Step back a few years and I would not have believed I would write this post because I thought motherhood would always be a distant dream. After praying and trying for a family for over six years, I gave birth to a beautiful boy after the IVF process in July 2019. A process that, although turbulent at times, was, in my opinion, the answer to our prayers. Our little boy was our very last frozen embryo and a survivor from the start! As a cradle Catholic and after studying theology for over fifteen years, I prayed, questioned and analyzed everything like crazy. My relationship with God and the teaching of the Church was very similar to a roller coaster.
Before we started our second IVF round, I spoke to a close Catholic friend from Africa and we prayed together. She prayed for the strength and advocacy of my ancestors; before, during and after my pregnancy. Originating from Ireland, I understood the importance of parentage and especially the power of our female ancestors who move through the generations. When I was at work, I really felt the real power of these intercessions. Due to complications after complications, more and more decisions were taken out of my hands and I had to trust all the medical professionals around me. Through hours of agony and fear I prayed and drew from the strength of all women who had come before. A deep power came from a place I didn’t know existed. I imagined Mary, our heavenly mother, a young woman who went into labor in a drafty barn without pain relief and without medical care, and felt her strength physically. I don’t think I’ve ever identified more than one woman in the twenty-four hours of my life. It was also a time when I felt as far away from God and as close to God as I have ever felt. Something that Pope Francis said about Mary in 2015 that stayed with me and spoke to me especially during these long hours of work: “She gives us Jesus, she shows us Jesus, she lets us see Jesus.”[i] and she certainly gave me Jesus at that time and gave me the strength to survive. It also reminded me of how extraordinarily incredible motherhood is.
And now I’m here. A woman, a woman, a theologian, a Catholic and a mother. In addition to researching my doctoral thesis, which deals with the relationships between the experiences of English Catholic women and church family classes, I read a lot about Pope Francis’ work on his understanding of motherhood and gained a lot of strength from his words. His views on motherhood come from his personal family experience, scripture and tradition, and from encounters with many Catholic mothers with whom he has had an audience over the years. He has broken the papal form of dealing with women and their lives and although he has closed the door to discussing the ordination of women, he has entered into dialogue with women in a way that no Pope has done before Has. Although Pope Francis is not a feminist, but is ready to deal with women as mothers, sisters, teachers, theologians and much more, women’s lives seem to shed light on them and realize their important roles. In feminist theology, there are schools of thought that believe that the church’s father declared Maria to be “always virgin” in order to deal with Mary’s femininity and to put her on an untouchable pedestal instead of focusing on her human femininity and motherhood[ii]. However, there are women who continue to explore this humanity. the pain, the passion and the woman who was Mary. This is important for women in the Church, because the upliftment to the Blessed Virgin and the Blessed Holiness of Mary can alienate many and may seem irrelevant to women who look at the woman who was the mother of Jesus and empathize with all human pain and emotions that she has experienced. As a discipline, feminist theology deals with women’s experiences, and the visceral, painful, and powerful experience of bringing life into the world should not be overlooked. However, it is probably too physical and messy for the Church to want to discuss, and like many other women’s experiences, mainstream theology circumvents it.
Motherhood consists of so much joy, pain, fear, monotony and sometimes loneliness. It is often far from the feminine and delicate image of motherhood that the Church tends to paint. While it is refreshing to hear Pope Francis speak about the importance of women and mothers in the Church and actively engage with women, I still feel that the realities of our lives are overlooked too often. This separation from real life seems to alienate many women who feel that what the Church has to say is irrelevant and frustrating. And so, as women and mothers, we continue to look at our heavenly mother and draw on her strength when we live, love and fight. The power of Incarnation continues to speak to mothers throughout history, and our unique and vital relationship with God through Mary strengthens us as we move through our lives.
(Photo credits https://foreveramber.co.uk/week-19-pregnancy-diary/)
[i] See Pope Francis, General Audience, Wednesday, September 7thth January 2015.
[ii] See Isherwood and McEwan Introduction to feminist theology Second edition, Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield 2001.
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