I was going to call this "Babies--Dream, Hope or Fact?", but then I remembered that babies are, above all else, people. Very small, cute, helpless people, but people nonetheless. Their rights--for example, to be created normally, to be loved and cared for (if possible) by their own biological mother and father, to be fed, cleaned, vaccinated, housed and educated--are separate from and superior to my own dreams and hopes about a potential relationship with babies.
The Canadian philosopher Bernard Lonergan wrote that "only the concrete is good", and what he meant was that only that which has existence can be said to be good. That which does not exist simply doesn't exist, so it can't be good. God is good, I am (to an extent) good, my marriage is good, my nephews and niece are good. It is an excellent plan in life to concentrate on the WHAT IS, and not to worry so much about WHAT IS NOT or WHAT MIGHT BE.
It's my favourite recipe for sanity.
I think about motherhood quite a lot, for having been married for five years, I am not so preoccupied with the question of singleness. I got to grips with singleness for three solid years, and then I got married. Now I dread singleness only because it would mean the loss of my real, concrete husband. My new struggle is with motherhood and how to be a mother when, as far as I know and doctors bother to tell me, I can't have babies.
Various women claim not to have a maternal bone in their bodies, but I wonder if that is entirely true. They might have internalized a message that babies, or maternal feelings for children, or tenderness is bad, but I would be interested to see how they felt about sick people, or wounded animals, or the naive new girl at work who is being hit on by the office Lothario. I think it is a hallmark of the mature female personality to feel a special compassion for the young and/or vulnerable.* And this is what I think Saint Edith Stein and Saint John Paul II were talking about when they talked about spiritual motherhood.
I was at a dance last week, and I was trying not to feel like a wallflower, for I spent most of the time sitting on a chair, thinking about the early 19th century, when I would not at all have felt like a wallflower, for nobody would have expected a woman my age to dance. However, I took much consolation from the fact that my youngest friend there, who is only 18, was asked to dance a lot. I was extremely pleased for her, which B.A. thought was saintly.
"It would have been saintly were I her age," said I. "Now it's just natural. Maternal instinct kicks in. If I were eighteen, I would want to kick her!"
Because older women could be so rotten when I was young, I took a vow never to be rotten to younger women. And I hope I haven't been although I think an excess of maternal feeling has occasionally led me to talk about them too much. Meanwhile, I have reaped a wonderful harvest for instead of feeling competitive with younger women, I just like them or, if they seem unfortunate, feel sorry for them. I often admire them, especially if they have the discipline and/or maturity I lacked when I was their age. And I enjoy inviting them and their male counterparts for supper, for something in the back of my head tells me that feeding the young is what adult women are supposed to do.
But I have not really addressed my question. Physical motherhood--i.e. having babies--is really just a dream until you become (or are engaged and soon to become) sexually active. No sex, no babies. And my readers know, it is incredibly dumb to have sex before you are mature enough to cope with babies because, in general, if you are under thirty-five and all your parts work and you are sexually active, babies.
Once you are engaged or married, physical motherhood becomes a viable hope. If babies don't show up right away, then hope can propel you through blood tests and nanotechnology and embarrassing conversations with doctors and reading thermometers and all that stuff.
And then there is fact. If you are, or have been, pregnant, you are a physical mother. You have natural rights and responsibilities. Your unborn baby just has natural rights.
Spiritual motherhood, in my opinion, is a given. That is to say, it is a call that all women receive in light of the fact that we have survived to maturity and are thus called to help protect, and not exploit, those younger and/or more vulnerable than we are. One can dream of becoming (if under 14), or hope to become (if over 14) to become a nun, the type of spiritual mother JP2 thought most about, but spiritual motherhood in itself is a fact. We can shirk our responsibilities as mature adult women, sure--free will. But I think embracing them is the best and most rewarding thing to do.
*The male, too, but I am not getting into spiritual fatherhood today.