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Not everyone is celebrating this Mother’s Day image

Not everyone is celebrating this Mother’s Day

For many Christians, infertility and childlessness mean Mother's Day is one of the hardest days of the year.

It is lovely and appropriate for Hallmark to subtly suggest we should acknowledge and say thanks to our mothers for all they’ve done. It really is. But, there is a darker side to Mother's Day, that I and approximately 30% of singles and couples have experienced.

You see, there are couples in our churches who have the desire to start a family, but it’s just not happening. They may have had one or more miscarriages, need medical intervention or have been trying for a really long time with no success. There are couples who are enduring the long wait to adopt a child. There are also single men and women in our church who desire both a partner and a family, and don’t appear to have a prospect of either. All of these people are hurting.

I fell into the category of someone who just couldn’t fall pregnant and turned to medical intervention. This was a difficult and heart-breaking four years. It was a lonely and unrelenting struggle filled with darkness and a very real battle to balance faith and grief. It was a time when I felt like a failure on all fronts.

I have since been blessed to have children, and am thankful to God, but I still remember that season of struggle and grief. Whilst some people were great at supporting us, there were also things my Christian brothers and sisters did that were really unhelpful. So, purely based on my own personal experience, here are some tips on what NOT to do (if you have others, why not share them in the comments section below):

1. Never, ever ask couples if they are planning on starting a family soon

If they want you to know, they will tell you.

2. If they do tell you, think carefully about your response

When I told people we were struggling with infertility, they would sometimes offer well-meaning platitudes that were mythical, theologically poor or self-centred. Here are three examples:

"You just need to relax, don’t get worked up about it. It will happen in time. I can feel it in my bones".
"God gave Sarah a baby because she had enough faith – you just need to trust and it will happen".
"I know what you are going through – it took me four months to fall pregnant with my first child".

I heard all of these a number of times, and each time it was another slap in the face.

I found the best response was something like this:

"I am so terribly sorry for you. That must be hard. If you ever want a shoulder to cry on and a partner in eating ridiculous amounts of chocolate – I’m here. Otherwise, I’ll be praying for you". (But only say you’ll pray if you will).

3. Hang out as just adults and friends

Try not to be surrounded by your children in all of your interactions. All parents know you just can’t stop the interruptions and give your friend the attention they may crave or need. This is not a bad rule of thumb for all of our adult relationships.

4. Share your parenting journey, carefully

Everyone knows being a parent is a large part of your life, but it’s not all of your life. Keep the balance. I always, always appreciated friends asking me for advice even though I didn’t have kids. After all, I’d been a kid once, so I had some idea about that side of things.

5. Think carefully how to share with your childless friends the news of your pregnancy

Don’t tell them in public places. Usually, telling them privately in person, or by phone is best. Prepare yourself for a varied response – they will be pleased for you – but sometimes their grief for themselves will be the dominant emotion. Give them the space to process the news.

(Having said that, for most of my friends, I had a fair idea they were expecting from how they had been acting around me before the words came out of their mouths.)

6. Remember the struggle this can be for Christians

Here is a last one for our church communities. Nowhere was my pain more obvious and raw than when I was at church. Christians often breed well, and we celebrate new life in all its forms. In my opinion it is especially hard for Christians to bear infertility. Even though we have the assurance of a wonderful eternity, this doesn’t always diminish the pain. Be aware of this dynamic.

So, give chocolates to all women on Mother’s day, and celebrate the raising of young people as followers of Jesus by the entire church community. Make sure that women’s talks have more applications and illustrations than just parenting ones. Be gentle with your hurting sisters, even if you don’t know who they are.

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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