Mother’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the women in our lives who do much of the beautiful and difficult work of raising the next generation. However, many women often feel left behind on this special, and occasionally difficult, holiday. In particular, those currently trying to grow their family can exist in a limbo of sorts, hoping to become parents, yet left waiting to see what the future might bring.
While they wait, a seemingly endless onslaught of announcements can accumulate, celebrating pregnancies, baby showers, and children’s birthday parties. Jennie Agg, an award-winning freelance health journalist and author of the recently published book Life, Almost, knows the grief and uncertainty of waiting to be a mother all too well, and notes that holidays can prove tricky for those hoping to grow their families.
“Mother’s Day is particularly challenging because it’s such a stark reminder of everything you want and fear you might never have—motherhood denied, or motherhood lost,” Agg said.
Mother’s Day is particularly challenging because it’s such a stark reminder of everything you want and fear you might never have.
“For days, you have to grit your teeth as other people share posts about their children, what they love about motherhood, or how it’s the ‘best and hardest job they’ve ever had’. When you so desperately want that for yourself, it can be really painful. You often feel guilty for finding it hard or for being jealous, which we tend to see as quite an ugly emotion that we’re not supposed to have. It’s not that you don’t want others to celebrate—it’s that you want to join in.”
And while for many Mother’s Day is a day of celebration, for others it’s a stark reminder of a life that seems agonizingly just out of reach, and it’s not surprising it can arouse complicated feelings—especially for those waiting to become parents. Here’s why and how you can support someone trying to conceive this Mother’s Day.
Why Mother’s Day is Hard for Those Trying to Start a Family
Getting pregnant can take longer than expected
Trying to conceive (TTC) can take much longer than anticipated, and for many, the fact they might be unable to receive interventions quickly can come as a shock. In fact, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology doesn’t recommend referring individuals under 35 for reproductive intervention or testing until they have been trying to get pregnant for at least a year, meaning many people spend at least that long just waiting to see what will happen—with little to no additional information if pregnancy doesn’t occur.
Waiting for this time to elapse can feel agonizingly slow, especially for those with irregular menstrual cycles or other complicating health factors that make “timing” conception difficult.
Brittanny Jo Keeler is a Board Certified OB-GYN and knows the path to pregnancy isn’t always easy. She’s helped countless patients navigate their fertility in her years of practice, and is also currently pregnant herself.
“It’s a really lonely, tough thing to deal with,” she said of the two week wait. “It’s such a waiting game, those two weeks where you’re waiting to see that positive pregnancy test. I try to tell people to keep busy, keep distracted, but it’s all you think about. […] It’s an emotional rollercoaster for sure.”
The financial burden is real
Whether pursuing the dream of a family through pregnancy or adoption, the journey to parenthood can be expensive. Adoption lawyers and agency fees can be staggeringly high, while for those trying to conceive, each “failed” cycle or pregnancy loss brings them closer to the recommended marker for a referral to a specialist. The need for assisted reproductive interventions or testing to carry a healthy pregnancy can add more uncertainty as well as the burden of financial stress to the equation.
It’s also possible that even the referral from an OB-GYN to a specialist won’t translate into guaranteed financial assistance with reproductive testing. When my husband and I lost our first two pregnancies through miscarriage, the bills we received for genetic testing and follow-up care tallied in the thousands of dollars. Our insurance wouldn’t cover a single bill outside of routine care within that first year. Every penny was paid out of pocket.
While many health plans are beginning to include partial or full coverage for assisted reproductive technologies and testing, many insured people still bear the brunt of the financial burden themselves, while those without insurance may need to fund their treatment completely out of pocket.
Even for those who are referred for and are able to afford reproductive interventions like IVF or IUI, there are no guarantees, and other couples will remain unable to carry a pregnancy to term.
Growing a family can be a lonely experience
Those trying to grow their family—whether through adoption or pregnancy—often undertake their journeys alone. Those families working through endless stacks of adoption paperwork must navigate endless miles of red tape, while those trying to get pregnant may feel trapped in an endless loop of waiting, told they have “nothing to worry about yet”, but still uncertain of what lies ahead. Even if loved ones do check in, it can be difficult to convey the crushing disappointment of yet another negative test at the end of the two week wait.
