A friend of mine recently shared an article from Relevant Magazine, called Why I Decided Not to Have Kids, written by a young, single Christian woman. Immediately startled, I hung my head over another sad indication of our contraceptive culture and I thought, ‘All women are called to motherhood… it’s in our creation as female. How could you reject that?’
So I clicked and read on to find her answer. “Simply put, motherhood is a gift. Some women have it, and some do not. As Paul writes, ‘There are varieties of gifts … but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).”
In a certain sense, she’s very much right. Fertility and conception are gifts which God does not grant to all women, which points to their precious nature. But motherhood itself – just a “variety” gift that God either gives or withholds from us as women? Thankfully, not the case!
Motherhood is bound with our feminine nature. As women, we are designed as maternal creatures, created to suffer in self-sacrifice for the care of others and the greater glory of God.
It seems that women today have an internal struggle with this concept. Whether or not we plan to, or even have the physical ability to conceive children, we are called to motherhood. But our culture tells mothers and non-mothers alike that the selflessness of maternity isn’t so glorious, and that whatever vocation we choose for ourselves, we have the power to make that choice, to accept or reject motherhood.
However, as women, it is in our creation as female that we are destined for surrender – much like all creation, but uniquely as women – to give up our power, our choice.
In a book I read recently, The Eternal Woman, Gertrud von le Fort wrote, “Wheresoever woman is most profoundly herself, she is not as herself but as surrendered, and wherever she is surrendered, there she is also bride and mother… If the sign of the woman is ‘Be it done unto me’, which means the readiness to conceive or, when expressed religiously, the will to be blessed, then there is always misery when the woman no longer wills to conceive, no longer desires to be blessed.”
On the other hand, being single in the meantime is no curse or sin. She refers to the mislabeling of the “old maid” or “bachelor girl,” who is often seen as having some sort of tragic, single condition to be cured. Instead, the single woman should recognize herself and be honored as the virgin, holding a position of dignity. “Obviously she is not the only aspect of the unmarried woman, but she is her most natural expression.” In this, von le Fort iterates the dignity of virginity, established by the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God, holding in itself the dignity of motherhood.
So can one forsake their call to motherhood for the cause of perpetual virginity, to be “freer to work missions abroad, have more time to volunteer in the community [or] serve as stable, supportive figures to other children”? It would be like untwisting our DNA: impossible. Our maternity is bound with us as women, even as virgins.
As Catholics, we have the blessed opportunity to discern Consecrated Virginity or the religious life for the sake of Christ, promising lifelong abstinence as a gift to the Lord, as His spouse. In this promise, women still fulfill their natural maternal calling in selfless surrender. This is not a promise to be made that will last only as long as a woman remains single, until Mr. Right comes along. It is complete and final surrender.
As for the woman who is waiting to fulfill her maternal vocation in marriage, it is in that sacrament that she will promise lifelong openness to the gift of life. In the vows of matrimony lies the promise to welcome children as God wills, never refusing the possibility of children with the use of contraception.
And thanks be to God we have modern women who have modeled these timeless virtues of motherhood challenged by today’s culture.
Philosopher, Nun and martyr, St. Edith Stein, promoted motherhood as a universal calling to women. She believed every woman to be ‘both a companion (her spousal vocation) and a mother’. “To cherish, guard, protect, nourish, and advance growth is [woman’s] natural, maternal yearning.”
Author and philosopher, Alice Von Hildebrand said, “[Woman] knows intuitively to give, to nurture, to care for others, to suffer with and for them, for maternity implies suffering…”
We must not reject what God destined for us by creating us female – that is, motherhood. For we are all called, single and married alike! It is no esteemed power to reject this calling in the name of choice, but greater to discern our vocation and find our destined path to maternity. And all the while, we must look to the one who has provided the most perfect example of femininity & motherhood we could ever encounter: our Blessed Virgin Mother, Mary.
“By turning to her, praying to her and contemplating her virtues… women will find their way back to the beauty and dignity of their mission.” Alice Von Hildebrand