Tuesday, May 19, 2015

7 Lessons about Motherhood by our Blessed Mother

(officially back from maternity leave! So, this is a tad late, but even though it's not Mother's Day, May is the month of mothers - so it's all good, right? Originally posted in The Courier, reposted with permission. Here's my article for Mother's Day! …)

As we spend time this month reflecting on the Queen of heaven and earth, we beg her for her intercession and assistance in being the children of God that we were made to be. She is a model for all women, and reflects the beauty of God through her life. Since this is the month to also honor our earthly mothers, what can we learn from Mary, from her humble and passionate life, about motherhood? Women, especially mothers, are one of the most self-critical groups of people. If we only knew the true standard by which to measure ourselves, our lives would be more peaceful, more hopeful, more full of grace and love.

1. You will make mistakes and it’s okay.

Mary was without sin, and on the way back from the Temple for Passover, she could not find Jesus, not for a few minutes but for a few days! She and St. Joseph did find him eventually and all ended well.
How often do mothers beat themselves up with every little mistake they make? One forgetful moment or miscommunication and they take themselves into an internal mental lashing at how awful they are at this mothering thing. Yet, through Mary’s example, we can see that it is okay. No, you are not perfect. God did not make you perfect; however, He did give you everything you need to be the best mom for your children! We must learn to love ourselves and be at peace even with our mistakes, having faith that God made you a mother and He does not make mistakes!

2. Motherhood is risky; mothers are courageous.

When Mary said "yes!” to God, she took a great risk. She didn’t know what her own mother would say, what Joseph would think or how the people in her town might react. God asked her to accept new life and she said "yes!” She knew the risks and yet trusted in our Lord.
When a woman is open to life, she says yes to our Lord. Pregnancy is not easy. For some women, it is even quite risky. Also, raising a new child takes a risk. You do not know what will happen in this child’s life or if illness will come or if tragedy will strike. Yet, God asks a woman to be open to life. It’s okay to have a little fear; you are not alone. You show great courage just by accepting motherhood! Yet, when we trust God, He always provides for us.

3. It’s not about what you can do, but how deeply you love.

Our society speaks often of "having it all.” A woman, they say, can "have it all!” She can be a mom, have a career and do whatever her heart desires. She just has to work a little harder and put on that SuperMom cape. Yet, this creates a different focus of motherhood than Mary teaches. The SuperMom cape mentality focuses only on the mother and all she can do.
A holy motherhood focuses on both mother and child and their relationship. It is not bound to what she can accomplish, but is rooted in how deeply she loves her child. This love is a gift of self to her child. In the Gospels, Mary doesn’t draw attention to herself, but through her love, her life points always to her Son. This is not a false humility of lowering oneself, but an honest, simple humility of immense love. The joy that rises from such love shines so much brighter than any SuperMom cape we could create.

4. It’s healthy to let go.

After reading this passage in scripture, "And it was reported to Him, 'Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wishing to see You.' But He answered and said to them, 'My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.'" (Luke 8:20-21), one might think Jesus was very rude to His mother. Mary would have every right to feel slighted or annoyed at how He seemed to dismiss her without even a second thought. She was His mother after all! Yet, Mary knew that she had to let Him go. As a man, His life extended beyond her.
We raise our children to be strong, confident, independent adults. There might be a temptation to create an environment where that grown child will always need you, but this only makes them weak.
Allowing them to grow up, may be one of the most difficult elements of motherhood, and can even be quite an emotionally painful transition. Yet, as a well-adjusted woman or son of God, your child will have more respect and love for you. The more you empty yourself in love at every stage of motherhood, the more God can fill you!

