Spiritual motherhood is stalking me. I’ve tried to file a restraining order, but she keeps showing her ugly mug around here. My women’s group is studying Edith Stein, one of the female saints who wrote the most about it. Then she shows up within the pages of Colleen Carroll Campbell’s book My Sisters the Saints, which I read and reviewed recently.
This excerpt in particular gives the beautiful truth of spiritual motherhood:
“Not one of them (Teresa of Avila, Edith Stein, Therese of Lisieux) had borne biological children. Not one had been a mother in the conventional sense…When He looked at these daughters of his, he saw beauty, not barenness. He did not grieve their empty wombs. He celebrated their maternal hearts. He rejoiced that they had allowed him to use those hearts in his own mysterious ways. I knew in that moment that God wanted to do the same with me – that he could do the same, if I let him. He could make me a mother. He could even make me a saint. And he could do both without me being pregnant. He needed only my cooperation, my willingness to trade my own dreams and plans of motherhood for his.”
Beatiful, right? It sure is. Unless you’re the one with spiritual motherhood stalking you.
Then the other night at my women’s group, a pregnant woman and two women with infants started telling me about embracing spiritual motherhood. If they hadn’t been close friends, I might have lost it. If I didn’t know of one woman’s own painful journey to motherhood, I might have snapped.
“It’s easy for you to say, isn’t it? You have what you want.”
It’s not that they’re wrong. I can be a spiritual mother. No, they’re right. It just infuriates me. Why should I have to settle for spiritual motherhood when others get the real thing, time and time again, anytime they ask for it, and even sometimes when they don’t.
Before you protest, “But you have a child!”
Yes, I am a mother. I had two souls alive inside me; one which died before we could know him, the other which gives us great joy every single day. Since I’ve been given this gift once, I know the sweetness of physical motherhood. And that’s why spiritual motherhood infuriates me with its ugly, stalking face, showing up in my life.
Some of you might be thinking, “Shouldn’t one gift be enough for you?” Maybe it should. But let me ask. Would it be enough for you? If you were the one with a heart full of love and a body full of brokenness, would one be enough for you? If you got to participate in the miracle of being a parent once, wouldn’t you want it again? Unless you answered no to that question, who are you to tell me that I should be content with just one?
Spiritual motherhood infuriates me because for a married woman, it’s second-best. Spiritual motherhood is the implied vocation of someone who is a sister, nun, or remains single. Because in those cases, physical motherhood is not a possible option.
Well, guess what? I’m married, I have sex, and I have ovaries and a uterus. Until those are removed, my husband dies, or I go through menopause, physical motherhood is a possible option. So when physical motherhood doesn’t continue to happen, despite desiring it very much and taking action for it to happen, then spiritual motherhood is my consolation prize. It’s not the vocation I embraced on my wedding day. It’s the thing that is being hoisted upon me by virtue of being broken.
Yes, yes. Spiritual motherhood is beautiful, and noble, and all that. But it doesn’t snuggle against your chest, warm and intoxicating, like a newborn does. It doesn’t look at you with adoring eyes of love. It doesn’t call you mommy in a voice that brings you to your knees from its vulnerability. It won’t be there on Thanksgiving and Christmas 20 years from now. It won’t come visit you in the nursing home when you’re alone and scared. Spiritual motherhood, for the married woman, is a hologram of physical motherhood. We may get glimpses of its effect, but largely, we remain in the dark. It’s not like watching this tiny human grow, change, and interact each day. It just isn’t.
It may sound terrible, and I surely don’t mean to disparage any true spiritual mothers (like the saints mentioned above, because I love them), but I don’t want to be a spiritual mother.
I don’t want silent, invisible motherhood. I don’t want looks from mothers of large families because I “just have one”. I don’t want to have to come up with code words to let people know, without using the word infertility, why we don’t have more. I don’t want invisible motherhood. I want loud, messy, laughter in my home. I want the motherhood I’ve tasted and grown to love, to keep on growing.
I just want spiritual motherhood to stop stalking me.