Bittersweet Symphony


Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony this life

I need to hear some sounds that recognize the pain in me, yeah

I let the melody shine, let it cleanse my mind , I feel free now

But the airwaves are clean and there’s nobody singing to me now

For those not familiar, the lines above are from the song Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve let those lyrics wash over me during long, contemplative walks. The song has a special significance this weekend. Where once deep sadness and anger took center stage on Mother’s Day weekend, the sensation I feel now is bittersweet. I expect it always will be the emotion du jour from here on out.

I’m in the Detroit area for a pit stop of sorts after business took me to New York earlier this week. I’m here for a short family visit and to celebrate my mother before heading back to California. So far I’ve had one customer service person wish me a “Happy Mother’s Day” and I expect it won’t be the last one. Where in the past such an innocuous greeting would have sent me into orbit, I’m now at a point where I’m just so whatever.

Where I once harbored resentment and envy for all women who could biologically reproduce — and never quite so furiously as this weekend — today I’m just resigned to the fact that while my body can do a lot of things really well, conception and delivery are just not on the list. Bittersweet in the physical sense.

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It does bother me still that any women who can conceive gets held up as a “queen” for a day. That seems unfair somehow. The attention and adulation would be better focused on those women who truly have earned the right to be held up as model Madonnas (not the rocker type, but the real deal).

I’ve come to appreciate since working out my infertility-induced tortured emotions I can peacefully co-exist and respect mothers in a way I once could not. Yes, it’s bittersweet. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to warm up to the smug, self-important moms, those who seemingly hold up their children like some sort of breeding trophy. (They’re just too much fun to spoof, too.)

I would like to salute a set of bloggers and readers who have succeeded with pregnancy or have mothered children through adoption. Through them, I have a new appreciation for what Mother’s Day is supposed to signify and celebrate: women who truly represent the goodness of motherhood — those who sacrifice in significant ways to ensure the safety and well-being of their children, those who take their responsibilities to nurture, discipline, and raise good caring members of the next generation, those who don’t underestimate the miracle that brought their children into being in the first place.

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I would also like to salute those mothers who have a kind and generous heart and look out for the well-being of their infertile sisters. To the mother in the Midwest referred to here in this post from last Mother’s Day, I still would like to know where you live so I can send you flowers.


20 Responses

  1. Lori

    May 10, 2008 3:47 pm

    I think dark, bitter chocolate should become the symbolic treat for this day.

    Yet another excellent post, PJ.

  2. Rachel

    May 10, 2008 8:53 pm

    She does deserve flowers. And so do you, for coming so far with such intense feelings.

    I’m not a big fan of holidays. We don’t do Valentine’s. I have to be very careful at Christmas and Thanksgiving, or they are ruined for me by the commercialization. Most holidays that were created in the 20th century are really nothing more than marketing ploys. But you know that, I’m sure.

    I hope you will make tomorrow a You Day, and be proud of yourself for your strength, wisdom, perseverance and all that you are doing for women in your shoes with this blog and your writing.

    Not all people who have suffered this kind of trauma are able to make it through to the other side. I think you’re well on your way.

    A hug from me!

  3. Rachel

    May 10, 2008 8:54 pm

    Oh, and I forgot to tell you… that’s one of my favorite songs. I felt like it was written for me the first time I heard it.

  4. Iota

    May 11, 2008 1:04 am

    I read that post around this time last year, and as Mothers’ Day approached again, it came back into my mind. It made a deep impression on me. I have been reflecting on what I think is an appropriate response to public celebration of Mothers’ Day (does it need to be public at all?), and haven’t reached any conclusions. I won’t need to make any decision, though, as a nasty sinus infection will keep me at home in any case.

  5. Bea

    May 11, 2008 3:05 am

    “I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to warm up to the smug, self-important moms…”

    I don’t know if that has anything to do with infertility. Makes it bite harder, of course.


  6. Ellen K

    May 11, 2008 11:45 am

    PJ — Had a dream last night that we were hanging out with a big bottle of wine and a hardback of your book. You were all smiles! Hope you have a good day and a safe trip home.

  7. peesticksandstones

    May 11, 2008 2:55 pm

    What a great post. Thanks for that — much needed today.

    Somewhere inside me, though, I find Mother’s Day to be a sad reminder that no matter what, momhood is still the #1 “most important” thing a woman can ever achieve.

    Despite whatever else she is (speaker of the house, etc!) — everyone’s always got to remind you she’s a mom. Note they do not do the same for accomplished men who are dads… ever.

  8. loribeth

    May 11, 2008 8:50 pm

    Hope you’re having a good day with your family… all I can say is, the hype will soon be over for another year…!

  9. Babystep

    May 12, 2008 6:18 pm

    There are a lot of mothers out there that should not be held up as “queen for a day” but I do have to admit there are a lot who should be. I for one was pissed off that I did not get any acknowledgment, even from my husband…I AM a step-mother! Sorry, I am bitter!!

  10. Deathstar

    May 13, 2008 5:04 pm

    I really love that song, by the way, it’s one of my favourites.

    I noticed that there were a lot of mother day specials in the paper for spa getaways for mums and daughters, Real Simple magazine had an issue with the editor’s page full of babies of their employees (I wonder if anyone who worked there might have found that torture), and I was struck once again that I’d never have that link that our mothers have with us. I thought about the birth/first mothers who have relinquished infants and of how they might be feeling on that day, and the women like me who never even got pregnant, of the women who had miscarriages and stillbirths, the women who brought home nothing from the hospital.

    But I still have my mum, and for that I can be grateful.

