When Does Motherhood Begin?

A quick Google search will reveal a whole host of opinions and definitions of the miraculous journey that we call “Motherhood.” For some, motherhood is very specifically tied to the birth event of a child. For others, motherhood begins when that first kick is felt. Still others consider a broader perspective to include adoptive mothers, mother-like figures or even spiritual mothers.

With such definitions, it would appear at first glance that motherhood is yet another area of relativistic individualism – what’s true for me may or may not be true for you and that’s ok. When we go to the dictionary, things are even less helpful. “The state of being a mother” isn’t the most illustrated definition. When looking up simply “Mother” things do get a bit more definite: “a female parent,” “a woman exercising control, influence, or authority like that of a mother,” or “something or someone that gives rise to or exercises protecting care over something else; origin or source.”

While there is still room for interpretation in these selected definitions, we can begin to see the blurry outlines of who and what a mother is. A mother is typically a female person, though the final definition opens even this observation up to all people. A mother is a person who has some level of authority over others, especially a protective care or measure of control grounded in a relationship. The last definition is most interesting – origin or source. Let’s take a special look at this perspective and how it relates to the Church’s understanding of motherhood.

St. Julian of Norwich

St. Julian of Norwich was an anchoress and mystic who lived in the late 1300s. An anchoress was a woman who “anchored” herself to a specific church, living a life of cloister and prayer. She received a series of sixteen visions of Christ which she wrote about in her work, Revelations of Divine Love, and can still be read today. She developed a new understanding of Jesus’ identity – Jesus as Mother.

Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him ­ and this is where His Maternity starts ­ And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never ceases to surround us.

Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother.

http://www.vatican.va/spirit/documents/spirit_20010807_giuliana-norwich_en.html

Here we find the maternity of Christ to fit perfectly with our modern definitions of a mother. Through Jesus we find our origin and in Jesus we are enveloped in protection and love.

Chiara Lubich

Chiara Lubich is the founder of the Focolare Movement, a movement of laity and clergy which began during WWII. Focolare means “Work of Mary” and it is through Mary’s guidance Chiara explores what total union with God and one another looks like. Chiara’s theology of Mary is deeply intimate, resonating with both St. Louis de Montfort and St. Maximillian Kolbe, two of the greatest Marian theologians. Part of Chiara’s understandings revolve around Mary’s role as Jesus’ mother, and by spiritual extension our mother. We are Mary’s children and as such are called to emulate her example. What is her example? To bear Christ to the world.

Mary’s is Jesus’ mother. Her willing cooperation with the Holy Spirit brought Jesus, the Son of God, into human existence. We too are called to bring Christ into the world. The motherhood of Mary in union with the Holy Spirit, which brings forth Christ, is relived in the Church and in each of us. According to Lumen Gentium #65, whenever Christ is born in the hearts of the faithful, they are participating in the mystery of the Incarnation where Christ is “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin.” All Christians, no matter their gender, profession, or age are called to live this birthing every day.

When does motherhood begin?

After all this, we still may not be closer to answering the question, “When does motherhood begin?” However, I think we do have some clues about something broader, and perhaps more important. Like love, motherhood isn’t a feeling. Nor is it necessarily something outside your control. Motherhood, like love, is a choice. When does someone start to act as a mother, to be a mother? Based on the secular definitions and the reflections of Julian of Norwich and Chiara Lubich, it is when a person chooses to serve another, regardless of the expense or cost to themselves.

Consider it this way. A couple wishes to have a child. The couple has been struggling to conceive and they are seeking advice, tracking her cycles, practicing NFP, paying attention to risk factors and doing a series of tests to screen out any other potential inhibitors. They make lifestyle changes as recommended. The wife is taking prenatal vitamins, being mindful of any alcohol and taking extra care in her tracking. The husband is supportive, moderating his own alcohol intake in solidarity with his wife, he encourages her tracking and any dietary changes which may help their hopes for a child. Are they practicing motherhood yet?

