Tonight I was reading an essay compiled by a favorite author and composed by some of my women writing heroines, and the disappointment made me cry. It was an anti-motherhood kind of essay, using a feminist platform to declare why not everyone needs to be a mother and all the reasons those of us who cannot have children are off the hook. The prose was familiar word craft in their styles and rhythms that I love, but the content sucked the air out of my lungs and squashed my spirit in the name of womanhood.
I really believe motherhood matters.
I believe my faith understands motherhood in such a way that I hold motherhood in highest regards, but not with such religiosity that I feel as if I have failed if I don’t foster after miscarriages.
Fostering and miscarriages are not related. We applied to foster before the miscarriages happened. My miscarriages are not a failure, though they are a source of grief.
Sometimes a very deep grief.
I dare to think that being a “feminist” means defending the feminine, including the divine nature of women and the sacred role of mothers.
I believe I was a “mother of Israel” before fostering, miscarriages or not, as I loved and cared for my nieces and nephews and the children of my friends. Read this quote from a long-ago talk (One Thing Needful’: Becoming Women of Greater Faith in Christ,” Ensign, Oct. 1987, pp. 32-33):
All of us, whether or nor we bear children, can fulfill the role of mother. Sister Patricia T. Holland explained: “In a poignant exchange with God, Adam states that he will call the woman Eve. And why does he call her Eve? ‘Because she [is] the mother of all living.’ (Gen. 3:20; Moses 4:26.) Eve was given the identity of ‘the mother of all living’— years, decades, perhaps centuries before she ever bore a child. It would appear that her motherhood preceded her maternity, just as surely as the perfection of the Garden preceded the struggles of mortality. I believe mother is one of those very carefully chosen words, one of those rich words—with meaning after meaning after meaning. We must not, at all costs, let that word divide us. I believe with all my heart that it is first and foremost a statement about our nature, not a head count of our children.
I do not mean that I am perfect at motherhood in any form (says the girl who “encouraged” her son to go play Legos in his room quietly by himself so that she could finish talking to the camera crew).
I do not mean I believe in some kind of fake sappy motherhood that is always cute and adorable. Sometimes the matching outfits melt our long-waited parent hearts, but usually the baby clothes are covered in some shocking substance that has just oozed out of an unknown and not always recognizeable orifice. Sometimes the spontaneous hugs and sing-song laughter of the children make my heart smile, but most days it is more about repeatedly asking them to stop screaming at me and trying to ignore the fussing about who looked at who first and trying to intervene before an actual squabble breaks out. Sometimes meal times are full of stories and hilarity, but usually it is full of spilled drinks and food flying across the room and “I don’t know how I got sauce on the back of my head”. Sometimes everyone sits miraculously still and quiet and a cultural event that I am sure will save their brains and improve their social skills, but more often we can’t even make it because of sneezing, coughing, and projectile vomiting.
I do not mean there is a perfect picture of motherhood that is a one size fits all, with Utah-shiny as a prerequisite, and that we are a failure if we don’t measure up.
I do mean that I think motherhood is more than we realize, not yet entirely fulfilled (no matter how many children you think you already have), and something divine in our natures rather than something we do.
It is who we are, not what we do.
Maybe that is what makes it so hard on the days nobody notices. Maybe that’s what makes it so exhausting on the days nobody cares. Maybe that’s why we hide to cry when the baby won’t stop screaming, even though we “know” it isn’t personal. Maybe that’s why we sneak back in to peek at her once she finally gets quiet, and then stay and stare at the beauty of a sleeping child, just to be sure she is really settled (and to fall in love with her again, after she was so mean all day).
Because there is something sacred and divine about it, about that baby, about us being mothers.
It is hard to focus on who we are to be, when there is so much to do.
And it is way less fun when everyone is wearing their cranky pants because of being sick.
But even cranky pants doesn’t make any of it less true.
And cranky pants get changed, after the medicine kicks in, after sleep finally comes, after their little fevers break. Sleep washes it all away, so they wake up happy again, and content, and excited, and even grateful.
At least for a minute.
And by the end of the day, everyone thinks they feels better. They are happy again, and wanting to play, and excited for family movie night. But only because they don’t know it is your last straw ploy to get them to just sit still long enough for their little bodies to heal.
That’s motherhood, in all its shining glory.
I think maybe it is who we are, not sometime we choose to do (some days better than others), and certainly not something we can just skip.
Because it is who we are.
Like Eve, our motherhood began before we were born. Just as worthy men were foreordained to hold the priesthood in mortality, righteous women were endowed pre-mortally with the privilege of motherhood. Motherhood is more than bearing children, though it is certainly that. It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits our Father gave us.
~ Sheri Dew