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Dignity of motherhood: Love and sacrifice are intertwined

The Blessings of Life

Published: June 16, 2012   
Mary Stengel

One of a series of six special columns written by Catholic women on family planning issues.

When we get married, we are called to enter into a union that is a total gift of self to each other. In this way we mirror God's love for us, as he totally gave himself to save us from our sins.

I think of my motherhood as a natural extension of my role as wife. God has created our very bodies as women to reflect the sacrifices we will be called to as wife and mother. We as women recognize that our bodies are made to accept our husbands in the marital embrace. When new life is created as a result of that acceptance, it happens in our very womb and we give of our very substance to nurture it until it is ready to be born.

Giving birth is a total sacrifice in itself, no matter how the baby is born. With a new child in our arms, it is just the beginning of much more sacrifices to come. Our bodies are made to continue to nurture that child for the next months and years. The first six months or so, our body produces a food superior to any other option available to us and specific to our own baby's needs. It is a natural extension of the shelter, comfort and substance we provided when our baby was in our womb. We continue to produce milk for months and years as long as our child needs this comfort from us. My greatest joy of motherhood so far has been nursing my children, both as infants and into their toddler years.

We begin motherhood by making very real sacrifices of our bodies for our children, a foreshadowing of the sacrifices we will continue to make for them as they grow.

The sacrifices we make in motherhood can be looked at as a burden or as a beautiful gift. What is love without sacrifice? It is only a shallow imitation of love. One can look at Jesus on the cross and see that love requires great sacrifice. If you accept the idea that sacrifice is a good thing, it will bring you closer to the fullness of Christ. As we give of ourselves, we develop a new identity that is a more full participation in our calling as mothers.

In making the choice that the world sees as oppressive, I have found not oppression, but freedom -- a true freedom to be fully myself and to experience true joy in my life as a woman. There is a true beauty and dignity in putting others ahead of ourselves not only when it is convenient and fun to do, but also when we are exhausted beyond belief or stressed about the dozens of things on our to-do list. It is not about the things we do as mothers -- although those are very important. It is about the attitude with which we do them.

I see the fruit of my sacrifice when I see my 6 year old read a book to her sister, see my 4 year old helping joyfully with her jobs, or when my 18 month old comes up to me and taps my chest and says "I want some mama" (his way to say he's hungry). I experience joy through my sacrifice most importantly when I hear my child say, "I want to follow Jesus because I want to be with you in heaven."

In the surrender, the comfort, the sorrow, the joy, the exhaustion and the beauty that is my life, I experience the dignity of my motherhood.


Mary Stengel is married to Matt Stengel and lives in Ratcliff with their three children. They attend St. Anthony Parish.

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