Last year, Mother’s Day began for me with a negative pregnancy test. After seven years of infertility, a year of fertility treatments, a traumatic miscarriage and two more rounds of treatment, getting a negative test on Mother’s Day was crushing. I couldn’t bear the thought of going to church, a place where it seemed women would be honored simply for their ability to turn a pregnancy test positive, so I stayed home and sat under our willow tree, doing my best to quiet my heart before Jesus.
I spent that Sunday reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. As I read about Corrie and her sister, both childless, unmarried women who devoted their lives to mothering and protecting those around them, I felt less alone. They reminded me that following Jesus meant much more than being honored on a particular day of the year, that suffering was commonplace in this upside-down Kingdom and that the gift of motherhood need not exclude the childless.
Though I didn’t know it, this was my last Mother’s Day without a child. Exactly 38 weeks later, I was missing church again, but this time it was because our daughter was arriving. I spent that Sunday laboring, and early the next morning, our daughter was born. Abigail Elizabeth made me a mother in the conventional sense of the term. She is everything we have dreamed of, and we pinch ourselves daily to make sure we aren’t living a dream. Because of her, this Mother’s Day won’t feel like a punch in the gut. I can go to church this year holding my daughter and feel like I fit in, like I am a “normal” mother.
And yet, I don’t feel any more motherly than I did last year. Was I less of a mother as I sat under that willow tree, longing for this child who is now in my arms? Sure, I spend my days changing diapers and calming a crying baby, and I admit that being celebrated for that feels nice. Motherhood is hard work, so carving out a day to appreciate the menial, thankless tasks done day in and out is important. But my heart sought to nurture just as much last year as it does now, it just did so in ways other than diaper changes and sleepless nights. A mother is one whose heart emulates the compassionate, sacrificial, mothering heart of God. And I longed to be that then, whether I had a child or not.
My own mother is a gift beyond all gifts to me, and I cherish any chance to honor her and the sacrifices she has made for me. I welcome this day for the opportunities it gives us to celebrate the women in our life who have sacrificed to make us who we are. But this need not be a day that excludes the childless or the motherless. It is a day to celebrate all women with mothering hearts, women of valor who emulate the heart of God to whomever crosses their path.
Our church is filled with an eclectic mix of women who mother in countless ways. By celebrating each of them, we are teaching our daughters to be strong and faithful women, whether they have children or not. So, this Mother’s Day, let us celebrate the mothering hearts around us, including the women who are do not fit the conventional definition of “mother”. These women are able to mother with just as much grace and strength as those who have a brood of biological children, and they, too, deserve to be celebrated.