5. It’s okay to admit that you can’t do this alone.

You need God; you need your husband; you need others. Again, our society is extremely autonomously focused. You can do it! You can achieve it! Yet, real love is the giving of self; it involves a communion of persons. Mary didn’t receive her orders from God and ride alone into the sunset to bring the Savior to the world. She depended on her mother, St. Anne; on St. Joseph; and she raised Jesus in her Jewish community.
Mothers (indeed all people) need to learn again how to ask for help and how to accept it. You don’t need to take on every challenge alone! Holy motherhood is not isolated but connected. God has placed people in our lives who are willing to help us on this journey, if we but let them!

6. Mothers give life and love, but they must first receive it.

In his encyclical On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, Pope St. John Paul II explains that women must strive to imitate Mary in every way, especially in being "full of grace.” John Paul II said that Mary literally embodied that statement as grace is the life of God in our soul and she held the life of God physically in her womb. She then gave Him to the world.
John Paul II encourages women to receive the gift of God’s life and love within them and then give that life and love to their children and to the world. In a mystical way, he explains, women have a natural receptivity to God’s love. Women are made to be better receivers of God’s love. If women can embrace their womanly gifts and be open to His love, they can bring God’s love to the people around us in a profound way.

7. Motherhood is not limited to physical children; it is the vocation of every woman!

At the foot of the cross, Jesus gave his mother to the world and entrusted all of God’s people to her. Here Mary teaches us that motherhood is not limited to our physical children. Every woman is called to motherhood. John Paul II said that a woman’s womanhood is who she is but her motherhood is her mode of being in the world. As women live out their authentic womanhood in the world, they are living out their vocation of motherhood.
Let every woman rejoice and celebrate her motherhood in following the example of our Blessed Mother during this beautiful month of May!

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Lesson in Love – Redemptive Childbirth – No, It’s Not What You Think!

We have a new son! He is already three weeks old on the day I write this. I usually share my birth story within a week or two, but this one was more difficult to write because it took such a long time to process it … in fact, in many ways, I am still processing it.

How do I tell this story when there are so many aspects (so many past moments) that weave into it? So, let me just start and see where the story leads me… As many of you know, this is my sixth child birth. My husband and I were very proud parents of five sons and we had waited to find out if this child was a boy or a girl. (As a side note, although there was a sense of adventure and fun in not finding out, both my husband and I now agree it is much better to find out! At least, it is for us. But that’s another story …)

April 2, 2015 - 7lb14oz, 20in

During this pregnancy, I had a great deal of anxiety about the impending childbirth. It wasn’t rational; it just came upon me like little panic attacks that escalated. Of my 5 births before, only one was an excruciating experience. The first was difficult, but seeing my first baby the pain magically erased. The second was a piece of cake. The fourth was labor but not too difficult and the fifth was everything I imagined natural labor could be. It was intense, but beautiful and euphoric.

It was the birth of our third son that taunted me. My doctor feared preeclampsia, so had me induced at 37 weeks, 6 days. Usually breaking of the water works to set my body in motion, but not that time. They began pitocin. It was bearable at first, but just awful in the end. I did it, non-medicated, but compared to the other four labors (where pitocin wasn’t needed), it was torturous. (The contractions are harsher, without a natural rise and fall. My body felt it for weeks.) And it was the memory of this experience that would awaken me in the night during this last pregnancy – with my heart racing and head sweating.

A friend counseled me, during a week of many anxiety battles; she said I should ask God for a redemptive childbirth. That the experience of the birth itself would be a witness of God’s love. You would pray that you may join your suffering to the sufferings of Christ and that the pain be experienced would be a witness of love. This friend sang through her labor and said how much it helped, because she too was suffering from too much knowledge of labor. (If we could only erase certain moments from our mind, to approach it anew!)

So, I began to pray for God to take my memories and keep me at peace. As my rheumatoid arthritis began to show its ugly head and bite into my body in the last weeks of pregnancy, I was tempted to ask for early induction – just to bring an end to the pain! In the end, I waited. I chose to accept the pain (pain that even compromised my ability to walk) and wait on my body to be ready. “Go the full 40!” was ringing in my mind.

