Recently, I saw the following excerpt on Facebook that reminded me of the sacrifices mothers (and fathers) make out of love for their children.
“Your Mother carried you inside of her womb for nine whole months, she felt sick for months with nausea, then she watched her feet swell and her skin stretch and tear. She struggled to climb stairs, she got breathless quickly and even a simple task like putting her shoes on was a huge struggle for her. She suffered many sleepless nights while you kicked and squirmed inside of her and while you demanded that she scoffed junk at 3am, she then went through EXCRUCIATING PAIN to bring you into this world.”
Yes, it is true, I have given birth, and pregnancy, labor, delivery and nursing aren’t all roses, and things don’t exactly get any easier from there. One time my three year old asked me what those lines were on my stomach and I explained they were from when she and Siena (1 yr old) were growing in my belly and I came to the conclusion that instead of stretch marks they should be called “love marks,” so that is what I told her they were. Love the verb not the feeling. Love the act of giving of oneself. Love the nausea and vomiting, the varicose veins, the stretch marks, the gingivitis, and the sleepless nights. But these sacrifices aren’t exactly voluntary in the sense that you can opt out of them, they are just part of the cross called pregnancy and they are just the beginning.
Mothers and fathers make many sacrifices. They may give up social events, vacations or in other ways direct their spending towards their children’s needs instead of their own. Some may give up careers or promotions for their family or others may get a second job to afford what they want to give their children.
When I was a teen I thought I should write a poem for my mom about how being a mother is like being Christ. For just as my mother gave me her body so that I might grow/flourish and have life so did our Savior. Jesus gave us his life on the cross so that we might have eternal life. And He gives us his body in the Eucharist so that we might be in communion with him now. Motherhood is a lesson in divine love. Learning to give even when the cost is high. For as St. Theresa said our crosses are the ladder to heaven.
I know I didn’t really understand the love God has for me (and each of us) until I became a parent. I understood it in my head, but I never really knew its full strength in my heart until I possessed a fraction of that same love for my daughters. If you are a parent you may know the feeling, the pure selflessness where you would bear your children’s pain yourself if you could. There is no doubt in my mind that this is part of God’s plan for parents. Becoming a parent teaches one to become less selfish. You hear all about the stretch marks and the literal (but also metaphorical) dirty diapers of parenting. Sometimes I think our society emphasizes these negatives too much. Few people even attempt to articulate to new parents or non-parents the stretch marks on your heart. Trying to describe the good stuff is like trying to describe beauty, since many of the joys are intangible. And I think we are sensitive to not rubbing it in to people that don’t have kids.
The sacrifices may be big and small, but investing in this kind of love pays infinite dividends. I think my daughter Charlie said it best. When she was two and Siena was 4 months old the three of us were snuggling in bed before we started the day. She said to me after smothering the baby in a hug, “I love Siena, she makes me happy in my heart.” Two years old and she said it perfectly! Her genuine affection and honest emotion just melted me. You can’t put a price on open-mouth-slobbery-baby kisses or hearing your three year old say she wants to marry Daddy when she grows up. I think that for many people parenthood is an integral part of our path to salvation. I am NOT saying that you have to be a parent to get to heaven, there are LOTS of people who unselfishly dedicate their lives to helping others and do not have biologically children of their own. I am also not saying that people without children are selfish, though perhaps some of them choose not to have children for selfish reasons and are not fulfilling God’s plan for their lives.
Did you think this was a prolife blog? Are you wondering what this has to do with abortion? Have you ever wondered like me why God made us so fertile so young? Why is it that teenagers are even able to procreate when as teenagers we are so selfish? I don’t have the answer, but I guess in our ever increasingly ego-centric society we need to hold onto something to help us see beyond ourselves more than ever. I hope that my meaning is coming across correctly. I’m not pushing for teen pregnancy or that we all should be parents, but parenthood does mature many people’s spiritual lives in a sense, even if it is unrecognized. Asking women with an unplanned pregnancy to “see it through” is no small thing, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing. Motherhood is a high calling, but I would wager that the majority that rise to the occasion (whether keeping the baby or bravely choosing adoption) have no regrets for the rewards are great.
The calling: To give, to give till it hurts, to give even when it hurts (if you’ve ever breastfed you know what I’m talking about here) and even remarkably like St. Gianna Beretta Molla, to give one’s very life for their children. Parents, especially mothers, are able to uniquely unite themselves with Christ through the power of sacrificial love. What do the wounds of Christ mean to you? Do you have “love marks” from where God has stretched you?