A couple of weeks ago, when we were in Texas for NFP Teacher Training/Enrichment, after The Man and I shared about infertility with the NFP teachers, we also spent some time looking at the structure of the third class we teach. This class has always included something about infertility and while it can be brutal (emotionally) to teach, it is important and a good lesson in dying to self is also important. I'm so glad that it was already part of what couples get when they learn Standard Sympto-Thermal NFP before Cliff and I gave our presentation.
Ever since The Man and I started TTC it has gotten a bit harder and harder to teach this particular class though I couldn't quite put my finger on why. Through conversations that I've had with a number of people recently and then standing up doing a "what we teach in class 3 and why" presentation (instead of just teaching the class) it hit me. There is (was - it's been changed now) a transition from the slide about infertility to a slide about adoption and being open to life in other ways than just physical. What really stuck out to me about this is that adoption, volunteering, coaching little league, etc. are not to be reserved for those poor, unfortunate souls who can't "have children of their own." (I'm sorry, I'm hearing Ursula from The Little Mermaid in my brain...)
Anyway, I spoke up and it seems that most everyone in the room agreed and so the ordering of the slides was changed. That's the background on why this post and why now. Here's the real "stuff" I want to say.
I have long since really disliked the phrase "spiritual motherhood" - see? (this is the
I also hate the phrase "why don't you adopt"? But honestly that is a whole other post of it's own.
I want to say to the people who say these things to me (usually they are already parents): why didn't/don't you adopt? how about I take your kids and you can have spiritual motherhood?
(In order to not confuse two topics, I shall focus on spiritual motherhood here and just state that adoption is not just for the infertile couple either. I will also say that all of this applies to men and fatherhood as well, I will just mostly use mother and feminine pronouns to help keep this a bit easier to read.)
I, of course, do not say these things. I know (or at least I assume) people genuinely mean well and I realize this is just one more instance of it being about my pain. Only, in this case I think it needs some considering...
Is it really only infertile couples who are to adopt? Is it really only women who are infertile who are called to spiritual motherhood? Well, we'll count priests and sisters in there on the spiritual mother/fatherhood side of things, and of course people who are single, right?
But what about everyone else? You know, the people who marry and give birth to children? What about them? Are they exempt from spiritual motherhood?
I don't think so.
I don't remember reading anywhere in scripture that only those who aren't physically fertile are to care for the widows and orphans. I don't remember Jesus saying "when you infertile women visited the sick and fed the hungry, you did that for me." And even though the Catechism states that infertile couples should consider caring for orphans, it doesn't say only infertile couples should consider caring for orphans.
If we want to create a culture of life, to create a new humanity, I think that it's time every woman starts to ask herself, how am I called to motherhood? Is it physical motherhood? Is it adopting (Side Note: I suspect that adopting is much more in-line with physical motherhood than it is spiritual motherhood since after the child is born and then adopted (even if adopted older), there is very little, if any, difference. I admit I have no direct experience with either, but I can't help but think this way, my friends who have adopted, feel free to correct me if I am wrong.)
Many times every day, women are called to mother and men are called to father - regardless of their marital status or fertility. When I consider spiritual motherhood in this light, in the light of who I am as a woman rather than as an alternative to physical motherhood, I free myself to walk down the road towards it; to see how I live out this call that is part of my feminine genius. The enemy is smart though, for each time I take a step down this particular road, someone suggests to me that I can "always be a spiritual mother" or asks "why don't you just adopt?" and I stop and decide that I will not go down this road after all. This is evidence to me that I'm on to something here, that this isn't just the ranting of some bitter, infertile woman, but rather that if we all (myself included) truly stepped up to our call to care for one another, to be mothers and fathers to those we encounter, that it would have a tremendous impact.
I'm not advocating for an either/or here, it isn't physical mother/fatherhood OR adoption OR spiritual mother/fatherhood, but rather a both/and approach to openness to life. I'm speaking specifically about those called to the vocation of marriage (and I'm including those who are called to marriage but still wait for their spouse in with those of us infertile married people, as I have it on good authority this difficulty with the phrase "spiritual motherhood" applies greatly to them as well.) Someone called to consecrated or religious life embraces a call to spiritual mother/fatherhood alone, giving up physical mother/fatherhood for the sake of the kingdom, just as they are celibate for the sake of the kingdom. For the rest of us, again, myself included, we must open our hearts to both/and.
(Edited to add: Usually I like to respond in an email message to comments, but I'm finding your comments are really helping me to work through this some more, so if you don't usually subscribe to comments, you might want to this time. Also, please read the comment thread if you have time, as I've already been able to have some more pieces of this puzzle filled in for me.)