I am a mother.
I remember the first time the weight of that identification hit me with its full force. It was shortly after my daughter was born. I got a phone call from the pediatrician’s office for her first infant well-check. When I picked up the phone, the question wasn’t, “Is Sarah there?” It was, “Is this ____’s mother?”
There was pride in answering that question, because I was holding my long-awaited-for child in my arms. My desire for a baby was finally fulfilled. She now occupied the hole in my heart and I knew that, while there would be heartache in my love for this little one, she was still mine to love and care for for the next 18 years and beyond.
I was so excited to be a mother, but I kept fighting to ensure that the title of “Mommy” wouldn’t absorb my whole identity.
To be honest, Mother’s Day has raised a lot of complicated feelings for me throughout my adulthood. I’ve always wanted to honor my own mother. But as I approached 30 and was still childless, Mother’s Day became a painful reminder that it wasn’t a day to celebrate me. I finally celebrated my first Mother’s Day, as a mother, one month before my 30th birthday. But as much as I rejoiced in the expansion of my family, I never forgot the emotional and spiritual pain of watching other women celebrate a holiday in which I could not participate.
Motherhood has always been complicated. The Bible is full of women who lived their lives childless or grieved the loss of children, either by death or broken relationship. But we find that the state of their motherhood or lack thereof did not ultimately define them. God still used them and makes it clear that He did not determine their value by the productivity of their wombs. Miriam stood by her brothers in ministry through exile and led the Jewish people in praising God, but we are never told whether she had children. Esther saved the Jewish people through her patience and cunning and is never defined by motherhood. Naomi found new life in her relationship with her daughter-in-law and helped her find a new husband, securing their social position. Mary and Martha of Bethany are seen as important early followers of Jesus, yet we never know if they were married and had children. Mary Magdaline is never identified as a wife or a mother, and yet she is the first woman to see Jesus alive after the resurrection and proclaims the risen Lord to his disciples.
Motherhood is an incredible gift and essential to the peopling of the planet, but it isn’t the only reason God created women.
God didn’t create me to make babies. He created me for so much more than that.
Yes, being a mother was one of my deepest desires. Having a family to love and nurture was one of the many goals I set for myself as a child and young adult. But I also discovered a love for teaching and education and activism and ministry and everything in-between. My children don’t see me as “just” their mom. I am more than someone who wipes their tears and gives them hugs and reads to them at night. They see me outside of that role all while embodying that role and they take great pride in that.
And this is as it should be.
There is nothing wrong with motherhood. There is nothing wrong with celebrating the women who have given us life, nurtured us, and prepared us for adulthood. This is a celebration and commemoration that should happen all year long.
But women were built for so much more than that.
I know women who have only ever wanted to be mothers. They have dedicated their lives to the creation of strong and tightly knit families and have thrived in their roles as caretakers. This is not a burden to them but a blessing, and that should be celebrated.
I know women who have felt the ache of an empty womb and have filled it with love for other mothers’ children, loving them in every way that they can. Whether single and childless or married with a committed partner in a union that could never produce children, they have faithfully served others, proving that it really does take a village to raise a child, and that should be celebrated.
I know women who have no desire to have children. Whether single or married, they feel a calling to serve their world in other ways. They are passionate and dedicated to their work. They aren’t selling themselves short or missing out on having a family or grieving an empty womb; they are leaving the building of strong families to other women who they feel are better called to love and nurture children to adulthood.
And all of that is ok, because God built us for more than motherhood.
He created women with unique skills and emotional capacity that are not just suited to motherhood. He created us to live in community and serve each other, not just our families. He created us to be interdependent, not focused inward. He created us to be significant pieces in the bigger puzzle that is our earthly home.
Regardless of where we stand on the role of women in the Church and in our family structures, we should all recognize that motherhood is not the primary task assigned to us at birth. The advancement of the Gospel is not dependent on whether or not I have more children than my body can handle. I think we can look at recent news reports about the Duggar family and see how unrealistic and potentially harmful that perspective can be. The advancement of the Gospel is dependent on my raising children who love Jesus, on raising children who understand that serving Jesus requires that they “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly” in their acts of service to their fellow human beings and the planet that we call home. And I cannot do that alone. I depend on the other women in my life and the lives of my children.
For those of us blessed with children, we never stop being mothers. We never stop nurturing our children’s mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. We also never stop risking mental, emotional, and spiritual harm to our children, no matter how inadvertent. Many of our life decisions for at least the first 18-years of their lives are made prioritizing their needs over our own.
But we are so much more.
I don’t want my daughter to believe that having children and blessing us with grandchildren is the most important achievement of her life. I don’t want my son to see his future wife primarily as a vessel through which he can fulfill his own calling to people the earth. I want them both to see the role of women as so much more complex and significant than that.
Motherhood will always be one of the greatest joys in my life, because I pray that it will continue to offer a fullness far beyond the moment my children are officially grown. But it is not the only joy in my life nor is it the only vocation God has called me to.
Because He made me for so much more than that.