What about the family who hopes to adopt? They pray every day, children and parents alike, for their hoped for child. They work together to make any necessary changes to their home for the preliminary inspections and requirements. They fill out paperwork, answer questions, take time off work for meetings and other important interactions in order to be accepted as a potential family. Are they practicing motherhood yet?

What about a person who volunteers their time with their parish’s youth group? They dedicated time each week to encouraging and mentoring the teenagers. They open their home to the group for a summer barbeque, travel to a religious site or pilgrimage with them, and even help coach a summer intramural volleyball team. Is this person practicing motherhood yet?

What about the child who sees another sad or hurt at the playground. Instead of walking past, they sit down and ask to play together. Are they practicing motherhood yet?

If motherhood, as I said earlier, is “when a person chooses to serve another, regardless of the expense or cost to themselves,” then the clear answer to the previous scenarios is “Yes!” All these examples, even the child, are moments of motherhood.

Chiara sums it up beautifully in a letter written in 1983:

“…Mothers only know how to love. It is typical of a mother to love her children as herself, because there’s something of herself in them. … We too can find something of ourselves in others. For we must see Jesus in ourselves and in every neighbor. What shall we do? With each neighbor, at home, at work, or on the street, with the people we talk; with those we speak to over the phone, or for whom we carry out our daily work – with every person we meet these days, we must think: “I must act as if I were his or her mother,” and act accordingly. Mothers are always serving, Mothers always find excuses for their children. Mothers are always full of hope.”

The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother – St. Therese of Lisieux

Happy Mother’s Day!

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

December 9, 2016 -Waiting Well

I absolutely love this picture and message. Though this is my fourth pregnancy, I have only been pregnant during Advent one other time (with John) and that was early in the pregnancy. This time around, I’m now almost 34 weeks along (anything 38 weeks and beyond is considered full term) I’m feeling much more attune to what Mary may have been going through during this same time.

Mary must have been thrilled with how things turned out for her. Not only was she not stoned or outcast from her community (definitely a plus), but her husband Joseph choose not to divorce her and still took her into his home (double bonus). Things were going well. Then, at some point during the pregnancy, a census is ordered. Because she was now Joseph’s wife, she had to travel with him to his family’s town of Bethlehem. Remember that journey she took to visit Elizabeth (approximately 80 miles) while sick and exhausted? Now she had to make a similar trip, somewhere between 70 and 90 miles, but this time with a growing baby who kicked her bladder, tried to burrow under her ribs and an insatiable need for more food and rest. Again, Mary is way tougher than I am.

Things went from comfortable to extremely uncomfortable quickly. We don’t know the exact timing of the census, but it is completely possible that the couple found out about it on one day and had to leave the next or within the week. Can you imagine needing to gather items for that kind of journey in less than 24 hours. And oh yes, you will also probably have to deliver a baby somewhere along the way or if you are lucky, after you reach Bethlehem. I love you Ben, but I think Joseph might be a bit tougher than you too =)

Waiting, wondering, worrying. Mary and Joseph must have shared these emotions with one another on that grueling journey. What if? How will we? Why now? We ask these same questions today.

In the spirit of Advent, today choose one of these questions and finish it with whatever you are struggling with or waiting for.

  • What if?
  • How will we/I?
  • Why now?

Then, go back to the blessing Elizabeth offered to Mary. “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45). Those words that must have comforted Mary early in her pregnancy would certainly continue to support her at it’s end. They are waiting to offer you solace and strength in the here and now.

***Are you starting to see how uniting our will with God’s is the key to not only getting to heaven, but to our current happiness? Even when life is swirling around us, God’s Will is ever steady. Please feel free to share your experience, thoughts and offer support to one another in the comments, on Twitter with the #DailyGraces or on the Facebook page.Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

Cheeseburgers and Promoting a Culture of Life

So now that everyone knows I’m pregnant, you may as well know some of the foods I’ve been craving the past few months (I hope you’re not hungry right now). The longest standing one is cheeseburgers. I can’t tell you how many cheeseburgers I’ve eaten since June, but it’s been quite a few, more than quite a few truthfully. Specifically from one or two fast food restaurants, but pretty much any cheeseburger will do. I’ve also gone through an asiago cheese bagel phase, a tomato-basil-mozzarella phase and presently consider a bowl of ice cream an acceptable way to deal with heartburn (it’s cold, creamy and delicious, perfect remedy in my opinion).

