Updated: Sep 29, 2022
As an NFP instructor, it's my goal and desire to help couples appreciate their fertility and what naturally occurs from it, i.e. children.
As a mom of two, sometimes this seems like a laughable idea. Children are incredible. They are creative, loving, intelligent, and forgiving... they're also difficult, whiny, needy, self-centered, and constantly underfoot.
When friends become pregnant, I love to hear their stories and celebrate with them. When children are conceived, they are new souls that couples co-create with God in a supreme act of love. They truly are gifts seen and known to God from before all time.
I think often of the difference between my two pregnancies.
My first baby was unexpected. I had been off birth control for about a year and just "winging it," thinking that I was ready for whatever happened. When I diagnosed with a thyroid condition and started on medication, I did not realize that once my hormones were balanced, a baby was a very real possibility. Until it happened.
I remember that morning. I took a pregnancy test a few days late, unconcerned. It had happened before, with a little negative sign showing up minutes later. I was going about my morning as I got ready for work, puttering around in the kitchen, pouring coffee grounds into the filter, filling the water reservoir, hitting the start button. I turned around to find a "Pregnant +" blinking back at me on the counter.
I froze. I laughed. I said a not-so-nice-word. Then I said that word about twenty more times.
I wasn't sure what to do. Tim was still asleep and I had to go to work. So, semi-convinced it was a false positive, I threw the test in the trash, put my scrubs on and drove to the store. I bought six more tests and took them to work.
The first person I told wasn't my husband. It was my best friend, my co-worker. We hugged, as we always do, and I whispered frantically into her ear, "I think I'm pregnant."
"What!?" She half-shrieked. We scurried into the break room and closed the door, only half-listening to report as we went through the scenario. "We had sex ONCE this month!" "Take another one." I took three or four more tests at work. All positive. Okay, okay. Maybe this is real.
At lunch, I texted Tim and said, "I think I'm pregnant." Tim's response: "...and you're telling me over a text?" "Oh, I'm sure it's a false positive." I called my doctor's office and asked to come in the next day for a blood test. I got a call a few hours after. I was pregnant, about 5 weeks along. I wish I could say I was thrilled. That Tim and I were ready for this new chapter in our married life. But...I wasn't.
My life felt over.
Aside from working as a nurse, I had been making strides in my writing life. I had published several poems, attended a prominent writer's workshop, received several awards, was piecing together what I thought could be a manuscript... I felt on the cusp of some completely other life. A life full of accolades, recognition, and who knows, maybe even a book tour ( I was dreaming big).
A baby wasn't in the mix. Writing took a lot of creative energy and pregnancy sapped me of all of it. I couldn't write, and barely even read. One of my worst nightmares was becoming real.
I was going to be "just a mom." Just a mom. I laugh at those words now. We are so much more. But I didn't know that yet. I didn't understand that, and I wouldn't for a long while, even after my daughter was born. Instead, I saw the writers I had attended the workshop with winning awards, publishing poem after poem, manuscripts accepted, and I saw what I thought should be my life slipping away.
Who would I be if I wasn't a writer? Where would my identity lie if not in this creative life I had fostered and developed, labored and struggled over? I was a baptized Christian at the time, and I didn't know who I was. I didn't know who I belonged to. Not really.
It took me until about six months pregnant to stop crying on a weekly basis, to begin embracing this little life moving within me. Then she came a month early, due to pre-eclampsia. I probably said 100 times the night I was induced, "I'm not ready to be a mom. I'm not ready!" What I wish someone had said was, "Honey...no one is."
Norah's first year of life is a distant memory, one I have blocked from my mind somehow. It is marred by struggle, by pain, by many nights spent crying in helpless frustration...but also blessed by conversion. I look back now and see clearly that, if not for this unexpected pregnancy, I would not be Catholic. And being Catholic is one of the best parts of my life. If I'm honest, it's the best part, because everything flows from the centrality of faith.
I would not understand the mercy of the Father. I spent so much of my life trying to "impress" God, and beating myself up when I inevitably fell short of my own expectations. I would not experience the life-sustaining grace of the Eucharist, which I can receive every day, the Bread of Angels that keeps nourishing my soul. I would not understand that suffering is a beautiful offering I can make with Jesus on the Cross, not just something to white-knuckle my way through, gritting my teeth and "sucking it up."
I would not be where I am now. And where I am now is a beautiful and broken life. Where my heart is being constantly remade in the image of Jesus, entrusted to Our Lady, and where I am renewed by grace overflowing every single day. When I became pregnant with my second baby, totally planned and chosen with discernment, every minute wasn't necessarily a joy, but I had a better understanding of just how much life can change from our set of expectations and still be incredibly good. Gideon was born, full term and naturally, my heart softened by God to receive him with great joy.
It's taken years to really understand my identity. It lies solely at the foot of the Cross. It lies in the inherent dignity I was created with. It lies in the heart of God, who whispers my name and calls me His beloved. As I have slowly begun to embrace this truth (because the journey is not over this side of Heaven), my grip on the vision of my life is slowly loosening. I haven't written a poem in about two years and rarely feel the urge to. I no longer feel the pang of want in my heart at another young writer who is making waves and a name for herself. I rejoice, read the poem, and trust that the gifts I was given will not be wasted if I just keep walking with the Lord. He never lets anything go to waste, even this fallow time in my writing life.
If who I am is defined by God's love for me, then whatever happens has no bearing on my worth. I am loved because God created me for himself. And he loves my children, whom he gifted me, more than I ever possibly could.
Sometimes these kiddos don't feel like a gift, but a cross. And often, a very heavy one. On hard days of temper tantrums, crying, fighting, I fall into my bed, exhausted and reviewing a day full of triumphs and even more failures. I try and find my rest in the Sacred Heart of Jesus instead of a glass of wine or a can of frosting.
It's hard. We love to comfort ourselves in ways that don't actually make us feel good. But when I do it well, when I just surrender, I feel reassured that, in spite of every failure, every poorly chosen word and subsequent apology, God loves me. Unconditionally. And he will carry me through the next day. I ask for Mary to sweeten the cross with the roses of grace, for she is the model I long to imitate as a mother -- tender, present, and ready to do whatever God asks. So to all the mommas out there looking at a pregnancy test and saying, "Oh, f___", or even "Not again..."-- it's going to be okay. Allow yourself to grieve the life you thought you'd have, but embrace the one being given to you. Trust that the one being set before you is unlike anything you've ever dreamed of. And altogether better.
Trust, momma. Just trust.