Friday, December 23, 2016

Motherhood: The Paradox of Love

Having fun in an air ambulance!
This summer I got to work in a large hospital in Tulsa. I helped with the labor and delivery of at least ten beautiful babies. I watched a woman have a transient ischemic attack (a mini-stroke) right before my eyes. I helped restore electrolytes and administered medications to several individuals who were near death. I watched a man undergo a cardioversion (where they briefly stop the heart to restore it to a better rate and rhythm). I watched the trauma team work on a man who had been in a car accident, and I watched them try to stabilize a man who got struck on his motorcycle. I assisted a doctor in sewing the scalp back onto a little old lady’s skull.  I started IVs,  inserted catheters,  gave injections, and  fetched the “crash cart”. All of this while I was in the second trimester of pregnancy with my second born,  my son. My sight was set on being an emergency room nurse.

Now here I am. The most excitement I see in a day is when I tell my daughter to say “bye-bye!” as we flush her poop down the toilet. 

Oh, motherhood! This word means as many different things as there are women in the world. Right now, to me it means breastfeeding, burp cloths,  diapers, never-ending meal preparation, saying “get out of there” and “don’t touch that”, dishes, laundry, parks, toys, coffee and Netflix (in that order).

Yesterday someone made a comment suggesting that - unlike me - they didn't love motherhood. My gut reaction – which unfortunately made its way out of my mouth before I thought it through – was to exclaim “But I don't love being a mom!” A third onlooker, someone who is a close relation to me, looked at me as if I had lost my mind.  
What I meant by that comment is that I am not like some mothers, who thrive on the role of “stay-at-home mom”. The logistics of keeping the house somewhat livable, keeping food in the fridge and on the table, making sure everyone has clean clothes, and fighting the impossible battle to ensure everyone leaves the house with everything they need -this really isn’t my thing… but I bear it because that is now my state in life and, most importantly, because I love my family! 

I recognize the transitory nature of parenthood, unlike many people my age. In the throes of motherhood, it seems as if it will never end. When all of your friends on social media are your age, and all of them are raising families just like you are, it's hard to realize that one day every single one of us will no longer have our own babies to hold in our arms. Hopefully we'll just be busy spoiling grandchildren! One day, my youngest baby will be an adult and will move out of the house, and my husband and I will be left looking at each other saying “wow what just happened and why do you have grey hair?” 

I will not be a stay-at-home mom for the rest of my life. 

Yes, I have noticed that now I have two children the weeks are flying by. My son is already nearly three  months old! My daughter didn't become three months old nearly that quickly. 
Sometimes people look at me and ask if I’m planning to have more children. They don't understand the conflict I’ve endured in my mind and soul when I look at them so mildly and say “If it’s God’s will”. I can imagine that some think I am a mindless backwards dunce, stuck in the dark ages with no knowledge of how things work. They don't know how I’ve agonized over this question. 

I became a little bit anxious and obsessed about my predicament. I had been toodling along, not worried about another baby, when the possibility of becoming pregnant returned. The issue at that time was that I still had a year and a half of nursing school left. For a week or two, my husband and I agonized over what would be right for our family. I remember clearly the night we agreed to not even try to use NFP and to be entirely open to the will of God. After all, when I started the nursing program it had been with the condition of seeing "how it goes”. What a relief to get that weight off of my shoulders! I felt so much love and joy in feeling safe to trust the Lord. As it went, I became pregnant and my son was to be due during Fall midterms. Thank the Lord I didn't go back, because his jaundice alone kept him and I completely confined to the house for nearly two weeks straight after his birth. 

 Anytime I have a particularly stressful time with my baby and/or toddler, I shout at my husband “I’m done! I’m not having any more kids, forget it!” Yet sometimes I look at my precious little son, who is only now beginning to coo and giggle and show his happy little personality, and I yearn for another child who will bring such joy to our family.
I am, in the terms of Pascal, an "incomprehensible monster"; I am at once capable of extraordinary gestures of love, and alternatively, animalistic, irascible reactions. 

From what I’ve gathered from various online communities, the first reaction many people have when they come across a large family is often bewilderment and surprise. Many moms report having to respond to the “why so many?” question. As if they have an obligation to justify their normal human fertility. 
In a perfect world, there would be much rejoicing and happiness when a couple is blessed with numerous children.  We have been given the capacity to give the gift of existence to immortal beings. How is this not a treasure?
Next time somebody asks me how many children I plan on having, perhaps I will respond “As many as humanly possible”. I love my husband so much, and he loves me, and we both love babies and children – so why should I not give myself to him as a co-creator of life? We have already trusted
St. Gianna and her babies
God to this point, so why not give ourselves with reckless abandon from now on? He has never given us more than we can handle, despite how it feels sometimes. He always provides, and when he does it often comes with much joy even in suffering.

As it has probably been since Cain and Abel, the role of the mother is greatly undervalued. The mother’s primary task is to raise her children up in all aspects of their lives. She must first of all nourish their bodies, and as they grow she must educate them (or at least entrust the children to others for that end), and instill virtue and a strong morality into their psyches. Mothers – and fathers - are forming the next generation.   

The world, also known as secular society, also known as pretty much everybody, says that women ought to work just as men do. They ought to “go get em”, and pursue their own dreams. They ought not rely on a man for anything, and if they do they had better have some sort of useful skill as back up. Because, you know, men are highly unreliable and always leave and yours surely isn't any different. Oh, but if he is, then you need that skill anyway, “just in case”. 
Women who long to stay home with their children are pressured into pursuing some outside endeavor, and wind up torn between worlds. It has been demonstrated and studied: if you try to do too much at once, you often wind up with worse results for both endeavors. 

