I knew last Mother’s Day would be hard, but I was disappointed to learn that I had not, in fact, figured out how to properly brace myself for all that the day would bring. It was my first Mother’s Day as a married–but childless–woman. I was also navigating the day hundreds of miles away from my own mother. I knew that this would be the first of many difficult Mother’s Days to come.

One exchange from that day continues to play out in my mind. After tearfully making it through Mass, I noticed someone at the back of the church handing out roses to mothers. Wanting to avoid that conversation and get to the car as quickly as possible, I beelined down the hall towards the parking lot while my husband politely said hello to family friends behind me. I was startled when someone interrupted my focused speed walk.

To my surprise, the woman with the roses had caught up to me, and without even a hello, proceeded to ask, “are you a mother or a teenager?” I blinked. I was 27 years old, and nothing about me suggested “teenager.” Further, I had no car seat, stroller, or diaper bag in tow. How do you respond to such a limiting question? I didn’t know what else to do other than to shake my head, fight back my reemerging tears with all my might, and confusedly say “no.” Neither. The woman with the rose insisted, “you just look so young…” I shook my head again, and she just walked away.

This was one negative experience, but those of us who experience infertility know how common this kind of interaction can be, especially in church settings. As we face another Mother’s Day, how do we avoid these feelings and sorrows? I don’t have all the answers, but here are a few things that help me:

  • Meditate on the role of different vocations with similar crosses. When I feel deprived of children in my vocation, I think about how priests, brothers, nuns, and sisters all take vows of chastity, necessarily giving up their opportunities to become biological parents. Obviously, this is different from the vows married couples make on their wedding day; still, God must have moved mountains in their hearts so that they could surrender their parental desires in order to serve Him.
  • If possible, go be a daughter. If you have the option, shift the focus from yourself to your mother, grandmother, or sister that day. I know that this can still be difficult or impossible for some, but when I feel restless with my empty arms, I remember those who have instead held me. I will most definitely be wearing my “proud aunt” t-shirt again this year.
  • Celebrate Mary. If it’s not possible to see your mom, or if it’s too sensitive to be around others who are actively celebrating Mother’s Day, turn your attention to our spiritual Mother. She is a woman who enjoyed the pleasures of motherhood but who also suffered the Seven Sorrows. Unite to Mary in her suffering while meditating on your own. Invite her and Jesus into your heart, even if they are the only two beings you can manage to allow in that day.
  • Go to a Vigil Mass on Saturday. There may still be a nod to mothers at this Mass, but this option may be a little easier to endure.
  • Take the flower anyway.

Looking back on last year, I wish I would have just taken the rose and said, “I am neither a mother nor a teenager, but thank you for the flower anyway.” I am still a beloved daughter of God. I am still striving to be a saint. St. Thérèse of Lisieux is my Confirmation saint, and she had an affinity for flowers. Her admiration for them reminds me of the unique roles we each play in God’s greater plan. In the midst of our suffering, in our longing, in our loneliness, God continues to use us. Whether we are mothers, teenagers, or simply neither. The Little Flower herself says,

I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would no longer be enameled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls.

Shelby O’Brien lives in Michigan with her husband, Conner, whom she met while studying at Ave Maria School of Law. Shelby is a legal research consultant with a background in social work and leads Confirmation preparation at her local church. Shelby and her husband have one adorable cat named Daisy but have been navigating infertility since getting married in May 2022. Shelby is excited to join her sister, Amy, as a Springs in the Desert writer!