I really wanted this first entry to be a deep, philosophical discussion of what it means to be human, but this is what happened instead:
Last night I had another one of those moments. It’s a type of moment I’ve experienced many times since becoming an adult, and especially since becoming a parent. It’s the one where I think, “I can’t be a mom.”
The first time I really thought this was several years ago when I was seriously discerning whether or not I should enter the religious life. I told my spiritual director that even though I wanted to get married, I had no desire to have children. I feared being a bad mother, and that fear was based on how little I fit the general stereotype of a good mom (especially in the Catholic world): I am not naturally domestically skilled, as evidenced by the 6 weeks in college I spent washing my clothes in only fabric softener. I cuss and let the house get way too dirty before cleaning it up. I love having a full-time career. And most of all, I just didn’t like being around kids. They were okay if I was teaching them dance lessons for a finite period of time, but 24/7 as a mom? No, thank you.
I came to my spiritual director with these reasons and the resignation to join the religious life simply because I was afraid of parenthood. He told me that was dumb. (He also gave me the comforting words that he disliked being around kids, too, until he had some of his own). He told me that I couldn’t decide to join the religious life just because I thought I would suck at the other option, especially when I really had a desire to get married.
Fast-forward to actually getting married. Suddenly, I knew what other people were talking about. I loved my husband so much that I wanted to bring another person in the world to love with him. (There were other motives layered with that one which were far less than perfect as I wrote about here, but I tried to mortify those down to what was right). For the first time in my life, I wanted a child more than I feared being a mother.
But I had another one of those moments that contradicted everything that had been growing in my heart since marriage, a moment where I thought, “I can’t be a mom.” It was the moment I looked down at the pregnancy test–the one I took to prove to myself that I was not pregnant–and it forgot to say “not”. That’s where, as a woman in my later twenties and more than a year into marriage, and an NFP-practicing Catholic no less, I’m supposed to scream with delight and run to my husband and rejoice in the miracle of life, right?
There was screaming. But it was more of the terrified variety. When I told my husband what was “wrong”, he hugged me and expressed his joy that we were parents. I sobbed, saying, “I’m not ready to be a mom! I can’t be a mom!”
And yet that feeling retreated as I watched our tiny tadpole wiggling on the ultrasound screen.
It came back with a vengeance the moment my daughter was born. Half-way out, the doctor asked if I would like to see her, and I emphatically said no. I was incredibly afraid of the reality of motherhood. It was one thing to carry my daughter inside of my body and something completely different for her vulnerable little person to be out in the world and still in my care.
And again, the feeling retreated as I fed my daughter for the first time. It felt so natural and right to be a mother in that moment, even for someone like me.
The feeling has cropped up nearly everyday since my daughter’s birth, such as last night after waking up for the 3rd time to feed her and being so unreasonably angry about it. What’s more, it comes with the question of whether I am really even a good wife now that I struggle to balance my time and energy between my daughter and husband.
Yet I know that experiencing these terrified feelings is a sure sign that I am doing the right thing and that I am really becoming a more whole and complete human being every day.
William McNamara, O.C.D. (the order of priests, not the compulsive disorder), says in his book The Art of Being Human:
“And so the saint is one who lives life to the hilt. We are not saints because we are afraid of our own weaknesses and of the difficulties of life…We don’t begin to live once we’ve solved our problems. We solve our problems by living. That’s what our Lord meant when He spoke of losing your life in order to save it; in other words, don’t try to save it by guarding and hoarding it carefully, fretfully, but by living it, spending it rightfully, bravely, unstintingly.”
My daughter and husband are my greatest burdens and my greatest joys. Despite how terrified I feel sometimes about my role as wife and mother, despite how often I think I should have just remained in the safety that I felt in single life, I know this is exactly what I need. I know that these feelings of incredible fear and doubt add just as much to the abundance of abundant life as all the joys and reassurances.