Many years ago, while working in special education, I came across a poem called Welcome to Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley. It’s really good! Please go read it and come back!
Although the poem is about raising a child with special needs, my mind automatically replaces “Italy” with “Motherhood,” and “Holland” with “Childlessness.” It somehow captures feelings and ideas about being unexpectedly childless that have been hard for me to express.
My version of the Holland essay might go something like this:
Imagine that all your life you have been preparing for Motherhood. You began as a child taking care of your dolls, then babysat all your nieces and nephews. After you got married, you read books like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” and “Life-Giving Love.” You formed a philosophy of parenting. Co-sleeping, baby-wearing, child-led-weaning philosophies, of course. You picked out Biblical, saintly names for your hypothetical children. You even bought a big house with many bedrooms, all to be filled with your many children. You imagined a future of homeschooling and playdates, and it was all very exciting.
Months of eager anticipation turned into a year of worry, and the word “infertility” was eventually mentioned at a doctor’s appointment. “Infertility?! What do you mean infertility?” you shout, “I’m supposed to be a mother! All my life I’ve dreamed of having children!”
But God had a different plan for you. You would not experience Motherhood in the same way as others, no matter how many treatments you went through, or how many novenas you prayed.
The important thing is that God’s plan for you was not for your life to be hopeless, boring, empty, meaningless, trifling, second-rate or worthless. It’s just a different life than you imagined.
So you had to go out and buy new books on new subjects. You read books like, “The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur,” and “Under the Laurel Tree.” You sought out new people who could support you on your journey in this new place. You had to ask God for new eyes, a new mind, and a new heart. You learned to love in new ways.
As a childless Catholic woman, your life is different than you expected. It’s quieter. It’s wide open in a way that sometimes feels overwhelming. But, now that you’ve been in this place a while and you’ve had a chance to catch your breath, you’ve started to look around and notice that there are some unexpectedly beautiful things in this place, too. There’s a deep intimacy in your marriage. There are friendships that are well-nurtured because of your availability. There are radical missions the Lord sends you on, that only you could fulfill. There are spontaneous trips to the beach. It also turns out that spiritual parenthood is more than the token consolation prize you once imagined it to be!
But sometimes it seems like all the other women you know are part of a different club. They are busy raising their children and telling birth stories, and swapping advice in conversations that you have a hard time being a part of. They are posting belly pics and big family photo shoots on social media and it looks wonderful. And you think to yourself, “Yes, that’s who I thought I would be. That’s who I was preparing to be. I wanted to be somebody’s mommy too.”
The pain of that will never, ever, completely go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss.
But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to be a mother in the way that you imagined, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about this one beautiful gift of the life God has blessed you with.
What is your version of “Holland” like?