An Open Letter to Fertility Warriors on Mother’s Day
May 11th, 2023 | 6 min. read
No matter where you are on your family-building journey, holidays like Mother's Day can sting. If you're still in the trenches of trying to conceive, navigating fertility treatment or coping with losses, this day is even harder. Here are some words of comfort from a veteran fertility nurse.
In this article:
Dear Fertility Warrior
As a nurse practitioner who has worked in the field of infertility for over 20 years, I have seen just how challenging this journey to motherhood can be. With 1 in 6 people globally now experiencing fertility challenges, this struggle is unfortunately much more common than you might think.
In addition to my role as a fertility nurse, I have my own nursing education business (teaching fertility nurses how to care for those who are trying to conceive), and I am also a health coach for women who are working on becoming the best version of themselves (both mentally and physically) before pregnancy.
I love my career, because most of the time, I get to participate in helping someone’s dream become a reality. However, some days can be tougher than others when you are trying to conceive, and holidays often fall into the 'tough day' bucket.
Perhaps there is no holiday more emotionally charged for you than Mother’s Day (and understandably so). Mother's Day advertising and events pop up where you least expect them, making it hard to avoid the holiday entirely, and those reminders that you're still waiting for your much-wanted baby are painful.
The Two Sides of Mother’s Day
I feel lucky and grateful that I was able to become a mother myself.
But my heart breaks a little bit every time I walk down the aisle in Target dedicated to Mother’s Day cards, thinking of all the women walking down that same aisle wondering if they will ever be the recipient of such a greeting. Similarly, I feel for all the people who are grieving the loss of their own mother or a loving mother/child relationship.
I understand. On Mother’s Day, a woman suffering from infertility can feel like a kid sitting by herself on the playground: invisible, yet in plain sight.
Holidays like this can reveal a profound sense of inadequacy that is often just under the surface in many struggling with infertility - usually hidden beneath a veneer of feeling ‘fine,’ while simultaneously breaking inside.
Here's what I want you to know:
I am so sorry. I’m sorry that many of us take for granted something that is not easy for you.
I’m sorry that you probably feel excluded from many events in life, and here comes a holiday that underscores that sense of being left out. As much as you try, you can’t prepare for how you will feel this coming Sunday.
Like getting a shot at the doctor's office, the knowledge that it’s coming doesn’t make it any less painful to experience. This holiday has the unique power to generate discomfort that is both acute and prolonged.
In my last Letter to Fertility Warriors, I emphasized that you are inherently worthy - just as you are, as you sit here reading this today.
As a health coach, my goal is to help people access the strength they have inside of them, instead of basing our self-worth on external factors (like weight, age or the number of eggs that we have).
All those numbers are just that - data. They are not character flaws or personal attributes.
Treat them like you would any other piece of information, like you have brown eyes, where you acknowledge it, but don’t internalize or attach any meaning to it. This takes practice.
How to Protect Your Heart This Mother's Day
#1 Be your own safe place to land
I read this expression once and think it perfectly captures the need for self-compassion.
Why are we so careful and gentle with others who are hurting and so tough on ourselves? We are all guilty of negative self-talk, and it can become a bad habit, but it is one that is possible to change.
Listen to your inner voice. If it’s critical or degrading, rewrite that script. Rather than saying something like, "I’m a failure" or "I will never get pregnant," try this instead: "I’m going through a tough time right now, I will pay attention to what I’m feeling and respect myself for being resilient in the midst of a challenge."
Note: This article on self-compassion may be helpful as you practice - it was for me.
#2 Give yourself the gift of self-care
No, not flowers or a card. I mean the gift of a regular and robust self-care habit. When I mention self-care, many picture bubble baths and manicures. Those are certainly nice, and can make you feel relaxed and pampered, but my definition of self-care is any habit that enhances your physical or mental health.
Its effects should be long-lasting, such as engaging in regular exercise or cultivating a mindfulness practice. My favorite component of a self-care practice is learning to make and enforce boundaries. Boundaries teach people how to treat you and they are especially important for protecting your emotions and energy during challenging times.
Note: There are many great resources that can help you establish good boundaries. Feel free to contact me for recommendations - learning these building blocks of a true self-care habit takes practice!
Feeling unsupported right now?
It’s very possible that you might feel disappointed in your friends and family on this holiday. Maybe they haven’t contacted you, or are even avoiding you. Maybe you feel that their social media posts are insensitive to your situation.
My advice is to assume positive intent in most people. Assume that they are doing what they perceive to be the ‘right thing’ in an uncomfortable situation. Most people simply don’t know what to say to someone who is struggling with infertility, so they say nothing.
If someone you care about doesn’t reach out to you, it’s not because they don’t care about you - it’s because they do. They may think that contacting you will make things worse, so they tell themselves that they are 'giving you your space.' To you, it feels like abandonment.
However well-intentioned their actions may be, them distancing themselves is along the same lines of McDonald's offering apple slices in Happy Meals - a misguided effort to show that they care.
I, like you, realize that ignoring someone on an emotionally-charged holiday is not considerate, it’s self-protective. But you will feel better if you can find it in your heart to allow them some grace on this day, and be your own source of love and compassion.
It takes a lot of energy to maintain resentment, and you need to reserve this energy for caring for yourself. This also takes practice.
A Final Reminder
There is no blueprint for how to handle Mother’s Day while trying to conceive.
Allow yourself to "feel the feels." Take the space and time that you need for yourself on this day (see boundaries above), remind yourself that feeling this bad is temporary, and forgive yourself for any missteps along the way.
Start your self-talk with "Right now, I’m feeling…" or "I don’t like the fact that I [fill in the blank], but it’s understandable considering the amount of stress I’ve been under" or "I can’t control that I am triggered by certain things/people, but I can control my reaction."
When it comes to infertility, you may feel that you can’t trust your body to do what it’s "supposed to" do. What you can do, though, is teach your brain that it can be trusted. This (you guessed it) takes a lot of practice.
I want to end this letter with a pledge to you:
To all of the women who wonder if they will ever conceive, I want you to know that I see you on the playground. I am sitting right there with you on that bench, and I will be there until the bell rings...then the next day and the day after that.
Monica Moore is a board-certified Advanced Practice Nurse Practitioner, nurse educator and health coach who has been caring for patients at Illume Fertility for over 20 years. She is also the founder and lead educator at Fertile Health, LLC. Monica is passionate about taking care of the whole patient, believing in the importance of integrating comprehensive care. She has a special interest in PCOS and combating weight bias with education and advocacy.