The day I realized that I loved Catholic motherhood had not been my finest. It was a cool spring day in the Virginia mountains. My five-year-old, Jacob, was outside digging holes in the fertile dirt with a spade, preparing to plant the seeds from the apple he had just eaten. My three-year-old, Mary, was clomping around the wooden floors of our house with her pink, plastic high-heels that her grandfather had given her for her birthday. My one-year-old, Clare, was in time-out, sitting cross-legged against a wall in my bedroom, for having thrown a dirty diaper down the toilet and then having flushed. My newborn, Leigh Kelly Anne, was in the cradle by my side of the bed, thrashing her little limbs and gurgling sounds of mild distress.
Only two months postpartum, I was still in my nursing gown. My hair was messy and it had been just a tad too long since my last shower. With every step I felt my fifteen pounds of extra baby weight, and with every breath I felt the fatigue of having not gotten more than 4 hours of sleep in a row for over 80 consecutive days.
“Why am I doing this?” I thought to myself for the hundredth time as I waded through the water that was overflowing from the toilet all over the bathroom floor and into the bedroom. Although I had devoted myself to Ron’s and my children since the first moment of my first pregnancy, I was not altogether sure I liked motherhood. My teaching career at the university fell at first to part-time and then to a halt. My friendships were flagging. My chance to have quiet prayer time, read the Bible or go to Mass was negligible. My mental health, spiritual health, the health of my marriage. . . they all seemed rather weak. As much as my children were the pride of my life and cause of my greatest joy, I still had to wonder: What am I doing with my life? Is motherhood going to wreck me?
Then, I stood by the toilet with a plunger in hand. I looked at the messy water, replete with poop from the diaper, and took a moment to focus. I prayed, “Lord, I offer this up for my best-friend. She is unmarried and feeling lonely. She is depressed. I offer this up for her to get married and have a renaissance of happiness in her life.” I plunged the toilet. It turns out that I am not very good at toilet-plunging. I thrust the suction cup at the toilet hole, and splashed myself in the face. I worked on it for a while, and finally, saw the diaper. I grabbed hold of it and pulled. The poop that had been on the diaper flew through the air and into my hair. Finally, the diaper came out. I threw it in the garbage, and the toilet flushed properly.
As I cleaned the poop off the toilet seat, floor and plunger, and stepped into the shower, I thought, “I believe that God will answer my prayer. I believe, Lord, that you will use this frustration, unite it to the cross of Christ, and let it be a gift for my friend.” I smiled. I knew at that moment that I had done more for my beautiful friend than I could have had I been a lawyer, doctor, professor, or politician. Some people might draft laws that might help my friend; other people might teach a lesson in a classroom that could have positive impact on her life. But as a Catholic mother, I had engaged–through his grace–in the very power of God! I realized in that moment who I am as a Catholic mother: a prayer warrior, a powerful woman of faith, a mighty force for good in the Kingdom of God. I finally embraced the new path my life had taken.
Postscript: In fact, only a few days later, my friend called me and told me about her first date with a man from Vermont. They were engaged six months later. She has had a turn-around in life, is no longer depressed, but a thriving, happy person with a great career and home life.
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Colossians 1:24