On May 9th, overpriced flower arrangements will brighten homes, and restaurants will serve multi-calorie brunches. Reminders will be whispered: “hey, be nice to your mom for a minute.”
Sure, Mother’s Day feels a tad manufactured. But if I can get a gift out of this bogus holiday, I’ll take it. Admittedly, I am a giddy idiot on Mother’s Day. I’m also a hypocrite because for a long time I avoided the day as hard as I could. Just the drugstore greeting card rack would make me queasy. I loathed May.
For years, at Spring social gatherings, some women would innocently ask why we didn’t have children. Others would overhear and exclaim what a great father my husband would be, so why on earth didn’t we have kids? When I would give a tight-lipped answer: “we’re trying,” they would not go silent.
They meant well, but they would loudly persist with up-beat advice: stories of this sister or that friend who had tried forever, and then a “miracle” had happened. Others would overhear, and join in. I would instantly feel forehead, upper lip, and low back-sweat from the sudden attention. All I’d wanted was a snack. Now, crudite in hand, I was up against the food table, being advised by pretty, chipper moms bouncing beautiful, pudgy babies on their hips.
A lot of “You Should” advice came my way. From the “latest technique in Europe,” to “just adopt from China” – everyone weighed in. I understood it all came from them wanting to help. It was meant with goodwill. But it was a painful, overwhelming subject for me. I just wanted to throw dip in the air and run. Those were the nice women. Some women were, um, well… they were turds.
The success of my first movie coincided with some awful events in my quest to be a mom. I’ll keep the details private, but quite frankly, it sucked. I was emotionally and physically exhausted.
During this time, I would run into The Coven – a group of not-nice-women. These women had, at one time, been actresses. Now they were married to men in the film industry, or their husbands were in our social circle. They made me nervous.
We all know the type of woman I’m talking about here: the ones who say nasty things to women. The Coven seemed stymied by the fact that they were not working actresses and I, far less attractive, appealing and talented than them, was. Often, I can tell when I walk in a room how people feel about themselves. To the optimist, I represent hope of what is possible. But to the pessimist, I represent the stench of their own perceived failure. I will be the first to admit, wow, I stepped into some good fortune with my first movie. I don’t consider myself particularly special. I got lucky. These women would wholeheartedly agree with my assessment of myself. Sadly, they were not secure women. When they saw me, their mascara’d eyes would shoot daggers at my skull.
Now, as the gossip leaked out that I was struggling to have a child, while these women were on their second and third – they realized they had something over me. They could breed. And I couldn’t.
So, at a casual backyard barbecue, where all were invited to celebrate Mother’s Day, the women of The Coven would surround me, the barren one, to squeal about how “amaaaaazing” their pregnancies had been. How their husbands had looked at them with “awe and gratitude” as they gave birth. How breastfeeding was a “gift.” One woman actually made fun of my anatomy while proclaiming how her body worked “perfectly.” It was sad how they needed to make me feel inadequate, and yes it hurt. And sure, I could have innocently asked: “…did pregnancy hormones grow your moustache, or did you have it before?” But I didn’t. Not because I was so evolved and took the high road… nope, I was scared of them so I would escape as quickly as I could.
Women like this are missing out on real female friendships. Okay, maybe it’s just shoe shopping and cellulite talk, but I value it. I was happy for these women who got to be moms. Why couldn’t they just be kind? It was Mother’s Day after all.
No matter where I went on this day, I was an easy target. If I drank anything non-alcoholic, there were women who would pat my tummy and say “when are you due?” A small social guideline: don’t ask a woman if she is pregnant, unless her water breaks on your flip-flops, a baby arm dangles out of her vagina and she asks you to cut the cord. Then, and only then, may you ask if she is having a baby. Otherwise, shut up.
So, for years, I avoided venturing out on Mother’s Day. I feared the entire day and the feeling of failure it would bring. I would call my sisters, sister-in-law and mom on that day and wish them well. They had the grace and kind-heartedness to never admonish me for not trying this technique, or that plan. My sweet family and my good kind friends never pried. They would always listen when I asked for advice, or when I lost it after the latest route or adoption had fallen through. One good friend even quietly handed me a prayer card.
My own mother is kind, compassionate, ironic, focused, optimistic and above all, discreet. Sadly, some of our friends have lost their mothers. I am thankful for every day I have with mine. My mom possesses all the values I cherish and look for in my friendships and relationships.
And, when my husband and I told our family and friends we’d been matched with our perfect daughter through American Foster Care – their elation was profoundly moving. They welcomed our then three-year-old daughter with a joy and happiness that was beyond anything I could have imagined. There is no limit to the amount of attention, kindness and warmth our families and friends - the “aunties” and “uncles” - shower on our daughter. Over a year later, she is thriving in an environment of love and care.
Some of these people are not parents. Often, at parties, especially on Mother’s Day, these friends and family are the target of the well-meaning questions or downright spiteful comments I myself once endured.
Please, on Mother’s Day, have some compassion. If you see someone without kids, do not ask them why they don’t have children, why they don’t just adopt, or if they are pregnant. Please be kind. Be quiet and pass the dip.
I am writing this for the friends and family who listened, didn’t pry, and above all stuck with me on my quest to be a mom. If I am happy on May 9th, it’s largely because of these people’s quiet empathy and unending encouragement. And, if I am happy on this day, it’s because I am in love with being a mom and so grateful for the circumstances, as painful as they were, that led me to my wonderful daughter. Happy Mother’s Day everyone. I hope you buy some flowers, eat a fattening brunch, and laugh all day.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to go call my mom.
Editor's Note: Nia Vardalos is the National Adoption Day Spokesperson
May is National Foster Care Month. There are 500,000 children in American Foster Care waiting for a family. 129,000 are legally available for adoption. U.S. Foster Care does not discriminate against potential parents for reasons of income, age, marital status or sexual orientation, and is virtually cost-free. Find your local Foster Family Agency here