Tag Archives: PCOS

Eight Things You Have to Stop Saying to Women Who Struggle with Infertility.

Last month I wrote a paper about counseling women who struggle with infertility. Having received that diagnosis myself and living through multiple miscarriages and failed attempts at pregnancy, it’s a pain I know much more intimately than I would like. It’s also a pain God is redeeming by allowing me to study counseling. I hope one day to sit with women who experience this sorrow, comfort them, and let them know so much joy and magic are out there for them when they’re ready. Here are eight things I believe no woman in this situation should ever have to hear (and also four things I bet she would love to hear).

  1. “God has a plan for you,” “God gives us the desires of our heart,” or any variant of any Scripture. Like you, I believe these things too. If the woman in your life who is struggling with infertility is a Christian, then she believes them too. But when the plan she has always dreamed of is stolen, she doesn’t want to hear Scriptures, even if she believes them. She’s confused and heartbroken; platitudes, even Scriptural ones, aren’t helpful. When Jesus comforted people, he did not spurt Scripture and leave it at that. He cried with them (John 11:35), affirmed them (Luke 7:9), and spoke gently to them.
  1. “I couldn’t have a baby for years, but now we’re on Miracle #2!” That’s great for you. But it feels like you’re rubbing it in her face, not giving her hope.
  1. “Everything happens for a reason.” Where is this in the Bible? We do know that God works out everything for the benefit of those who trust and love him, but she doesn’t want to be told that right now. She’s hurting, and it feels like you don’t care when you say things like this instead of putting your head on her shoulder and crying with her.
  1. “You can always adopt.” She knows. She might decide to later. She’s heard the same stories you have about how beautiful adoption can be. But if adoption isn’t in her heart, it won’t suddenly change her countenance for you to bring it up. She won’t say, “Oh, you’re right! I never thought of that!” She’s dealing with jealousy, confusion, fear, anger, grief, shame, stress, and probably other painful emotions. Right now – and maybe always – adoption sounds to her like raising someone else’s child, not being a mother.
  1. “Just relax, and it will happen.” Sure, there’s science to back up the fact that plenty of women have conceived after it seemed all hope was lost. But telling her it’s her own fault that she hasn’t yet conceived because she’s too stressed isn’t a welcome theory. A little wine and a bath won’t cure grief. She needs support while her heart finds its way.
  1. “My kids fight all the time / cost us so much money / still don’t let us sleep through the night.” She would love to hear kids fighting in her house! She would love to have a baby who wakes her in the middle of the night! Even though you’re trying to tell her “kids aren’t all they’re cracked up to be,” you know you would never trade yours, and so does she. It’s like complaining that you have to take your Lamborghini to the mechanic.
  1. “Never give up hope!” Here’s the truth: she might never have a baby. Neither of you know what will happen in the future. Let her deal with the uncertainty on her terms. She might choose to keep trying to get pregnant or she might not, but that’s her business, not yours. 
  1. “I know how you feel. My cousin/sister/etc. couldn’t have children either.” Unless you have been diagnosed with infertility – actually had the sentence leveraged on you by a medical professional – you don’t know how she feels. Fearing you might not be able to have children doesn’t count. Having a relative who couldn’t have children doesn’t count. Taking longer than you wanted to get pregnant doesn’t count. No one knows how she feels except Jesus and the people she chooses to open up to. Let her tell you how she feels if she wants to.

Four Things a Woman Struggling with Infertility Might Love to Hear.

  1. “This isn’t fair.” Let her know she can vent her anger at the situation, even at God, if she needs to. It really isn’t fair that some teenagers get pregnant without trying or wanting to and some wives/stepmoms/aunts/Sunday school teachers/etc. are ready and deeply want to, but never conceive the first time. It’s not fair that she, this woman who so desperately wants to experience motherhood, isn’t “getting her heart’s desires.” Let her work through it.
  1. “If you don’t feel one speck better tomorrow, it’s okay.” When the third specialist confirmed my diagnosis, it seemed my some of my church acquaintances wanted me to starting getting over it immediately. Witnessing grief can make people uncomfortable. I went through times of hope, times of anger, times of feeling stolen from, times of jealousy, and I would’ve loved for someone to say, “If a bad day turns into a string of bad days, I’ll still be here. I won’t lose patience with you. This is hard, and it’s okay that it’s hard.”
  1. “I am here for you.” Don’t say it unless you mean it. But if you’re willing to truly walk through the darkness with her, she would be grateful. It’s a hard thing: if you say this, you’ll have to be ready to let her feel her feelings in all their intensity, call you at 11:00 p.m. because she read someone’s Facebook post and got insanely jealous, question her faith in front of you, and cry with her on Mother’s Day. But if you mean it, she could certainly use a friend who is willing to understand her.
  1. Nothing. Just hug her.

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How I Lost 102 Pounds, Part II

My one-year-old investigates the world with a pair of sparkling, joyful eyes. She pulls spices off the rack, books off the shelf, and hair off the dog. But her favorite thing in life is her belly. She often lifts her shirt so she can see it, always pushing her palms into it and grinning, as if saying, “I can’t believe this is mine!” She scrambles away from me while I try to dress her, reveling in the feel of her own skin. She loves her body. And she also loves food. Her first (made-up) word was “baba,” with which she referenced all food – bottles, baby food, the food on our plates. Not long after she started using “baba,” she also designed a way to tell us she wanted more: she pointed at “it” and clapped.

This must be the way God designed it for all of us – to love our bodies and the food we fill them with. Our bodies jump, twirl, sprint, chase, hug, and explore. What’s not to love? And why would food be any different? In Genesis 1, God lavishly offers Adam and Eve “every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for food” (v. 29, NLT). Surely he meant for us to relish it. Everything God has created is good (1 Timothy 4:4), which includes food and our bodies. My job was simply to reorient myself from body-hate and food-anxiety to pure love and compassion.

  • I came to terms with slow progress. As I gradually implemented changes in my lifestyle, I truly owned who I was becoming. I was compassionate with myself and never demanded more than I could conceivably do. For example, it was hard to cut ties with soda. I know some people can drink it and still lose weight, but those people are not me. For two or three weeks, avoiding soda was my only goal. But eventually it became second nature and allowed me to move on to building another victory. The slower the progress, the less likely you are to give up all your hard work for a momentary buzz.
  • I celebrated all success. Celebration empowers: it draws attention to your triumphs and gives you an answer for the mean uglies that sneer, “Overweight is who you are, honey. Give it a rest.” So, I winked and smiled at myself in the mirror on days I liked what I saw. I celebrated with a little kitchen-dance each time my hand passed the Pringles and in favor of the strawberries. When you stop mistreating yourself, you discover that celebration is your birthright and victory is your destiny.
  • I asked myself “Is that true?” My counselor’s favorite question as we processed my relationship with food was, “Is that true?” I told him, for example, that I simply couldn’t stop myself from overeating. I knew it because I’d tried and failed so often. I also told him that no matter what I did, it would be impossible for me to lose weight, due to genetics and PCOS. But whenever I made such statements, he would ask, “Is that true?” I was often forced to say, “No, I guess not.” The Bible tells us to “take every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5), and I quickly learned most of my thoughts needed to become POWs.
  • I didn’t wait for the strength to make the right decision. If I had, I never would’ve put a single new habit into action. Instead, I tentatively, haltingly, started making changes. I didn’t know if I could go to a restaurant and make a healthy choice. The first several times, I didn’t: I was waiting on some supernatural erasure of my desire to binge, I suppose. It never came. What I found, however, is that when I made the right choice, the strength to keep doing it followed. When I started fighting, I always received the grace to keep fighting.
  • I discovered my weaknesses and attacked them. I always thought I was overweight because I really liked the taste of food. And I do, but so does everyone else. Instead, I was overweight primarily because I love convenience and comfort. It was easy to drive through at a fast food restaurant. It was easy to get lunch out. It was comforting to buy warm food “because it’s so cold today” or junk food “because I had a bad day” or ice cream “because today was awesome” or an appetizer and dessert “because it’s the weekend.” Nothing is inherently wrong with that, but you can’t lose weight if you make “exceptions” every day. I went with my own flow of convenience and comfort by preparing in advance: I always had the ingredients for healthy pizza on hand, I experimented with protein shakes until I had some concoctions that supported my weight loss efforts and were also sinfully delicious, and I made lots of portable snacks to grab when leaving the house.
  • I stopped sacrificing joy on the altar of happiness. The problem with donuts is that they make you happy. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t eat them. But that happiness lasts exactly as long as the donut is in your hand and sometimes even less. Joy – the knowledge that you’re closer to Jesus as a result of your struggle, the ability to make healthy decisions, the feeling of slipping into a sleek outfit – doesn’t go away. And you never regret the actions you took to cultivate it (unlike the donut). Joy does not result from deprivation. Joy does not result from shame and self-loathing. But it will bloom when you treat yourself compassionately, with the same love and awe you have for any little sweethearts you may have in your life. Joy comes from knowing you are cared for, so you must care for yourself.

Of course, even if you learn to love your body and the process, weight loss is not easy. It is sacrifice, it is frustration, and sometimes it is unsuccessful. But here is the beautiful part: in the battle, you find Great Love. As hard as it was to drop 102 pounds – in all that white-knuckling, teeth-gritting, cookie-avoiding journey – I ended up finding joy, loads of it, pouring over the edges of my soul. I was no longer a slave to substance abuse as I learned how to approach the substance itself. Jesus fought for me, and alongside me, and I became free.

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How I Lost 102 Pounds, and How I’m About to Do It Again. (Except with only 55 pounds this time.)

You could call it a “resolution” perhaps, but this is more like finishing a quest I started a few years ago. It’s like this: in 2009 I weighed 268 pounds. The day I saw that number on the scale, I was wearing a hot pink T-shirt and black stretch pants, which had become my uniform since I felt ugly in all clothes. I lived in a state of constant shame that wasn’t working, but when “268” flashed up in red numbers, it was time for immediate change. My friend K called that day, and I admitted to her I had a problem with substance abuse. That phone call launched a personal campaign that led me to drop 102 pounds in the next two years. Not everything worked, but I kept fighting until I found many channels to success. Here are some of them, which I’m learning to repeat so I can get off all that baby weight I gained in 2013.

  • First, I made a commitment to myself: “I will not stop seeking help until I get all the help I need.” Not everyone needs addiction counseling, but after years of dieting and failing, equating my size with my worth, and binge eating, I certainly did. I had religiously followed Atkins, Zone Perfect, Weight Watchers, and others; the solution was obviously not in the food I was eating. However, when I made a fiercely maternal commitment to my wellbeing, my mindset changed. Failure simply wouldn’t happen again.
  • I stopped blaming. The thing is, I really do have a medical problem that adversely affects my weight. Having the infernal PCOS means my hormones are constantly imbalanced, and my body doesn’t properly use insulin. But PCOS does not sentence me to a life of obesity and depression; I was sentencing myself to such a life. So I stopped saying, “If I didn’t have PCOS, I could lose weight” and “It runs in my family” and “I have a slow metabolism.” I finally owned my part in the matter and got down to business.
  • I exercised however I wanted to. I realize a certain pattern of weightlifting and cardio is optimal for weight loss, but I don’t enjoy that. So I swam on days I felt like swimming, I rocked the stationary bike when it called to me, I walked outside and took deep breaths before deadlines, I popped in fitness DVDs I liked, and I went to yoga on Wednesdays. I did whatever was enjoyable, and guess what? It worked beautifully.
  • I composed a list of five things I would do any time I felt a nonphysical urge to eat. I learned that most of the time my urge to eat was emotional, but I just couldn’t seem to talk myself out of it. Therefore, I approached myself with enough compassion to discover five ways to deal with my nonphysical “hunger.” If I still wanted to eat after completing all five, I went for it. (That happened exactly twice.) Heavy emotions like loneliness and fear were suddenly met with prayer, phone calls to friends, journaling, a Friends episode, and/or 15 minutes of walking. Most of the time, I never got further on my list than phoning a friend before returning to homeostasis or even peace.
  • I didn’t eat salad. Here is an understatement: I hate salad. When people say they’re “in the mood for a good salad,” it makes as much sense to me as being “in the mood for a good dentist visit.” Salad is terrible. Balsamic vinaigrette does not deserve its hype. Strawberries, pomegranate, and other jazzy fruits do not belong with greens and oily dressings. And don’t get me started on how salad is not a meal. So…I didn’t eat it. Much like with exercise, I ate what I enjoyed – salmon, apples, walnuts, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and other good stuff. There’s too much delicious food out there to waste time with salad, so I didn’t.
  • I took beauty breaks. In 2009 I lived in an apartment with a gorgeous view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. To keep my stress at bay – and I had a lot of it, dealing with graduate school, miscarriages, an impossible marriage, sexual dysfunction, and isolation from my friends and family – I regularly stepped outside and breathed in the evergreen breeze. Beauty restores; stress destroys. So I gorged on beauty and let it drive out the stress.
  • I envisioned a new life and acted as if I already had it. I had always wanted to be the girl who feels confident in her own skin – the girl who wears red dresses, drinks water instead of soda, and shops at Victoria’s Secret. So I didn’t wait to lose 102 pounds; I bought a red dress and even some items from Victoria’s Secret. I cut out the soda. It didn’t take two whole years to become the person I dreamed of being. I think it took a month. I decided I’d waited long enough, and I was worth the change.

As you might imagine, none of these are based on the advice of a doctor. In fact, they aren’t based on the advice of anyone, and that made the difference. Viewing myself as someone unique, as the world’s leading expert on me (as my man would say), I worked hard to develop a plan that worked for me. My therapist and I talked through each of the actions I set in motion, evaluating the outcomes. I also saw a nutritionist and my gynecologist during the process to ensure I didn’t harm myself in any way and that I was effectively managing my PCOS. But because the answers were coming from me, because I was working on my own behalf, I felt empowered, as if the solutions had been within my reach the whole time. It was just a matter of sifting through what I already knew of myself to create answers.

If any of your 2015 resolutions involve weight loss, I wish you all the joy and endurance you need for the journey. Call someone when you need support. Go on a drive, now that the price of gas doesn’t require you to sell your firstborn. Give a hug. Get maternal about your own health. You can do it. You already have all you need to win. Go be brave.

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Positive Pregnancy Tests

I write my baby letters. Sometimes I speak them to her* when we’re in the car by ourselves. Sometimes I type and save them. Sometimes I pray them aloud so she can hear. There’s no telling what people will say to her when she gets here, so I want to make sure she’s got nine months of truth packed into her tiny brain. I tell her how much her dad and I love her, how wonderful her family is, how she can always trust Jesus. In fact, I never run out of things to tell her. The problem is I can’t seem to write about her. I wish I could tell you how miraculous she is and how much joy and wonder she’s brought us already. But every time I try, it comes out in a syrupy, overwrought voice that doesn’t sound much like mine.

I can tell you this. For a full decade, four medical professionals (three of whom are doctors) in two states assured me I couldn’t support a pregnancy past five weeks, and my body proved them right three times. It wouldn’t produce progesterone, and artificially spiking production didn’t work. PCOS seemed to be the culprit, but no one was certain. I also had scar tissue and cysts causing insurmountable problems, such as a lack of entry to the womb and wildly irregular ovulation, respectively. After several fruitless months of trying and three losses during my five-year first marriage, I didn’t have a reason to believe the doctors were wrong.

Then on March 8 of this year, I married the strongest, kindest man I’ve ever met. And almost immediately started vomiting.

We went on the honeymoon I’ve always dreamed of – mountains, cabin, fireplace, Jacuzzi, wine. And it was good. And never did “ovulation days” cross my mind because I was so obviously, certifiably, doctor-approvedly infertile. But then sneaky things started happening. A few mornings I felt so nauseated I couldn’t get my clammy self out of bed. And with a passion unrecognizable to me, I craved red meat. As in, I literally salivated over the raw hamburgers at the grocery store one day. I might have torn the package open with my fangs and feasted if the butcher hadn’t been right in front of me, asking from a healthy distance whether I needed assistance.

Then on the 17th of April, I put on my favorite dress, kissed my husband, and headed to work. I realized I hadn’t menstruated, an odd thing since my medicine keeps me from being even an hour late. So on a whim I picked up a pregnancy test and a decaf coffee on my way. Maybe a few prayers escaped into the air as I did these things, but mostly my mind raced with menstruation math. When I arrived at my desk, I set down my bag calmly. I sauntered to the restroom. My steady hands placed the test on the sink. Less than a minute later, I peered over and saw the two pink lines that had already formed. Two. “Oh, God,” I breathed.

People have asked if we were trying to get pregnant. Of course, the answer is no; not only were we not trying, but we didn’t think we could. That doesn’t mean, however, that my baby is a “mistake.” Even though she wasn’t part of our plan, she has always been part of the Great Design God has for the planet. Our plan is short-sighted and imperfect in a thousand ways. But this baby – the one whose mother has a reproductive disorder – is the one God has chosen. He wants a person created out of our DNA, to be parented by us, to make his compassion and power visible to others. So whether the timing seems right or wrong, whether my body seems capable or incapable, whether other people agree or disagree, my man and I will love and raise our baby to bring glory to God.

I asked God one night in an overwhelmed state, “How did this happen? And why is it happening now?” I got an answer, flashing in my heart like a marquee: For my glory. So I already know how the story turns out: God’s glory will be undeniable. What a perfect reason for a baby to be born.

* I say “her” for two reasons: 1) simplicity, and 2) I believe I’m carrying a girl. The night my first pregnancy ended, which I have already written enough about, I knew I would one day have a baby girl and her name would be Anna. I believe I am pregnant with that promise.

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God’s Ears

I have this thing with names. The thought of giving a blessing or honoring someone or telling a story with your baby’s name is precious to me. Many names are on my Love-It List, but as long as I can remember, my favorite name of all has been Kate. Growing up, my most beautiful Barbie was Kate. My favorite paper doll—yes, I played with paper dolls—was Kate. Just last year, I asked on FaceBook what my pen-last-name should be if my pen-first-name was Kate. It’s the perfect name—simple, elegant, and timeless.

So when I got pregnant in July 2008, I was beside myself with excitement. I kept thinking, Kate’s here! She didn’t stay long enough for me to know by way of scientific confirmation that she was a girl, but I know anyway because moms just know. When I daydreamed about what the rest of her name could be, a Buechner quote kept resurfacing: “Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries…or bring about your own birth.” Having for years worn that definition of grace like a pair of contact lenses, I knew my daughter could have no other name. She was something I could never deserve, something only God could give me. My then-husband let me take the reins with naming, so I chose Anna Catherine. Anna means “grace,” and Catherine means “pure,” so my baby girl would be named “pure grace.” Which is exactly what she was. But she’d go by “Kate,” of course.

Unfortunately, Kate faded from me on Sunday, 14 September. I cried steady, silent tears, sitting with my back against the tub. I was a heartbroken mother whose daughter had been taken in the night. I hadn’t protected her, hadn’t known how. I did the only thing I could: I crawled back into bed and prayed. At first, I heard nothing, but the tender presence of the Holy Spirit comforted my heart. Then I had a powerful, inexplicable urge to look up Isaiah 49:16, a verse I did not already know. Bewildered, I opened my Bible and read: “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands…” My name. Kate’s name. The tears came again, but this time for an entirely different reason. The verse reminded me that I am so precious to God that when he looks down at his palms—or, perhaps, Jesus’s—he sees my name. And in a small way, I had the same thing going with my Kate. The veins in my right wrist, I had noticed as a child, form an unmistakable K. After that night, it became a sweet reminder. Kate was gone, but her name was written on my palm, so to speak, and God makes all things new. God restores.

