It was April and the Minister was new in town. I stopped by the house with the For Sale sign on the ground and knocked on the door with a casserole, loaf of bread and chocolate cake in hand. It was a quick hello and casual conversation that first meeting. As I stood on their back porch surrounded by unopened boxes and unfamiliar eyes staring at me, I told my story to our new Minister, his wife and their parents, about how my husband and I came to have our 2 year old twins. As I look back on it now, I don’t know why I divulged this part of my life so openly, but I was later to learn that it served a purpose for more than the people in the room that Spring day. They politely listened to me ramble on; I, the proud mother, who still couldn’t believe I had been so blessed. A son and a daughter came to complete my world. Really, the only way I could introduce myself was to share my newfound identity: Mom. They said their thank yous and I said good-bye.
When Spring arrived, I took special pleasure in planning our families Mother’s Day celebration. It was no longer a dreaded holiday for me and I anxiously awaited the impending fuss to be made around those of us with the title Mom, now that I, too, was a member of the club. And one sunny day he called. The Minister asked if I would be willing to say a prayer at church on Mother’s Day. He and his wife did not have children, and I imagined that this was a day he did not feel qualified on which to speak. But after our recent introduction, he knew that I was well entrenched in the joys of motherhood. Without hesitation, I assured him that I would come prepared to church the following Sunday.
The words came to the pages easily; the final version amounted to four minutes of spoken text. Had I overstepped my time limit? “There is no timeframe in which to pray” said the new Minister. And so I spoke these words, that Mother’s Day Sunday, as I was compelled to bare my soul in His House and give thanks for my many blessings.
I was first introduced to motherhood when I married Bob and his six-year-old daughter, Jane*. Having Jane in my life was an added bonus to finding the best guy in the world. She had her daddy’s happy disposition and she gave me the opportunity to be a mom – something I had been told I might never be due to medical problems I had suffered with for many years.
As we watched Jane grow, I got to practice being a mom with her every other weekend. I enjoyed putting her hair in curlers, painting her nails and making her Halloween costume every other year. I nursed her through the chickenpox and held her in my arms when she cried from a sore knee or a sad heart. I bought her party dresses for her school concerts and helped her and her girlfriend “cook” quiche for dinner one night. Bob and I took her skiing, skating and sledding and included her in our daily routine, rarely getting a babysitter who would only cheat us out of more time with her. Over the years, I had the privilege of watching what kind of dad my husband was and would be to our children. The love he has for his daughter and the loving relationship I watched between them made me want a child that much more. Then the weekends would end and Jane would go back to her mom for another long two weeks. And we would try again.
You see, four months after I met Bob, I had one of four major surgeries that would lead us down the path of infertility treatments for the six and one half years following our marriage. The surgeries were painful, the side effects to the medications were very difficult and the emotional toll on our marriage was high. But we very much wanted to have children together. And eventually we did. But it was not giving birth to my children that made me a mom. It was the lessons I learned along the way.
During our struggle to conceive, I became virtually incapable of seeing much else beside my desire to have a baby. I lost sight of my purpose in the world, my responsibility to my relationship with my husband and those around me. I let go of everything in my life that held promise because I wanted a baby. The biggest struggles were when Bob and I disagreed on whether to pursue another painful infertility treatment – I always wanted to – he did not.
At the end of six and one half years of anguish, I decided it was time to face the fact that I was not going to have a baby. But to come to terms with ending our infertility treatments, I had to acknowledge the selfishness with which I had behaved. I realized that I could lose my husband in my pursuit to be a mom, and although I could feel the souls of my children close to mine, it was time to let go. Let go of the fear of never being a mom; let go of the pain of trying, and start forgiving myself for not being perfect. It was all over and it was now time to come to terms with the life I had left to live.
First, I had to redefine what our family was going to be. Simply, family is the people we bring into our life to love and who love us in return. Biological, step, adopted – the prefix no longer mattered. Secondly, I had to determine my value as a woman. I had to learn to see myself as a person with the ability to nurture (not just a baby who might come from my body), but the people already in my life who needed me. Mothering is an attitude not a biological event.
Finally, what was I to do with the rest of my life? It became crystal clear that life was about giving love, not getting what I wanted, no matter how noble I thought the pursuit.
Soon after I shared these revelations with my husband, he returned to me with a request – he wanted us to undergo one more invitro fertilization. I was stunned. Yet it was at this moment exactly that I knew God was showing me how sacrificing my desires and giving love from the most sincere part of ones soul, comes right back to you – as my husband had to me. So, of course, I obliged. The results of that procedure are our son, Robert Joseph, and our daughter, Lauren Ann.
Looking back on my life experience to this point, I am convinced that my children were up in heaven looking down at me all those years just waiting for me to figure out the most basic concepts of love, which had become clouded by my quest to have children. Ironically, these were the same characteristics of selflessness, patience and priority I would require in my role as a mom.
But the story is bittersweet. We baptized the children and my stepdaughter, Jane, got up and left the church and we have not seen her since. Our hearts ache for her. As much love as we feel for Lauren Ann and Robert, they do not replace her. She is a teenage victim of divorce struggling with her own feelings about her place in the lives of the people who love her. We are left feeling that all the love we have given her to this point is not enough. Again another struggle. Only this time around I understand there is a purpose to this pain. Another venue for our love…a lesson to learn.
So on this Mothers Day, my prayers are for…
- The women who are trying to have a baby and may or may not reach that goal
- The women, who by choice do not have children, yet enrich our world in myriad ways
- The women who selflessly place their children for adoption, and
- The women who adopt them
- The stepmoms who have committed themselves to someone else’s children heart and soul, and
- The moms whose children are all grown up, but are never really done being “mom”
My prayers are for all of us who mother to learn the lessons of love along the way.
I remember that Mother’s Day vividly. Having taken the opportunity to articulate one part of my own journey, I inadvertently touched other people’s lives. I still recall the arms that enveloped me after service that Sunday. Many parishioners divulged to me their struggles with infertility or similar pains their friends and family members had experienced. My heart ached for their pain, and I could not help but feel bonded to these people I did not really know.
This journey I had taken to become a mom, was a road I thought I had traveled alone. As life unfolds before me and my understanding of the world comes into focus, it is clear to me now, there are no roads we walk alone; only choices that bring us closer to each other.
*Not her real name
(c) Lisa Lelio All Rights Reserved