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Honoring Mother's Day After Infertility: Standing Up & Speaking Out

May 6th, 2022 | 7 min. read

Honoring Mother's Day After Infertility: Standing Up & Speaking Out
Lisa Rosenthal

Lisa Rosenthal

Lisa has over thirty years of experience in the fertility field. After her personal infertility journey, she felt dissatisfied with the lack of comprehensive services available to support her and was determined to help others undergoing fertility treatment. Lisa has served as Illume Fertility's dedicated Patient Advocate and Strategic Content Lead for many years and is the founder of Fertile Yoga, a program designed to support patients through gentle movement and meditation. Her experience also includes working with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association and The American Fertility Association (now Path2Parenthood), where she was Educational Coordinator, Conference Director and Assistant Executive Director.

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Mother’s Day can be an extremely difficult day for the one in eight people who want so badly to be a mother but haven't become one yet. It can also be exceptionally challenging for those who identify as women but often get excluded from the conversation and those who have tenuous relationships with their own mothers (or none at all).

Learning to advocate for myself and others who struggle with this holiday has changed me and shown just how important it is to be inclusive and aware of what others may be going through.

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Standing Up & Speaking Out on Mother's Day

Many years ago, on a beautiful Sunday morning that also happened to be Mother’s Day, I was attending a weekend workshop with my husband. There were a hundred other couples, two hundred people in all. When the facilitator gathered us together to start the morning session, I dreaded, but fully expected, the announcement

The announcement being a congratulations to all who’d earned the right to celebrate Mother’s Day, of course. 

And the workshop facilitator did offer some kind words, acknowledging the uniqueness of being a mother and honoring all the mothers in the room. They then took it a step further, inviting all the mothers in the room to stand up.

My husband took my hand softly, between both of his big ones, hoping to offer some comfort. He knew that there was a sudden sinking feeling in my belly - an emptiness. Tremendous sadness washed over me, not only for myself but for all the others in the room who also struggled, and sadness for the emotions my husband was feeling too, as a partner who had gone through infertility.

The workshop moved on, and a few minutes later, there was an invitation to take the microphone and talk about the work we had done the night before. My husband Bill looked straight at me and said, “Do it.” I knew what he was talking about, of course. But I didn’t really want to do it.

There were two hundred people in the room, none of whom I knew, past exchanging a pleasant hello. This was years before I became more comfortable speaking to legislators and working with other advocates, and well before I found confidence in sharing my own painful story and my own voice. I also considered that the facilitator was imparting lots of sage wisdom and I surely didn’t want to be the one to stand up and criticize him.

Still, I raised my hand. I took the microphone and stood up, knees shaking a little. “I want to honor all the men and women in the room who are not mothers,” I said. Oops, that statement needed a little work! I sat down.

The facilitator was a little confused by my not-quite-right statement, but sorted it out and acknowledged the women in the room who were not mothers. We carried on with the workshop and all seemed fine.


Let's talk about Mother's Day while TTC:

 


Honoring All Individuals - Not Just Mothers

Around an hour later, we took a quick break. I hadn’t even made it to the bathroom before I was stopped by a woman who gave me a big hug with a quiet "thank you." She shared she was in the middle of an IVF cycle and appreciated being acknowledged as having worth, whether or not she was yet a mother. Several other people came over to speak to me and my husband during that break and throughout the rest of the day.

One comment that impacted me deeply came from a man that I hadn't even noticed before he approached us. He told us the woman sitting behind me looked like she had been punched in the stomach when the facilitator wished everyone a Happy Mother’s Day and asked the moms to stand. How her face was wreathed in smiles when I stood and made my far from eloquent statement. Me speaking up had honored her experience.

My husband Bill and I spent several minutes talking with a woman who shared stories about her “furry” babies, including pictures! She had French bulldogs that she had rescued when she and her husband made the hard decision to stop fertility treatment. All in all, nine people found the courage to come and speak with me. I cherish each and every one of those conversations to this day. 

But this isn't about me patting myself on the back or about how brave or wonderful or compassionate I am. It’s about a simple math equation, and all the emotional trauma that comes along with it.

1 in 8 Couples Have Trouble Conceiving

There were two hundred people in the room. The statistics on infertility are clear. One in eight couples have trouble conceiving a child. I'm no math genius, so I made it very simple for myself: there were two hundred people in that room, so approximately twelve of them had experienced infertility, lost a pregnancy (one in four), needed fertility treatment to conceive their child or were childfree (not by choice).

Without a doubt, there were individuals in the room who felt “less than” by the reminder that they were not mothers - as if they needed reminding! 

Note: Anyone who identifies as a woman or has struggled to grow their family (especially in the LGBTQ+ community) may relate to these feelings of isolation or exclusion around Mother's Day. It's so important to remember that mothers don't just come in one form and their energy and love can come from many places.

So, why did I stand up? Because I didn’t want them to feel alone. Because they needed to know they weren’t the only ones in that room who were struggling. Because I was lucky enough to have others stand up before me and show me why advocacy is so important. 

As our Nurse Practitioner Monica Moore writes: "To all of those women who wonder if they will ever conceive, I want you to know that I see you on the playground. I am sitting with you on that bench and will be there until the bell rings, then the next day and the day after that."


Read more reminders from Monica:

A Letter to Fertility Warriors


My Work as a Fertility Patient Advocate 

What does a Patient Advocate do? Put simply, we stand up for men and women struggling with infertility. 

I have endless gratitude to Illume Fertility for understanding the necessity and value of having a Patient Advocate, even in a fertility practice that includes an Integrated Fertility and Wellness (IFW) team for additional support. Our IFW team includes nutritionists, acupuncturists, fertility counselors, Fertile Yoga, support groups and other resources that help patients navigate the stress and overwhelm that comes with infertility.

Want a fertility advocate in your corner? Email me to get connected!

The doctors, clinical team and the rest of the staff at Illume Fertility show genuine compassion and kindness towards their patients every single day. But it still hurts. It's still stressful. Especially on Mother’s Day. 

The Mother's Day acknowledgments that happen every year in churches, temples, gatherings, and other events are meant as a kind gesture to celebrate moms. But for the one in eight who face infertility, these acknowledgments can cause tremendous emotional pain. 

Infertility already makes us question our capability, our wholeness, our worth as a woman. It often makes us feel less valuable. Unlike other diseases, infertility can also cause guilt and make you question your self-worth. 

I envision a way to enjoy and celebrate this day without unnecessary hurt to those who are still trying to conceive, by including all those who identify as women to stand up and see themselves as the beautiful, whole beings that they are. Maybe that starts with offering roses to all who enter a place of worship or adjusting our language when we honor Mother's Day. I don't have all the answers, but I know we can do better.

A Reminder to All Fertility Warriors on Mother's Day

Becoming a parent isn’t always easy - sometimes it isn't even possible. Staying confident in ourselves as worthy, resilient, capable and lovable beings can feel especially challenging when infertility strikes. But regardless of whether we become parents or not - we are strong. We are worthwhile.

So I encourage you to cherish yourself and honor yourself this Mother's Day. Be loving and kind to yourself. Take some time to acknowledge your worth and practice self-care in a way that feels right to you. 

And remember, even though you may feel like the only one in the room struggling...you are not alone.

More Infertility Support

Looking for additional resources or support around infertility and mental health? Join one of our ongoing support groups, meet with a counselor or check out the articles below: