“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
I believe this maxim is empirically true, though I see two very different ways of internalizing it. This principle of empathy is no small part of what drew me to the infertility community, years ago. I was touched by this large group of people who felt left out, misunderstood, unjustly embarrassed, and isolated.
Mother’s Day is a particularly focused moment in which we see this axiom of others’ battles manifests in at least two very distinct ways.
I believe one makes us stronger people who are in a better position to serve others and one makes us less empathetic and less disposed to help others. We can take it to mean:
“Others are fighting a battle I know nothing about, and to the extent that I can understand them, and show them I care, I can ease their pain and make them feel loved.”
“I am fighting a battle that others know nothing about, and they are obliged to understand me and show me they care.”
Across the infertility and trying-to-conceive (#ttc) communities, one will find the most sincere compassion, friendship, and support among people who truly care for each other. This is the empathetic manifestation of the everyone’s battle adage. It’s mother bleeping inspiring (pun intended) and makes the people who experience it, directly or indirectly, want to be better people.
We sometimes, though I personally believe far less often, see bitterness and division in the community as well. This is the less empathetic presentation of the everyone’s battle precept. It’s tempting to take this sentiment because it sucks to fight a long, hard battle that no one else seems to know or care about.
There are many segments of the infertility community, but Mother’s Day tends to simplify them down to two: those who have had success in the form of a child, and those who have not. One’s application of “everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about,” can heal and strengthen that separation or make it painful for both.
“Stand Up For People” is one of Fertility Bridge’s core values, and we are very proud of it. This means standing up for everyone who needs it when they need it. We choose an empathetic reading of others’ battles because we stand up for both of these sub-groups. They are both important, both valuable, and both far more nuanced than a binary classification.
When a couple has been married for four years and people assume they don’t want children, we don’t know the hell they may be going through.
When a new mother lauds her baby to all of her friends and in public, we don’t know what hardship she battled before her joy.
When someone tells an obese person to exercise and eat right in order to improve their fertility, we don’t know what heroic efforts that person may have already undertaken to overcome their health challenges.
When someone posts something insensitive on social media, we don’t know what their early family life was like that such a joke or statement might bring them meaningful relief.
To really understand how nuanced these experiences are, four women, from both the Fertility Bridge team and the infertility community at large, share their experiences.
Mother’s Day in the Wait - Lauren Citro
When we first started trying or if we were in the midst of a new treatment, Mother's Day felt very hopeful. It was fun to think about how it was ‘my last Mother’s Day without kids’ or dream about how different life would be this time next year. As time went on, things changed and the day started to feel more discouraging. It was a milestone date serving as a reminder of what we didn’t have yet. More recently, Mother’s Day has been a grief trigger for me, reminding me of what we have lost through infertility and miscarriage, but also it’s been a time to reflect on how far we’ve come as a couple and as individuals through this process too.
I’m not looking to have a pity party over here, but I think it’s fair to say that Mother’s Day can be a really challenging day for many people. A day that you are celebrating is a day that other people are grieving. Think about someone who is mourning the loss of their spouse and how difficult their anniversary or Valentine’s day may be. Or for someone who has lost their dad or maybe never even knew him, think about the grief that Father’s Day may bring. The same is true for those of us who are longing to be mothers and those of us who have lost pregnancies or babies. Seeing pictures of your Mother’s Day celebration is super sweet, but it may also trigger feelings of sadness for us. Please give us grace and space to work through these feelings, and know that we don’t want to take away joy from anyone who is celebrating or being celebrated today.
I remember one year I was truly dreading Mother’s Day, and I will say that spending time in dread did very little help me get through the day once it did come, but what has worked better for me is to recognize ahead of time that it may be a really challenging day, and give myself permission and space to work through any emotions that come up.
Last year, we scheduled a trip to Disneyland on Mother’s Day. It was great for me to have something on my calendar to look forward to, and even though I did shed a few tears while I was there (so many cute families!), I was grateful to be distracted by all the magic of my favorite place! For those who are facing Mother’s Day and are worried it will be a triggering day, my advice would be to prioritize time to take care of yourself, whether that’s setting up a fun outing with friends or scheduling time alone by yourself. No matter what you are feeling, remember that you are valuable, you are loved, and you are worthy to be celebrated too.
