This extended period of waiting to be a mother has given me ample time to reflect on my desire to be a mother, and on the meaning of childbearing. I'd like to say that this is one of the fruits of this time of infertility, because God has blessed me with some insights that maybe I wouldn't have received had I gotten pregnant right away. I know now that our Church has some incredibly beautiful things to say about childbearing! About its deeper meaning and significance, and about the proper attitude parents ought to have toward their children.
There is one passage in particular that has given me rich food for contemplation as I live this experience of longing for a child day in and day out: Bl. John Paul II's 1994 “Letter to Families,” section 9, “The Genealogy of the Person.” In it, JPII is talking about how every single person can trace his or her lineage – his genealogy – back to God the Father, since we are made in His likeness and He is the ultimate source of life. (That's a pretty profound thought in itself! How often am I unaware that the coworkers I interact with, the cashier at the grocery store, the person who just cut me off in traffic...they are descended from God and bear His image?)
Because God is so intimately present to every person from the moment of his or her conception, JPII emphasizes that conception is not just a matter of biology. Further – and here's where it gets really good – he refers to one of the most profound statements of the Second Vatican Council: Man is “the only creature on earth whom God wills for its own sake” (Gaudium et Spes, 24). This is a foundational principle for JPII, to say the least. I'm fairly confident that it's repeated in every one of his encyclicals. And for good reason! To be willed for my own sake...that means so many things, but at the least it means that I am a subject, not an object. I've been given to myself completely and thus can fully give myself to an other, and ultimately, to God. I don't have just an instrumental purpose in life but my very existence is purposeful. And so much more. What a gift our Church gives us in that brief sentence!
But here's the thing that gets me about Letter to Families, 9. JPII applies the truth that man is “willed for his own sake” to the experience of conception and birth. So he writes:
“Man's coming into being does not conform to the laws of biology alone, but also, and directly, to God's creative will...God 'willed' man from the very beginning, and God 'wills' him in every act of conception and every human birth.” (LF 9, my bolding)
Also, it gives me comfort because it makes me think that God knows my children. It's like the reading at mass the other week: Jeremiah says, “The Word of the Lord came to me, saying: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you...” (Jer 1:4). Wow. That hit me in a new way when I heard it. God knows who my children are and he knows when they will be given to our family. I will cling to this truth with my mustard seed-sized faith! Thinking of this literally makes me sigh with relief, because just as I believe that God's creative action was at the base of my own life, so I can believe that He will will our children into existence too. (Obviously leaving the possibility open that His will is for us to be fruitful in other ways.)
It's a challenging passage, though, because it reminds me that I can't “will” a child into existence! If I could, we'd have five by now, I'm sure =) This passage reminds me that having a child is ultimately not in my control. I can do everything “right” - have great cycles, eat fertility-friendly food, have perfect timing, and so forth, and a child still might not come. It's not just about “the laws of biology.” This is frustrating to me as a 21-st century woman who is used for things happening if I work hard enough! =)
Second part to come...