The Most Dangerous Sunday of the Year

May 10, 2013

I was always a sensitive boy. I remember sitting on the bench outside my dad’s church on Mother’s Day, wishing each mother blessings on the way in, and proffering the provided roses. I was so excited about my job, that I accidentally wished a childless woman a happy Mother’s Day, and had to be gently reminded by her that she wasn’t a mother. I can’t imagine how that must have felt, knowing as she did that my heart was joyful and longing to bless, yet having an overly enthused eight year old remind her that she would not have her own eight year old.

This childlike sensitivity grew into an appreciation for the fairer sex bordering on awe when puberty taught me that women were all of a sudden fascinating. I had far more female friends than guys, I just found their company more interesting, less competitive. At this point I had 5 brothers and sisters, and I loved having my big, chaotic family. I dreamed of the day where I’d have one of my own. Time passed, and this sensitive and timid young man grew more and more desperate for family. Like Abraham, I tried to take the reigns of my life into my own hands. Thankfully(I think), this didn’t result in a child in what would have been a disastrous relationship, and I came back to my Savior, a bit humbler and more ready to have my big family on his terms.

So I waited.

Then I met Amy. She was a pastor’s kid, just like me, and she knew all the words to the Vegi Tales “Lip Song”, just like I did. It was a perfect match. 12 months after “Hi, I’m Seth!” I was saying “Hello, Mrs. Greenwald!” We had great plans. Anytime anyone asked about kids, I told them that Amy and I were divided on the subject, I wanted 6, while she only wanted 4. After a few months, we decided that a year would be sufficent between marriage and baby, so we quit birth control, and waited.

And waited.

And waited. On month, she was at 42 days. We were so stoked! We ran out to Cracker Barrel and bought two of the “Mother and Child” Willow figurines, and had them gift wrapped, one for her mother and one for mine, our way of announcing our good news. The very next day, we got our own bit of bad news. No pregnancy.

Amy and I were married on August 9th, 2003. Some things have changed, true. Neither of us give a hoot about 6 or 4. We’d be beside ourselves over 1. Some things haven’t changed, though. No children. We have watched my younger brother get married and have a son. Twice. My older sister got married 3 years or so after we did, and promptly had a honeymoon baby. Two years after that, she had another son. Last fall we celebrated my mother’s retirement from being our teacher for 25 years of homeschooling, and as a gift, my older sister gave her a pregnancy test showing positive. Number 3 is on its way. About a month after that, my younger sister called me out of the blue, letting me know that she had gotten pregnant. Her fiancé is a single dad, so she is sort of having twins. 7 nephews and nieces is an amazing part of our lives, and we love each of them fiercely. But when I learned of my older sister’s third, I quietly walked around a room divider and even more quietly wept my heart out of my chest and onto the floor.

Amy and I have bitterly joked with each other that we should have given in to the incredible temptation to come together before we were married, because at least that way we’d have gotten pregnant. But as it stands, we will be at church on Sunday, holding our breath praying that the pastor doesn’t make a big deal about motherhood. We can’t even skip, because we are on the music team. We will be there before and after the service, trying in vain to not hear the clueless happy couples with their beautiful offspring congratulating each other on their ability to procreate. We will be leaving as quickly as humanly possible.

I speak from experience when I say that the issue runs far deeper than Mother’s Day, that’s only when it is closest to the surface. People in general, and the church in particular, don’t think about the brokenness that surrounds family relationships, other than the highly visible ones such as divorce. Barren couples aren’t even on the radar of the majority of people. Lonely singles don’t make a blip. The widow who’s children don’t call her sits in her pew, praying for health and traveling mercies, the two requests that are acceptable to make publicly. Believers don’t know how to share each others burdens. When true pain and very real wounds are shown, people shut down. At best, the leaders say “Thanks for being vulnerable”, which is code for “Moving on, now.” At worst, they call everyone over and pray over the empty womb, claiming a pregnancy within the year. There is an awful lot of talk of carrying burdens, and little lifting. Sometimes we need less words, and more hugs. Cry with us. Get angry with us. Don’t just shuffle your feet and look like you’d rather be anywhere else.

To me, Mother’s Day is too fraught with pain to be a valuable holiday. Father’s Day too, although Mother’s Day hurts more, for some reason. The heart of eight year old me must still be in there somewhere. I wish we would take many moments throughout the year to make our mother’s feel special, and render this one day obsolete.



  1. Seth, this is beautifully written. Thank you. Amy

    I especially like

    I speak from experience when I say that the issue runs far deeper than Mother’s Day, that’s only when it is closest to the surface. People in general, and the church in particular, don’t think about the brokenness that surrounds family relationships, other than the highly visible ones such as divorce. Barren couples aren’t even on the radar of the majority of people. Lonely singles don’t make a blip. The widow who’s children don’t call her sits in her pew, praying for health and traveling mercies, the two requests that are acceptable to make publicly. Believers don’t know how to share each others burdens.

