Marriage and the Universal Vocation of Motherhood

This is a post written in the midst of our infertility journey that I had not published at that time.

Nearly a year after I was married, my mother went through everything in my old room.  She packed it all up in boxes and handed it to me. “Here”, she said, “This can be all yours to sort through now.” And as I was looking through boxes of clothes, purses, makeup, and school projects, I found two particular projects that were of interest to me.  One was from when I was in preschool, the other was from first grade.  Both were “All About Me” projects, the type of project where a teacher asks a young student various questions about favorite color, favorite food, favorite things to do, all for the purpose of being able to look at these things later and reminisce.

My favorite food was mac’ and cheese.  My favorite color was blue and purple. Things I loved included my dog, my mom and dad, and my siblings. But what did I want to be when I grew up? Not a teacher, not a doctor, not a nurse.  Not a lawyer, not an astronaut, not a writer.  I wanted to be a mom.

It strikes me, that as young as I was, as many different things that I could have chosen, that I chose motherhood as my desired vocation.  I know from my own memory that even as young as six, that I wanted to be a teacher.  But when asked, I didn’t choose to say, “I want to be a teacher.”  Instead, I decided that being a mother was a greater desire in my heart than being a teacher.

And yet, marriage was not my immediate vocation choice.  When I met Nicholas, I wanted to join the Sisters of Life in New York City.  Their mission to protect, preserve, and enhance the sacredness of all human life is a mission that deeply resonates with my heart.  And when I was discerning with them, I didn’t see my desire to join them as contrary to my desire to be a mother.  I saw that these women were mothers in a profoundly spiritual and mystical manner.  I saw the way the mothers in their convent looked at them and spoke of them as mentors.  I saw them carry babies and lovingly nurture them so that a new mom could have some peace on a retreat. And I wanted to participate in this spiritual motherhood.  It is still on my heart to minister to women in this way, though not as a religious sister.

On January 13, 2015, I left Nicholas behind before I went to Rome for four months to do research abroad on religious life.  On January 13, 2016 I stood in Vatican Square in my wedding dress with my new husband to receive the Sposi Novelli blessing.  God worked in my heart that year to open me to the possibility of marriage. He asked me to give up the possibility of marriage while in adoration, and then, three days later, in the Basilica of St. Mary, Major, asked me to give my heart fully to Him, but with Nicholas at my side.  He expanded my understanding of my vocation as Christ’s spouse to include marriage; I see now in my marriage that I receive Christ’s love primarily through Nicholas.  That in turn reminds me to give all that I have to Christ and to rely on Him even more deeply than I rely on Nicholas.  And though I hope to participate in embodied motherhood, Christ has used my understanding of spiritual motherhood that I gained from my discernment with the Sisters of Life to understand myself as a mother in a profoundly spiritual way.  I am a mother hidden, unknown to the world except to some close friends.  I may not be a mother in the same way as mothers with children on earth, but I am a mother.

Saying that takes a certain measure of boldness.  I am afraid that those with children on earth may be angered that I would dare to claim the title of “mother.”  And yet, my experience with discerning religious life and entering into marriage have taught me that every woman is a mother.  Every woman is called to be a mother, though her motherhood is expressed differently and uniquely. Reading Edith Stein’s Essays on Women has confirmed what I have known in my heart–that every woman, no matter her state in life, is to be a mother.  For motherhood is not confined to raising one’s biological children, but rather, “to be a mother innately means to cultivate, to guard, and to develop true humanity. Both spiritual companionship and spiritual motherliness are not limited to the physical wife and mother relationship, but they extend to all people with whom woman comes into contact” (Essays on Women).  Woman has been created to be relational.  She concerns herself with knowing, understanding, and helping others.  When we strive to cultivate and guard true humanity, authentic relationship, we are fulfilling the office of mother.  The office of mother is particularly important as it relates to biological and adopted children, of course, but would we not say that a religious sister who pours her heart out to teaching and cultivating children’s faith is a mother?  Would we not call the older, single woman who cares for our children and mentors teens a true mother to the community? So too it is then that any woman who prays for children of her own, who gives herself to the care of children, who takes up the office of godmother or confirmation sponsor, who devotes herself to the betterment of her community, who gives generously of herself to all whom she meets, may be called a true mother.

I am a godmother and a confirmation sponsor to two of my siblings.  I work with children daily, teaching them the faith and love of neighbor.  When they fall down, I tend to their wounds.  When they cry, I comfort them. And I pray for my own children that are not here yet.  Though I do not know the time or the way in which my own children will come to me and my husband, I know that they will come.  And so I hold them in my heart and my prayers daily.  And it is through these prayers, through this daily gift of self to others, through care for all whom I meet, that I strive to fulfill the call to motherhood, which is the call of every woman.

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