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Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Terror of Motherhood

Last Friday I attended a barbecue at a friend's home, an annual affair that included her large family and many friends. While I didn't know everyone there, I did know many, and each year, if I can I attend because, even though I'm single, I've never once felt "left out" of anything. Most of the attendees are families, and even as I sat at a table, I was much hugged and greeted by those just arriving, adults and children alike. At these gatherings, it never seems to matter if a few of us are single; we are made to feel like a part of their own family and so it's a comfortable place to be.

But there is one moment that I continue to ponder, and that makes me realize how much I need a Spiritual Director as I move on with my own vocational discernment.

One of my friends (who was at the barbecue) recently had a baby, a dear little girl, and I have now twice proudly held her, so happy for my friend! I have another friend who, maybe a year ago, lost her unborn little one, the first conception she was aware of although she's been married for several years now. She suffers from a genetic disease, nothing apparent from the outside, but I know that this disease concerns her for every pregnancy would be high-risk for her. I don't know how widespread is the knowledge of their loss, but on Friday, I couldn't help but remember her pain when someone commented that she and her husband were "the ones they were waiting for."

She didn't say anything, just smiled, and I know they want children, and I ached for her, knowing what she's suffered and what she fears. But she answered graciously if diminuitively, and from that point, my own thoughts wandered a bit.

Even as we observe the pain and the joys of our married friends, we as single people are on the margins. It is not that we don't revel in their wonders and grieve with them. Rather, it is that we are not a part of "the club". Any club. And as much as they do to make us feel like family, we as single people will always be on the outside looking in. It's the reality of our lives, simple as that. I'm neither happy nor sad, although maybe it seems a little bittersweet to me.

As others were joking with my friend about the child we are all waiting for, I happened to catch upon their wording. "you're the last one." I realized I wasn't even in the running. It wasn't that I was being ignored; far from it! I am not married, and this is a wonderful group of Catholic families, and we all believe the same thing; that children come after marriage. (To be certain, this group would also be supportive of unmarried mothers and rejoice in the children...we are also a VERY pro-life crowd!) . Yet, in the natural order of things, the banter with my friend was gentle, not demanding or rude. It was banter among friends, among married friends who know the lingo and the questions. And it was beautiful.

But it was a moment to be captured for me, as I realized I was not a part of it and may never be. I am an unmarried woman and I have a sense that no one will EVER ask me that question and I might never have a child of my own.

And I'm going to say something shocking..the idea isn't really that disturbing to me. Bittersweet...but I can't decide if it's more bitter or sweet.

Is the Past the Past?

As a little girl, I used to talk about what I would be like as a mother. I played with dolls, but as I got older, it wasn't babies I wanted, rather, I wanted to be a hero. My childhood fantasies were never about abandoning motherhood, although as I got older, I didn't think of motherhood; I thought of a career. Even as I began my working life by serving in child care and I did love children,I did not see myself as a mother. During college I worked in adolescent psych, and it was there that I decided motherhood was not for me; the kids there, from children (5 and up to around 23) were so messed up, and I got so beat up verbally, emotionaly, and physically in that job that I decided I would never have children.

I was terrified I'd mess them up just as much as those I served. And I think I hated the parents who had done so much to wreck the human beings they had brought into the world. I could not be something I hated.

But there was another dimension, something I haven't often voiced; the very idea of childbirth is abhorrent to me. It's awful. I'd rather be disembowled (even though the experience is similar). I'm not sure where this fear came from, but there it is. I had it LONG before I took an EMT class back in 1998 in which I cringed in my seat as we watched a few births. I was a puddle on the floor, and my instructor took note. I was otherwise a star student; give me anything, I could handle it...blood, guts, and eyeballs, I could give the textbook treatment. Give me the textbook births, I could cringe and recite the facts, but give me the reality...? That's what my instructor did as our class practiced scenarios. My fear was obvious to everyone. Mothers in the class tried to help me, to no avail...I decided that children and childbirth weren't worth it. Yet, I knew that one day I could be called upon to help a woman in labor; I knew I needed the facts but I never wanted the experience.

And yet...I belived, even though I wasn't a practicing Catholic, that children were a gift. I believed in life. Even as I practiced death, both professionally and personally in my relationships.

For awhile, there was a man I thought I wanted to marry, and I was at my turning point; I knew I was Catholic and wanted to come Home. That also meant that I wanted to be married in the Church, and I had to be "open to life". I was struggling with a number of issues, and my boyfriend was not interested in going to church, although he was interested in learning about what I believed. I think God used him to help me in my own questions, and made me I willing to give in to my greatest fear in order to live life with this man I think I love?

