Motherhood was something I always longed for, a vocation I always felt certain I had, but the road has been wrought with more joy, more sorrow, more gain, more loss, and more fulfillment than my young self could have ever imagined.
I grew up in a small Protestant missionary community in East Texas. We were poor, but rich in community and I was constantly being exposed to devastating poverty which put our lack of wealth into perspective. I knew Jesus well at a young age and throughout my teens and young adult life I had a very real sense of the love of God and his call on my life. My father was a drug addict and alcoholic (something he hid well from our Christian community) so he was essentially absent from my life until he died when I was 14.
I have countless testimonies about the ways God went out of his way to reveal his love to me in loss which saved me from countless mistakes with men because he had such a real claim on my heart. I believe he truly endowed me with a sweet gift from the Holy Spirit of Faith; meaning, even in the hardest and darkest times I did not ever doubt the existence of God and in fact always felt very drawn to Him and his love in those times. I always wanted a big family, and even as a teenager I felt strongly that birth control (although readily used by all those in the faith community around me) was not what God intended. For a long time, I thought I would be a missionary, in music ministry, as that was how God had always used my talents thus far. But as a young adult (19 or so) I began to see the flaws in the theology I was raised in and had a deep longing for something more. That is its own long story but that longing brought me to the University of Dallas, which brought me home to the Catholic Church, and then brought me to my husband.
I had many interests and passions as a young person, but nothing as strong as my desire to be a mother. I loved babies and children and could not wait for that season of my life. I always said I wanted 8-10 kids and mostly boys. When God brought Adam to me, he was everything I had always prayed for but packaged completely differently than I had imagined. I always saw myself with someone gregarious and musical (and tall), who loved missions and public displays of faith. He was quiet, and introverted (and short), and public displays of any kind made him uncomfortable. He was an academic who had never been on a mission trip, but he had a 5 year old daughter and she captured my heart instantly. Adam and I were just friends for a long time and I babysat his daughter while he worked. I always tell her I fell in love with her first! Eventually, God let me truly see Adam, and I fell in love quickly after that! We started dating, got engaged and were married in less than 2 years and I we were an instant family. Then 8 months after we got married, we had our first son, born at 36 weeks, via emergency C-section and I quickly realized motherhood was an unpredictable roller coaster. In many ways, it was all I had imagined: the deep love, the instant connection, the strength and unity it brought to my marriage. But it was also so hard! The physical suffering, the fear of the unknown, the total lack of control, the loss of who I was, the fear that I would never be that person again. That began a journey of surrender, a messy, winding road of tug-of-war between me and my Father.
I proceeded to have 7 pregnancies in less 8 than years. 6 of those souls made it to earth. FIVE of them were boys! God truly can give us the desires of our hearts. But it was not all received with smiles and the happy acknowledgement that I asked for this! Adam and I did discern 6 of the 7 pregnancies, deciding together we were ready to see if God had another soul in store for us. And then that month I would conceive, and every time I thought “Really Lord? You think we are ready?” And then there was the unexpected baby. I was angry and overwhelmed and confused. We were faithful, we were generous with God, we didn’t want to be finished we just wanted some space. I have some chronic health issues, we had no money, we felt spread thin. Our method of NFP failed and here we were pregnant again, my oldest baby only 7 years old. This is when God began to really challenge me about what the ‘fiat’ truly means: Let it be done to me according to thy will. Not my will but yours be done. And of course, his love is perfect, his gifts are perfect and that baby is truly the light in our home, and the giver of such great joy to us all.
What I didn’t know, when I felt crushed by the weight of another pregnancy, was that this sweet soul would be my last baby on earth. About 18 months after that sweet surprise was born, we discerned again that God was asking us to be open to life. Which, I of course translated as he was going to give us another baby. That month I got pregnant. We were thrilled! This time we were ready (although still broke, and still overwhelmed) and we were so thankful to the Lord for his generosity. It was another boy! That would be 6 boys and 2 girls! I was getting my 8, we were full of gratitude. And then one day, I went in alone for my 20 week ultrasound and my sweet boy wasn’t moving, there was no flutter on the screen, I knew right away he was gone. The tech left me alone in the room without saying anything and told me a Dr. would be in. Instantly, that God who had always been close to me in loss, in darkness, was with me. Hot tears streamed down my face and I said aloud “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed me the name of the Lord.” Our hearts were broken. I had to deliver our Gabriel’s beautiful, perfect body and then we had to bury it. The days and months that followed were the most difficult of my life. How could this be the will of God? This loss hit me in a way my early loss had not for myriad of reasons. Death’s sting was paralyzing and it hurt my children on earth in a way that felt unbearable… Not my will but yours be done… We tried desperately to get pregnant again after Gabriel, and suddenly I could not conceive. A year to the day of that dark day in the sonographer’s office, I got a positive pregnancy test; 5 weeks later I lost that baby too. Six months after that I got pregnant again. I felt hopeful this time, sure that God was going to give us the desires of our hearts: one more baby on earth. It was a little girl! Surely, this was the goodness and generosity of my Father. I lost her at 11 weeks. Complications ensued and 3 weeks later I lost my uterus…Let it be done to me according to thy will…
I know God called me to be a mother. I know God is good, and loving and his will is perfect. I see his goodness every day in my children’s faces, in my husband’s loving embrace. And every day I long for heaven and for the children that wait for me there. My desires were good, holy even, selfless even, but that does not mean they were the will of my Father. For his ways are perfect, and yet they are not our ways. Even Jesus, in the garden, asked his Father to take the cup. And then he surrendered. Motherhood, for me, has been one beautiful surrender after another. A perfect path to the Father. A perfect path to true joy. These are not my children, they are his. Burying a child reminds us that they are made for heaven, and in God’s grace, we can rejoice that they are there. And then we remember that we will join them, and the daunting task of getting these souls on earth to heaven becomes less daunting, because it is all the work of the Father, and wants us to be with him! The Mass, this beautiful faith unites not just to Christ in the Eucharist, but to all the saints in heaven, especially the saints we carried. The God of my youth was kind and loving and real, but the God in my motherhood, is broken with me and for me. He is real in my weakness, in my failures, in my joy and in my sorrow and he carries me, and because he carries me he carries my children because they are always with me, all 11 of them, all the time.