At 40 weeks and 5 days, and through consultation with my doctor and husband (and the RA becoming ever more debilitating), we all decided it would be best to go in to be induced. It was Holy Thursday. Usually, it only takes the breaking of the water or prepping the cervix to get my body to take over; that is what we assumed would happen. I was ready, armed with a “power and strength” playlist and an intercessory prayer list. We got settled into the room and that’s when the adventure really started.

As my doctor was attempting to break my water, there was some confusion as to whether or not it had broken. What usually is a quick, less than a minute procedure, was lasting quite some time. (She was getting a little frantic herself and kept apologizing for torturing me.) And for those of you mamas who know what it feels like, know how the sudden flashes of pressure and pain kept causing me to get light headed and nauseous. Finally she just couldn’t get it and gave up and yet, as I sat up, the water gushed – she had succeeded after all.

As I tried to recover from that craziness, I attempted to start walking – to get baby moving into position and get contractions going. Yet, after every few steps, I would get dizzy again and start seeing spots. This went on for a couple hours and then they needed me back on the bed to give a dose of antibiotics and fluids (to try to help with the light-headedness). After another hour or so, my doctor came back in and my cervix had not progressed. Then came the terrible words, slamming down on my ears and heart,

“We’ll have to start pitocin. It’s now inevitable.”

I was crushed. And my heart began to race and I could feel my anxiety rising. I asked everyone to leave, so my husband and I could speak privately. We spoke about what it meant to take the pitocin and the awful experience I had previously and then, the possibility of getting an epidural along with it. He supported me in whatever I chose to do. He reassured me that I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone, but that I needed choose what would be best for me and baby.

When the doctor returned, I explained that if we had to use pitocin, then I would like the epidural as well. She said that she was about to suggest it and thought that was the most excellent decision. She hates having to use pitocin since it makes labor so awful; getting the epidural with it was, in her mind, the best decision I could make … then why did I feel like I had just given up?

After both those were in and going, I was a little lost. I kept asking the nurse, “what should I be doing?” She would laugh and say, “relax or nap!” I’d just shake my head; it was so surreal. After five unmedicated labors, this was just so strange. Emotions were raging in my head – I have always been engaged in my labors (with every fiber of my being), but here it was like I was watching from a distance – disconnected – lost. I felt numb and weirdly sad. When it was time to push, I couldn’t feel a thing. I knew what to do only because of experience; a few pushes and baby was born!

It was a boy! My husband said “It’s our Anthony!” But of course I had to check for myself … thinking “really? 6 boys? what are the odds!” He was beautiful. But I had to shake my head; without enduring labor, I felt like I had cheated at the test and still got an A.

The mixed emotions continued after Anthony and I came home. I did feel a little like a failure for asking for the epidural. I thought I would have a redemptive childbirth and I felt like I just skipped over it all together. Easter Sunday, our first full day at home, so Anthony and I stayed home while my amazing husband took the other five to Mass.

Alone in the house, I nursed Anthony as the sunlight streamed across the floor. I prayed. Then it hit me. A revelation like a lightning bolt to my soul – this was redemptive childbirth! I wanted to participate, to show I could do it, to flash my supermom cape, but that’s not what redemption is about! Redemption is not our doing at all! Redemption is God’s work, which we can accept or not. It’s about our humility. I walked away from this childbirth humbled; it wasn’t what I expected and I didn’t even have the “I am woman, hear me roar” flag to wave from making it through natural labor. I didn’t know what others might think since I couldn’t do it this time. It was indeed humbling. And, yet, at that moment in prayer, I realized the profound lesson of love and gift that humility was! Christ gave everything for us and his love is not conditional! What we need to let go of is our pride. I asked God for a redemptive childbirth and He granted me an experience where I had to lay everything down – everything.

Thank you, Lord, for my weakness! Thank you for the gift and blessing of another amazing son – to be the mother of six boys is a unique blessing itself. Lord, make me worthy of such a task!

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

oldest & youngest - #heartmelt