We’ve seen it. You’re at brunch for Mother’s Day, or maybe lunch. The server approaches and asks in a jovial tone of expectation, “OK, who are the Moms here?” The table points out the matriarch, and the Mom-Of-Two sister-in-law. Those Moms get a dripping pink carnation from a black bucket near the front door.
Sitting there, awkwardly left out, is maybe the one who has had two miscarriages, or one who is struggling with fertility and undergoing IVF, placed a child for adoption or who needed to end a pregnancy. The babes aren't in their arms, but the mark of motherhood has been made on their heart.
This place of brunch is an awkward space where there is a lot good intention, without a lot of thought. Similarly, I have heard of childcare workers who don't have live children at home being passed over from family's gifts on Mother's Day. "Miss Lauren is a Mommy, so she gets a chocolate, but Miss Sara doesn't. Sorry, Miss Sara." I've heard of store "discounts" being applied to 'Mothers Only'. My heart is also in the place of recognizing trans and gender non-binary folks in their parenting. Brunch is not the place for outing. There are a lot of self disclosures that already happen when you're dealing with loss, fertility. and gender identity; the brunch table with a stranger isn't a place it needs to be.
I am a CIS-woman, with a child. On Mother's day, that's a fucking privilege. I've also been in the place of mourning on Mother's Day. I received flowers early yesterday from my son and husband. I'm lucky as hell, and enjoy being celebrated, too. But really, can restaurants rethink their bulk carnation distribution practices? Is asking tables to identify a necessary and worthwhile practice? Maybe they don't ask who is a mother, and no one gets a flower. Maybe they ask more openly "Who are we recognizing today?" Maybe they drop the follow up questions asking the genders and ages of the children that aren't there. Maybe we either recognize no one, or everyone. Maybe the family members at the table speak up for the Loss Mama who is staying quiet. Maybe one day the Loss Mama won't feel like she needs to stay quiet, to not "take away" from the identified Moms who have live children. I don't know what the right answer is, but I've heard from SEVERAL loss/fertility folks that this practice felt like shit. Maybe it felt worse that their family didn't stand up for them and acknowledge them as a Mother. It really has nothing to do with brunch and everything to do with the various streams and banks Mother's Day flows. This is a complex day. Not recognizing or asking how she wants to be celebrated because they're afraid of reminding them of their shitty/non-typical situation is actually just a lot shittier for most people. I have no idea what the right answer to any of this really is.
For families and friends of loss parents: you can ask if it's OK that they reach out to them to acknowledge their position. You can just put the "today might be hard..." text out there. Your person may want to cocoon. That's OK, too. Avoidance is a tool. They're allowed.
For folks who say that I'm overthinking this, ask a loss Mama if someone acknowledged her on Mother's Day. If she says no, ask her if she wishes they would have. It's not as straight forward as "you either are a mother, or you are not."
Jackie Anger is a London, Ontario doula, a mama to an amazing toddler, a community advocate, and a lover of coffee.