On carnations and Sunday litany

Yesterday as I walked out of the sanctuary, it was the first Mother’s Day in years that I really felt like the sanctuary, was, well, a sanctuary. I’ve been pondering the litany we read together as a congregation, one that my pastor modified as he went in order to be more inclusive. It went something like this:

Leader: Mothers come in many different forms, and today we celebrate them all!
All: Thank God for mothers!

Leader: Everyone here is either a son or a daughter.
All: Thank God for my mother!

Leader: For those women who have joined God in Heaven and whom we miss dearly here on earth.
All: Thank God for the mothers of the past.

Leader: For every woman who is working day and night to raise her children right now.
All: Thank God for the mothers of today.

Leader: For all the women who are expecting, but aren’t quite mothers yet!
All: Thank God for the soon-to-be-mothers.

Leader: For the women who took in their own others’ children through adoption and foster care.
All: Thank God for the mothers with hearts so big.

Leader: For those women who have lost a child to death and must carry on.
All: Thank God for the mothers who are so strong.

Leader: For all the women who have desperately wanted to have children of their own, but chose instead to mother everyone else.
All: Thank God for the mothers in spirit.

All: We thank you, Lord, for the women who have influenced our lives in so many ways. We pray that we will honor them in everything we do. Amen.

Before the service, I was greeted with a carnation outstretched and a “Happy Mother’s Day”. This act makes me feel very uncomfortable. In the years since I’ve struggled with infertility, instead of just smiling, nodding, and taking the flower, I politely refuse and say, “I’m not a mother.” I imagine the person doing the greeting also feels uncomfortable. However, I’m at a point now where I’m okay with stirring the pot, making others aware of the grief that mothers-who-wish-they-could-have-been feel on a daily basis, and especially around a ‘holiday’ like Mother’s Day.

When I politely declined and said, “I’m not a mother” the immediate response was, “Well, but, you have a mother.” Yes, that’s true, but that does not replace the fact that we are unable to have our own children for unexplained reason(s) and that I (we) am (are) still actively grieving this fact and substantial change in my expected way of life.

Another assumption I take issue with is that if a woman on Mother’s Day is not a biological, foster, or adoptive mother, she surely has some hand in ‘raising’ the next generation. I personally do fall into this category of – I teach elementary school and volunteer with both elementary aged kids after school and older kids on Sundays.

But the assumption overall proves itself false. Take my middle sister, for example, who is staunchly childfree – always has been, always will be. She takes no interest in fostering (for lack of better words) her ‘maternal instinct’. I haven’t studied enough biology or anthropology to know if this is an actual trait that all women possess, but I know that there are millions more women like my sister who do not claim to have a ‘maternal instinct.’ Therefore, there’s a huge problem with blanketing an entire sex with a place in Mother’s Day sentiments.

I don’t want Mother’s Day to be abolished. I don’t want people to stop celebrating their motherhood on my behalf. I take part in celebrating my mother and the other women who have helped mother me throughout my life. I just want two simple things: an awareness of those who would love to be counted as a mother but cannot or don’t want to be, and a choice in the manner of celebration – an accepted choice to decline if I so wish.

A suggestion for a venue such as church would be to have a large vase with carnations placed in the entryway to the sanctuary with a direction to take one if she so chooses, rather than nearly forcing or attempting to rationalize the woman in question to partake in a tradition that makes her feel very uncomfortable. If I’m being vocal about not accepting a gift as beautiful as a flower, there’s probably a very good reason.

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