I have experienced this type of pressure myself. I’ve heard it from family and well-intentioned friends. I have even heard it from my nursing school instructors. Admittedly, there is a part of me that feels as though I’m throwing away my talents by no longer studying to receive my nursing degree. There is another part of me that feels as though not continuing the degree is the greatest gift I could give to my children. The thing that people do not realize is that I still have invaluable knowledge from making it this far into nursing school. The things I have learned will always be a tool that I can use in case my family or friends need it. Sure, I don't have an official qualification but I have at least 6 large nursing books at my disposal and a rough idea of how to read them!
St. John Paul II was hipster before it was cool
One day something may happen to my husband, who is to be our family's main provider. It's true, tragic things happen in life. If something like this were to occur, I would have to start working hard for strangers instead of my own flesh and blood. At this point in time, I am willing to take this risk in order to give my children as much time with their mother as possible. If I am required to take the reins, as it were, and become the breadwinner of our home, then so be it; I will do everything required to provide. We might not have enough money to give our children everything, but a lesson I learned when I was very young is that the gift of highest value is my heart. I should be, first and foremost, present to my children. They ought to be confident that no matter what happens in their lives, their mother will always be there to listen to them and help them in whatever way I possibly can. In addition, I want them to know their heavenly Mother and to trust that she makes up for all of my weaknesses and faults and is even more available to them than I am. Her prayers and love are perfected in her Christ-son and she is the Mediatrix, our intercessor, and we can never love her more than Jesus does. 
If my children live this truth, then they will never be lacking for anything.  

In raising people of virtue, I hope that prayers will be answered. Often it is our gift of self that changes people's lives, in my experience. My children will be there to offer some other child a shoulder to cry on. My children will be there to cheer a broken heart, to bring joy to the afflicted, and help the hurt to love again. My children will be an answer to prayers. That is what I wish.  

In a culture where marriage and family life is undervalued, hearts that were made in the image and likeness of God are used and broken. We are commodities in a materialistic world. This is the opposite of how God intended it to be! 
I say this because I have been through it, too, in previous relationships. I was used by boys, just as most other women my age have been. It took me a long time to trust again, to believe in what my husband was offering to me in our relationship before we got engaged. He offered me unconditional forgiveness for my past life, and he offered to love me – to truly truly love me, in the self-sacrificial sense of the word. This sort of vulnerable attitude in a relationship is a rare thing indeed, but it should not be! This is the bare minimum that Christ requires of his followers! Forgiveness even when it hurts is required. Love, especially when it hurts, is what makes us Christian. My children will know this, if only by the example of their father and I. In that way, they will learn to give themselves to others in a like manner and leave the world a softer  and more beautiful place. God willing, so be it. 

This is what being a mother means to me. 
This is the paradox of motherhood, which mirrors the many paradoxes of Christianity: the  more I give myself, the richer I become. The more I am confined to caregiving, the freer I am. 
The family is the Domestic Church, where love is born and perfected - if God is allowed to reign in each heart. 
St. Teresa of Calcutta

Now, finally, I feel fulfilled. All those years, I studied to earn a degree I may never use professionally. Really, let’s face it – it was just filler to keep me busy until I was ready spiritually and emotionally to become a wife and mother. I am grateful for my education. I believe that my perspective of life is richer because of many of the classes I took in college! Some of my favorites were about Native American philosophy, Islamic theology, Arthurian romance literature, and Italian literature and culture. Oh and let’s not forget the World of Dante – my favorite class of all! Yes I enjoy learning for the sake of learning. Hopefully I can pass this passion on to my children.
I feel as though my college years were not genuinely, truly  "me". Having become a mother, I have undergone a complete metamorphosis. I am the same, yet more completely who I was always meant to be.
The younger me was grasping for something. Looking back I think I wanted to show the world that I am smart because for so long I thought I was stupid. In high school I messed around and got poor grades. I needed to prove that, not only am I “smart”, but I am also smarter than all the other people I graduated with. See look, I went to a large well-known public university and got mostly As! Although I do love the process of college and  I enjoy learning new things, I was also seeking recognition and praise for my good grades. I realize now just how arrogant, prideful and ignorant I really was.  
When John the Baptist was asked who he was, he did not give a list of all his accomplishments and successes. He essentially responded "I am not God." When I tried to take that stance as a single woman, it was very difficult. Everything about our culture makes it tempting to say "Look at ME! I am special and unique, look what I have done! Look what I have! Look where I am and where I've been!" We're all trying not to drown in everyone else's glory... But the truth is, not a single one of us is God. Our efforts are in vain. I don't think contentment can be found until we are at peace with our smallness, recognizing that God's love for us is greater than any accomplishment we could ever achieve on our own. What better way to recognize our smallness than to be a mother? For our days are filled with countless tiny acts of love for our family. 

 Now that I am a mother, I can’t go out whenever I want. Sometimes I don’t leave our tiny house for a couple of days in a row. Our budget is measly since we have no income, so we can’t go eat out at restaurants like we did before we got married and when I was still working. It’s okay though! All those things are fleeting and although it was difficult to let them go at first, I no longer miss the luxuries of being “just me”. I find now that five minutes alone in the bathroom is too quiet and lonely! 

When I watch my daughter kiss my son’s soft baby hair and then delicately place his hat back on his head, I am filled with insurmountable gratitude. I know that I am blessed to have them in my life. I am honored to be the only person on earth to spend all of my days with them in the earliest days of their lives. I pity everyone else! I am so happy. I am the only mother to my children, no one else can ever take my place. How blessed I am! 

The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the love of a Mother