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Embracing the Fear of Motherhood

alec vanderboom

I'm part of the first generation of Latchkey kids and No Fault Divorce--Generation X. My husband and I are an oddity among our friends. We met. We married. We had a kid. All in the span of a 3 year period from January 2000 to March 2003.

The friends we had in Madison, Wisconsin sort of drifted into "couplings." People were together for years, then they broke up.  Two girlfriends I knew experienced dramatic break-ups while shopping for engagement rings at the local Mall. There is something about Generation X that makes us wary of commitment and positively allergic to parenthood.

When people shout on the internet "I'm choosing a child-free marriage," I have empathy for that viewpoint--which feels very disloyal to my cadre of fellow large family Catholics. In my 20s, I was terrified of failing at Motherhood. Mothering seemed like this Titan of Responsibility. I had this inner certainty that I'd screw up as a Mother and horribly maim an innocent child emotionally for life. Skipping out on motherhood didn't seem like exercising a free choice as much as "leaving an important job to the experts."

When I found myself pregnant, thanks to the strong nudge of my new Catholic faith, I had such intense fear. I used to dream that I'd forget my baby. I dreamt that I'd place the baby in her car seat down on the sidewalk, struggle to find my lost car keys in my pocketbook, and then drive off in my car without the baby. The nightmare part came when I looked around the empty car and I realized that I had totally forgotten that I was now a Mother.

I had a kind female OB during my first pregnancy. I felt comfortable talking to her about my over-whelming nausea, my fear of needle pricks for blood draws, and about my discomfort with the idea of nursing. I never once told her about my reoccurring nightmares about forgetting the baby once she came out. Some fears about Motherhood felt to deep to speak out loud.

Spiritual growth comes fastest when I embrace my weakness. When I speak the unmentionable, embarrassing, icky stuff out loud. I was not cut out by either nurture or nature to be a Mother. Yet God handed me 5 souls to care for during their most vulnerable moments in childhood. When I receive a gift from him of that magnitude, especially when I didn't spend my childhood cuddling plastic baby dolls and imagining one day I'd be a real Mother too, there is a tendency to shrink back--to tell God "I'm not going to be any good at this. Here take the baby back."

I feel like God knows my weakness so well, that he lead me to become a Catholic before he gave me a daughter. That's what being pro-life means to me. I accept that a pregnancy is a "non-returnable gift" from God himself.

There is a promise God makes to us. He promises to "shepherd us beyond our fears" as the hymn suggests. Fear is real. There is reason for me to fear Motherhood as a broken, sin-soaked human being. Yet when I honestly hug that ugly, bitter, cactus prickly fear of failing as a Mother--something beautiful emerges. Hope.

Precious Mother of God, pray for us.