When Mother's Day is the hardest day

For many, the build-up to Mother’s Day is especially painful. Our inboxes and TV are bombarded with images of smiling, healthy attractive families surrounded with flowers, love, and happiness. As therapists how can we give space for disenfranchised grief?


The commercial frenzy of Mother’s Day is now over – until next year. When it feels as if the whole country is joining together to celebrate their relationship with motherhood, many are alone with their pain.

Navigating this time can be a painful process, triggering intense feelings of despair and loneliness. Our individual relationship with our mothers is a very personal one. Grieving for a mother we never knew or one who died before we had the chance to repair an estrangement can leave us feeling alone and frozen with no way forward. Feelings of guilt and shame may increase as the years pass.

An understanding of ‘disenfranchised grief’, where grief is not acknowledged as legitimate by society, can enable clients to explore the complicated feelings they are experiencing. For those grieving for a longed-for child after experiencing the pain of recurrent miscarriage and traumatic infertility treatment, a safe therapeutic relationship provides a space to shine a light on disavowed feelings. 

Living within a society where the impact of pronatalism is deeply felt by those childless, not through choice, can result in feeling isolated and alone with feelings of shame and a sense of failure. The term ‘pronatalism’ is not a new one. Laura Carroll in her 2012 book The Baby Matrix describes it:

The idea that parenthood and raising children should be the central focus of every person’s adult life. Pronatalism is a strong social force and includes a collection of beliefs so embedded that they have come to be seen as true.

For those women experiencing the first symptoms of perimenopause, where the body leaves an unmistakable message of ‘now or never’, the sugar-coated Mother’s Day ideal is a bitter one. The grief experienced when facing the loss of fertility can be all-consuming, yet many walk this path alone. This disenfranchised grief exists in darkness, yet within the therapeutic relationship, it is witnessed, heard, and held jointly.

Jody Day in her book ‘Living the Life Unexpected – how to find hope, meaning and a fulfilling future without children.’ addresses the experience of involuntary childlessness and helps those negotiating a future without children. 

Jody encompasses the regret expressed by several of my clients who are struggling with these feelings when she writes ‘The fear of regret, of getting it wrong, seems to haunt many women as they come to the end of their fertility, because we now deem regret to be the shameful punishment for not making the right decisions’. 

So as many feel the sorrowful burden of Mother’s Day lighten slightly until next year, how can we help our clients negotiate another year with the prospect of motherhood fading?

I regularly signpost my clients to gateway-women.com, a global friendship and support network for childless women. This organisation supports women as they navigate identity transition and helps them work through the complicated, multi-layered grief work relating to childlessness, not through choice. 

Whilst the origins of Mother’s Day date back to ancient Greece, the modern-day construct began as a Christian observance in West Virginia in 1907. This highlights the white normativity attached to this particular celebration of motherhood. 

Recognising the cultural and religious differences relating to infertility and viewing its complexity through an intersectional lens is critical to supporting all my clients.

Yvonne John, author and activist, champions the unheard voices of childless women of colour in her book ‘Dreaming of a life unlived’. Clients can sign up for her mailing list at her website findingmyplanb.com.

To those living with the pain of infertility and baby loss and to all the wonderful colleagues supporting them my wish is that the next 12 months bring peace, resilience, and a sense of direction before we encounter Mother’s Day 2025.

I will be working ahead of this date to help ease the pain this day brings for many.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, Greater London, N20
Written by Janet Stevens, BSc (Hons),Dip,MBACP
London, Greater London, N20

Written by Janet Stevens BSc (Hons), Dip, MBACP

Janet is a BACP Registered Therapist, with a BSc (Hons) degree in Humanistic Counselling. Alongside private practice Janet works for a registered charity providing psychotherapy and counselling for men and women seeking support in relation to infertility, pregnancy, pregnancy loss and termination.

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