Surviving Mother’s Day…with Some Covert Honesty

Books, Infertility

Last winter I had a telephone interview with Rachael Jackson, president of Shattered Media. She compiled a lot of what we discussed into an article for Shattered Magazine, hoping those who have friends and family suffering with infertility will learn what words are comforting and what words are hurtful, especially on Mother’s Day.

Survival Tip 5: “7 Things Not to Say to Couples Dealing With Infertility”

Amanda Hope Haley, author of Barren Among the Fruitful: Navigating Infertility with Hope, Wisdom, and Patience, and her husband struggled for infertility in silence for almost seven years. Seven Mother’s Days went by in silent pain. Month after month of trying, five miscarriages, and who knows how many negative pregnancy tests had ended with no children. Believing it was one thing God had created her to do, she turned inward—tracking her temperature, food, exercise, ovulation, everything. Amanda geared her entire life toward one major task: getting pregnant.

“Why am I not good enough?” Amanda wondered, all while struggling with shame and depression. For years, Amanda Hope Haley went to Mother’s Day services, baby showers, and baby dedications for all of her friends in her life group—seven of them to be exact—putting up the smile and her white picket fence. Amanda carried the burden alone until one day she could carry it no longer.

One Sunday morning, they were at the end of their rope and almost done trying to have children. Innocently, a guy at church asked her, “How’s it going?” and Amanda literally collapsed onto the floor and dissolved into a bucket of tears. The women came and picked her up to comfort her and hold her, and in the midst of their care, she blurted out loud that she had been in therapy, struggling with infertility and was incredibly messed up inside by depression. Their response to her “confession?” Well, what do you know, they had been going to therapy too. The women found common ground and support from each other as they shared their stories.

And it was that moment—when she fell apart and heard the stories of the women helping her—that she learned the Christian life is about relationships. Real, open, and authentic relationships where truth can be shared unashamedly because of the common bond in Christ, who has offered us all hope.

But sometimes, we just don’t know what to do in relationships with people who are struggling. And sometimes, when we don’t know what to say or do, we just turn away. And sometimes, we even say things that are incredibly hurtful and insensitive, even when spoken earnestly and in love.

So to help you this Mother’s Day, here is Amanda Hope Haley’s list of seven things to NOT say to couples enduring infertility:

1. “Sarah was 90 when she had children.”
Really? Does this need to be explained?

2. “Oh yeah, that happened to my sister.”
You might be trying to identify with your friend, but it minimizes the problem, and leaves her wondering why she is so hurt by it if everyone gets through it.

3. “Do you think maybe you’re not doing it right?”
Come on. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist.

4. “Well at least you know you can get pregnant.”
This was actually spoken to Amanda after one of her miscarriages and is not something a grieving woman wants or needs to hear after losing a child.

5. “Just give it time, you’re young and it will be fine.”
That was the comment at age 25. Everyone at the clinic said “it’s fine…” But at 30, everything changed and Amanda became “old.” The tone changed to “you waited too long.” She struggled with the guilt of deciding to get her education because she was young and had time, but then Amanda felt like she had done something wrong and it was somehow her fault for pursuing her degrees.

6. “You can always adopt.”
Her husband told her once that she was thinking about adoption like it was a consolation prize. But the fact was that she wasn’t wanting to adopt because she had a heart for it, she would have been adopting so that she could get to the goal of having a child. That’s not the heart for adoption; adoption is a calling. As a result of Amanda not feeling the call to adopt, people would act like it’s the most horrible thing in the world to not want to adopt but to desire biological children. Amanda knows God is blessing children through them in other ways they couldn’t if they had their own kids, and she is thankful for those opportunities. But they feel judged when people are astonished that they don’t choose to adopt one of the million kids in the world.

7. “Just pray harder.” “You’re such a good person.” “God will give you the desires of your heart.” “Just have faith and believe.”

