All my milestone dates related to cancer or infertility are tied to major holidays or personal anniversaries. Which always leads me to think of the before cancer, before infertility.

Leading up to Mother's Day, I remember the excitement of making something out of popsicle sticks in grade school and waiting impatiently to gift it to mom on that day. The first memory that came to mind when thinking of before was the absolute terror my sophomore year of high school in French class when our participation was graded on sharing what we got our mothers for Mother's Day. We had gotten my mom a bread knife. I quietly thumbed through the index. Bread was easy – we learned that the first year of high school – but knife was another story.

Now I giggle at myself, thinking back to that panic, as I do with a lot of the things that made me totally stressed out and anxious prior to my ovarian cancer diagnosis. There is no perspective-changer like having surgery on your wedding anniversary because your oncologist thinks your cancer might be back and it might be everywhere (It wasn’t).

Now I rely on new tools to get through Mother's Day. My first Mother’s Day after was six weeks after my one and only IVF cycle that everyone, including my medical team was so sure it would be successful. It was not. I cannot say there is no pain in typing that sentence.

For a lot of reasons, IVF was a one shot thing for me. That loss was one of the hardest things I have worked through and am still working through. In the spirit of sharing scars and not wounds, I can talk about it without bawling on most days. Most days, I can paint you a beautiful picture of the positive that has come out of infertility. But for a long time, especially around Mother's Day, I was not capable of doing so.

When I was going through the worst of it, being told to “keep busy” made me so angry. It was like an insult. Do you not think I would if I could? Do you not see my grief, my hurt?

But what I have learned in the 10 years of the after cancer is that crying all day doesn’t prove I am still grieving and keeping busy doesn’t necessarily mean you have to subject yourself to brunch with happy moms and their bundles of joy.

In recent years, for me it has meant going to the beach finding a secluded spot and painting water colors. During Covid lockdown, my mom came out and I made a panda bear cake, and I cried only because the poor panda’s head fell off. Last year, we did a movie marathon. This year I am proud to say I had forgotten about the exact date.

Julie with her mom and the panda cake they made on Mother's Day during the pandemic. 

My take away is three-fold. You're not alone in feeling like this day sucks. For me, it sucks because of the sad fact I will never be able to carry a child.

  1. No matter your reason for having a hard time around Mother’s Day, know that it is completely valid.
  2. Second is that you know best what you need on hard days. Trust that.
  3. Finally, if you find yourself dreading this May 14th, plan whatever it is you need to handle it and meet yourself where you are at.

That is the single best thing these last 10 years have taught me.