I recently stumbled upon a series of memes about womanhood and motherhood. They were posted on Facebook by a friend’s daughter, and the one that immediately caught my eye was: “Rose decided not to have kids. That’s okay, Rose. Motherhood is a choice.” In a string of comments following my “Motherhood is a gift and blessing” opening, I realized that most of us don’t really understand what this statement intends to convey.
First of all, if the statement, “Motherhood is a choice,” were on its own, we could reasonably agree with that in terms of free will. Of course, God doesn’t impose His will upon us but instead allows us to choose between right and wrong, good or evil. The problem with that statement was everything it didn’t say, yet implied.
In our modern milieu, equating motherhood with “choice” insinuates that the woman is engaging in sexual activity and has somehow suppressed her fertility, either through contraception, sterilization, or (if all else “fails”) abortion. This isn’t about a woman who was called to the religious or consecrated life and has vowed celibacy. This is about the woman who wants to live with “reproductive freedom” and without the potential consequences of that lifestyle—children.
Unfortunately, this is lauded by many in our culture. Somehow we’ve forgotten that motherhood is really about embracing the gift of our fertility and opening our hearts to whatever God wills for our marriage. Family may come in the form of a biological, adoptive, foster, or godchild. Perhaps there will be a combination of those, but the point is that motherhood isn’t something we choose, but it’s something that God chooses for us.
I never grew up around babies. Coming from a small family, I simply wasn’t exposed to them on a regular basis—no cousins or family friends had infants. I had no desire to babysit and, in fact, adopted the societal mindset that children were too needy and complicated. As a teenager, I didn’t want that. I had big plans for my life, so I secretly decided I didn’t want to have children when I grew up. Marriage, of course, was still on the table.
When marriage became a serious possibility, I took my reticence of becoming a mother to God, and I discovered that it was motivated by fear and cowardice rather than genuine love and trust in God’s plan. On our wedding day, Ben and I were fully aware of what it meant to embrace parenthood, in terms of openness to life. But we didn’t know how tough it would be until we had our two daughters.
Some people assume that two children is all Ben and I wanted, but the truth is contrary to that. We had hoped and prayed for a large family, but being open to life means that we must accept God’s no or not yet along with his yes. Despite the popular belief that motherhood can be shut off so that one can live a lifestyle conducive to worldly success, real motherhood requires a particular level of fortitude – to say yes when a child is born with a rare disease (like our sweet Sarah was), to say yes when our children are spaced closer than we thought they might be, to say yes when God says no. All of these fiats are the essence of authentic motherhood, which, sadly, many woman have denied and rejected.
When I read about “choosing” motherhood, my heart breaks. I consider all of the women I know (myself being among them) who have suffered for years from infertility and recurrent miscarriages. What kind of message are we sending when we praise the women who have opted out of motherhood, who have shut off the gift of their fertility in favor of ambition and convenience? Will they ever know the heartache of a childless couple who has been entirely open to children, yet has none?
Some women may choose motherhood by deciding when and how they want to have babies, if at all. But other women—the true heroines—are the ones who place this miracle of life in God’s hands, knowing that “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (see Job 1:21). Instead of saying, “I chose to be a mother,” let’s say, “God blessed me with these incredible children.” The end result is the same—a child—but the perspective is drastically different.
Each day I awake and am humbled by the fact that God chose my husband and me to raise our two girls. No challenge equals that of motherhood, yet no reward is greater. When we look to Our Lady as the epitomized model of motherhood, as I do each morning, our perspective shifts from “what a burden” to “what a blessing.” I cherish the ways God has called me to motherhood, and my prayer is that all women will one day realize that children aren’t choices (as if they were commodities), but they are human. And human life is the greatest miracle, yet the most delicate, of all creation.
I stand by my original statement that motherhood is a gift and a blessing, not merely a choice.