05/05/2014 12:06 pm ET Updated Jul 05, 2014

When You're Not a Mother On Mother's Day

Yuki Kondo via Getty Images

The Mother's Day cards are out. At CVS, I avoid them, walking the long way around and through the far aisle that contains the school supplies, things I don't need. Still, I can't escape my feelings of loss and longing for my mother, who is dead, and for what I am lacking: children.

Some women don't want to have children. Others do but can't for physical, financial or other reasons. Of course, motherhood is no panacea or walk in the park, as I've learned from my friends who are moms. But to me, motherhood is a gift not all of us get, and it shouldn't be taken for granted.

Several years ago, a friend of mine who is a mother told me she hoped I'd decide to have a child because, she said, "Nothing in this world compares to nursing your own baby." She had no sense of what it was like for me to see the kind of life I wanted so far from reach. She had no idea how the sight of parents and children at the local playground, or Facebook status updates and Twitter photos of moms and their kids, touched a grief-filled void I sometimes didn't know how to bear.

When my mother was 65, a year before she died from cancer, she announced that her life was "miserable" because she didn't have grandchildren. She thought of herself as a "have not." It was my fault: I was 36 and single.

I despised my biological clock and the women's magazines that pointed out, with unrelenting persistence, that time was running out, if it was not already too late. Colleagues and acquaintances suggested that if I ever wanted to have a child I should become a single mother, a "choice mom." I shouldn't wait, they told me, sounding the alarm, I had to do it right now.

But I was in no position to have a baby. I was living paycheck to paycheck. I didn't have a secure job. And I was coping with a PTSD diagnosis and struggling with debilitating anxiety and depression. I wanted to be a mother, but I wasn't going to have a child just because that was my desire, or my mother's wish. I'd learned, from my experience growing up in an unstable and abusive home, that it was imperative to raise a child in circumstances conducive to shaping a healthy life. That was, and still is, my stance.

From the time I was a teenager, whenever my mother and I argued, she'd say, "You'll understand why I do what I do and say what I say when you become a mother." It was a statement I couldn't trump. At the time it simply made me angrier, but now I can recall my mother's belief with a dose of compassion. My mother was psychologically beaten in an abusive marriage to a man who ravaged my childhood. She led a limited life. Our relationship was strained, but she loved me the best she could.

I'm 40 now and my mother is gone. This will be the third Mother's Day since her death. I've finally come to accept my life for what it was in the past, for how it is now. I've found a little more peace in the person I am, and in the gifts I have found. Mother or not, now I hold a bit more hope and wonder for what may come.

Being a mother isn't everything, though this time of year the card aisle says it is. On Mother's Day, we honor and celebrate mothers. For those of us who are childless, we must learn to honor and celebrate ourselves.