As women navigating infertility and child loss, this upcoming Mother’s Day weekend can be a tender, emotionally-difficult time as we grieve amidst the honoring of visible motherhood—the moms with the pews full of children, the van that overflows with little ones, the mom with three under five and one on the way. While we may not have these visible signs and physical manifestations of our motherhood for others to see and celebrate, God has called us to be mothers in an unseen, but nonetheless sacred way.
“The woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.” -St Edith Stein
As women, God has gifted us a unique capacity to receive, love, and nurture others. St. Edith Stein reminds us that a woman is a shelter in which others can be seen, known, and accepted with a special sensitivity and gentleness. We have been endowed with the ability to be attuned to the needs and hearts of others, helping them to grow and flourish under our gaze, understanding, and support. Pope St. John Paul II noted in his apostolic letter, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, that God entrusts the human being to women in a special way. Whether God calls us to mother children within our home or to mother nieces, nephews, neighbors, or other women, we have been entrusted with cherishing and nurturing all those given to our care.
As women who have miscarried our unborn child or lost a child through stillbirth or infant loss, we have been given a sacred and silent motherhood as we mother our little ones who await us in heaven. Whether we carried our baby for a few days, a few weeks, or 9 months before we were asked to give them back to God, we nurtured those little souls as loving and devoted mothers. As we watch friends celebrate their motherhood and the gift of their little ones this weekend, we quietly carry in our hearts the personality, the milestones, and the age that our children in heaven would be today—grieving yet cherishing these precious souls in a particular way on Mother’s Day. Our motherhood is indeed so very quiet and hidden as those around us see our empty arms and empty pews, while our hearts cherish and honor each child that we lost. As loss mamas, let us unite our aching hearts this weekend with our children in heaven, joining them as intercessors for our world, our Church, our families, and the moms we are honoring this weekend.
As women with infertility, our motherhood is utterly hidden from the world, yet we are called to a profound fruitfulness. Is this not how God loves to work—taking the most hidden souls and bringing untold glory and abundant fruit out of quiet lives surrendered to Him? We may not have the visible and glorious chaos of a house full of little ones, but we are invited into a perhaps quieter intimate union with Christ to bring forth fruit in our lives and in the lives we touch.
St. Josemaria Escriva tenderly captures our call to fruitfulness as couples experiencing infertility: “God in His providence has two ways of blessing marriages: one by giving them children; and the other, sometimes, because He loves them so much, by not giving them children. I don’t know which is the better blessing. If God does not give them children, they should not regard themselves as being thwarted. They should be happy, discovering in this very fact God’s Will for them. Often God does not give children because He is asking more. God asks them to put the same effort and the same kind and gentle dedication into helping their neighbors as they would have put into raising their children, without the human joy that comes from having children.”
How can we lean into this invitation to fruitfulness as women bearing the cross of infertility?
- The witness of our marriage: It can be easy to believe the lie that our marriage is only as fruitful and worthy as the number of children we have in our church pew. Yet as couples experiencing infertility, God has given us a unique call to image Christ and His bride the Church through the living out faithfully of our vocation as husband and wife. We may not have visible fruits of children in our marriage, but we can witness to the holiness and beauty of a marriage lived as self-gift to our spouse.
- Spiritual children in our life: We are also called to nurture and parent the children in our life, whether that be children that have joined our family via adoption, our nieces and nephews, and our godchildren, supporting them in their endeavors and helping to form them in the faith.
- In service to others: Whether we are leading a ministry, visiting the sick or imprisoned, or mentoring one young woman, we can live out our motherhood as we see, encourage, nurture, form, and guide others through the joys and challenges of their own lives.
- Priests & religious we intercede for: One of the most beloved saints of the last century, St. Therese, fully embraced her spiritual motherhood as a faithful intercessor for priests and invites us into this role of spiritually supporting and mothering our priests.
- In our daily work: We can live out our feminine receptivity and motherhood in our daily work. Whether we teach, lead a company, or work an office job, we are still called to use our feminine gifts, sensitivity, and nurturing to serve and lead others in our work environments.
- The spiritual growth brought forth from this cross: As we walk this road of infertility, we often do not see the spiritual growth taking place within us. However, God brings forth immense spiritual fruit through this cross, growing our wisdom, our love and dependence on Him, and our compassion for others.
As we seek to embrace this call to spiritual motherhood throughout our loss and infertility journey, Our Lady is a beautiful example of living out spiritual motherhood and bringing forth immense fruit. At the foot of the Cross, Mary offered up her beloved and only Son to God the Father with humble acceptance despite immense pain. In her surrender, she became the spiritual mother of the Church with spiritual children, including us, through the centuries. As we enter this Mother’s Day weekend, let us unite our hearts with Our Lady, offering back to God the children we have lost and the children that we long for, trusting that God will bring forth immense spiritual fruit through our humble surrender and acceptance of this cross just as Our Lady did at the foot of Jesus’ Cross.
Lenore Mangiarelli has been married to her husband Bobby for five years and is mom to one lost to miscarriage. She and her husband live in Northeast Ohio with their Australian Shepherd, Augie.