I recently finished weaning my toddler, my second born. When her sister was her age (nearly two and a half) she not only had been weaned for months, but I was also nearly halfway through my pregnancy with my youngest. I had always assumed that I would be pregnant again, by the time that I weaned this child. I had even nursed her a little longer, soaking up her littleness while I could.
Now, that stage in our relationship has come and gone, and my life has been filled with pregnancy and birth announcements that are not my own. Although I’m happy for these dear friends of mine, there is a definite ache – an ache for a child who I have yet to meet.
The ache is stronger at Christmas time. In a time when we are called to reflect on a newborn, my arms long to hold one of my own.
There is another layer to this, too – a fear that I am somehow inadequate. Even my friends who struggle with infertility have conceived again, and are expecting or have given birth to their third born children. And, in a world where most people are more than content to have two children and be “done,” it’s hard to explain why I wish I had more.
I’m brought to Mary, and to her child. When in a similar place (and trying to conceive our second child) I remember finding great solace in Mary, as well as in her mother (St. Anne) and her cousin (St. Elizabeth). Each of these women had had “just one” child, yet no one looks back in time and questions the worth or value of their motherhood. It was not the number of children they bore that mattered, but their yes to the child God gave them.
With each of these women (and women like them, throughout the Scriptures), they are marked with gratitude for the child they’ve been given. Admittedly, I’ve tried to practice gratitude, but that doesn’t make waiting for a child much easier. I simultaneously struggle with the desire for more children, and anxiety about experiencing debilitating nausea for nine months or more.
But Mary’s child is my comfort in all of this. Her motherhood is my comfort in all of this. The message that it is not the number of children you have that matters, so much as whether or not you are giving God your fiat, is a message of great hope for Catholic moms suffering from infertility.
The story of Christmas also gives hope that, although God works slowly, he accomplishes good things in his own time. We can trust him to provide, even if he doesn’t provide in our timeline. Israel longed for the coming of their Savior, and he didn’t come in the time or way that was expected; but God’s timing was perfect.
Mary’s little child offers an even deeper consolation to those of us who suffer from infertility. Mary’s child isn’t just her child, but he belongs to us all. We spent the first Christmas of our marriage childless, and desperately hoping and praying for a baby. It was around that time that I heard the advice for childless couples, struggling with infertility, to love the Christ child as if he were their own. Obviously, this doesn’t erase the pain of infertility, and it doesn’t allow a couple to experience parenthood. That’s not the point. The point is that, for arms aching for a baby to hold, Jesus is a baby that can always be embraced and loved. Jesus is a baby who, in a very real sense, belongs to us all and is meant to be loved and cherished by us all (including those of us who are already parents in the physical sense).
One of my favorite parts of the movie The Nativity Story, comes toward the end of the movie. The shepherds come to adore the Christ child, and one of the oldest and most raggedy among them reaches out to touch the infant. Joseph moves to defend the child, but Mary gives the shepherd a tender look and holds out Jesus, saying, “He is for all mankind.” Although this line appears nowhere in the Gospels, it is easy to imagine Mary saying such a reassurance. Although she alone is Mother of God, she understands that her child isn’t meant for her alone. He is meant to be loved and cherished by all.
We are invited to embrace the Christ child, with all of our love – mothers, fathers, single people, those struggling with both infertility and super fertility. For this little babe has come to bring solace for us all.