of motherhood was realized, I walked alongside several women who were still in the midst of their journeys. I've felt prompted in different ways to encourage them and show them that they weren't alone.

    One Mother’s Day morning I doorbell-dashed some flowers and chocolate on the doorstep of a friend.

    I got two special friends in particular two heart-shaped lockets inscribed with Romans 12:12: "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer." These lockets were meant to symbolize the hope that one day they would carry a picture of their child, and yes, we all bawled our eyes out when I gave them to them.

    I've also given a pretty journal to a friend and encouraged her to write her story and/or letters to her future child during this trying time. Writing it all out can be very therapeutic.

  • Mother's Day is a painful day for some people who can’t hide from it.

    You may not know what to say or how to help your friend who is struggling with infertility, but I hope I’ve helped you there. The biggest comfort for those of us who are hurting on Mother's Day is simply knowing that we are loved and thought of.

    And for all the women reading this whose empty arms ache to hold a child of their own -- hang in there. Yes, it's always "one day at a time," but sometimes it's just one breath at a time.

    Breathe in.

    Breathe out.

    Keeping fighting for your dream.

    Jen Winters is a former high school math teacher who ditched the classroom to work from home. She lives in San Diego with her husband and two young sons, after four years of struggling with infertility. She likes hosting fondue nights for friends, where massive amounts of chocolate and cheese are consumed, and no kids are allowed.