Today’s an important day for me. On this day 28 years ago, my laboring mother drove herself to the hospital, and gave birth to a baby girl – Me! My father was very sick with the flu and was not able to be with her, but luckily for my mom, she was an old pro at giving birth by this point, as I was child number seven. Yep, I am one of seven. My parents were some of those freaks that get stared at in the grocery store for all the children hanging off of them. They’re also almost solely responsible for “overpopulation”, and global warming, too!
Joking aside, growing up, I had this concern that my birthday wasn’t that important because I was the youngest in a large family. How important could it be when my parents already had experienced the births of six other children before mine? It wasn’t until I had a child of my own that I really started to understand what this day probably meant to my mom. As a mother, I now understand the pure joy and pride of bringing a child into the world, whether it is your first child or a subsequent one. And I can imagine the sadness my mother felt once she realized that I would be her last.
When I fully grasped how special and life-altering January 28, 1984 was to my mother, I thought that she, too, deserved some recognition and well-wishes on January 28 every year. With that in mind, I began to wish her a “Happy Giving-Birth Day” on my birthday. I wanted her to share a bit of the spotlight since it is because of her that I am here. It is she who carried me in her body for nine months. It is she who ventured out alone on a cold January day and drove to the hospital in the midst of contractions. It is she who gave birth to me and nourished me after I was born. And it is she who raised me to be who I am. For all that, I am truly thankful. So it is in thanksgiving that I write the following:
First and foremost, I am so blessed and thankful that my mother chose life and welcomed me lovingly into the family. Anyone who knows my mom might think that’s an odd thing to say, as they know that there was no dilemma and no choice to be made. My mother is Catholic and as pro-life as they come, and always has been. But, the reality is that I was the seventh child born to a couple going through difficult times, financially and otherwise, and who hardly had space in the house for the first six children. My parents were the subject of pity and judgment from people around them because of their ‘many’ children coupled with their financial situation (my dad’s father passed away while my mother was pregnant with me, and he did so without ever knowing of my existence, because my mother was too afraid to tell him about me). And it was 1984, eleven years after the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion all across the country. For some women, these facts taken together may have been enough for them to choose death over life. Had my mother not been who she was and is, who knows what the outcome might have been.
Because of the circumstances that I was born into, I understand the absolute blessing of children. And I understand that things don’t have to be ideal—perfectly spaced and planned-out pregnancies, spacious house, comfortable financial situation, college funds for every child, etc.—in order to welcome a new child into the family. I understand that there are more important things in the world than material goods. I understand that siblings are a gift to children (even if they don’t recognize that fact until they become adults). I understand that the control that we all think we have over our lives and that we cling to so desperately is actually an illusion.
God is in control of all things. My mother taught me that; and she taught me to trust him. She began teaching me the lesson in giving my life to the Lord when I was just a tiny baby and she promised me to him through Baptism. She introduced me to the Church, through which I would come to know him fully. She taught me the importance of praying in faith – truly believing that God will answer your prayers. She told me about all the wondrous things that the Lord has done for her and our family, like the fact that he always made sure we had the money we needed for basic necessities, even though my father’s income wasn’t enough at times. Sometimes the money that my family needed would show up in the mailbox anonymously, leaving her with no one to thank but God alone. And thank him she did, I am certain.
My mother likes to share stories of instances of God’s obvious involvement in her life. My favorite story is the one in which the Lord saved my older sister from drinking bleach. He did so by sending an unseen angel to lift my mother off the floor where she was praying, and literally propel her toward the laundry room where my sister was sitting with lips almost ready to meet the bottle of bleach. And then there are the stories about times when the Lord answered prayers that were not lofty or “important,” but that simply expressed small desires of her heart. For example, when she wanted to start praying the Liturgy of the Hours but did not have the money to purchase it, he provided her with a copy of Christian Prayer (a condensed form of the Liturgy of the Hours) through a very unlikely avenue. (My mom told me that story as she handed me my own copy of Christian Prayer, after I had told her that I wanted to start praying it).
Ensuring that I knew the Lord and his many mighty works—and that I knew that he could always be trusted, even in the darkest of times– is perhaps the single most important thing my mother could have done for me. But she did so many other things for me as well. By devoting her life to raising her seven children full-time, my mother taught me that staying home with my children instead of working outside the home was not only an “acceptable” choice, but a good and worthwhile one. Because of the example that she set, I know that I do not need to receive a paycheck or get pats-on-the-back from a boss in order to live a meaningful life. While she encourages me to continue to seek God’s will for my life and to make sure that I find ways to use the gifts that God has given me, she is so supportive of my choice to be at home with my children, and even to homeschool them, both of which are counter-cultural choices in this society. She doesn’t buy into the fallacy that in order to contribute to society or put to use my gifts and talents, I need to go to work full-time, so she doesn’t try to pass that fallacy onto me.
Last (at least for this post) but not least, because of my mother, I understand the joy of putting others before myself and being generous with all of my blessings, even if I don’t have a lot to give. Despite having many children of her own and being in a precarious financial situation, my mother always welcomed others into our home and treated them like family. I grew up feeling like the door was always open and there was always another dinner plate waiting for a guest.
I get the impression from my mother that she focuses a lot on all the ways she thinks that she was a bad mother and “failed” her children. I don’t know if she realizes how much of the goodness that she sees in her children is actually because of the fact that she is our mother, and not despite it. I hope that she is reading this post now and will take it to heart.
Happy Giving-Birth Day, Mom.
Baby Feet image by Jonathan Finch.
Prayer image by graur razvan ionut
Gift Box image by Naypong.