I decided I'd have a child with and for him, and trust God to get me through it. Because, rationally, woman have been doing this for millenia...who was I to have such a stupid fear?

Yet it was not to be...not with him, maybe not ever.

When I returned to the Church, for a short time I had a Spiritual Director, and while I never confessed my DEEPEST fears, I did share with him my hesitancy about children, around the time I confessed I thought I was called to religious life.

This priest told me that one must be called to motherhood and religious life both; meaning that good Sisters and Nuns are ALSO good mothers. You can't hate children and be a good mother to anyone. You can't hate children and be a good priest. It was across the board; he wasn't picking on me.

And his words have not left me. I still wonder about them. I've grown, and no, I don't hate children. I think they're wonderful. And the idea of labor...well, it's not pleasant, but knowing about redemptive suffering helps a great deal.

Yet...I don't think I'm called to motherhood. I have a sense that I will never be married, but I'm not sure I'm called to religious life, either. I look at different communities and consider their lives, especially given that I work in a church. But none of it attracts me. This afternoon I realized that I love my solitude, yet it doesn't fulfill me.

I love the idea of marriage and being married, and I'm willing to accept all that goes with marriage. But I have to wonder if I'm still romanticizing marriage? I know that our lives here are only temporary. There is no marriage in Heaven.

Yet, then I consider religious life; nothing really attracts me. I am attracted, like marriage, to the IDEA of religious life, and think it beautiful. Yet it still involves something foreign to me; life with other people; people you can't get away from. And maybe assignments that one cannot refuse.

The community I visited for prayer and do intend to visit for a weekend could send me to a parish or a school or a nursing home...and I won't have a say in where I go. Will I be happy? Knowing that, really, I'm not fulfilled even where I am? Am I too set in my ways? Am I fit for such a life? Can I be obedient or has my life of survival-oriented philosophy destroyed my ability to conform to a community of any sort?

I'm in a tough position...I like children, but I don't feel that "biological clock" ticking away. Just a small sadness that no one will ever ask to see my child. And I look at religious life, rapidly passing me by as more and more communities are eliminated the older I get, and I hear the echo of the priests words; that I must be a Mother even to be a Sister.

Does my lack of desire for motherhood destroy the potential vocation to consecrated life?

The odd thing is, that in vocational discernment, one knows they are giving up one thing for another. I'm giving up nothing, and it's paralyzing me.

I have nothing to sacrifice.

It's not a sacrifice to give up motherhood when I don't really feel called to it and haven't since I was a child and considered it the only option in life.

It's not a sacrifice to give up religious life when I'm not sure it's where I belong, anyway, or if I could handle it.

It's not a sacrifice to give up the single life, because I don't live it like "Sex in the City" anyway, and I don't think I'm fulfilled in this state even as I do live it out. I don't at all feel called to be a "Consecrated Virgin". And don't mention Regnum Christi..I won't discuss it.

Yet this year, I was told I was a mother, by a woman who is a grandmother. And in the next moment, congratulated by a mother with a few of her own, for the children I don't have but "might" in the future.

What's really sad is that I know my agony is not my own; it doesn't belong to me. It belongs to an entire collective of disenfranchized women who have grown up in an atmosphere of hatred towards motherhood, hatred of holiness, and hatred of anything other than self-fulfillment through temporal means.

I haven't found happiness in this world, it doesn't exist in this world, and yet...we know we belong in this world because God brought us into being. How can we find where we really belong? We are not a sum of our dysfunctional families, but as I pointed out to a Sister I spoke with do we know God's will when the foundation He established has been destroyed for so many of us? How do we know where we belong when nothing seems to fit?

How do we answer a call we can't hear because we don't know the language?

How can we overcome cultural indoctrination that has destroyed the foundation that is supposed to build us up?


Can you hear the echoes of the culture of fragmented family reverberating between the walls of objective reality? Is it any wonder so many souls have been and continue to be shattered by a culture that seeks only itself to the detriment of our own humanity?


Hidden One said...

Perhaps you are called to sacrifice fulfilment.

Lillian Marie said...

Blind trust/faith in God is one of the most difficult ministries to which we are called.

Logic tells us to veer toward that which can be sensed. Faith tells us to trust no matter what the outcome or road traveled.

And sometimes, we are not to belong to the world - we are set apart from the world, yet challenged to live in it.

My prayers are with you.

Rhonda said...

