Motherhood Even Before Childbirth
It begins with a woman's longing to be connected to a baby.
Motherhood starts with conception. Pope John Paul II said that the Annunciation, the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary, is a high point not only of the history of the human race but of the universe. At the Annunciation, the Word became flesh, became flesh in the body of a woman.
Men are often tempted to think that their bodies were made for their own use. To a great extent this is true for everyone: Your hands, sir, are yours, they are for your use, and mine are for my use. A man can indulge this illusion of autonomy even further by supposing that even his genitals are there for himself. They’re a source of at times almost compelling drives and intriguing sensations. Even his testes are useful for him, in that the hormones they produce provide certain secondary sexual characteristics he has an interest in maintaining.
But a woman’s body has all these nooks and crannies which are no use to us but evidently were put there for someone else. Don’t get me wrong: We women have our pleasure doodads and our own hormonal self-interest as well. But then, well, there’s the womb. That’s not there for me. I can do without it. It was obviously put there for someone else. The same is true of mature mammary glands, rich with branching ducts and reservoirs, as they are found in nursing mothers and as they are not found in childless females, however nubile and Parton-esque they may be.
Our female bodies are connectors: Inter-connectedness is not just a concept, it’s built into us. This gives us the sense that we find in Mary’s Magnificat, of being, within our own bodies, the living link between past and future: “Behold, all generations will call me Blessed...His mercy is on those who fear him, from generation to generation...As he spoke to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.”
Mary sees ancestors past, and posterity future, linked in the center of her being. Her person—her body, her soul, her faithful heart—is the connector. She who is more spacious than the heavens. This makes autonomy, as an ideal, a poor fit for women. Women have a special gift, even a genius, for bondedness.
In conception and pregnancy, the mother and the child form a kind of multi-personed continuity. They are kaleidoscopically interdependent. To me, it is somewhat perverse even to imagine a pregnant woman and her unborn child separately.
It seems to me that when a woman marries a man, she has a right to expect children—or at least an honest go at it. I had a friend, Callie, with two children, Mark and Sophie, 5 and 2. Callie was a fine homemaker, the picture of happiness nursing her strong and vigorous little daughter, and obviously good at mothering. One day she told me she felt blue, because she knew Sophie was her last. After her, there would be no more babies.
“Callie, that’s so sad. What’s the problem?” I asked. “I always wanted four kids or so,” she told me, “but Burt (that’s her husband) only wanted one. I kinda sneaked past him with Sophie. But when she was born, he insisted that I should have my tubes tied.”
Tubes tied at 28. Her eyes brimmed up, and I could feel the tears start in my own eyes too, tears of sympathy, but also tears of anger. It’s as if her husband, instead of saying to her, “Callie, I dearly cherish what you are as a woman, a wife, and a mother,” had said, “Honey, I’d like you a lot better if I could get you surgically disabled. Motherhood? Let’s cut that out right here. Let’s cut you down to size.”
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