It’s not Mother’s Day for everyone

It means different things to different people, writes Nicky Pellegrino, so how can we be more sensitive? She talks to three well-known Kiwi women to find out more.

It’s difficult to ignore the hoopla of Mother’s Day and yet somehow every year, I manage it.

The shelves groaning with boxed chocolates, the sentimental cards, the over- priced flowers and overcrowded cafés – all of it passes me by.

My mother lives far away and I have no kids of my own, so for me, there is nothing special about the second Sunday in May.

And while I do think it’s lovely that families celebrate the mothers at their centre, I spare a thought for all those other women – the ones for whom the day brings sorrow rather than joy.

It was when Mary’s mum passed away that Mother’s Day changed for her.

Former Good Morning host Mary Lambie (52) says her eyes have been opened recently to the more poignant side of Mother’s Day.

In her household, it has always been a low-key celebration.

Her three children hand-make cards and pick some flowers, and perhaps bring her toast and tea in bed. And there has always been a card and phone call for Mary’s own mother Janet, in Christchurch.

But then in March, Janet died unexpectedly and now Mother’s Day has forever changed.

“For those of us who have lost our mothers, I think it’s a day of sadness and reflection,” she says. “For many people, it can be difficult.”

All sorts of women aren’t included in this national day of celebration. Some women have children who have rejected them, some kids have terrible mums they don’t want to honour.

There are mothers who have miscarried or had stillbirths, or lost their children in some other tragic way. There are women who can’t find a loving partner to have a family with, and those who try desperately but still can’t conceive a baby of their own.

For all of them, Mother’s Day can be awkward and painful.

Auckland fertility specialist Guy Gudex says he’s had patients so distraught at their childlessness, they haven’t been able to walk down the nappy aisle of the supermarket. They avoid TV adverts with kicking, gurgling babies and Mother’s Day is yet another reminder of what they’re missing.

Having not had children herself, Suzanne points out that society can lack sensitivity towards the childless.

Suzanne Paul (59) knows how that feels.

She had eight unsuccessful rounds of IVF in four years, and it took its toll physically and emotionally. Still, Mother’s Day didn’t worry her so much when her own mum Eileen was alive.

“It was always a special day and it was all about her,” recalls Suzanne. “Then when she died, six years ago, I realised that I’m no one’s mother. I mourn the loss of never having children and think about it all the time. It’s a feeling that never goes away, even as you get older.”

Society can be insensitive towards the childless, she points out.

“People say things like, ‘You don’t know the true meaning of love until you have a child’ and that it’s the point of being on earth. So my life is pointless, is it? Thanks for that.”

Still, Suzanne does her best not to dwell on the negatives.

“I have Mum’s ashes on the sideboard and on Mother’s Day, I light a candle for her and then tell myself not to think about it any more. You can’t wallow in self-pity. And I don’t want to spoil other people’s happiness.”

For a long time, she lavished her maternal feelings on her dog Walnut. When she passed on, Suzanne started looking after other people’s pets.

“I’m Mummy to them now,” she says.

Annabelle says she feels like a mum to many.

Annabelle White (58) agrees that mothering comes in many forms.

“It’s not just about producing children,” says the celebrity chef who can recall on one occasion being told that you can’t be a complete woman unless you’ve had a baby.

“I thought that was a bit harsh. I choose to take a more holistic view. I don’t have children but I feel like a mother to many people. I think it’s an extension of being a cook. You tend to be a nurturer. And I’m an old mother hen towards my friends. I feed them, buy them clothes – do stuff that a mother would do.”

Her own mother Jacqueline lives next door to her Auckland home and Annabelle always enjoys baking her a cake for Mother’s Day.

“I think it’s a wonderful celebration,” she says. “It’s a day to embrace nurturing on every level.”

Here in New Zealand, we follow the US tradition of a May-time Mother’s Day, and its roots are rather deeper than cards and flowers. Initially it was founded for mourning women to remember fallen soldiers and work for peace. Then in the early 1900s, a childless woman called Anna Jarvis campaigned for the creation of an official Mother’s Day in remembrance of her mother and in honour of peace.

She was vehemently opposed to the way the day later became commercialised.

For her, it was about the gathering together of family and friends. I imagine if she were around today, she would agree with these words of Mary’s.

“Let’s not romanticise Mother’s Day too much. I think we ought to be slightly more measured. It’s a hard day for a lot of people and we need to acknowledge that.”

Words: Nicky Pellegrino

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