I think the Holy Spirit meant me to read this blog at this very moment. This is something I have been struggling with for a while and I had just thought about it again. I was reading your post and it was like you were writing my thoughts. I have such a hard time expressing them, though. I think the same way as you: I would love to be a mother, but I couldn't even be in the room when my sister gave birth. I occasionally feel called to marriage, but I haven't met a man I think I could be around for long periods of time. I don't feel called to the religious life because I couldn't stand being around all those women ALL the time. I love my solitude, yet I hate it at the same time. I was a t a friend's house tonight and all I could think was to leave as soon as possible. I have no idea what to do with my life. I'm 28: I think it's about time I figure this out. (Thank you for helping me finally put this in writing! I think I'll post this on my blog!)

Dan G said...

Have you (both Adoro and commenter Rhonda) considered doing a retreat in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola? Either the full 30 days or an abbreviated version, like 8 days?

That might seem like an odd suggestion, but my own experience of such an 8-day retreat, as well as what I know of others' experience of it, is that God uses it to do remarkable deep healing,as well as leading with regard to vocation. You wouldn't believe what he will bring to the surface in you-- until you experience it.

Adoro said...

rhonda ~ I nearly took this post down even right after I hit the "publish" button. Your comment reminds me why I write. Thank you, and prayers coming your way.

Dan G. ~ I would love to do something like that, but unfortunately I can't afford it. And I only see that kind of retreat come around every so often...and NEVER at a time I have the freedom to get away from work. When God says it's time, I know He'll send me.

smk said...

Adoro, I really think you need to refocus the vocation decision. It's not about where we'll find fullfillment. It's about where we're called to serve. LOVING SERVICE is the ultimate call. When you discover where you're called to serve, there you will find fullfillment.

Maureen said...

It's not just dysfunctional families. I have a solid family, which is probably why I have no problem with the idea of motherhood. I just never felt called to be one.

Everyone always said I should be a nun, because I wasn't very social, didn't take an interest in guys as dating material, didn't take much interest in what I wore, loved to study, etc. But apparently nuns don't feel this way. In fact, you have to convince them that you're social enough. Worse than a sorority.

We need to reinvent monasticism if we wanna get in. I say we start a union for hermits, canonesses, and so forth. We could all live in the same building or something. :)

Melody said...

I don't think it's that uncommon to have mixed feelings about motherhood. I never felt very warm and fuzzy about babies when I was a girl. I was married at 21, had our first child at 23. The whole time I was pregnant, I was very cerebral about the whole thing. The self-talk went like this: "You shouldn't expect love at first sight. This whole relationship is going to take time. You're going to have to really work at loving a child." So I was totally unprepared for the first time I really held my son, after the nurses had done their things and left me alone with him for a few minutes. To my surprise I discovered that he was the most beautiful baby in the world and I loved him with all my heart. God gives us what we need when we need it.

Anonymous said...

Adoro, you said that you "realize how much I need a Spiritual Director as I move on with my own vocational discernment." Absolutely, because with this sort of direction, a person can really flounder indefinitely. So I pray that you'll find a spiritual director soon who will be able to assist you on this part of your faith/love journey.

You also noted that you realized "that I love my solitude, yet it doesn't fulfill me." Right you are about that -- it's not the solitude that fulfills us, rather, it's the Solitary One who alone can fulfill us...

In response to your question "How can we find where we really belong?" -- for some of us, we learn only through trial and error and over a long period of time. It took me many, many years to discover where I really belong, and I shed many tears of frustration and even pain over not knowing, and that in spite of all my best efforts to know. I pray for your peace and strength as you continue to search, learn, explore and discover where God is calling you, where He wants you to be. When the time is right, He will show you and you will know...

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to get to this post so late.

I was 5 and Protestant and said no when God asked me to be a nun with the excuse that I was not Catholic and would not be. For a long time I forgot about that. As I grew up I knew I wanted to be and would be a good stay-at-home mom.And I spent years praying about my husband-to-be and children and myself. Eventually I became Catholic. I met a man who is precisely the help-mate I need. We were dating. I went on a retreat with Benedictine sisters. I KNEW that that life was exactly what I thought it was and that I would be happy as a cloistered nun. I was also granted the grace to see the pitfalls I would face on that path. I had such a desire to share the experience with the man I was dating. The director agreed with me that God was leading me to consider marriage. I married that man as a service to his soul and to God and to my own soul. I am a very blessed mother now. I still have a longing at times for the religious life, but I also have the peace of knowing that I am exactly where I am supposed to be doing exctly what I am supposed to be doing.

It is about service and living the joy and peace of God. You find them only when you seek God himself via service not when you look for them or what to do.

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus look full in His wonderful face and the things of the Earth will grow strangely dime in the light of His glory and grace"

Remember that Peter and all of us fall when we look at ourselves instead of God.

I hope this helps.