Mary, Full of Grace

Post Author: Rev. Amanda Simons

“And Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
~ Luke 2:19

the author’s hand with her daughter’s on the day of her  daughter’s birth

Mama’s Hope: the author’s hand with her daughter’s on the day of her
daughter’s birth

From the age of three I knew that I wanted to be a mother when I grew up. I would play house with my sister and my friends for hours upon hours, gently cradling baby dolls in my arms, singing sweet lullabies to them as I pulled out my briefcase, planner, and cellphone and pretended to be a successful business woman like Melanie Griffith in the film Working Girl. In my world, women grew up to be everything and anything they wanted to be – mother, wife, business woman, president, and captain of the soccer team.

So when I “grew up” and became an adult, I was certain that I could and would fulfill all of those vocational calls God had imprinted upon my heart at a young age, especially those calls I felt most strongly: to be a wife, mother, and pastor.

With determination, risk, luck, and grace I entered seminary and fell in love with a man who was perfect for me. Together we decided to wait to have children until I was ordained and employed in a congregational call. After a whirlwind trip to Europe for our delayed honeymoon, we excitedly took the big leap of tossing out my birth control pills and opening ourselves to the anticipation of pregnancy and the birth of a child.

As months went by and my periods came like clockwork, we kept reminding ourselves of the statistic that seems so hopeful and promising: over 80% of couples conceive within a year. Probability was on our side. And then a year went by, and then a year and a half.

I had been pregnant once before and had a miscarriage, during my congregational internship, when I was on birth control. So why was it so hard to get pregnant now?

We saw a fertility specialist. We went through myriad tests. Just as we were set to begin fertility treatments, I discovered I was pregnant. It was such joyful news! We were ecstatic and began to dream of our child. Several weeks later, I laid in a hospital bed recovering from surgery to remove the ectopic pregnancy that had caused my body to go into shock. I was in deep grief at this loss and in a haze at the thought that my life had been in severe jeopardy from what was supposed to be the most joyous of news. The hospital chaplain visited and tried to console me, but instead triggered my anger as she declared that my baby was in heaven with God. I told her to go hell, and that I wanted my baby with me.

Life went on as I recovered. My husband and I committed to trying again on our own since I had conceived without any assistance. Another year went by. It seemed like everyone had a baby. I grew bitter, desperate, and I missed the joyfulness which had been a natural spring dwelling within me. Who was I to be if I couldn’t be a mother?

We committed, then, to fertility treatments, and I pushed those thoughts aside in order to have hope in the process, which involved pregnancy losses, IUI cycles, IVF cycles, shots, counseling, attempting to prioritize my marriage, continuing my work as a pastor, and processing the fact that I might never have biological children. The season of Advent become oppressive and hurtful instead of one of joyful preparation for the birth of Christ and God’s incarnation. Mary treasured these words and pondered them in her heart. I had always loved that story and those words. And now they hurt.

As my father died, I prayed the rosary out loud for him so he could hear the words of his childhood: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women; and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

I was jealous of Mary. I hated my womb. I felt cursed rather than blessed by God. If I couldn’t have children and be a mother, who was I to be? I fell into existential crisis.

Thankfully, with spiritual direction, friends, and long walks and talks in the woods with God, I opened myself up to ponder anew – how am I a mother already? Mothering for me includes compassionately and tenderly caring for others, and extending to others the fullness of grace…do I not already mother? Don’t I know so many women (and others) who mother beautifully, those with children and those without children?

As we entered our fourth IVF cycle, my hope for a pregnancy that would last until birth was nonexistent. I was fully prepared to tell my husband that I needed a break from the treatments. I knew in my heart that I needed to begin working to accept myself as a mother regardless of biological or adopted children. I needed to free myself from my childhood image so that I could be me again, full of grace and joy.

When we received news of my pregnancy, I couldn’t believe it, and then I denied myself the joy of loving the baby right away. I waited with bated breath until we reached the second trimester before even beginning to dream again of holding this child in my arms. Then came the diagnosis of a pregnancy complication, and I felt gutted again. Like so many other women who have experienced miscarriage, it was difficult to trust that this pregnancy would be the one until the breathing baby arrived. I wept when I held my daughter in my arms. My dream had come true. Hail Mary, full of grace.

I am still processing this experience as I celebrate my daughter’s six month birthday. It’s been more than five years of trying to bear and birth a living child, with multiple losses along the way. I lost pieces of myself that I’m not sure will ever be healed again. I gained new perspectives of grief, mothering, and envisioning a new identity when the one you plan for doesn’t come to fruition. All of this aids me in ministry now. We all have grief we carry, dreams that didn’t pan out, vocational calls unfilled, and moments when it feels like God has abandoned us.

I am healing and grieving simultaneously. As I cradle my daughter in my arms at night I am so overfilled with joy and thanksgiving for her life. I also miss the babies who could’ve been cradled in my arms. This Mother’s Day I’m returning both to worship and to the pulpit. These past years, I have absented myself on this day from well-meaning parishioners whose words hurt my heart tremendously with their theology of “pray and it will happen for you” or “it’ll happen in God’s timing.” I know that the gift of children isn’t a promise, and that the arms of so many other people who long for children remain empty. I know so many people who are beautiful and whole as they mother without any desire to birth, adopt, and raise children.

I am grateful for my daughter’s presence in my life. And, as I return to worship and to the pulpit this Mother’s Day, I will hold tenderly in prayer and thanksgiving all those who mother among us.

The Rev. Amanda Simons serves as associate pastor of Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (ELCA) in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College (2006), the Clinical Pastoral Education residency program at HealthEast Care Systems, St. Paul (2010), and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (2012).

Image by: Amanda Simons
Used with permission
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