Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What we do

Hard to believe, but it's been a year now since my two Ethiopian daughters both underwent heart catheterizations, on the same day, one right after the other.

When you adopt two children with Down syndrome from a developing country, you know that a previously-undetected congenital heart defect is a very real possibility.  So we reasoned that maybe one of them would have some sort of issue, but that if they did, it would surely be nothing major, since they'd survived so long in such an unideal environment.

Hmmmm.  :)

When the cardiologist told me at the girls' first clinic visit that both of them had heart defects necessitating surgery, and that one of them would also require open-heart surgery in order to survive childhood, I was semi-surprised, semi-afraid, but mostly just anxious to get the ball rolling.  I didn't know a thing about cardiology but I knew my daughters had lived far too long without these problems being addressed. 

So I arrived at Children's Hospital early one November morning, roughly one year ago.  Both girls were  happy as could be, because that's just how they are--but I was nervous.  None of my kids had ever been admitted to a hospital before.  So having to wait through two heart procedures, praying that Tigist's would be effective in repairing the hole, and that Mekdes' would reveal that she was a candidate for open-heart surgery...and attempting to keep Tigist still during recovery and to console an out-of-sorts Mekdes when she awoke...it was hard.

Something that strikes me now looking back though is that even when you get the crazy news that your two-year-old and five-year-old both need heart surgery, it is really just a process of putting one foot in front of the other.  Normal life keeps slipping and rushing by, even though you're making big medical decisions for two children you scarcely know, and subjecting them to necessary but large medical risks.

It's weird.

Because we all have this idea in our heads about what being a mother looks like, what it entails, how it feels.  And few of us ever envision ourselves dashing between two hospital bedsides in an attempt to comfort children as they regain consciousness.  No woman imagines receiving updates in a waiting room about her daughter being put on a bypass machine.  And yet, I've experienced both of those things as a mom.  And something tells me that even if you haven't, there are things that maybe took you by surprise, or that didn't fit with the narrative we've all bought into about raising children.

I honestly think that our definition of motherhood is deeply flawed.  I suspect it is too narrow, too short-sighted, and that our lives as women might be different if we adopted a broader and more accurate view of the vocation.  This is why I detest the term "Natural Family Planning" (why yes, I really did just say that), this is why adoption can be difficult, and this is what leaves us dissatisfied and disenchanted when things don't go according to the fairy tale.

If we want a good, beautiful, true picture of what it means to be a mother, it seems we must shed any beliefs or assumptions we already have about what makes for a happy life, and look to the wise words of God instead.  It is hard to throw off long-held expectations and beliefs, but it is well worth it if we exchange them for wisdom and for truth. 

Often unintentionally, we absorb far more of our culture than we realize.  How many of us have believed at some point that "being a good mom" includes providing each of our kids with his or her own bedroom and lots of "personal space"...a fully-paid-for college education...a gourmet meal each night...unlimited extra-curricular activities...brand-new, trendy clothing options...a mother and father who feel they have everything under control at all times?

I know I have.

Because yes, moms-to-many are susceptible to this error too.

But the more I read and learn and live, I'm coming to see that the safe American Dream my generation inherited is regularly at odds with God's methods for cultivating virtues like charity and holiness.

See the problem is that my desire for comfort, happiness and ease does not always square with what my daily tasks and vocation require of me.  While we may attempt to carve out the precise existence we want to have, life itself remains fluid and unpredictable, independent of our whims and fancies.  Relationships, health, death, and other circumstances far beyond our control will always fail to bend to our wills, and what an amazing witness our Church might be if we clung instead to Jesus.  And to the road less travelled.  What if we fully embraced our vocations and our faith, even when they flew in the face of conventional, 21st-century American "wisdom"?

Over the past few years, I've been blessed to discover these precious and beautiful encyclicals: Casti Connubii, Humanae Vitae, Evangelium Vitae, and the Address to Midwives on the Nature of Their Profession.

Profoundly rich writings on the Sacrament of Marriage, the gift of children, and life itself, they offer incredible insight into God's design for humankind.  These documents are an immense gift to the Church, and to the world.  (Side-note: don't be put off by fancy words like "encyclical", or by the fact that they were written by intellectual, scholarly, and holy men.  The fact is that these men wrote these words for us, in order that we might have generous and happy marriages.  There is an unfortunate tendency in our culture to avoid source documents in favor of watered-down articles and, yes, blogposts.  But these writings are SO worth reading, and I promise you won't be sorry for investing the time.) 

So all of this to say, fear not when things don't go as planned.  Don't be discouraged when motherhood throws you a curveball, or when raising children turns out to be less like the pretty Pinterest boards, and more like Lord of the Flies.  Don't think you're doing it wrong if you have a miserable week, and don't believe that the quiet and often unnoticed work you do each day in your home is not contributing to society or to Jesus in any meaningful way. 

Because I assure you that it most certainly is, and that the creating and raising of souls is the most significant donation of self a mother can give.

Instead, be encouraged--even when motherhood is simply watching and waiting, nerves completely shot, while your two new daughters recover from heart procedures in side-by-side, post-op rooms.  Seeing myself in that photo actually brings tears to my eyes, because that day wasn't fun and it sure wasn't easy.  But I love my girls, and I'm their mother, so it's just what I do.

And maybe that's the point.  Being a mom is hard and it's beautiful and it's messy and it's good. 

Simply put, it's just what we do.


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