Whether this is your first time out or you’ve already been around the bend, take a moment to congratulate yourself, Ms. Mom. You are a miracle maker. You, hovering over the toilet in the midst of all-day sickness, are in the midst of accomplishing what no one else on this earth but you can do. What pregnancy has taught me thus far is that motherhood, whether it is via pregnancy, foster care, or adoption, is a spiritual calling. Keep these five key lessons in your back pocket when you’re worn out and need a reminder of how divine you truly are.
5. Parenting is a calling, not a career, a chore, or the result of a shopping trip.
“I want a child” is an all-too common phrase in today’s world. If you’ve ever said it, listen very carefully to discern if the emphasis is on “a child” or simply “I want.” Having a child is not the answer to a mid-life crisis or a vision board checklist. Nor should motherhood ever be defined as a chore. If I hear one more person tell me how tired I’m going to be once my child is born I’m going to start wearing a spit up-covered t-shirt that says, “Duh! Who cares?” My child is already my life, not a task on my to-do list that takes away from “me-time,” nor a person who exists to make me feel special. Child rearing is a devout work. Unless you are accepting of the idea that you will, in some way, be on the same level as Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and an ascetic from time to time, just buy a dog and be done with it.
4. Childbirth is a spiritual experience.
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth should be required reading for every expecting mother. Regardless of how you choose to give birth, you should be aware of the fact that we have been acculturated to treat birth as an illness worthy of hospitalization. A baby is not a tumor in need of removal for the mother’s survival. Giving birth is not only a life-affirming experience, it is the primary connection we have with God and the source of our continued existence. By ignoring this fact and forcing patients to focus on pain, the medical community has done a huge disservice to women. Instead of believing that our bodies are doing exactly what they are meant to do, women focus on the struggles of pregnancy and the pain of labor, psyching themselves up for an experience worthy of a horror film. As a result their fear diminishes their faith in themselves and the very natural spiritual process of bringing new life into this world.
3. As with any spiritual experience, there are great moments of hope and of doubt.
Episode after episode of Call the Midwife has been running on my DVD player for months. Each baby that is born brings a tear to my eye. Finally, the other day I heard myself saying, “I get to do this. Me. This is for me.” Then it hit me that a part of me had doubted all along that I could have this incredible joy for myself. Sometimes we put up walls of doubt to protect our most fragile emotions. The hope that engulfs you every time you have a good ultrasound, a good doctor’s visit, can easily be consumed the following day when you’re sure you haven’t felt your baby move enough. For me, one nosebleed sent me flying into a state of panic. Doubt creates a tough barrier for faith to crack through. But it must, not only for the sake of our relationship with our child, but so that we may fully partake in this incredible blessing.
2. Faith is rooted in the unseen.
As a Jew I put my faith in an unseen God. It occurred to me that my baby was as unseen as the God I worship. Like Abraham, I had a gut instinct that this entity was real and true and just had to run with it. In its perfect timing, like God, the baby would reveal itself to me and my own body would respond in kind, each of us revealing and molding together to form a relationship. Now I understand why God does not want any graven images of Himself on display. Too many people fixate on what gender their babies will be, or what their babies will look like, only to somehow be disappointed when they are proven wrong. Better to focus on what is and take joy in the mystery that continues to reveal itself.
1. It takes more than prayer to manifest miracles.
It’s lovely to leave yourself open and say “We’ll just let God do His thing.” My mother’s response would be, “Well, He gave you a brain to use, didn’t He?” Knowing you want to have a child one day impacts every decision a woman can make from puberty onward. Diet and exercise, sexual activity, methods of birth control, career and related stressors — everything you do will impact your ability to have children down the road. (Men, too.) Contrary to what you learned in sex ed, it takes more than just having sex to have a baby. It takes health and timing as well, both of which involve understanding the biological signs that your body is ready to conceive. For some women it takes the Herculean task of fertility treatments or the adoption process. Regardless of how that child gets into your arms, the process is one involving as much human productivity as Divine intervention. “If you will it, it is no dream.”