A lot of people throw faith out as the solution. But she felt like she had a broken body when she couldn’t even do the one thing God had created women to do. With a broken spirit, too, she questioned God: “Why am I not good enough?” It wasn’t helpful to just tell her to have more faith, when it was God she was struggling with. There are unintended consequences to slapping a Bible verse on a problem and calling it done.

Instead of thinking that you have to have the answer, maybe just admit that you have no answers. Amanda Hope Haley suggests you ask people how they’re doing. It’s that simple. Don’t feel like you have to be so quick to defend God or cheer them up. Simply spend time with them, allowing them to be sad, and walking with them. There’s no pat answer to infertility on Mother’s Day. You just have to be on the journey with them.

The presence of Amanda’s friends who loved her and opened up to her allowed her to see God more clearly. Amanda shared with me the hope she finally sees in her infertility:

“God used that time to teach me a whole lot and the main thing is that it is not all about me. He taught me that it is about Him and His will. The biggest revelation I had during that period about His will (is that) God has one will and that is reconciliation of humanity to Himself. He has paths and plans for us, but everything He has planned for us in our lives is about His one will. I had to change my prayers from please give me a baby to please just let me be in your will. I know that I will only be happy when I am in your will.”

Before church on Sunday, post this on your social media. Maybe you’ll avoid some awkward conversations by letting Rachael and me do the complaining for you. 😉

So how do you respond to the comments that are meant to be helpful but hurt you instead? Comment below with your stories or tips, and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Barren among the Fruitful and a “Be Hopeful” necklace! I’ll contact the winner tomorrow. Good luck!

Surviving Mother’s Day…at Church

Books, Community, Infertility

When David and I still lived in Middle Tennessee, we were super-involved with our church. We assumed (and assumed others assumed about us) that since we didn’t have children, we had more time to do stuff for the body. If we heard of a need somewhere, we did our best to help. That’s how we ended up hosting a Life Group, prepping Communion every Sunday, and basically being available to do whatever whenever. And we loved (almost) every minute of it.

About five years ago, those responsibilities dovetailed just before a Mother’s Day service. While I was pouring juice into hundreds of tiny cups, one of my LG friends told me she was miscarrying. Because my David was away for work and her husband was serving elsewhere in the building that morning, I sat with my friend and saw the Mother’s Day service through her eyes:

Opening Scripture: Psalm 139:13; Jeremiah 1:5; and every other “womb” verse you can think of
Praise Song: “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord (You Give and Take Away)”
Interlude: 10,000 baby dedications
Teaching: “Born of Flesh and Spirit”
Closing: Standing ovation for all the moms

I don’t remember the exact details of the service. I do remember how that Mother’s Day felt in light of the pain in my friend’s posture and face.

Survival Tip 4: Know the Best Place to Worship

Why do we join church families? Just to have somewhere to go on Sunday morning?

God wants us to worship in a community because we learn and grow better when we are together. We should be each other’s supporters, challengers, cheerleaders, and keepers. And we need to recognize when each role is appropriate.

Mother’s Day is one of those Sundays we choose to cheer for moms and the hard work they do all year. Certainly they deserve the praise! But we also need to be cognizant of our sisters who need support those same days.

One great thing about moms is that they don’t want to hurt others. By nature they are nurturers. I bet they’d be just as content with a subtle “you’re awesome!” from the pulpit, knowing the traditional fireworks display is hurting their infertile sisters.

Besides, it’s their kiddos’ drawings and husbands’ breakfasts that they look forward to and remember, right?

So I say, hey Sunday-morning service organizers: dial it back a notch. Save the baby dedications and emotional songs for another day.

(And kudos to our old church for doing just that in the following years!)

My anecdote tells the stories of two women: one who is miscarrying (my friend) and one who has accepted God’s plan for her not to have children (me). I was at the place spiritually and emotionally where I could honestly sing, “You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, ‘Lord, blessed be Your Name.'” My friend was NOT. She needed support (which I hope I offered) and the love and healing only God could give to her.

God will find you, no matter where you choose to worship Him on Mother’s Day. If you look at your church’s order of service and think, “I can’t do this,” then find a place and a way to honor Him privately. Tell Him about your pain and fear. Ask Him to heal your spirit. Then commit to living your life according to His plan for you.

