A response to infertile women who feel left out of the motherhood conversation

Lack of biological children does not exclude you from this club.

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There is no greater vocation than motherhood, and no woman is excluded from this vocation. I recently wrote an open letter to a group of mothers who now, many years later, regret having their children, reassuring them of this, and it brought about some comments from women who struggle with infertility and questions as to what this means for them. If you are not able to be a mother in the biological sense, know this: You are designed with a very special purpose, which is to use your feminine genius and be a mother in a world where so many have felt abandoned by their mothers, or have lost their mothers and are craving the guidance and genius that only you can give.

Two of the greatest mothers I have ever known are nuns. No, they do not have their own biological children. But I look at them as earthly mothers of my spirit, and seek their counsel and ask for their prayers and their words can make my day, and make me feel as light and as safe as a child playing in the garden.

But what of the woman who is unable to conceive? What of the woman who never married? What of the nun?

Motherhood implies from the beginning a special openness to the new person. In this openness, the woman discovers herself through a sincere gift of self.

Each of the aforementioned women is beautiful, and filled with meaning and purpose. Yes, just as much meaning and purpose as a woman who has birthed a child. And what makes each of these women special is called the “feminine genius,” a concept glorified through the teachings of St. Pope John Paul II in his Letter to Women. Expounded upon in his letter On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, John Paul II writes, “Motherhood implies from the beginning a special openness to the new person … In this openness … the woman discovers herself through a sincere gift of self.”

MORE TO READ: An open letter to mothers who regret having children

One nun I know, Sr. Theresa, is a cloistered Capuchin Sister. I met her when she led a retreat on marriage and families. Not for a second did I question why a nun would be such a powerful role model for me in both those capacities. She spoke of how she was inspired by moms and wives who could influence and care for the next generation. I saw that her tenderness and steady patient prayers were as helpful to the world as any mother’s. After the retreat, we started a letter-writing friendship that has bloomed over the years. She lovingly prayed for my family through hardships and I turned to her with as much trust as a child. She is a mother.

If inability or circumstance has kept you from giving birth to a child, know this: That which might have been your cross is also your great potential, a calling to reach those children already in the world who need the beauty, the love, the spiritual maternity that only you can give.

Another nun, Sr. Maureen, is the principal of a Catholic elementary school. I think of her as a mother to thousands. She becomes personally involved with each child and family’s ups and downs, and with her combination of grit and fortitude, she shows her feminine genius on a daily basis. Many people I know, myself included, have turned to her in difficult times and have left feeling comfort and love. She is a mother.

I am friends with a lay woman, Ruth, who never married. She is a vibrant aunt, and her nieces and nephews still go to her instead of their own parents for certain pearls of advice. Not only that, she has told me that because she doesn’t have her own kids, she can afford to spend lots of extra time in ministry, time she would not have as much of were she home taking care of a family. She is family, unequivocally, to the lonely and lost people she ministers to through her church outreach. Her love has saved lives. She is a mother.

MORE TO READ: Seeing children pray out loud in school changed me

My paternal grandmother could not have biological children of her own. She adopted my dad, and he loved her fiercely, saying she was extra special for choosing to raise a child who was not her own by birth. He marveled every day at the sacrifices she chose, how she gave him a home and her heart. She exerted her feminine genius and through the great sorrow she carried of not being able to conceive, brought the greatest possible joy to the babies she adopted. I don’t know what would have become of my father were it not for her maternal heart.

If inability or circumstance has kept you from giving birth to a child, know this: That which might have been your cross is also your great potential, a calling to reach those children already in the world who need the beauty, the love, the spiritual maternity that only you can give. It might be through adoption, becoming a mentor, joining a ministry at your church, reaching out to a lonely person in your workplace, or designing a workplace community of peace, joy and acceptance. Whatever shape it takes, it is as St. Pope John Paul II extolled: “a service of love to those you encounter.” God bless you, spiritual mothers. We love you, we need you, and we thank God for you. Your children of all ages are here, awaiting the care only you can give.

 

Annabelle Moseley
Annabelle Moseley
Annabelle Moseley is an author of nine books, speaker, and professor of literature and religion. Her most recent book is a double volume of poetry written in the voices of notable and notorious Biblical characters, entitled: A Ship to Hold the World and The Marionette’s Ascent (Wiseblood Books, 2014). Moseley was The Walt Whitman Birthplace Writer-in-Residence (2009-2010); and in 2014, she was named Long Island Poet of the Year. She lives on Long Island with her husband and children.

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