I recently read this article over at Salon.com, and I confess it struck a nerve. I mean a really, major, gigantic, I-need-to-write-about-this nerve.
A popular author hates Mother's Day.
I, on the other hand, do not.
In the context of the article, she explores the subjects of motherhood and womanhood while giving a defense for the wholesale rejection of a day dedicated to society's mothers.
My first thought upon reading the piece was that our culture is truly a place where, in the name of inclusion, "everybody wins"--we can't recognize excellence or give credit to someone without hurting somebody else's feelings, so we avoid it altogether. A day intended to honor one's mother has thus been reduced to a destructive and exclusive observance because not everyone is a mother, and some of our mothers have passed away. Some of us want to be mothers but can't, and some of us have estranged mothers, and some of us have horrible mothers.
Down with Mother's Day!
But I can't help but think that each and every one of us was given life by our mothers, women who participated with God in the creation of precious and complicated new souls. These mothers said yes to God amidst varying circumstances and degrees of ability and preparedness. They shared their body with another being for nine months. They sacrificed--yes, even the most selfish of women sacrificed--in some way by carrying a child to term and giving birth. No matter how good or bad or present our respective mothers were, they gave us life, which is surely something worth upholding--and a reason for setting aside one day out of every 365 for remembering this.
Please hear me when I say that I understand the topic of motherhood has the incredible potential to be tied to great pain and loss. While I don't pretend to understand the sum total of the female experience, I've miscarried twice--and after my first miscarriage, experienced secondary infertility.
So I know what it feels like to long for a child that simply isn't coming, and to grieve for a child (two actually) whose life was far too short.
I've spent a Mother's Day, in fact, desperately wishing for a positive pregnancy test result while simultaneously wondering why my teeny, tiny baby had to die--amidst cramping and blood--seven months prior. And that is hard stuff, and it was hard in spite of the fact that I already had one beautiful daughter. Because she was supposed to have been a sister too, one month away from welcoming her new sibling into the family. And not only was that not going to happen, but my womb remained painfully empty too. A happy, but also kind of sad, Mother's Day to me.
I didn't begrudge Mother's Day, not to any one--and I hope I never will. When I was grieving our losses, I tried to be extra grateful for the joy of new life experienced by friends and family. When I felt discouraged and wondered if I'd ever be pregnant again, I discovered what a miracle it truly is, this participating with God in the creation of souls...and as such should never be taken for granted or, even worse, permanently cast aside.
Returning to the article, I must admit that I laughed out loud when she spoke about the implied superiority of mothers. Because I don't know any mamas who engage in delusional thinking that says they are better than everyone else! We don't automatically have the corner on self-sacrifice or martyrdom or sainthood and, if anything, are hyper-aware of our faults and shortcomings. Children have a funny way of bringing those out--in fact, I'd probably think I was a pretty good person were it not for the many small people tracking mud into my home and forgetting to flush the toilet. Let's just say the Church won't be making a case for my canonization anytime soon.
But we do have a pretty amazing role to play in the world, and there's nothing remotely self-righteous about acknowledging that. This unique gift which extends far beyond the simple act of giving birth, this raising and shaping of human beings--that doesn't always feel fulfilling and, if I'm honest, can actually feel slightly miserable at times--is nothing short of a miracle.
It's not about being exclusive.
It's not about rubbing salt in wounds.
It is about embracing womanhood in its most amazing of biological ways, and extolling the simple but profound virtue of openness to life: the idea that when we take up the vocation of marriage, our love is actually manifested in the physical form of a new little being.
And of course not all of us are called to be mothers--or to be married for that matter. Many dear women, for example, have given themselves over to God completely as consecrated religious. This vocation is just as selfless, just as deserving of honor and praise, and equally representative of the wholeness of womanhood. These ladies point towards something we mothers will only achieve in the future, utter oneness with Jesus (as they serve Him as a spouse). Not to mention, they are available to be spiritual mothers to us and to our children and serve as an incredible, astounding example of a life given away for the love of God.
They are embodying the other facet of Mary's holiness: her perpetual virginity.
And, of course many women struggle with infertility--a cross I will never understand this side of Heaven--but they are no less life-affirming, and I am certain that God is using these dear souls for some incredible, important purpose.
And so as the culture marches forward in its oppression of womanhood, underscoring the idea that liberation comes in the form of the suppression of biological and God-given realities, I am grateful for that one, measly day on the calendar--when even the most secular of societies acknowledges that there is dignity in the work of motherhood, and that living out God's design for marriage is worthy of beauty and honor.
And yes, this probably puts me in the minority.
Because I suspect that the Salon article resonated with many, many people. And hear me when I say I certainly don't think everyone has to observe Mother's Day--though I must admit it's kind of fun getting a bunch of cheesy, handmade cards from my kids. And I also don't want to gloss over the fact that there are countless women who did have a painful Mother's Day this past weekend. I kind of suspect we all will at some point. It's a little like giving birth, really--the pain with the beauty that is remembering a mother who is gone now, or the grief in longing for a child who is lost or not coming. Or the dashed expectations that creep in when you realize that being a mom isn't always particularly fulfilling, and that sometimes a dirty diaper is really, just, well, a dirty diaper.
I pray that God will bring these dear, precious women comfort and peace in the waiting and tensions of life. I pray that family and friends will be sensitive to their circumstances.
But I must respectfully also add that I believe the author of the Salon article missed the mark. Hallmark holiday or not, womanhood and motherhood are worthy of holding a significant place in the culture--rather, they must--because for a society to flourish, women and men must live out their given vocations in dignity, in accordance with God's beautiful design and natural law.
This is what frees us.
This is what is decidedly liberating.
This is what builds a society.
So if nothing else, may Mother's Day compel us to embrace new life and to honor the miracle of womanhood--whether we have children ourselves or not, whether we have living mothers or not. Because when God created Woman, He gave the world an incredible gift. And when Mary Ever-Virgin said yes to God at the Annunciation, she went on to give birth to Jesus--ushering eternal life into the world.
And that is why I don't hate Mother's Day.