May 8th, 2010
08:45 AM ET

If you don't have anything nice to say on Mother's Day...

Nia Vardalos

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.”

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/05/07/vert.nv.current.headshot.jpg caption="Vardalos: 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." width=292 height=320]

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

To learn more go to:
National Adoption Day
The Alliance for Children's Rights
Adopt us kids

Filed under: Opinion
soundoff (185 Responses)
  1. Linda

    Thanks Nia for sharing your journey to motherhood. Happy
    Mother's Day! You look so much like a girl I used to work
    with in Skokie in the late 80's. Her name was Alex C. I think
    you must be her cousin. I look forward to your next movie.


    May 10, 2010 at 12:09 am |
  2. Julia

    Thank you for articulating the pain many of us feel and can't express. God Bless.

    May 10, 2010 at 12:07 am |
  3. mattmchugh

    "Giddy idiot" = "giddiot" ! I thought I coined that, but Urban Dictionary already has it.

    May 9, 2010 at 10:24 pm |
  4. Mary Beth

    Congratulations. I know exactly what you went through. I had rude ignorant people always asking me why I don't have kids. At 42 I had a beautiful baby girl whose almost 2 years old. Now I get the ignorant – are you her grandmother or when are you going to have another one, as if I can snap my fingers and have one. People are just rude and clueless. But going through this makes you smart enough to know not to ask people such personal questions.

    May 9, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
  5. eric

    happy mothers day, to all and i think you are beautiful Nia

    May 9, 2010 at 9:48 pm |
  6. Puja

    I don't know why all women assume a womens job is to have children. Some women just do not want children, but that doesn't make them a bad person. No one should feel bad on mothers day because they have no children, those people should celebrate with the mothers they have and not the children they don't. I personally choose not to have children, but that doesnt mean I can't, I just don't feel I would want any children of my own, but I am more than happy volunteering for the homeless and domestic violence children and spending time with them.

    May 9, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
  7. Buffy

    I think you underestimate how lovely you are on the inside and out. What a lovely post. It's too bad that people still think the personal lives of others is something that is fair game for them to comment on. Bravo to you for bringing class to such a yucky situation.

    May 9, 2010 at 8:20 pm |
  8. Susan

    Thank you Nia! Everyone regardless of parental status should read this article, because you tell it like it is. Hope you had a great Mother's Day.

    May 9, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
  9. Kim

    Congratulations, and Happy Mother's Day! Thank you for writing this.

    I have also seen the "turd" women you describe, not towards me but towards a dear friend.

    She is bright, professional, successful, and childless. Over and over again, I've seen women who barely know her stick both feet in their mouths: "why don't you have kids?" and "do you regret choosing a career over children?", etc.

    What these "turd" women don't know, and my friend can't bring herself to say in them moment is that she *is* a mother. Her only child died suddenly of a hidden heart defect when he was only two, and she can't have any more kids.

    So, please add to the reasons why some women really shouldn't open their mouths: you never know when a woman (or man) has lost a child, possibly their only child. I have four friends who have lost five children among them. One lost both of her twins at birth.

    Thank you for a sensitively written, and much needed article.

    May 9, 2010 at 7:41 pm |
  10. Kretch

    I saw the reminder about the blog on twitter from Anderson. So being a Mother I logged in and read. Very well said! Mean people are unfortunately all around us, and deserve pity as they are obvioulsy very unhappy! BRAVO to you and on becoming a Mother. I loved it and absolutely am in love with being a Grandmother! It is amazing. Happy Mothers day to all!

    May 9, 2010 at 6:58 pm |
  11. Stacy

    Wow! I always knew I wasn't the only out there who felt this way. I am going to post this article on my forehead everytime someone asks me why I don't have any children. My polite reply is "We are not always in charge of these things." But I would really like to say what you have.

    Thank you!

    May 9, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
  12. Kimberly

    Awesome article Nia. I am the proud mommy of three great girls. My youngest was born with a severe heart defect. Several open heart surgeries and many ups and downs throughout the years. We recently learned she will not be able to have children. I guess I always knew it, but to hear the doctor tell her and I...broke my heart to pieces. She's still in high school, but the pain and sadness on her face tore me apart. Your article spoke to me. I am printing it and will save it for my daughter. If and when she is much older and wanting to create a family, she will undoubtedly experience many things you and others have encountered. Thank you and bless you.

    May 9, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
  13. Eunice

    What a wonderful article! I am so glad that you are talking about the pain of infertility. Maybe more people will learn to just say something nice or shut up. Well said!

    May 9, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
  14. Linda

    Bravo well said! I am a mom of four and step-mom of one. I cherish my children but,it's hard to believe that there are still people out there that are so inconsiderate to other women about there maternal status. Leave your advise to someone who asks for it don't impose your advise on someone not warranted.

