I just read this very good, very true article which has been floating around among several of my Facebook friends. Read it here so you know what I'm talking about: Motherhood is a Calling (And Where Your Children Rank)
Every time I read something that starts into the refrain of derisive comments heard by mothers of many (that means more than three) I can't help but think about the other women -- the ones who long to have children but struggle, either because they are single against their choice or because they have low or impaired fertility in their marriage. I've felt both pains, but it is especially the second that always rises in my heart when I read about the crosses of motherhood.
Maybe what got to me was this line from the article: Do we believe that we want children because there is some biological urge, or the phantom “baby itch”? "Itch" is too casual a term, but those who have never agonized for years with the unfulfilled desire for children may not be able to understand the painful yearning in the soul of a married Christian woman who knows her union is to mirror that of Christ and the Church -- it is meant to bear fruit and to give life. Rarely does such a woman need a theology lecture to realize this. It is written in her nature, and that of her husband.
The article goes on to say "Motherhood is... what God gave you time for." Well, ok. The article is being addressed to mothers, and so, yeah, for those women, it is what God called them to. But the truer part comes later in the article, where the author talks about death and resurrection: the paschal mystery. THAT is what God gave us time for. Many married women are called to motherhood, even to be mothers of many. But let's look at another cross some women bear.
See that couple who come to church Sunday after Sunday, and you with your busy family aren't even sure if they are married or engaged or just dating? Or cohabiting? They have no kids, so you have no common ground to actually talk with them. They look like they have some money. They both work. Hmm... I suppose they're just one of those couples who think they need to travel and own a house and three cars before they have a family. I wonder if she knows how bad contraception is for her body. I guess I'll just pray for them that they can get over their selfishness and that God will turn their hearts...
Isolation. Judgment. Friendlessness. Misunderstanding. Misdirected "jealousy" by those who truly aren't open to life. These are real crosses, too, but many women have no words to express them without opening up the privacy of their hearts and then sounding like whiners. They might not get comments in the grocery store, but might it be even more painful to be stopped on the church steps and be given a lecture about why for the good of their souls they need to be open to life? Or "Relax. It will happen in time." (Yes, the infertile also have their list of painfully annoying comments far too oft repeated.) Instead of relaxing, they spend their time doing medical research, traipsing from visit to disappointing doctor visit, usually being ridiculed by doctors for not "being serious" and trying artificial reproductive technologies and being offered little other hope or understanding for what is impairing their fertility.
This paragraph is striking:
But a Christian should have a different paradigm. We should run to to the cross. To death. So lay down your hopes. Lay down your future. Lay down your petty annoyances. Lay down your desire to be recognized. Lay down your fussiness at your children. Lay down your perfectly clean house. Lay down your grievances about the life you are living. Lay down the imaginary life you could have had by yourself. Let it go.
Now, I know from experience how painful this can be when the "hope" you are laying down grinds down to the very core of your meaning as a woman. Oh, I wanted so badly at one point to be recognized as a "real Catholic woman" because I had six or more kids in tow. But, that was an imaginary life. I couldn't for the life of me understand why God wasn't giving it to me, and I yelled and screamed at Him to let Him know it, too.
There ain't nothing we can hide behind in this Christian journey. What St. Paul said is true, women are saved through childbearing (1 Tim. 2:15). That's like saying women are saved while being women. A woman is saved by being who she is designed to be. But let's not wrench that out of the context of all else we know to be true in Christ. We are saved by the cross of Christ, by His death and resurrection, by being incorporated into Him in His death and raised to life in the Trinity, a communion of persons. For some women, united with the will of God for their lives, this experience of childbearing is very fruitful, and this then is how they meet the cross. For other women, also united with the will of God for their lives, the experience of childbearing is not fruitful, or takes on forms that are not physical. This is how they meet the cross. Pumping out a half dozen babies does not per se produce sanctity. We can't hide behind our many children or our sorrows and griefs at why we have none (or few), propping these up and trying to get these to be our union with Christ. No, nothing can replace my heart following Christ, not even my own (martyr-complex?) notion of my vocation.
There is joy to find, and it is in Christ. He is available to each and every person, regardless of the circumstances of your life.