Norris Burkes_Thank Mom for her courage

 Yup. It’s Mother’s Day weekend again. Some see it as a holiday Hallmark invented to pique our guilt enough to buy cards and flowers for our moms and take them to dinner.

The Hallmark view of Mother’s Day can feel contrived, so I’m grateful that I once had a patient who showed me a quite unique view of motherhood.

I was working in the women’s high-risk unit at Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento, Calif., several years ago when the charge nurse asked me to visit her patient.

“The woman won’t ever be able to have another child,” the nurse added. “She seems pretty depressed.”

I took a quick read of her chart to see that a necessary surgery had prematurely ended the woman’s ability to have children. “Gratefully,” the social worker noted, “the patient has birthed all the children she and her husband had planned.”

I walked into the woman’s room where I found her getting ready for a rehab walk around the unit. I introduced myself and asked if I could walk alongside her. She nodded yes.

Just a few steps outside the room, clear enough for all to hear, she asked a simple and direct question.

“Do you have a vagina, Chaplain?”

No worries, readers. Chaplains are trained to answer tricky questions.

Well, maybe not so much.

Her query seemed to set up a winner-take-all repartee. I paused long enough to stop choking on my gum and muster an answer.

“No, not really.” I said, glancing obviously below my belt line. “At least, not one of which I’ve become aware.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think so,” she said with a snickering huff. “I guess you’ll do for now.” With that, she granted me another lap around the ward.

But what would I say for now? She’d pitched a startling question, so I bunted. I was out of plays.

All I knew to do was walk and let her talk. Good call, right?

She had a lot to unpack, and she took several laps to do it. Yes, she’d had the size family that she wanted. But now, she was getting older, and the children were poised to leave home.

I wanted to interrupt her to point out how her childbearing loss might be a blessing. But then again, that’s how a person without the aforementioned body part, like me, would tend to think.

I remained silent just long enough to learn that this was definitely not what she was thinking.

She spoke of the many problems she’d had raising her current children. It sounded as if she had been hoping for a do-over, one more chance to raise another child.

But now that choice was forever gone. And between her tears and cursing, I heard a paradoxical grief. Ironically, she felt robbed of a choice, even though she had little imagined ever exercising the motherhood option again. That discrepancy in her soul was cutting a canyon of hurt.

As I walked her back to her room, she thanked me for hearing her story.

mothers day

I felt helpless that listening had been all I could do. It was impossible for a man to ever fully understand. Yet, showing her that I recognized how important the childbearing choice is to a woman seemed to mean the world to her.

I know this hasn’t been the Mother’s Day column you may have expected on this Hallmark holiday. But the memory of this patient-visit serves to remind me of the courage our mothers had to not only bear us, but to nurture us and continually sustain us.

Yup, it’s time to call Mom now.


Chaplain Norris wrote “No Small Miracles” about his time as the chaplain of the Women and Children units. The book is available at www.thechaplain.net. Contact him at comment@thechaplain.net or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715. Twitter @chaplain.

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