  2. I remember that eight year old boy well, and I’d be more than proud to be wished a happy Mother’s Day from him again. There are tears in my eyes as I know how deeply you feel what you have written. All I can tell you is to love your covenant kids, forgive the folks who don’t understand and love them anyway, and rejoice with every new young life you have the privilege to touch in any small way. Cry to your Father who knows your heart’s need. He will continue to lead you on the path you are meant to tread and help you with all the choices ahead. And know that my heart and prayers are with you.

  3. Beautifully, and painfully written . . . there are MANY of us childless couples out here. Every year is another reminder of the failure to deliver . . . then menopause takes over, but still this sadness remains. I guess it is one reason I keep teaching . . . to share and love OTHER peoples children. Blessings to you.

  4. Mrs. P, this means more to me than any words could ever communicate. Knowing that you and Mr. P have walked this road we are on, yet have found a way to love kids as much as the two of you do, and did for me when I was young, gives me a drink of hope in a dry and barren land. Pray for us, Mrs. P, if you would. All paths are dark and shrouded with mystery, yet the road of the childless is seems more so. Thank you so much.

  5. Thank you, Mrs. H. Amy and I both adore the children in our lives, both related and un. It’s our pleasure to be part of their lives, yet we aren’t the ones that are called on to share the lives of those with kids. They gravitate to others in their place in life, those with kids. And this is natural, I know. We resonate with people who understand us, I don’t blame them for this. But Amy and I are reaching our 10 year anniversary this year, so we are reaching unshared territory. We aren’t a young married couple, but others of our age and wedded duration are working on 2, 3, or more kids. We’d be more than happy to be the go to date night option, but it doesn’t even occur to anyone.

  6. Thanks for this, Seth. It’s so comforting to remember that Tim and I are not alone. It’s been six years since I went to church on Mother’s Day; Tim is able to go, but I stay behind. I just can’t handle the combination of pain, guilt, embarrassment, and frustration. It especially hurts because I’ve given my whole life to helping raise, nurture, and admonish hundreds of kids, and the church gives no recognition for that kind of contribution. The only regular recognition women receive in the body of Christ is for their ability to bear children, and infertile women are left feeling like second-class citizens. I’m tired of people telling me how I ought to feel about this. I’m tired of the awkward sympathy. I’m tired of well-meaning but excruciatingly hurtful remarks. I know you guys are there too. Hang in there; I’ll be praying for you guys tomorrow.

  7. Thank you, Emily. You will be on our hearts as well. We wish you were closer. This seemed easier when we had you around.

    Part of what bothers me the most is the gender bias over this issue. People don’t often come up to a husband and tell them much of anything about this unless it’s to ask if the wife has had all the appropriate tests. The assumption is that the woman is infertile, not that the man could be sterile. They don’t think about the worry and fear that a husband carries, the deep insecurity that comes from his seeming inability to provide that which he and his wife desire.

    And into this miasma of emotions, stirred up on days like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, people drop bombs like ‘it’ll happen when you stop worrying about it’. I want to scream in their faces “Do you really think that in 10 years of marriage there haven’t been worry-free times?” But worst of all, the absolute sharpest blade in the box, is the term “Baby Scare”. Stupid, clueless young couples announcing to the world that the thing that breaks my heart a little more each month is a relief and cause for celebration. I have even cautioned a friend about using this phrase, and he proceeded to tell me how bad a baby would ruin their precious little plans. I hope they have fun tucking their plans in bed at night. They can sing their masters degrees a lullaby and put a bandaid on the knee of their 401(k)’s when they fall. It makes me so angry I could spit. If the “worst” happened and they got pregnant, they would forget about all the problems and start blathering about all their new plans. Baby plans. I don’t mind people celebrating the approach of their child, it’s exciting and joyous, and part of me can share in that. But don’t ever tell me that having a child is a terrible prospect. Just don’t.

  8. I know. The hardest thing for me still is knowing how many children each year are abused, aborted, and abandoned. And you’re right–where there is little help for childless women, there is almost no help whatsoever for childless men. It’s like people assume that the woman must be the only one who is struggling.

    Here’s my Mother’s Day blog post: http://emilymullaswilson.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/where-do-i-stand-on-mothers-day/

  9. Wherever that is, Amy and I will be there, standing next to you. Today, for us, that place was on stage, leading the congregation in singing the following words:

    We expect a bright tomorrow; all will be well
    Faith can sing through days of sorrow, all is well
    On our Father’s love relying,
    Jesus every need supplying,
    Yes, in living or in dying, all must be well.

    These words were penned by Mary Bowley-Peters, who was widowed at 21, and from what I can find online(admittedly little, and often suspect) was likely childless herself. I could barely sing them. I am thankful that I didn’t research her biography until after the service, or I wouldn’t have made it through.

    We love you.

  10. Seth, if you or Amy ever want to just call and talk, I have no platitudes or answers, but we’ve walked the walk. And it’s still ongoing, with every grandchild we celebrate with our friends. Hang in there. While it doesn’t necessarily get easier, God does give grace sufficient to the day. Love to you both.

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