Childless on Mother’s Day

by Marlo M. Schalesky

This was the day I dreaded most of the year. I almost stayed home. I almost pleaded sickness. I almost rolled over in bed and pulled the covers over my head in tight denial. But I didn’t. Now, though, I wished I had.

With trembling hands, I clutched my Bible to my chest until my knuckles turned white. Then I stepped from the foyer into the church sanctuary. Gauzy dresses and scrubbed-pink children met my gaze. I closed my eyes.

Around me, snippets of muted conversation floated through the air as DeWayne played softly at the piano. I paused as the quiet notes of the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” wafted over me.

“Are You really faithful, Lord? Even today?” I whispered. I felt goose bumps rise along my arms, despite the warmth of the morning.

Sights and smells

With a sigh, I opened my eyes and purposefully turned my head from the bulletin sticking from my Bible. I knew what the bulletin read. “Happy Mother’s Day.” But, for me, there was nothing happy about it.

I took a few steps forward. I could smell the roses before I saw them. I tried not to look, but that made it worse. Slowly, my eyes lifted from the ugly green carpet, traveled down the aisle between the long rows of pews, and stopped at the vase brimming with beautiful pink roses. Their velvety petals shimmered with tiny drops of dew beneath the church’s incandescent lights. How I hated the sight. Dozens of perfectly formed roses — one for every mother in the congregation. But not for me.

I was childless. As hard as my husband, Bryan, and I tried, we still weren’t pregnant. And no one knew what was wrong. So month after month, year after year, we tried and waited and hoped. And still Mother’s Day came along and left me sitting in the pew as all the other women went forward to be honored. I didn’t think this year would be any different.

Quickly, I slipped into a side pew, as far from the vase of roses as possible, and dropped my head. Before I could stop it, all the insensitive comments I had ever heard came flitting back through my mind:

“By the time I was your age, I already had five children.”

“Maybe God knows you wouldn’t make a very good mother.”

“How long have you been married? And you don’t have any children yet?”

“Don’t you like kids?”

“Why don’t you just adopt?”

Chills again ran over my arms.

Conversation with God

I rubbed my hand over my pimply skin and listened as DeWayne played the chorus of “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not. . . . The words tingled across my senses.

Compassion, Lord? I thought. Where’s Your compassion for me today? You know what’s going to happen. It’s the same every year. The pastor will call the mothers up front, and all the women will go, smiles wreathing their faces, some with babies in their arms. And I’ll be left sitting out here in the pews, the only woman among all the men and children. Then I’ll have to hear another sermon on the joys of motherhood. I don’t think I can bear it this year. Why haven’t you allowed us to have a child? People have babies every day, people who have no business raising kids. Women get pregnant who abort their babies. The Bible says that children are a blessing from the Lord. So what about me? Why won’t You bless me?

Repeat performance

Bryan came in and sat beside me. I felt my throat tighten with un-shed tears. Quietly, he reached over and laid his hand on mine. It was the same every year. With my free hand I pulled the bulletin from my Bible and turned it over so that the “Happy Mother’s Day” part lay face-down.

Then the service began. Too soon, the part came that I dreaded most. Pastor Bill stepped to the pulpit with a huge grin on his face. “Can I have all the mothers come up front, please?”

Here we go again. I lifted my chin and tried to keep it from trembling as dozens of flowered dresses rose from their seats and swayed toward the altar. Then, as I feared, it was only me, the men, the children, and . . . hey, wait a minute!

There, three rows from the front, a little old lady with white hair still sat. I rubbed a hand over my eyes. It was Dora. Why hadn’t I noticed before that she never went up on Mother’s Day? Could it be that she, too, was childless?

I edged up in my seat to get a better look. From where I sat, I could see that her shoulders, though rounded now with age, didn’t tremble as Pastor Bill began to hand a rose to each mother. Her eyes weren’t watery like mine, her mouth wasn’t turned down, her hands weren’t fidgeting in her lap; her bulletin lay face-up beside her. As the women came back down the aisle, their roses in hand, Dora was smiling. Really smiling, not just that “I-need-to-try-to-look-pleasant-so-no-one suspects” type of smile. Her whole face was a-bloom with contentment and joy.

A special glimpse

For the rest of the service, I studied Dora as I thought and wondered. I remembered countless times when Dora had stood up and praised God for His love and faithfulness in her life. I remembered the stories of how He had been with her in the tough times as well as the good, how He had helped her during the Great Depression, how He had stayed close to her when her husband died, how He had healed her when she was in the hospital. And through it all, I could now see that strand of joy that held her life together. Joy — though she never had children. How had I missed it before?

I’d always thought that if children were a blessing from the Lord, then not being able to have children was a curse from Him. But Dora’s life testified differently. If God had not forgotten her, maybe He hadn’t forgotten me either. And just maybe — even on Mother’s Day and even though I still longed for a child of my own — I too could learn to find joy and contentment in God’s love for me.

As if in answer to my thought, Dora turned and lavished her beautiful smile on me. I felt my own face lift in return. I knew then that God had given me a special glimpse into the heart of one of His beloved. That day, without speaking a word, Dora taught me that God really is faithful and compassionate — even to the childless on Mother’s Day.

And that was a gift more precious than any pink, dew-tipped rose.