How to support a friend trying to become a mom this Mother’s Day
If you have a friend who is trying to become a mom, reaching out from time to time to check in with their journey to parenthood can be incredibly meaningful.
Chelsea Gielty, a designer living in Bristol, England experienced years of unexplained infertility and was surprised and touched when this was acknowledged by a close friend.
“I received the most beautiful note from my best friend, writing everything she’d been wanting to say to my husband and I for a while,” Gielty said. “She later told me she was nervous about saying it to us face to face.”
This gesture prompted Gielty to help people acknowledge the experience of their loved ones who might be struggling as they try to grow their family. Now a mother of two little girls, she sells greeting cards on Etsy with a selection dedicated specifically to those navigating infertility and the two week wait.
Agg also had a suggestion for finding out the best way to support your loved one: “If you’re unsure what they need: ask them,” she said. “Likewise, ‘I’m always here if you need to talk’ is a nice thing to say or text. They might not take you up on it, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t appreciate the offer.”
While you might not always know exactly what to say in the moment (spoiler alert: there is no right thing to say), here are a handful of suggestions for how you can show your support for them as they navigate this time in their life.
For me, Mother’s Day was always inextricably linked to flowers, so it was particularly touching when a friend sent me a bouquet the Mother’s Day after our miscarriages. Sending flowers to a loved one who’s trying to grow their family can be a beautiful way to show that you see them in their journey. You can even include a note honoring the beautiful mark they’ve already made by being in your life as a friend, wife, daughter, sister etc.
Don’t tell them you “know” it will happen
It might feel difficult and even counterintuitive, but one of the kindest things you can do for a loved one who is facing an uncertain future might actually be to sit with them in their uncertainty. Acknowledging the fact that not knowing how their experience will ultimately end can be an incredibly validating gesture if they talk about the difficulty in waiting, as many people’s first instinct is to jump in with words of reassurance.
If you know they love to talk, pick up the phone
Call just to chat, and set aside time to really listen if they feel like talking about how they’re feeling (or about another topic completely unrelated to this). For some, talking about the stress they’re experiencing on the path to parenthood can be overwhelming, while for others it may be cathartic to feel that someone actually wants to hear about their experience! You’re the best judge of what might be the best fit for your loved one, but either way, being present and available can remind them they’re not alone.
Focus on their passions
The journey to parenthood can be all consuming. The daily testing, pills, injections, charting of fertile windows, calls to adoption agencies, consultations with fertility clinics… the list can go on. For a friend who is in the thick of “trying,” one of the most meaningful gifts you might be able to give them could be one that is entirely unrelated to motherhood that honors a passion of theirs and fills their cup (i.e. a gift card for a yoga session at a new studio in town or a new set of watercolors if they love painting). Giving them permission to focus on themselves can feel refreshing when they’re navigating a world that seems to put all of the focus on parenthood.
Remove the word “just” from your conversations
One of the smallest but perhaps most meaningful things that you can do to support a loved one who is trying to grow their family is to remove the word “just” from your conversations. It’s a tiny switch that can have a huge impact, because by removing that word, instead of minimizing their experience, you’re acknowledging it. By not saying it was “just” an early loss, “just” try IVF, “just” adopt, “just” wait and see, “just” think positively, we can make space to support them in their journey and acknowledge that their feelings are important and valid.
While the journey to parenthood can bring up so many complicated feelings, in the end, being there to love and support your friend or family member is often one of the most important things you can do for them during this time in their lives. Many who feel like mothers in their hearts may not have a baby to hold in their arms, and that can be an incredibly painful experience to navigate alone. Whether your loved one is pursuing parenthood through pregnancy, IVF, surrogacy, adoption or myriad other paths, this Mother’s Day, a gesture that makes them feel loved and seen in their journey might be one of the most beautiful gifts you can give.