In light of the Christmas story, Charlene Bader contemplates how motherhood often and unexpectedly changes women's dreams.
Each Christmas, as the world retells Mary's story of unexpected pregnancy, I recall my own first pregnancy, a fearful surprise that would inevitably affect the careful hopes I'd imagined for myself.
We receive confusing messages on life and motherhood. On the one hand, we're told that nothing changes: You can still do it all with a baby! A baby won't take away your dreams!
On the other hand, we're told that any personal ambition is ultimately insignificant next to motherhood: Being a mom is better than anything else in the world!
Of course there's some truth to all of it. Some families seem to effortlessly incorporate children into their ongoing lives. Some moms use maternity leave to launch a new business. And especially at Christmas, how beautiful to contemplate the life-changing gift of an unexpected child.
But we need to be careful with our well-meaning platitudes. When we diminish the real sacrifice of motherhood — claiming it doesn't have the power to change or replace the hopes and dreams of a woman — we also, inadvertently, diminish the love of a mother. A mother's love is the deepest understanding of love for many humans, not because it's uncomplicated, simple, easy, or painless, but precisely, because it is not.
Ten years after my first surprise baby, I'm still furrowing through the immersive lessons of repeated humiliation that frame motherhood. I wasn't expecting the messiness, the pee, the vomit, the intense neediness that deeply defines our humanity. How we need one another, even when we think we've outgrown it.
And my box of every answer, so proudly toted around through high school and college, hasn't had all the answers since that first confounded pregnancy test. Oh, to have the faith of Mary, resting calmly in peace even as she realized that God's will in her life wouldn't align comfortably with the future she had anticipated.
As it happens, motherhood often means re-writing the life we thought we were living. So much of the cultural encouragement around motherhood has proven false. The reality is: I can't do it all. I have let go of personal dreams and desires because of motherhood.
And yet, new dreams on old themes are still floating around. It seems trolling through endless sleepless days of babies and toddlers has been good for them; my hopes are clearer and more daring than past guarded ambitions. Even so, I'm still unsure. What doors might close because my children need me? But also, what doors might open because the needs of my children put me in the right place at the right time?
With motherhood I've realized, with gratitude, that my one-size-fits-all ideal of God is just as wrong as it is useless. Jesus is far more personal than an XXL tee that "fits all" but sorts easily to the Goodwill pile. Perhaps this was the source of Mary's comfort that first Christmas. She already knew God as so much more than a lofty spirit or calloused wishing well. She calmly weathered storms with the Lord long before Jesus calmed the storm for the disciples, and from this, she knew the personal affinity of God — not just for her, but for each of us. What new work might God be creating for love of you?
Dear Catholic mom, your sacrifice is real and has been particularly heavy this difficult year. Perhaps your life drifted even farther from the storyline you thought you were living. This Christmas, may the Spirit of God find each of us wherever we are and inspire us with renewed hopes and new dreams. Mother of the Word Incarnate, pray for us.
Copyright 2020 Charlene Bader
Image: Sandra Seitamaa (2020), Unsplash
About the Author
Born and raised in Texas, Charlene Bader enjoys teaching, editing, and writing while raising 5 boys with her husband, Wally. She learned to love Scripture from her Baptist parents and liturgy from her Episcopal grandma. In 2003, she converted to Catholicism. Charlene is passionate about helping others experience a personal, relevant connection to the Lord in their everyday lives. She writes personally at her blog, Sunrise Breaking.