    May 9, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  15. Donna

    This is a great article. I to have children due to health problems. I have spent the last 20 years dreading Mother's Day. Yes, I am so thankful to share the day with my mother but my own desires unmet has kept me from fully enjoying the day. People can be uncaring in asking why aren't you pregnant, do you have children, etc. It doesn't stop, then the pity, the looks, sometimes it is just unbearable. But, I do know that God has a plan for my future and I cherish each and every child that I come into contact with. As the bible states I can be a mother to many more than having had a child of my own. The world is open to caring arms, warm hearts. I have tons of that to share!

    May 9, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
  16. Jennifer

    I appreciate this article! People should not assume that just because I'm a woman that I am a mother. My husband and I have chosen not to have children for our own reasons so when people have wished me "Happy Mother's Day", it's a nice thought but just plain inappropriate. Unless you know the woman, PLEASE don't assume she's a mother!

    May 9, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
  17. Winnie

    Andrew & I got married in December 2009. We knew we both don't want kids for pretty much the same reasons. Funny how so many people around us don't understand or keep making comments about kids in our future. All I know is if we were to have kids, they would have a great blend of genes are culture (Chinese, Indian & Scottish).

    Thanks for your article! We have decided to be good aunt/uncle. 😉

    May 9, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  18. Emily

    My post on my blog was to this theme. You see, I am different. I am different because my allows me to have babies. What my genes to not allow is a healthy baby. I have had a love/hate relationship with Mother's Day for the last 5 years. I hate that my two babes are not here to spend this day with me. I hate the smugness and cruelty of so many. What I preach is kindness and consideration of these hard days. My own sister cannot have children. She has spent time and money trying to adopt, and hopefully one day it will work out. I just hate the stupid comments of women who have no idea. Comments made usually when you are sharing deep heart-felt frustrations of childlessness. These are the moments they seem to want to share how fertile they are. Salt on the wound. I am grateful to have our beautiful adopted one year old son. I am still saddened by those amazing women who want to be mothers though on this day. Love your talent and love your words!!!

    May 9, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  19. Linda Coate

    So sorry to hear that the "pregnancy police" harassed you (some of us get it for having "too many kids", others for having none, or not enough, etc., etc., ad nauseam). Whatever happened to SISTERHOOD?

    Some people get their jollies from hurting other people, or from trying to feel superior. God less the kind, wise ones.

    May 9, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  20. VanessaTx (mommy of 2)

    You are truly an amazing mom, Nia. This was a great post. I forwarded this post to my sister-in-law who is going through the adoption process. She said you hit it on the spot. Happy Mother's Day to you and your mom. 😀

    May 9, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
  21. Kaiser

    This might juts be the first article on cnn that i have read over a long period of time where the readers have nothing but nice words to say. It was really nice to read this article and even more so to read the wonderful comments afterward. Happy Mothers day to all.

    May 9, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  22. Laureen Sassano

    HI Nia!! I went through a huge infertility battle yrs ago.They had me on clomid and at one point had me on condom therapy ,actually telling me I was allergic to my own husband's sperm..lol... I became obssesed to even standing on my head after sex!! Finally conceived after micro surgery only to have my son die shortly after birth from defects of many drugs they had plied me with to get pregnant.Autopsy and genetic testing revealed no answers but worst of all I had to resign myself to convincing myself I was OK sans baby, comments were same as before I had conceived,hurftul prying and very judgmental. Wouldn't it be funny to do a comedy about this subject?I'm sure many women have experience same and Humor has gotten me though my life and seems to be your forte also.Best of Luck to your family

    May 9, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  23. Winnie McCormick

    I am mother who was lucky enough to foster several children from varied backgrounds and race over the years as well as having 3 wonderful daughters of my own I am truly blessed and recieved far more from them than I could ever give. It saddens me when I see so much anger and nonsense over the adoption of a black baby by a women who can provide a wonderful life for a child in need. In the book " The little Prince" It states " It is only with the heart that we can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye". Just as a blind person would. I lost my foster son who was born in the Dominican
    2 years ago and I treasured him and miss him so much. Please lets see each other with compassion and through the eyes of a blind person. This is my mothers day wish for all of you. it's a simple formula – "LOVE"!

    May 9, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  24. Annie

    @WombMomofOne – {{{{Happy Mother's Day}}}}

    Our daughter was "abandoned" (I believe given up) at 5 months because she needed surgery in order to survive and I don't think her mother could afford it (China). I've told her each time we talk about it that her first mother wanted so much for her to live that she gave her up so that she could get the surgery, even though she knew this meant she would be very, very sad; that she gave up being happy in order for my daughter to live because she loved her so much. I hope you know how much you are remembered at Mother's Day; that you aren't forgotten.

    May 9, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
  25. Stefanie Reid

    Amen Nia! Not only are you beautiful on the outside, there is a beauty within you as well! You deserve every bit of the happiness that has been bestowed upon you...Happy Mother's Day to you and congratulations on your daughter...

