This past weekend, I went on a women’s’ 12 step recovery retreat. It was excruciatingly hard to leave my baby (who is no longer a baby but who will always be my baby, I now understand). There was the mother guilt, something I am familiar with as a Mom who works outside the home. However, I knew, having not had a full night’s sleep in 3 years now, that I needed replenishing. I knew, as they say in 12-step program, “you can’t keep it unless you give it away but you can’t give it away unless you have it.” I knew I needed to refill my spiritual tank.
There were other mothers at this retreat. When I shared missing my baby, they all related: those with 7 year olds, those with teenagers, and those with grown children and grandchildren. There was a mother and grandmother; 89 years old celebrating 40 years of sobriety, who said to me “your recovery is the greatest gift you can give your child.” There was a mother, now a Grandmother, who shared the memory of being away from her 3-year-old child and booking the next flight home after hearing her daughter’s voice over the phone; there was a mother who shared about making amends to her grown daughter, now a recovering alcoholic herself, apologizing for the way she raged as a single mother. There was a mother who shared about fiercely protecting her two-year-old (now teenager) from the police breaking down the door for her boyfriend; there was a mother who shared about the almost unspeakable loss of losing her child due to the disease of alcoholism; there was the grandmother who shared about the gift of having a “do-over” with her grandchildren in which she gets to be as present as she wanted to be but couldn’t as a Mom struggling with alcoholism. (Some identifying information changed to protect anonymity).
I do believe, feel in my gut and experience daily with my child, that there is a universal experience of motherhood. I do not mean the over idealized glowing pregnant Mama to be or Virgin with wings in the sky. I mean the gritty and visceral vulnerability and fierceness that comes with being and becoming a mother to an innocent, vulnerable human being with whom you are inextricably and viscerally connected. Recently, my 2 year old got sick with a fever. When I got the call informing me that he had a fever, everything else became simply an obstacle that needed to GET OUT OF MY WAY because my baby is sick and he needs his Mama. I am not normally someone who is described as aggressive. In fact, I may tend to error, shall we say on the pleasing codependent side of practicing expressing anger (though I have worked hard on cultivating assertiveness and direct communication skills in recovery). However, on that day, Look OUT for the person that was in my way because I would have pushed over a truck if it was blocking the path to my baby.
Motherhood isn’t the easy or the lightning bolt transcendent kind of spiritual experience. It is more of a “before enlightenment do the laundry, after enlightenment, do the laundry” kind. The biggest gifts for me in going on spiritual retreat were: 1) No laundry 2) No dishes 3) No diapers 4) No 3am wakings. And yet many, many, many people choose to become mothers, an unpaid, 24 hour job for a minimum of 21 years (and more realistically a lifetime). And yet we do it. And we do it willingly. Why? Because even with the grit, and perhaps because of it, it is a miracle. It was a miracle for me, after having survived a life-threatening eating disorder fifteen years ago, that I was able to become pregnant and give birth. http://www.exploringwomanhood.com/mindbodysoul/health/anorexia_fertility.htm
Mary knew that. She knew it when she said yes to the angel. She knew it when she said yes, even though (I would imagine) many people including her husband were saying “Really? An angel impregnated you? Sure…” She said yes to the miracle despite all the disbelievers because saying yes to the miracle was more important than giving credence to the naysayers. Anyone in recovery from any kind of addiction or eating disorder knows that saying yes in the face of doubt and disbelief is a crucial element of recovery. Mary said yes to the miracle, even if it meant giving birth to her baby in a barn full of scratchy straw without pain medication or an epidural. Why? Because it is an honor and a gift to be a Mom; it is truly a miracle. Amen.