Over time, he has restored my heart. Time, I believe, numbs pain, helps a wound scar over maybe, but God actually heals. Certainly, sadness hits me unexpectedly sometimes, or with unexpected force: it was the saddest and most unfair day of my life, being at once Mother and Not-mother. But God has guided me through the process of letting my daughter stay with him, of not begrudging the laws of nature that sent her his way. For too long, I carried her as a millstone around my neck. I feared that not thinking about her might mean she never existed. As her mother, it seemed to fall on my shoulders to acknowledge her fleeting presence. But God has taken my heart from that prison of grief into a position of grace. I do think about her occasionally, but in a peaceful, heavenly way. I imagine her spinning giddily in a white cotton dress in a field of lavender, so drunk with joy she dissolves into giggles. I imagine her sitting on Jesus’s lap, enamored with him, asking him questions with the ethereal wisdom that a heaven-born child must possess. I imagine her smiling when she sees me, if you do that sort of thing in heaven.

And tonight, when it was time for a little earth-born girl to fall asleep, she wriggled onto the couch next to me and settled into my arms. She looked into my eyes with a beautiful face lit by a grin and laced her fingers with mine. She and I do not share DNA. I do not have memories of her in the womb. She does not belong to me in the way she belongs to her mother. But she loves me, and I love her, and we both love her father more than we could tell you. She and her brother have become a part of my heart, and as I look forward to many years with the man I love, I feel doubly blessed to be their friend as well. I never knew life could be this good, this full. But when God restores life and fulfills promises, he doesn’t do a halfhearted job of it. Speaking of promises, those letters the veins in my wrists so clearly form happen to be their initials—hers and her brother’s. As someone who does not believe in coincidence, only divine winks, you can imagine how this hits me. Especially since her name is “pure grace,” too. And she goes by Kate.

If you ever wondered whether God listens when you cry out, whether he knows who you are…he does.

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Killer Ovaries

In August 2009 we moved out of state for me to go to school. Part of my scholarship was 100% coverage for any services provided by the health clinic, so within a month of our arrival, I made an appointment with the university gynecologist. I wanted answers and figured that starting all over with a new doctor might occasion them.

Words cannot express how grateful I am for the incredible health insurance the university provided me and the amazing doctors who helped me. Dr. A was my first doctor at the university, and he listened patiently to my story. He promised me we’d find an answer. When I’d finished giving him all the pertinent details, he began asking me some questions—how much energy did I have, what were my eating habits, what was my typical menstruation cycle. Answer by answer, we elucidated the constellation of symptoms and their probable cause: polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). It explained so many of my body’s abnormalities. In order to verify the diagnosis, we checked my thyroid, blood sugar, and hormone levels. Just as Dr. A suspected, the culprit was PCOS. He referred me to Dr. C, a specialist at the university in female reproductive disorders.

Dr. C gave me tons of information on PCOS. She explained that the catalyst for my sugar cravings and low energy was insulin resistance, which often accompanies PCOS. Additionally, my hormones were imbalanced, causing irregular periods and other embarrassing problems. Gone untreated, Dr. C told me that PCOS would likely lead to diabetes and perhaps eventual death from it. Despite the enormity of my frustration with my body and the severity of the issue, I still struggled with the decision to start Metformin. For one, a family member of mine had experienced serious problems as a result of taking it. But also, I didn’t like the thought of being on a medication for the rest of my life, especially at the age of 24. After a few weeks of serious thought and prayer, I filled the prescription.

The first six weeks I was on the drug weren’t my favorite days. Metformin causes nausea, painful cramps, and trapped gas, to name a few. I started on the lowest dosage possible and still felt awful. Every time I had to increase the dosage, the symptoms redoubled. But after I’d paid my dues—about ten weeks in—I started seeing a genuine difference in the way I felt. I dropped 10 pounds almost instantly and found it much easier to lose weight even after that, having regulated my insulin imbalance. I had more energy. My menstruation cycle regulated. I felt better than ever, truly. I felt well, healthy. It seemed, honestly, like everything had improved. Except my sex life.

Oddly, the one thing I’d gone in for answers about went unaided. It wasn’t Dr. A’s fault or Dr. C’s fault. It was simply that hormones and insulin and cysts were apparently not causing my dysfunction. When I mentioned this to Dr. C, she said, “It’s so odd…Normally, women with PCOS have a higher sex drive and lower occurrence of dysfunction, due to elevated testosterone levels. We’ll figure it out, Amie. I promise.”