That private worship time will honor God and bless you better than any corporate service where you spend 90 minutes fighting back tears.

So how do you worship God on Mother’s Day? Comment below with your stories or tips, and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Barren among the Fruitful and a “Be Hopeful” necklace!

Surviving Mother’s Day…with Family

Books, Community, Infertility

David and I had been married for five years: the point when people stop asking “when will you” and start asking “why haven’t you had children?” We had just started treatments, and neither of us were ready to talk about our situation with anyone. (We weren’t even talking about it with each other very much!)

At a child’s birthday party, David and I were pleasantly laughing as the kiddo struggled to open my too-well-taped present when we heard an extended family member stage-whisper, “Look at Amanda smiling at the baby. Maybe she’ll let David have children after all.” I fought back tears as David made a quick goodbye to the parents, and we left.

Ah, family. Why do some of us think it is okay to check our tact at the door? Why do we assume we know everything about others’ lives? Family probably doesn’t need a special occasion to get into your business, but Mother’s Day will give the inconsiderate an extra-special license. Parenting is the theme of the day, so if you are present and married, they’ll be wondering why you aren’t diving into the festivities.

Survival Tip 3: Start Telling Your Story

A few years into our fertility adventure, I realized that the best way to interact with everyone I knew was with the truth. My silence only bred more questions in others.

But when you’re still working through the immediate pain of losing a child or not conceiving one, inconsiderate comments and questions hurt (no matter who says them) and can force you out of a cheerful child’s birthday party in a fit of tears and trembling.

So know where you are in your healing process. Surround yourself with your closest, most trusted family members, and make sure they know your situation. No one will protect you better than your favorite aunt or loving mom. They can watch out for you at events, advise you how to react, and tell you it is okay not to attend this birthday party or that holiday luncheon when you are at your lowest.

As you heal, you’ll find it is easier to tell everyone what is happening in your life, and I’d bet the inconsiderate comments cease. Knowledge can produce understanding, and understanding can yield love. And fertility patients need all the love and support they can get, especially from those who’ve known them all their lives.

So how do you prepare to face questions at holiday get-togethers? Comment below with your stories or tips, and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Barren among the Fruitful and a “Be Hopeful” necklace!

Surviving Mother’s Day…in the Media

Books, Infertility

Copper and I have a morning routine. We get David out the door with a full stomach, coffee in his hand, and lots of kisses; then we settle down in the living room for snuggle time. Copper falls asleep belly-up on my lap while I drink a cup of coffee and watch the local news. It’s a nice way for me to break up the morning between family time and work time. (Once the puppy is asleep, I hit the computer.)

This week, every morning news source I’ve seen opens with news about the royal birth. Welcome to the world, Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana! The Today Show has already done a segment on your future as a trend-setter. CBS this morning told me just how close you are to seizing the throne for yourself. And my local station couldn’t believe how great your mum looked 10 hours after your birth. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram–you’re already everywhere!

In years past this constant coverage would have bothered me a lot. In May 2011 I was alone the entire month. David was traveling Monday through Friday, and he was working at his office on the weekends. I was lonely, and when I wanted to escape my own translation work for a few minutes, all I could find were sitcoms, “reality” shows, and commercials with Mother’s Day themes. An already difficult time was exacerbated as my one place of escape became off-limits.

Survival Tip 2: Control the Flow of Information

I have clinical depression, and while we were trying to get pregnant it was not well managed. Hormones played a huge roll in my imbalances, and I couldn’t take the drugs I really needed to stay balanced because their safety for babies is uncertain. What I put into my body–and my mind–had immediate effects on my moods and my health. I should have been spending free moments with the people who loved me, not have been ruled by my feelings of sadness and fatigue and settled for the TV as a companion.

