Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What the experts don't tell you

This article was originally written as a response to a writing prompt link-up, but I missed the deadline.  Because I do things like that.  I'm sharing it here anyway.

Becoming a parent for the first time is intimidating.  I can remember the jumble of emotions as if it were yesterday, even though it was nine years ago when we discovered, on our first wedding anniversary, that our first baby was on the way.

From the moment the test read positive, I was thrilled.  Elated.  Over-the-moon in love with the precious soul now inhabiting my womb.  I had no first-hand experience with motherhood, but I knew I loved this little being with everything that was in me.  Something profound had happened, and was continuing to happen, and even though I knew parenting would be hard, I believed it would be beautiful too.

Yet I realized early on that the culture in general preferred to focus on the hard parts of having a child, in particular the degradation of a woman's body and heart that they said automatically came with carrying and delivering a baby.  Your body is never the same...your life is never the same...your marriage is never the same.  

Which, actually, is true.

But what they really meant when they said those things was that it's worse.  My figure, my routine, my relationship with my husband were all sure to be doomed by the parasitic creature gaining more and more strength within me each day.  And while I simply could not believe those things could be completely right, I also would occasionally wonder if they were maybe a little bit true.

"What will happen with us?" I timidly asked my husband one afternoon as we shared a picnic lunch on the grass.  I must have been seven or eight months pregnant by that point, and the assorted comments and warnings and reactions to our having a baby so soon in the life of a marriage (she would be born a year and a half after we'd wed), and so young being that I was 22 and he was 23, had taken their toll.  I'd begun to wonder if maybe I was wrong.  If maybe I was being naive to assume that this was through-and-through a very good thing, this baby we were about to have.

My husband adamantly assured me that if this baby was a good thing--and we knew she was since God created marriage, and loves life, and delights in each and every soul--then our marriage wouldn't instantly become worse solely on account of becoming parents.  On the contrary, following God's design for vocation ought to ultimately enhance and grow and change and bless.  We couldn't know this for sure then, but we trusted in it just the same.

And of course once that chubby baby girl joined the rest of the world on a warm February night, I knew Kevin was right.  I knew that we had participated in something incredibly miraculous and something much bigger than ourselves. 

Yes there was sleep deprivation, and there were diapers, and my hips never quite went back to their pre-baby configuration.  And now after having given birth to three chubby baby girls, which has necessitated a combined total of four and a half years spent breastfeeding, other parts of me will never be the same either. 

So yes, I can see how someone really could look at me and believe that my babies did indeed change everything.  My body, my time, my heart are just not my own any longer.  Whereas Kevin and I used to see movies and eat out at nice restaurants on the weekends, now we spend our time at home, or with other families.  Sometimes our weekends even involve caring for sick kids or cleaning up messes.  Far from glamorous, we live out our days in community with seven small people who have a lot of needs. 

But I would still argue that it is better, not worse, these changes that have slowly but surely crept into our bones and restructured our hearts.  We love more.  Give more.  Die to self more.  Laugh more.  Live more.

Sadly, it is a well-kept secret that children bring more vibrance, more stability, more grace, and more joy to a marriage.  Because you see, most people prefer to focus on the hardships and sacrifice.  Which, I admit, is a reality--motherhood is difficult, and exhausting, and in-the-trenches much of the time.  But in spite of being right about the challenges of parenthood, those people fail to acknowledge that hardship and sacrifice are merely part of life's landscape either way, and that living out the vocation God has selected for you (in this case, marriage and motherhood) will always, always bring deeper fulfillment and union with Jesus.  Always.  And two individuals growing in holiness and in devotion to God are going to be moving towards a better marriage relationship, too.

The truth is that MOST things related to motherhood are mysteriously absent from the two-dimensional books and articles penned by so-called experts. 

They don't even begin to capture the horror of a child with the stomach flu, for example, nor do they have any guidance for people who have been called by God to adopt four children with traumatic pasts from a developing country. 

They have nothing to say to the mother who will sit in a waiting room while her four-year-old daughter has open heart surgery, or to the woman who will experience two miscarriages

They fail to address the joys and struggles of being open to life, and consequently open to the attention of strangers--both good and bad--that you receive as a result. 

And they definitely don't touch on owning a big 15-passenger van or on what you're supposed to do when you and your seven kids are stranded by the side of the highway, because the aforementioned van has been rendered out-of-commission.

Much of contemporary thought on life and parenthood has nothing to say to a woman like me.  And perhaps this is why I've not spent a lot of (read: any) time perusing the subject's best-sellers.  Instead I've found my inspiration and direction from God and the Church's teachings, from the great papal encyclicals like Humane Vitae and Mulieris Dignitatum and Familiaris Consortio, and from books like Cormac Burke's Covenanted Happiness (presently out of print, but worth finding if you can.  You can also read it in its entirety, for free, here). 

Timeless truths (as opposed to pop-culture advice and modern-day commentary) about what it means to be a woman and a mother give me hope and passion for the future, and faith to get through the day.  Because the reality is that my life just doesn't make sense outside of the paradigm of vocation.  And vocation is just a fancy way of saying that I am chosen by God for a specific purpose, and doing my very best to live that out--suffering and all--because it brings me closer to Jesus.  Things may be hard, my children may occasionally be a disaster, my home may be chaotic from time to time, but I am participating with God in the very shaping of souls, a most meaningful work. 

Whether the books tell me that or not.


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