obgynThere’s one major thing that makes me seriously uncomfortable at the gynecologist’s office… beyond the usual testings and procedures.

I’m truly uneasy with all of the wall photographs of babies delivered by the doctors that are posted in the office.  The collage of pictures take approximately a quarter to a fifth of the wall space in the waiting room, and no matter where one may sit, a patient’s eyes will, most likely, catch the photos splattered across the wall.

Almost three years ago, as I was going through testing and treatment for Endometriosis, the overabundance of photographs grasped at my heart as I was still hoping to have a child at some point.  Around the time I was crossing the fortieth birthday milestone, I began to consider myself someone who was between childless and childfree – not completely being able to affirm whether or not I wanted to have children but still grieving the possibility of never being a biological mother.  As time has past, I have almost completely moved into the camp of being pretty-much content not having biological children of my own.  Even though I have evolved on my plans to have children, my thoughts on seeing the posted pictures in the waiting room have not changed.

Remembering the days when I still wanted to birth a child and lacking the opportunity, my heart felt sad seeing a wall of baby photos plastered on the walls.  It was tough enough to see all of the women resting their hands on their “baby bumps” as they sat in the waiting room.  What we believe some doctors and office managers forget is that not all women coming to the gynecologists office are entering the office for blissful reasons. Some are dealing with Endometriosis (like me), PCOS, uterine, cervical, ovarian, or breast cancer, uterine fibroids, infertility, hormone imbalances, and other reproductive struggles.

Some of these women wish they were visiting this doctor to hear the good news of “you’re pregnant” only to find out their womb is empty or the fetus’ heartbeat has stopped.  And some will hear “you’re pregnant” only to crumble into tears wondering how this news will negatively impact their lives.

The OB/GYN is not always a happy place where dreams come true.  Sometimes, it’s where people discover extremely devastating news or where their baby dreams turn into infertility nightmares.

When we recall fertility struggles found in the Bible, we think of Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth, Tamar and all the women in Scriptures who yearned to have a full womb.  How must they have felt to see the other women in their villages or their husband’s other wives carry healthy children to term?

Which brings me from the gynecologist office into the sanctuary: how must childless women feel on Mother’s Day when only mothers are celebrated?  How must the woman who just found out she just had a miscarriage react when they ask for all mothers to stand during the worship service?  How must the woman who has been trying for two years to become pregnant feel when a church gives little token gifts to mother’s only?

While conducting research for a paper in seminary, I discovered that many childless women will avoid church on Mother’s Day because of the pain in their hearts.  This makes me wonder: What can we do as a church to make sure all women feel validated on Mother’s Day for their role in the mothering process of all children?  How can we make sure to acknowledge the pain and grief that many women endure whether we are in the sanctuary or in the OB/GYN?

12 thoughts on “The Pastoral is Political – On Being an Outsider at the OB/GYN and in the Sanctuary

  1. Thank you for well spoken words. As a culture, we are full of what we have achieved. We bask in dreams come true, in fulfillment. To have been denied the chance to give birth, for whatever reason, feels so much like shame, like rejection by Nature and God, a kind of sham womanhood. It is here that Jesus’ message that everyone matters can be such a balm on deep, deep wounds.

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  2. Thank you for these reflections. The first funeral I ever officiated was for a friend’s baby who died in utero a week before the due date…it was one of those funerals that will always stay with me. And since then I have on several occasions baptized or blessed infants at the moment of death in the hospital. As a woman who has chosen not to have children, I often feel left out or somehow less than, and I know from the stories that my friends share that when they are unable to have biological children, this feeling seems to weigh heavy on them. So I am very sensitive to the dilemma of Mother’s Day. Last year I asked that all women who were mothers, sisters, daughters, god-mothers, aunts, and care-givers to stand for a special blessing that acknowledged the role that women play in the mothering of all in our community (I did a similar things for the men on Father’s Day). I know it isn’t a perfect solution, but so far it’s the best one I’ve come up with.

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  3. Even for those who are coming to church with children, Mother’s Day can be a tough one. I sat in church weeping one year after a difficult pregnancy loss, only there because an older child was singing with the Children’s Choir. Thank you so much for this thoughtful post, Michelle.

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  4. Thanks Michelle. As a childless one, I feel the awful pang of Mothers Day and usually just want to get it over with. Now I am care taking for my mom with her dementia and her neediness which is a parenting relationship in its own right. Either way, I will just slog through Mother’s Day, preside nicely and bring Mom to worship with me.

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  5. Thank you.
    And its not only those who are childless who avoid church on Mother’s Day. It is also those of us who lost a mother far too soon – when she was only in her 40s – who sometimes find the church’s treatment of Mother’s Day a little too much.

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  6. for some years I avoided Mother Day, but it is hard to do that as the Minister. My story is one of pregnancy loss and infertility, but I have friends whose relationship with their mother is not healthy. I know people in churches who have children are estranged, one who has taken out an AVO/restraining order against their child, a woman whose parents were abusive… the list could go on. my story has helped me to see why people sometimes feel ‘outsiders’ even as members of the church.
    I also know from friends how difficult parenting is, and I hope as churches we find ways of supporting parents [all year] without idolising some sections of the community.
    one church when I was in training to be a Minister, talked of how we all are ‘mothers’, I found that offensive, as if I all have to offer was the way in which I could be considered like a mother, rather than for who I am.

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  7. Someone in Zimbabwe once said to me that “all women are gogos (grandmothers)”, whether they’ve had children or not. We give flowers to all women (of all ages) in our parish.

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  8. Really good column. As someone who is childless and facing an upcoming hysterectomy, this is welcomed sensitivity. Thank you for writing this.

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  9. We try to put whatever emphasis there is (not much) on giving thanks for all those women who have nurtured us. It’s hard to ignore the fact that Hallmark has made this a Big Day for some in the U.S., so it doesn’t feel like it can be totally passed over, but we don’t want to compound the many pains others have described above.

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