    May 9, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  26. melba ann williams

    I have had so many friends who have also dreaded May Nia–& people have no scruples. Some of the happiest friends I have opt not to have children–a couples choice. Anyone who gouges you like "WHAT is wrong here?~~needs to be asked "Why do you care so much?" If you are blessed { and sometimes you do not get a blessing but a real pain in the ass} then you love and raise them. If not get on with your life & enjoy the freedom of going on trips–no sitter to find, peace & quiet, money in the bank and no gamble on what the dickens they will turn out to be. So happy that your story had a happy ending with a lovely daughter– but it is not the end of the world if you get NONE. We love ours dearly, but would not have put up with the nosy rosys. Happy Mother's Day~~

    May 9, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  27. Jessica

    Thank you so much for speaking for the Infertile community. It's bad enough to suffer through the indignity about being able to concieve, but the social aspects- the people prying, the people looking down on you for trying treatments, the comments- this is what makes it so hard. I was hoping so much for this to be my first mother's day after trying to conceive for 4.5 years, but it was not meant to be, I lost two babies in the past year. I will never give up hope, and I encourage no one else to do it either- even if your children do not come the original way we had imagined.

    Thank you Nia

    May 9, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  28. Pekay

    Wonderful article. I did not want to have children, and was quite vocal about it. After experiencing my mother, I was terrified of genetically passed traits. But, it was not to be . . . I have three! I was on the pill when the first two were conceived and had a tubal ligation two years before the third was born – all 3 in 5 years.

    And, I love them all . . . I'm delighted to have them . . . and now that they are in their 30's and living their own lives, I love them even more. I would die for my children and I would die without them . . . but, if presented with the chance to do it again . . . NO! The heartbreak I experienced with one of my children's health, the heartbreak from the path one of my children chose, and the anguish at seeing the third lose the love of his life . . . I would not chose to put them through these things nor would I chose to be witness to them.

    But . . . they are here . . . they are well and healing . . . and they have given me their gifts of 8 beautiful, funny, intelligent, and compassionate grandchildren. Bless them all.

    May 9, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
  29. Noelle

    Thank you so much!!! I have been wanting to say this to so many people... now you just did for me and it is posted on my facebook page!

    I can't tell you thank you enough!

    May 9, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
  30. Arlene Wright

    I was never married, and at the age of 38 became a foster parent. My daughter, who at the time was 10, came to me as a foster child. I instantly fell in love with her; it was truly love at first sight. She was only supposed to be wioth me for (6) weeks. Fourteen years later we truly enjoy a close and loving relationship. I love her with all my heart; she is my daughter in every sense of the word. My daughter is now 23, and a beautiful young lady. I do not feel like I've missed anything by not having my own biological child, and yes, sometimes people say stupid things, But it takes a special woman to love and adore a child that they did not bear, and love the child just the same. God bless, thanks for the article.

    May 9, 2010 at 11:59 am |
  31. Sophia- Chicago

    Thank you for a wonderful article. Mother's Day and Father's Day is a sad day for many people, whether it's because they've lost their children or whether they are suffering from infertility and have sufferred losses. just to name a few. People need to be sympathetic to whatever the situation is and act appropriately. Mom-wanna-bes need to be recognized on this day also.

    Congratulations on your daughter, mommy!...

    May 9, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  32. Cheryl Westendorf

    FANTASTIC article! I love this woman, and loved her in the Greek Wedding movie! Not for the same reasons as Nia, but I've encountered a few "mean" women in my life (I believe they're bullies also), and have come out the other side knowing that these are just simply women who have to put others down to feel better about themselves. I have a wonderful friend who is having trouble conceiving right now, and has been for a few years. I say NOTHING, because she says NOTHING. I know the day will come when she announces she's pregnant or they've been chosen to adopt, and I will probably completely lose it emotionally, but it will be such a HAPPY day for so many of us who are QUIETLY rooting for them. Thank you, Nia, and God Bless You.

    May 9, 2010 at 11:26 am |
  33. Anna

    Thank you. Finally someone who says what I always wanted to say. One would never ask a mom why she has children. Although I never tried to become a mom, I can totally relate to the awkward moments of being asked why I don't have children. Maybe I don't want to go through the emotional battle of trying to become a mom, or maybe I don't want to become a mom. Whatever the reason, I say "it's none of your business."

    May 9, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  34. Annie

    Very well said! I have no idea why some women see motherhood as a competition. It's hard to ignore the Coven, but there are so many supportive and thoughtful people out there–who won't ask when you're going to get pregnant already. Focus on them and your family (with or without a baby) will be surrounded by love.

    May 9, 2010 at 11:19 am |
  35. Patty Grossman

    Nia, I just love you. Thank you for writing this. (Raises hand to volunteer 8 miscarriages and 10 years of actively doing treatments.)

    I am not a published writer but I think often of trying to write a SERIOUS, meaning, 'good" movie on infertility - not the stupid trash out there like Baby Momma and Juno. Something that gets at the poignancy of the fear and desperation and culminates in triumph the way My Big Fat Greek Wedding did for unemployed singles.

    Blessings to you and your family. Oh, and I know the Coven well - we have one that lives in my state too.

    May 9, 2010 at 11:17 am |
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