Mother’s Day After Fertility Treatments - Aimee Tvedt
Mother’s Day was like any other holiday for me. It stung seeing my friends and people on social media posting pictures of the first day of school, pictures with Santa and going on fun family vacations to Disneyland. But on a day that is specifically for celebrating the one title, you’re yearning to have it definitely stung a little harder. I tried to focus the holiday on my Mom and Mother-in-law and found joy in celebrating the Moms that mean the most to me. I still sent texts to my friends celebrating the day with their little ones and it helped me find peace.
I’m now a Mom to three, beautiful IVF babies and this year will be my third Mother’s Day, but first with all three. For me, celebrating Mother’s Day as a Mom who has been through infertility makes this day so much more special. It symbolizes that regardless of how it happened, it happened; I fought so hard for this honor and that is worth celebrating. I do still think about those years spent wondering, waiting and anxious. Those old emotions still find a way to creep in and try to steal the joy. But then I look at those six perfect eyes staring up and me and it fills my heart knowing I’m number their number one.
Infertility has made me stronger, more resilient and empathetic and quite frankly, a more thankful person, which I believe has also made me parent differently than I might have if I hadn’t gone through infertility and IVF.
Mother’s Day After Infertility and Adoption - Megan Feraci
Holidays were always a struggle in the midst of infertility, but Mother's Day was incredibly difficult. It was another reminder of what I didn't have but wanted so badly. Every time I heard someone say how blessed they were to be a Mom, I wondered why I wasn't worthy of that same blessing.
Last year in particular was the hardest. I was nearly 10 weeks pregnant in January when our ultrasound showed there was no longer a heartbeat. We jumped right into another embryo transfer in March that ended with no pregnancy. The failed transfer amplified the grief from our miscarriage and I felt broken and confused. I became a mom the moment I saw those two pink lines on the pregnancy test, but I had nothing to show for it on Mother's Day.
This year will be my first Mother's Day since bringing our son home in February. I feel so many mixed emotions as the day approaches. I feel so lucky to have our son, but my heart aches for those struggling this Mother's Day. As the day approaches, my heart also hurts for my son's birth mom who made an incredible sacrifice so that I have the honor to be his mom. As this will be my first Mother's Day with my son it will be her first without him.
For those struggling with the day,, my advice to you is: Don’t feel like you have to attend all (or any) of the events on Mother's Day. My husband and I took a weekend trip last year and it was the best thing we could have possibly done. This day is an important day to practice self-care and it's okay to be a little selfish.
Mother’s Day After Infertility and Loss - Ashley Kimble
2016 was a particularly difficult year as we found out we were finally pregnant from our second IVF the Friday before Mother’s Day. I had a very low beta, but I got to hear the words, ‘You are pregnant,’ for the very first time. I went through the weekend silently begging the universe to let me remain a mother. I was told “Happy Mother’s Day!” by the few that knew, but I struggled knowing the pregnancy may not go the way we so hoped. The day after Mother’s Day, I found out at work, alone in a conference room that our beta had dropped and we would lose the baby. I cried in the corner of the room on the floor and told my husband on the phone, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ It felt so cruel to know something we had waited so long for, was taken so quickly, the day after Mother’s Day.
Even after having my daughter, I still find the day difficult. I feel a tremendous amount of guilt. Guilt because I have to share her now with others when I’d rather not - I want to keep my child to myself because I never thought I’d have her in my arms and I want the entire day with her. I also feel what I would consider “survivor’s guilt.” I know how this day affects those who have lost a baby, who are waiting for their baby, or who have lost their mothers, and it crushes me. I feel guilty because I have this beautiful baby and I got what I wanted, but not everyone does. Not everyone’s fertility journey ends with a child in their arms. I know how deeply this day can cut.
You don’t really know anything about the battles that we’ve fought. Why should you? You have been fighting your own, and we don’t know anything about those. We acknowledge that, and to the extent, we can understand you and show you we care, we can ease your pain and make you feel loved.
Happy Mother’s Day, or...we see you.