She meant it.

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Mothers’ Day

Chances are you think your mother is the greatest of her kind. Me too: mine is beautiful, wise, compassionate, and seriously smart. My mom has spent hours and hours of the last two years on the phone with me while I cried or complained or unloaded fear and hurt. She never turns down a hug or says she’s too busy to listen. She works to make sure everyone in the family has what he or she needs. As I write this, tears of gratitude spring to my eyes, for I am blessed with such an amazing mother. I love that a twenty-four-hour period is set aside for my family to give her an extra dose of special treatment. Mothers Day is a sweet time.

Mothers Day church services are a different story. To those of us who aren’t mothers, it can feel a little like not being tapped into a sorority. The beginning of the church service I was in last Sunday was like this. One of the pastors asked the mothers to stand as he thanked them on behalf of all of us. “Ladies, you make significant sacrifices through the years, and we rarely recognize it. You have answered the highest calling a woman can have: raising children. We want to bless you and thank you for your service to us.” He said other things—he spoke for five or ten minutes—but that’s the gist. My issue with this is not that it’s necessarily untrue: my own mother does some serious sacrificing, and she deserves appreciation for that and so much more. So do all mothers. Across the world, women spend their days cleaning up spills that no one else sees, mending tears in clothes, administering medicine, crying as they rock their children to sleep for hours on end when the little one just won’t cooperate. Mothers are strong, so strong.

But I do not believe that raising children is a woman’s “highest calling.” If that’s true, a sizeable demographic will never reach its female potential. In this subset, some have chosen not to have children for very valid reasons, and some have chosen against wifehood, as well. Some want desperately to have children, but for a reason that mystifies the doctors, it isn’t happening. Some have had surgeries rendering them infertile. Some have hormonal abnormalities, chronic illnesses, or other medical factors that bar them from motherhood. Some have watched in horror as their dreams of motherhood ended abruptly in the bathroom. For some, this holiday is a reminder of the loss of life or the inability to give it, not its celebration.

However, there is much more to the concept of “mothering” than giving birth. Some women who have not and will never bear children have left an indelible mother’s mark on the little ones in their lives. Aunts, stepmothers, grandmothers, nurses, teachers, big sisters, babysitters, family friends—these women and others like them have the same capacity for “significant sacrifice” and “service” to children* as the women whose biological offspring are involved. Mothering, I would argue, is the art of cherishing and guiding children, an art that does not require a functional reproductive system. Mothers encourage. They spend time with children. They cause smiles and laughter. They provide for children’s needs and wants. They teach. They love. Women with unused wombs are just as capable of these functions and eager to fill them as their childbearing counterparts. Many of these mothering-women have played important roles in my life, as I hope to in the lives of others.

So maybe the entrance qualifications for the Mothers-Day sorority can be modified. Rather than honoring only biological or legally adoptive mothers, perhaps we can include all mothering-women who nurture and care for the world’s younger people. While only one woman births us, many, many women along the way help us become who we are. One such woman in my life was A.M., a family friend who spent a lot of time with me during my childhood. She took me out to dinner (and as a good Southern girl, I almost always picked Cracker Barrel), she took me mini-golfing, she invited me to spend weekends with her in her apartment. Many evenings she made us hot dogs and we talked and laughed while eating in her kitchen. A.M. reached out to me: she loved me, cared for me, and looked me in the eye when we talked. I knew I was important to her. And there is no greater gift a mothering-woman can bestow than the message “You’re significant. You’re special. There’s something wonderful inside you that I love to watch and be a part of.”

For A.M. and all the other members of the mothering corps out there, whether you are biological moms or moms of the heart: thank you most sincerely for the love and guidance you so freely give, and a very happy Mothers Day to you.

*Although I use the word “children” throughout, certainly some women mother us when we are already old enough to have children and perhaps grandchildren of our own.

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Filed under Broken Beauty, Stepmom Life