Anyone who feels punished by Mother’s Day can’t do anything about the physical signs of it all over town, but he or she can choose to cut off the TV, smartphone, computer, and tablet. In my opinion, a hiatus from technology (excepting this blog, of course! 😉 ) can save you from unnecessary pain and force you to interact with human beings who, when chosen wisely, will love and support you when you most need it.

So how do you keep up with the world but avoid the news and commercials you don’t need to see? Comment below with your stories or tips, and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Barren among the Fruitful and a “Be Hopeful” necklace!

Surviving Mother’s Day…at the Mall

Books, Infertility

It was the last Saturday before Christmas, and Daddy needed me to go pick up a pair of earrings at the mall for my mother. It was pouring rain. Cars and people were everywhere. The only way to get a parking place in the mall’s lot was to stalk another shopper to his or her car. (But I’m not particularly stealthy.)

Then I saw it: a free space at the front of an aisle. I said thank you to my 4-wheel drive and whipped into the place backward. I wouldn’t have to park at a Chuck-E-Cheese and hike across a 6-lane road and the entire mall lot to get to one store and make my 30-second transaction.

The car was off, my purse was in my lap, and I was unbuckling when I saw, “Reserved for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers.” I cried ugly tears for 10 minutes then moved my car to the Chuck-E-Cheese.

Why did a fake parking sign instigate my nervous breakdown? I had just suffered my fourth miscarriage, and that sign was taunting me: “Hey, Amanda, you aren’t good enough to park here. Only people who give birth have a right to spend their money here and enjoy the Christmas season.” Yes, that voice was only in my head, and yes, it was amplified by the hormone cocktail saturating my recently-pregnant brain.

Similar events played out around almost every holiday during the 7 years David and I were trying to grow our family. Christmas was bad, but Mother’s Day was always the worst.

Survival Tip 1: Recognize Marketing in Action

When retailers decorate and advertise for Mother’s Day, they intend to play on the customers’ emotions. They want us to feel all sappy and lovey about our mamas so that we spend more money in their stores. Suddenly everything on the rack has “mom in mind.” Clothes, electronics, greeting cards–you name it. You don’t even have to read the signage because the color schemes are all pastel. Stores feel as if they’ve been designed for women.

From the parking lot to the check-out counter, no store is safe. While I would never buy my mother something from a lingerie store, your local pink-and-black retailer of all-things lacy has posters reminding husbands to “make her feel like a bombshell.” Sporting goods and outdoor equipment stores suddenly stock everything in sickening shades of pink, “just for mom.” Even car dealerships give free oil changes–and special financing–to “keep mom safe.”

This is the commercialization of Mother’s Day, and it has undoubtedly damaged the loving spirit of the holiday. But don’t let it damage you.

When you are out doing your grocery shopping–or actually buying a gift for your own mom–let the signs remind you how the world sees mothers: as pawns. When you are filled with righteous indignation, make a choice to ignore the gimmicks and truly honor the great women in your life.

So how do you survive the Spring when Mother’s Day propaganda is everywhere you need to be? Comment below with your stories or tips, and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Barren among the Fruitful and a “Be Hopeful” necklace!

Mother’s Day and the “Barren” Woman

Books, Infertility

I genuinely enjoy Mother’s Day because it reminds me to slow down and honor my mother and other women who have poured their love into my life.

But I will be among the first to admit that the second Sunday in May is pretty miserable when you aren’t getting to parent the little one(s) you desperately want in your life. All around you are flower arrangements, family brunches, and emotional commercials for greeting cards Publix–but none of that is for you.

Maybe you’ve lost a child, miscarried a baby, or been unable to conceive. Maybe you aren’t married yet. I know I have friends who look at my life and think–as Ted Mosby does–

The truth is, I thought I’d be married by now and going through all this stuff alongside you guys. But even if I meet the [person] of my dreams right this second, I’m still one night and nine months away from having a family of my own.*

A lot of women–married and single–would rather not get out of bed on Mother’s Day. (The same goes for men, but we’ll talk about them in June!)

necklace+and+book.jpgThis year I want to enjoy time with my mama and mother-in-law, and not allow myself to be wounded by well-meaning ministers or money-grubbing card makers. So I am writing “Mother’s Day Survival: a 5-part Series for the ‘Barren’ Woman” that I’ll post online next week. Each day I’ll highlight a common Mother’s Day tradition that I’ve found painful in the past. I hope you will then comment about the post, explaining how you reacted to any pain and longing induced by that tradition in your life.

