Even as Edith’s views validated my suffering, they challenged me to rethink my fixation on getting pregnant. If motherhood is more about what’s in your heart than what’s in your womb, I needed to stop waiting for a baby to use my maternal gifts. I needed to start recognizing the opportunities I already had to nurture growth in others, defend the vulnerable, and make the world a more loving, humane place.
The prospect frightened me. Since John and I received our first dose of bad news on the fertility front, I had careened between mourning my maternal desires and fighting to suppress them. My frustration at our failure to conceive had often led me to neglect prayer and escape into the excesses Edith warned against: superficiality, covetousness, and the pursuit of prestige.
My escapes took subtle forms. I would spend a few weeks quietly fixating on my weight and clothes, bitterly deciding that if my body could not produce a baby, it must be thinner, sexier, and more stunning than all those bodies that could. I would immerse myself in lavish travel plans, concluding that if John and I were going to be perceived as materialistic yuppies with no interest in children, we might as well play the part. I would dive into my work, not with the sense of duty and balance Edith extolled but with the explicit intention of working too many hours, garnering too many accolades, and earning too much applause to feel the pain of missing out on motherhood – or to feel much of anything, for that matter. None of my escapes lasted for long. I always wound up back at square one, weeping in the bathroom over that accursed pregnancy stick.
The strategies Edith suggested for coping with trials made more sense. I knew from experience that turning my mind to work helped when I found myself mired in self-pity, provided I maintained the balance between prayer, work, and rest that Edith advocated. The sacraments had been a source of strength to me for years, but Edith’s concrete suggestions about prayer reminded me to check in with Jesus throughout the day just as I checked in with John. Her warning against false idols particularly hit home, as I realized that the child I wanted so badly had become one for me.
I began to watch for openings to exercise spiritual maternity in my own life. I did not have to look far. The more active role I had taken in my father’s care allowed me to practice plenty of patience and nurturing. I finally understood the source of that satisfaction that filled me those times that I held Dad’s hand as he walked unsteadily, combed his thinning hair when he had forgotten, and encouraged him as he read to me, for the umpteenth time, an excerpt of scripture from the breviary page he had forgotten to turn. For so long, I had assumed that caring for Dad had nothing to do with longing for motherhood, even though my sorrow over infertility curiously abated whenever I visited my father. Now I realized that while I had been giving Dad my attention, he had been giving me an experience of motherhood. […]
Excerpted from Chapter 4, "A Mother at Heart" of "My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir" by Colleen Carroll Campbell. Copyright © 2012 by Colleen Carroll Campbell. Excerpted by permission of Image Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.