This post was originally published on the Integrity Blog.
I’ve never been the type of woman who is especially... womanly at heart. I don’t have the cliche, typical feminine characteristics that make my heart the centerpiece of my personality. I’m not a hopeless romantic, I don’t feel things very deeply, I don’t get emotional easily or frequently, and I’m not soft. I enjoy being rational, ordered, and thoughtful; my husband affectionately refers to me a robot. We joke about my black soul and my naturally cold exterior.
When people speak of the privilege of being a woman, of having a big heart and of fostering deep emotion, I always feel kind of meh, because those things don’t come naturally to me and I feel like I don’t possess these things unless I intentionally conjure them up.
Needless to say, I still have always looked forward to becoming a mother and having children to love. I have kept a long list of names in my journals ever since I was eight years old, and I have known for many years that I am called to become a mother at some point.
When I got married, I secretly hoped that being married to someone with a big heart would magically rub off on my soul and I would transform into the woman I desired to become. I knew, of course, that growing and nurturing my heart and my emotions would require work and sacrifice, and indeed it has. I have had to learn how to be soft and heartfelt, but it has taken some blows of growth to chisel away the hardness.
When I saw that glaring red line and knew that I was to become a mother at last, it was a glorious moment of excitement and joy. Those big moments, similarly to getting engaged or saying my wedding vows, naturally swell up beautiful feelings inside my soul.
It’s the aftermath that requires the chiseling, and motherhood has been no exception.
I wish that I could feel this abundance of love automatically, that I could happily sacrifice my own well being for the sake of another person, that I could have an adorable baby bump, and that i could gain endless joy from painting a nursery and preparing for a child.
Ugh, I wish.
Being pregnant has not provided a magic solution to becoming more womanly, more motherly, or more feminine, and this is just what I had expected.
It sucks to feel powerless and deprived of all energy for months on end. It sucks to feel lazy and unmotivated when I cringe at the thought of wasting time or moving at a slow pace. It sucks to be humble and admit that my kitchen and laundry are in a state of disaster because I am immovable on the couch, even though I want my home to look perfect. It sucks to not have exercise make me feel instantly better. It sucks to be averted to my favorite foods and double my grocery bill because I can’t figure out what my body is telling me. It sucks to want a cute baby bump but instead feel bloated and unattractive and not have my clothes fit.
It sucks for me to not feel in control of my own body and health and routine, and to not feel overwhelming feelings of love and adoration for my little one that blissfully smooth away all my insecurities and issues.
I knew that motherhood would be like marriage: full of intense sacrifice, offering up my own desires and wishes for the sake of another person. Marriage sacrificed my stubborn will and my pride, but motherhood has taken my body and my lifeforce, and it is deeper than I had imagined.
Alice von Hildebrand writes that “Just as Christ has suffered the agonizing pains of the crucifixion in order to reopen for us the gates of heaven, so the woman has received the costly privilege of suffering so that another child made to God’s image and likeness can enter into the world.” My suffering may not be as intense as others’, but it involves relinquishing control and pride for an unseen person, and it is costly for me.
I don’t think that I will feel emotional butterflies for my little babe all the time. I will undoubtedly, intensely love them, but I think that forming my own, uniquely feminine heart for their sake takes yet more hard work.
I tell myself that love is not a feeling, but an act and a way of life. When I act in love and view life and my people through a lense of true love and sacrifice, the feelings and emotions in my heart follow at their own pace.
And it is when I have humbled myself in the face of sacrifice that I have felt the truest surges of love in my innermost being. For “love to be real, it must cost, it must hurt, it must empty us of self.”
I don’t think that there is anything more intrinsically womanly to me than this kind of love. It is the kind of love that seeps of the divine, of the angelic, and of the most profound truths.
Maybe I don’t have a naturally emotive heart, but I have one entwined with my will and my mind, and when it chooses this type of selfless love, the emotions that flow hence make me the type of woman and mother I am supposed to become.
And that makes my heart, slowly but beautifully, grow thicker and deeper.