Sitting in the doctor’s office, I picked up the latest parenting magazine. It was filled with articles about successful breastfeeding, infant sleep tricks, and tips for revitalizing your sex life post-baby. Almost unconsciously, I flipped the pages to find the genuine article, the one that presented motherhood in its truest shades–not pastels, but in bold, sometimes dark colors.
But as usual, it was absent.
Eighteen years ago, I would’ve read such a magazine cover to cover, reveling in the wisdom I was gleaning in preparation for the birth of our first child. Not that they could tell me much I didn’t already know, between the childbirth classes, preparatory La Leche League meetings, and Dr. Sears books I’d already consumed. By the time the contractions started, I was as prepared as a woman could be for the most important role of my life.
Or so I thought.
Six children later, I’m here to give you the real scoop on the vocation of motherhood. And it is a vocation. A job is just something you do, while a vocation is more than that–it’s a calling from God to love and serve others in a specific way. And through that service, if we cooperate with grace, we become holy. We learn to love more perfectly. We become more and more like Christ.
So here’s the truth, ladies: Being a mother is often hard, thankless, menial, and grueling work. But it is also the most satisfying, joyful, and important role you will ever take on as a woman.
Truth: Motherhood is a learned experience, not a set of tasks.
When I was pregnant that first time, veteran mothers generally fell into one of two camps:
- the ones who told me how wonderful it was going to be as I skipped (breastfeeding effortlessly, of course) through daisies while my baby slept blissfully in a wicker bassinet under a white canopy; or
- the ones who complained their children had ruined their lives and asked if I had scheduled the tubal yet.
Oh, there were one or two women who tried to give me a more realistic picture, but reality could not compare to the Motherhood-as-Paradise fantasy any more than a bowl of blueberries can compare to cheesecake for dessert.
Looking back, neither group did me a real service. The first sugarcoated the experience, glossing over all of the life-altering changes a baby would wreak on my body, my marriage, my life. The second group gave me no useful information other than a strong desire not to be like them. I mean, who wants to hear you’ve just wrecked your life by getting pregnant?
But I forgive them, because I now realize there’s no way to adequately prepare you for motherhood. Nothing can convey the joy, the terror, the fatigue, the essence of this vocation to you. The thick tomes by parenting experts that had seemed to reassuring as a pregnant woman seemed so thin and painfully inadequate once I was holding the baby.
So if you’re pregnant and worried you’re not prepared for this vocation, guess what? You’re not. And that’s okay, because God designs all of life’s most precious gifts to be unwrapped only through experience.
Truth: You will have very bad, horrible days with your child. Days that bring you to your knees sobbing in frustration, certain God has sold you an oyster with no pearl.
I remember the first few days we were home from the hospital being utterly exhausting, but exhilarating at the same time. I remember being frightened I was going to do something to harm the baby.
And as stupid as it sounds, I remember being absolutely shocked that our daughter was so needy. It was an entirely different sort of dependency than I had experienced being pregnant. By the second week, I was sitting on the couch sobbing because she wanted to nurse for the fifth time in three hours.
Before I had a baby, I was under the impression I was a pretty generous, loving person. Then through my daughter, God revealed to me just how selfish I really was. But it was such a gift to have this revealed to me, because it proved to me I needed a Savior. Not just to swoop in and rescue me from time to time, but to fundamentally change my heart.
Every pregnant woman gets excited about getting to know this new little person God has gifted her to raise. What will she look like? What will his talents be? How will she impact the world? But in His mercy, God will also help you get to know your own self more intimately because “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom,” says Socrates.
Remember that on the really hard days.
Truth: You will never love your husband more, or resent him more, than after you have a child together.
Two weeks after I gave birth, my husband went back to work. I stood there and watched him go, filled with a sense of terror and dread. And envy. I had delivered a child. Everything had changed for me. My body was a wreck and hurt everywhere. I anxiously realized I was no longer in control of my life; even my most basic needs, such as using the bathroom, bathing, and eating, had to be met after the baby was cared for. Even my freelance editing became a splinter in my mind, nagging me that something else needed my attention.
Yet here was my husband, walking out the door and going back to work as if nothing had happened. Just like before, he slept when he wanted to (I breastfed exclusively), he ate when he wanted to (if I couldn’t cook, he ordered out or threw together a sandwich), went to the toilet when he wanted to, showered when he wanted to, etc. He put on his uniform and drove to work (because his body was just fine) and worked with colleagues and filed paperwork just like before our daughter was born.
Resentment is too weak to describe my feelings about all this at the time.
Then this strong man would come home and tenderly cradle our fragile daughter in his arms, talking to her for all the world like one completely bewitched. And my heart would skip a beat just watching him.
Over the years, I learned that God wanted to sanctify my husband just as much as me through parenting. But I had to be willing to ask for help and I had to let my husband meet the requests in his own way. I had to surrender my fear of asking him to contribute, as well as my expectations he would do all things domestic to my exacting standards. I also had to stop keeping score. When I did these things, I could appreciate the unique gifts my husband brought to the table as a father.
Truth: You will be trying to raise a saint. So will your child.
Yesterday, our priest preached on how God loves us so much He is willing to stretch us beyond our limits. And for so many women, those limits are revealed and expanded primarily through their children. That little soul God sent to us nearly 20 years ago has burned out more self-love than I ever could have without her. I owe her so much more than I have given.
So as you move toward motherhood, remember: God gave you this child not just so you may help him or her get to heaven, but because you need help getting there, too.
We all do.