Cheeseburgers and a Culture of Life from Daily Graces at kktaliaferro.wordpress.com
CCO Public Domain

On a recent trip to the grocery store I was predictably hungry, it was 1:30 in the afternoon and lunch was so long ago (wink). As I looked at what was around me, a common fast food restaurant was only a few blocks away. I try not to give in all the time, but part of being pregnant is giving in every so often. So I drove up the street and promptly ordered 2 cheeseburgers, a small fri and small drink. Total = $4.37.

Now here is something interesting. Like most places, this particular restaurant has value meal options. For this one, their value meals come automatically with an order of medium french fries and a medium drink. That is usually fine with me, though admittedly it is a bit too much food for me in one sitting. I could have chosen the value meal that came with 2 cheeseburgers, a medium fri and medium drink, but I knew it would be too much. Plus it was technically “second lunch” so I didn’t truly need another somewhat overly full meal. What would my total have been if I had ordered the value meal? $4.20.

17¢ difference isn’t a lot of money. It’s not an amount I would get upset over or think a whole lot about. Except in this case where I actually spent more money and got less food. I’m not upset about the less food part, though it is rather ridiculous. What frustrates me is the lesson it teaches. Eat more for less, even if more is too much.

We are bombarded in our society by the quest for more. More pillows will make your living room more inviting. A new phone will allow you to do more with your time. Losing 10 more pounds (even if you are at a healthy weight) will make you more desirable. It seems that the whole point of marketing is to convince you that whatever you have is less than adequate and until you do more/get more you can’t possibly be a happy person.

For all our society talks about portion control and moderation when it comes to food, it was surprising to see that I paid more for less. But then again, if the underlying principle of our society involves the blind acquisition of more things, I suppose I shouldn’t be all that surprised. It’s as if we can no longer fathom that anyone would want less. I think I’ve posted it before, but this commercial still gets under my skin. More more more! Mine mine mine! It’s not hard to see why these mentalities cultivate a society that encourages what Pope John Paul II called “a culture of death,” a culture that devalues life, that upholds violence and narcissism, and justifies immorality through relativism.

I don’t mean to get all dark and gloomy, after all this train of thought started with a mere 17¢ and a couple of cheeseburgers. But as a mother it is my duty to raise my children to be moral, active participants in our world. I want them to be thinking, feeling, compassionate and merciful contributors to society, living the lives that God calls them to. In order to fulfill this task, both Ben and I need to be aware of what seeds we are planting in their lives. Are we allowing them to desire more, or to be content with what they have been given? Do they get to scream and shout “Mine!” and grab things from their siblings or other children, or are they courteous, asking for a turn and sharing with one another? (Some days are better than others, we are dealing with seedlings after all).

And what are they seeing in our behavior? Are we constantly grasping for the latest cell phone or technology? When we sit down at dinner are we engaging with them or our tablets? Are we at the store purchasing new clothing on a regular basis or are we thrifty with our money, maintaining our appearance without obsessing over it? Do we complain about what we don’t have or do we share with them how thankful we are for what we do have? And maybe most significantly, are we generous with what we have been given, or do we keep it for ourselves, shouting with our selfishness and greedy actions the same “Mine!” that our children are not allowed to say?

We aren’t perfect that’s for sure. But we are trying to be aware about cultivating a culture of life in our home. It is good for our kids that we intentionally try not to have multiples of many toys. It makes some days harder, but they are learning lessons about sharing and working together rather than sitting side-by-side, disengaged from one another. Every night before bed we share with the family and with God the things we are thankful for and the people we would like God to bless. We encourage politeness, courtesy and respect for all the members of our family. Each member is important, valued and respected regardless of how old they are. In all these small ways we are growing in love and holiness and promoting a culture of life.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com