The other day I was scooting down the stairs with Olivia when I was struck with such a strong feeling of gratitude for her that I immediately began crying and clutched her to my chest. I know it seems rote to say, but having a child is one of the greatest gifts that God can give. I almost cannot contain the love that I feel for her sometimes. There is not a single day that passes that I don’t feel thankful for being a mother.
Don’t get me wrong. Being a parent, while more wonderful than I imagined, is also way harder than I ever imagined it being. It isn’t always rainbows and puppies. Olivia’s sleeping was a nightmare for a while. I (thankfully) did not have postpartum depression but around O’s 8 month mark I definitely sunk into some kind of depression. I just couldn’t quite adjust to my role of being home all the time. Our marriage has definitely borne its share of neglect because of focusing too much on Olivia and our separate jobs. Point is: it hasn’t been a cakewalk, but, like most things that are hard, it has been worth it.
During a Catholic wedding Mass, the couple makes a promise to God in front of all their friends and family to openly and lovingly accept children from God. As a Catholic married couple, this is part of our vocation. We have chosen to get married and this is part of the package – being open to life if and when God decides to send it.
As we get nearer to Christmas I think about how open to life Mary was. God called on her to carry Jesus before she was even married to Joseph (betrothed but not yet living together). What a hard thing to ask. Mary’s “yes” to this question changed everything. Her trust in God and openness to life was so strong. Her answer allowed us to be brought from death to life, from sin to salvation.
Lately, I have been struck by what a discrepancy I see between Mary’s openness to life and our society’s non-openness to life even within marriage. Here are a few comments that were just so painful to listen to that I cannot stop thinking about them. This first one I overheard at a Mommy and Me yoga class:
Mom 1: You know, I’ve been thinking about maybe having a third child. I’ve been missing having a baby around the house.
Mom 2: Oh God, not for me. I made my husband get fixed. We have our one girl and one boy and that’s all we’re having. We don’t need any more. What are you going to do with a third? Are you crazy?
Or the conversation I had with my doctor the other day. I had just told her that we were expecting our second baby in February and asked about her daughter:
Doctor: She’s great. Her and her husband have been happily married for a couple years now. She’s in her second year of optometry school and desperately trying to convince herself that it’s the right time to have a baby, but her husband and I have to keep reminding her that now is not a good time. She wants to be a mother so bad but she has to finish school. I’m not worried, though, I know her husband will keep her in line.
I hear these kinds of comments and conversations all the time. I know people are just doing and saying what they think is best but when there is no grave reason to avoid pregnancy, why would someone ever discourage a stable, married couple from having a child? If a married woman has a strong desire to have children, isn’t this desire from God? Isn’t this the most natural desire in the world that springs from her vocation as wife? Who has children because they need them? We have children because they are a natural fruit of marriage.
I try to envision what kind of conversation Mary and the Angel Gabriel would have had if Mary hadn’t been open to life:
Gabriel: Mary, will you bear the Son of God?
Mary: Well, Gabriel, you know, I’m not really married yet. And after we get married we really want to save up some money before we have children and maybe buy a nice house. Not to mention it would be good for our marriage to just have a couple years to ourselves, you know, really learn how to have a good solid relationship before bringing kids into the picture. So give us 2-3 years and then, yes, I will definitely and happily carry the Son of God.
God does not ask us to be open to life only when it’s convenient for us or fits into our plans. There is never a perfect time to have kids. There is never enough money. Relationships within a marriage are never perfect. Kids are never convenient.
The angel told Joseph to name the son Mary was carrying Emmanuel, which means “God is with us”. This doesn’t mean that God is just hanging out or around us but that God is intimately woven into our being, is very much a part of us. This is exactly what being open to life is about. Letting God be part of us. And if God chooses to send new life, the child is woven into your being. God, in the form of a baby, is literally within you, with you, part of you.
Mary’s openness to life freed us from the captivity of sin. Our openness to life can’t trump that, but if we also say “yes” and hand the reigns over to God, who knows what great things will come from following the divine will of God?
This Christmas I pray that Mary inspires us to be open to new life. To be open to letting God be with us in the deepest sense of the phrase.
Wishing you a blessed few more days of Advent and a very joyous Christmas season.
O come, o come, Emmanuel.