March 14, 2011
Just to start off: I am not pregnant. But one day, once I find a good man and marry him, I most certainly hope to be. Many times over, God willing. I have been learning so much about the difficulty of raising children in today's society from my wonderful "mommy" friends. I have one friend who got pregnant as a teen-ager, married the child's father and now has 5 kids! God has graced their marriage abundantly. She is a rock star as far as I am concerned. She is raising them to be gentle to each other; she homeschools; she nurtures: again, she is a rock star! But she is also quite young (27-28ish) and takes a lot of slack from others, including other mothers! "Oh, you have your hands full!" (To which she quite appropriately replies, "Actually, I don't. Look (open palms). They are empty!") Or the "Are they all yours? But you are so young!"
Oh, the trials of modern motherhood! And often times, society certainly does not encourage those of us who want to be mothers. I remember reading in a woman's magazine some years ago an article about having children. There was a photo of a mother with several children at the beach. The mother was holding a baby in one arm and was watching over two other little ones as they played about in the splashing waves. Sounds idyllic, right? Well, it should have been, but the mother was overweight and billowing out of her bathing suit under the headline: HAVING BABIES MAKES YOU FAT. So much for encouragement, world! Thanks! (According to my mommy friends, baby weight does in fact come off.)
So, when a friend of mine sent me this disturbing recent story, my initial reaction was much like when I was forced to read Kate Chopin's The Awakening....barftastic. (And yes, I have certified that word!) This is the story of one Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, who is a mother of two and (was at one time) we can assume happily married. But here she is (at the video clip linked above) shamelessly promoting herself and her latest book about how she left her family after taking a fellowship to study in Japan and then realized "why she never really wanted to be a mother anyway." She then in the next breath states that her children are fine and normal...meaning that they presumably find it emotionally (not to mention morally!) acceptable not only that their mother has written a book detailing how being their mother stifled her, but then went on national television to say the same thing. But don't worry, the kids are fine.... Who is she kidding?
Ms. Rizzuto states that motherhood was just too "all-encompassing" and she left her two young children and husband of 20 years to go essentially find herself in Japan. After an eye roll, a head-shake, and a shriek of "Are you serious?" I decided to take her seriously. Perhaps she does bring up a valid point about women feeling pressure to maintain the perfect household at all times. Maybe such a fear is contrived. I don't know. But her Nietzschean garbly-gook about having to find what was best for her is very disturbing indeed, and I think it reflects some of the very real failings of our society today: the contraceptive mentality, the hook-up culture, etc. all point to one teaching: I am the only who matters. And this is very disturbing. Very disturbing indeed.
Then we have the equally disturbing celebrity gossip magazines touting about which Kardashian is going to have "a baby on her own" or the story about Nicole Kidman who just had a baby with surrogate. What is wrong with us? Are our babies just a cute accessory that we carry around to give the paparazzi something to snap at? And a surrogate? Not to mention that is Catholic Nicole Kidman who did this! For any of you readers who might be thinking about egg donation, implantation, or being a surrogate, I urge you to watch the documentary Eggsplotation about the latest form of exploiting women and children.
Stories like these always bring to mind the fundamental questions of what it means to be a woman, and particularly what it means to be a Catholic woman who is a witness to femininity in the world today. I think we have a particular vocation to love as Christ did: in giving of ourselves to others. If we, like the Ms. Rizzutos of the world, feel stifled and unable flourish in our individuality in giving of ourselves, then perhaps we are not giving in the first place. Perhaps we are just like the celebrities who use their children as accessories or a photo-op.
One of my favorite mom stories is a little passage in the Gospel of Matthew. It is the passage from Matthew chapter 8, verses 14 and 15. It is about Peter's mother-in-law who was sick with fever and Christ heals her. Immediately, she gets up and ministers to them. And this is NOT stifling to her individuality nor insulting to her femininity. It is the perfect expression of what we are called to do: serve the Lord and others in the Lord, starting with the members of our own families. Let's pray especially that some of our more confused sisters will recognize this feminine privilege!