  11. Ann Roche

    June 10, 2008 6:18 pm

    I found your website in an article about infertility in today’s NY Times. I am so glad you have put this information on the web. I went to fertility clinics for years and, although I am probably older than many of your responders, I still get negative comments from people including female doctors all the time. For example (I had one very difficult delivery and tried for years to have another child) A recent comment from a female gyn:
    “Boy, you’re really badly scarred, it must have been some delivery. Is that why you decided never to get pregnant again? “”I realize women with no children probably would think, this woman has one child what is she complaining about? There is a stigma associated with having only one child for women of my generation. Maybe it is less so now. But I went through years of feeling all the sadness and envy you describe so well on your blog at the sight of my friends and neighbors with their instant pregnancies. (“He just looks at me and I get pregnant.”) A common reaction I would get from people (including doctors) that I was too selfish to have another child. It really hurt and still does. Keep up the good work. I have never seen this subject discussed before so openly and with such understanding. You are providing a real service for women everywhere.

  12. Leslie

    June 10, 2008 9:55 pm

    I read your NYT article this morning.
    I thought I had made my peace but the tears began to well up there in the cafe and again writing you.
    You put into words feelings that I had not managed to express verbally and I thank you.

    It is indeed a solo journey to not be able to have kids when you want them and it is comforting to know there is someone else out there who understands the inner poignant details of this path. In the end, happily, I have come to the same place as you: my dear husband and I spend a lot of time making sure each other is happy.
    For that we are truly blessed. good luck with your book.
    with thanks,

  13. MS

    June 11, 2008 12:50 am

    Like Ann, I found your article in today’s NY Times. I have friends who are moms and have others experiencing difficulty conceiving. I know a new mom who has a biological son (a happy, unplanned surprise) after adopting his older sister four years earlier. In the fairness of disclosure, I am not trying to get pregnant nor do I want to be pregnant or a mom. I’ve never been interested in being a mother. However, I will be a fabulous aunt some day. While I cannot pretend to understand the anguish and frustration of many posters (I’ve read several of your past articles today), I do comprehend the human desire to procreate, it just seems that some posters are simply looking for pity-parties rather than a positive, nurturing space to console and learn from others. My dad is an only child. My grandmother cried in her mid-70s about not being able to have more children. She wanted more, both my brother and sister want children and I want none. I am glad this space exists for the intended audience but also for those who aren’t, but I’m curious why “society” looks down on those who don’t want to be parents, characterizing us as selfish, greedy, etc. Just food for thought.

  14. Denise Burrows

    June 11, 2008 2:44 am

    Hi! I was in high tech too. Endometriosis and IVF too. Then a VC we know suggested adoption. We went with Small World out of St. Louis and adopted a beautiful 3 year old girl and 1 year old boy from Ukraine. They are now 14 and 12, perfect in every way, more beautiful than anything we could have produced! I grieve every day for the children we could not adopt out of Ukraine… so many beautiful children without families. Go to and have a look. I learned about them from an Ann Landers column in a paper I was reading flying home from yet another high-tech conference way back in 1996…
    Best wishes, Denise

  15. Ashley

    February 20, 2010 4:41 pm

    Firstly, I love your blog. It’s as if you’ve read my thoughts at times. If only I’d found it years ago, infertility would have been much less isolating and lonely. Thank you for having the courage to share your most personal thoughts with us strangers! Secondly, this Mother’s day post really hits home. I attend church services 3 times a week…except for Mother’s Day anymore. With the exception of a step-mother who never had her own children and an unmarried friend, I am the only Sunday-morning-crowd non-mother in the church. Our Mother’s Day service very much revolves around everything “mother”. The songs are about motherly bonds, testimonies hinge on motherhood. The mothers are called up front to be honored with bouquets for being the youngest, oldest, most children, etc. Speakers talk of the important job of being a mother, and on and on. What I found the hardest is after dismissal, when we all leave. On either side of the doors are two people whose duty it is to hand out flowers to every mother as they leave. The pity as I leave is most unbearable. Sometimes I get a “You’ll have one next year”, all the while knowing it’s all but impossible. Our infertility is halfly due to my PCOS and half due to my hubby’s extreme issues resulting from cancer treatment and surgeries, which most parishoners are at least partly aware of. The past couple years, I’ve found myself avoiding that particular morning service altogether, something I feel rather guilty about since I attend church with my own mother and leave her there on that special day without her only child. After reading your posts on Mother’s day and some of the comments, this year I am going to skip the mid-may mother’s fest with PURPOSE and hopefully without guilt. My mother is a selfless woman and I know she’ll think no less of me for it. Thanks again for your insight.

    • Pamela

      February 20, 2010 6:03 pm

      Hi Ashley,
      So glad you’re finding Coming2Terms useful in sorting out a complex experience. I’ll be sure to raise a glass to you and my fellow travelers on the next second Sunday in May. Best, Pamela

    • Kim

      April 13, 2010 4:04 pm

      Hi Ashley,

      My heart went out to you as I read your post. I used to skip Mother’s Day at my former church due to the same circumstances that you described. When my husband and I started attending our current church, I steeled myself for the first Mother’s Day service; to my surprise and great delight the moms and the day were recognized from the pulpit, briefly, and our Pastor who uses the expositional style of preaching, continued on with his series that had nothing to do with moms, being a mom or Mother’s Day. At the close of the service there were teenage girls who handed out beautiful flowers to all Women young, old, middle aged, moms or not. We have attended this church for 5 years now and each Mother’s Day service has been the same, beautiful, respectful and sensitive. I send encouragement to all my sisters as another Mother’s Day approaches: be kind to yourself and be the Strong, Lovely Woman that you were made to be.

      Chicago IL

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