To encourage your comments, I’m also doing a giveaway next week! For every day you comment on a post, you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Barren among the Fruitful and a “Be Hopeful” necklace.

Let’s work together not only to survive but to thrive this Mother’s Day!

*Kourtney Kang, “The Stinson Missile Crisis,” How I Met Your Mother, season 7, episode 4, directed by Pamela Fryman, aired October 3, 2011 (Netflix).

Fast-Forwarding to Mother’s Day

Books, Infertility, Restoration

My calendar can’t possibly be correct: is it the end of April already?

Since my last post we’ve moved across the country (again), bought a 1900s Foursquare in a transitional downtown neighborhood, watched bath water rain from the coffers in the dining room, and cut a hole in a master-bedroom wall. All with a basset hound puppy (sometimes literally) underfoot.

Life seems to be approaching equilibrium. After 3 months Chattanooga is less mysterious, there is drywall on our dining room ceiling, and Copper is nearly house trained. What seemed scary has become good: we love our co-ed and senior-adult neighbors, destruction has given way to renovation, and Copper is nearly house trained. It is time that I stop spending my days in crisis-response mode and return to writing.

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Hoping my fur-baby will give me the “Mother’s Day” gift of his being housetrained!

I do so none-too-soon. Forgetting for the moment that backlog of books I have to write, my May calendar is full of Barren-related guest blog posts, radio interviews, and Facebook page hosting. I’m even doing a couple of giveaways. Though no one has said, “We want to talk to you now because it’s close to Mother’s Day,” I know the holiday is the impetus for at least 2 interviews. That makes me nervous.

In the last few years, I’ve read many blogs and articles that blast Mother’s Day. They like to highlight all the ways the day and its celebrations in church hurt women who struggle to be mothers or have lost a child. While I certainly agree that Mother’s Day can inflame fertility wounds and I freely admit to ditching church services on several second-Sundays in May, I am not and have never been anti–Mother’s Day.

Why? Because on Mother’s Day I honor my mother (and do my best not to think about myself).

When I was growing up, Mother’s Day was a big deal. It was the second-most-attended church service of the year (after Easter but before Christmas), and it was one of the few Sundays my family went out for lunch instead of going home to sandwiches. When we’d get to church, the children would be drafted to pass out carnations to all the moms: white for moms whose own mothers had died, red for the mothers whose mothers were living, and yellow for the mothers who had lost children. It was easy to know who got what because all the moms were already wearing white, red, or yellow corsages when they got to church.

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My mom sports her handmade-by-me corsage.

As an adult I’ve enjoyed buying my mother’s–and eventually my mother-in-law’s–corsages. Roses and carnations are the traditional flower choice, but I like to shake it up. Gardenias, irises, daisies, and even orchids have decorated my mothers’ dresses over the years. Sometimes I’ve made the corsage; sometimes I’ve bought one.

About five years ago, we realized my mom was the only woman at her church who still wore a flower on Mother’s Day. Every year I ask if she still wants me to get her one, and every year she says yes! She says that she loves telling everyone how her daughter bought (or made) that corsage just for her. And I love doing it.

So in the coming weeks when I’m asked to talk or write about how Mother’s Day makes me feel and I admit that no holiday does more to remind me of my fleshly desires and wounds, I’ll do my best to remember the woman who gave me life. She deserves no less celebration for the years she sacrificed to raising me just because my own dreams of motherhood have not been achieved. In fact, she deserves more because of the extra love she’s showered on me during my years of pain and miscarriage.

Keep reading Healthy and Hopeful in May for “Mother’s Day Survival Tips for the ‘Barren’ Woman” and a great book-necklace giveaway!