Last year in church on Mother’s Day, I watched her. The woman who I knew to have had a miscarriage a week earlier, her second one, with no successful pregnancy to speak of. No living child.
She sat a few rows ahead of me. And I watched her, though I imagine she felt unseen—her pain invisible. Her motherhood unrecognized. Her body was stiff and face stoic, a grieving mother in a sea of babies, children, and mothers with arms overflowing.
It wasn’t just Mother’s Day being celebrated—which is hard enough when you’ve lost babies and question your own motherhood and ability to bring a child into the world—but baby dedication day, too. As proud parents paraded their precious infants up to the front of the church, I watched her. The woman with a broken heart whose longing for a child had yet to be fulfilled.
The woman whose womb had come to life only to be emptied by death.
It seemed cruel really, the long line of what she didn’t have strung from one end of the church to the other—doe-eyed babies and smiling mothers whose longings had been fulfilled.
And my heart broke for her.
The year before, I watched her. A different woman in a different church. Again, she sat a few rows ahead of me.
When the pastor asked all the mothers to rise so the congregation could recognize and honor them, she didn’t move. Until her husband gently nudged her, coaxing her unsteadily to her feet with a look of confusion and discomfort on her face. Her arms were empty—and so was her womb.
She, too, had recently had a miscarriage and wasn’t sure where she fit in on a day like Mother’s Day.
She had carried life. But not for long and no more.
With that little nudge, her husband had recognized something that was invisible to the rest of us. Her motherhood. And yet, the excruciating pain involved in her one and only motherhood experience remained unseen.
And my heart broke for her.
A few years earlier, I was her. The woman in church on Mother’s Day whose baby died before exiting the womb.
For two years in a row actually, I was her. Two consecutive losses. Two years of sitting through a Mother’s Day church service surrounded by babies and expanding wombs, my own womb empty, my own babies gone—my own heart still raw and bleeding.
I was the woman who sat uncomfortably in the pew, my face armored in indifference. My mouth still, knowing that if I opened it, or attempted any emotion at all, I would no doubt become a sobbing, blubbering mess. I was the one who pretended not to see the babies cradled safely in their mother’s arms. Because to really look at them was more than my heart could take.
I was her. The mother whose pain was invisible.
The mother whose womb seemed better built for death than life. The mother who tried to ignore the reality of all the babies still in existence—alive, breathing, and doted on.
This year when I sit in church on Mother’s Day, my arms will be full as my son tries to wrestle his way out of them and my daughter wraps them around her shoulders while belting out a praise song. I will be hushing and shushing and directing threatening glances toward my two living children in an effort to keep them from misbehaving.
And it will be a happy day—a celebration of redeemed motherhood and joy over how far our family has come.
But I have no doubt that I will again watch her. The woman who just lost a baby. Whether I’m aware of it or not, she’ll be there. Because while the church will be full of babies and children and glowing or frazzled mothers on Mother’s Day, I know there will be a woman—likely, more than one—whose arms are empty and not by choice.
And when I see her—when I discover the precious life she lost—my heart will break for her.
So, while wishes for a Happy Mother’s Day might echo throughout the church, I’ll wish her a gentle one instead.
Because there’s no such thing as a Happy Mother’s Day when you’re a mother whose arms are empty.