Motherhood of Our Dreams
Motherhood isn’t what I expected. It hasn’t delivered all that I hoped it would, and instead it’s given me some things I never asked for. What about you? Has motherhood been all you dreamed it would be? If not, you aren’t as alone as you might think. To be honest, I’m not sure what I expected. But it’s been a whole lot more—more joy and more sorrow. It’s also been both; it’s been a call to service and sacrifice as well as one of the most rewarding experiences imaginable under heaven.
While being a mom is a desirable and godly calling, it’s one that exposes a heart to the wounding arrows of pain and grief. Some say it’s a labor of love; it’s also labor and love. Keep in mind, there’s no one-size-fits-all. Sometimes motherhood blooms in the security of a loving marriage, but sometimes a baby is born into a strained marriage or outside of marriage altogether. Motherhood can come according to plan, sooner or later than hoped, or only briefly, leaving us empty-armed and soul-scarred. It arrives by Caesarean section, vaginal delivery, foster care, or adoption; to poverty or financial stability; with ecstasy or trauma. We moms aren’t one-size-fits-all either. We bring a variety of ages, ethnicities, family backgrounds, educational and career choices, life experiences, and expectations with us on this both wonderful and perilous journey.
All these factors impact how we approach and process the wins and losses of mom life—wins and losses which are themselves both real and varied. So when we traverse this road called motherhood and approach the vulnerable places where it meets suffering, we do so bearing burdens of all shapes and sizes. Similarly, our detours onto more precarious paths may differ significantly. One mom encounters the sign with an arrow pointing to “Infertility” while another reads “Special Needs.” Some approach these signs earlier on their parenting journey; others bump into “Childhood Leukemia” or “Rebellious Daughter” further down the road. Sadly, some moms expect to read “Racial Discrimination”; others, like me, are surprised by “Genetic Condition.”
Each of our stories is unique, but all matter. Each mother and each child is an image bearer of immense value and worth in the eyes of Almighty God, and though gut-wrenching and tearstained, our stories find meaning and redemption when they are viewed as part of his story. We can feel isolated on these thorny, off-road trails of motherhood. Whether alone in the NICU, a bedroom, or a food pantry line, we can be cut off from or misunderstood by family and friends. But these paths can also be the very same places where we meet Jesus for the first time—or get to know him and his ways better. Jesus is the God-man: “Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6–7).
As one who understands the human experience, and suffering in particular, Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses. And even though he resisted temptation, he knows its pull. We can expect grace and help when we draw near to Jesus on these lonely paths (Heb. 4:15–16). Whether it’s stretch marks, late-night feedings, a child’s compromised immune system, or a wayward teenager, there are real hardships that accompany this beautiful calling. Motherhood may require more faith than anything else we’ve ever participated in, but it can also open our eyes much wider to our complete dependence on Jesus, his sufficiency, the beauty of the gospel, and the soul-satisfying promises of God. Stressed, weary, hurting, anxious, fearful, and struggling moms like you and me are desperate for the hope and comfort that God offers in his word when motherhood doesn’t deliver as expected. Here’s some of my story.
What I Didn’t Expect
As in my experience with a newborn, sometimes motherhood doesn’t deliver what we had hoped for. Other times, it bears something we didn’t expect. Before I was a mom, I didn’t care what color eyes or hair my baby would have. I wanted the gender to be a surprise. And since my husband and I were committed to loving and caring for our child no matter what, we decided not to do any extra genetic testing prior to birth. But then came a time when genes suddenly mattered. By the summer of 2013 Scott and I had four children, an infant baby girl and her three older brothers ages two, five, and seven. Our hearts and hands were full. We’d weathered tantrums and tumbles, mosquito bites and bee stings, crumbs and black Sharpie marks on our couch. But we hadn’t seen this one coming.
Each mother and each child is an image bearer of immense value and worth in the eyes of Almighty God.
Following a concerning illness, one child was diagnosed with a serious genetic condition called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (Alpha-1) that can have life-threatening impacts on the liver in childhood and the liver or lungs over time. On a bright summer day, Scott and I learned that two more of our children also had this condition. Already reeling from one child’s diagnosis, we were devastated. Scott and I huddled together on our front porch, weeping. We cried for our children, for ourselves, for all of it—pain, sorrow, sin, the fall, broken bodies, and messed-up genes. I sobbed until my abs hurt because of that inconsolable ache inside my gut that things weren’t as I thought they should be, and I couldn’t do anything about it. I knew “all things work together for good” for God’s children (Rom. 8:28), but what good could come from any of this? In my sorrow, did I still believe God really was good—and that what he does is good, and for good?
Hope and Comfort for Moms in All Seasons and Stages
I don’t live in that place of desperate grief right now, eyes red and swollen from weeping, but I remember it well, and I walk with a painful awareness that I might relive it at any moment. The years since that time have included pediatric specialists, additional diagnoses, diet changes, ambulance rides, finger pricks, hospital stays, and repeated blood draws. My husband and I are on a first name basis with our pharmacists, and our family’s medications regularly fill the drawer labeled F (for “Faris”) behind the counter. We’ve battled the flu, pneumonia, and COVID-19 along with perplexity, anxiety, fear, and loneliness surrounding our children’s conditions. And I’ve faced disappointment, not in my children or motherhood itself, both of which I view as gifts, but in the ambiguous loss of some kind of “normal” childhood without the sting of these add-ons. I don’t know what this journey called motherhood has looked like for you, where you’ve walked on a broad, well-traveled, and familiar road or where your experience has taken you off-road, following unexpected trails.
But if you’ve walked some of the more harrowing paths of motherhood, I want to assure you that no matter how lonely you feel, you’re not alone. You’re in good company. While your story and experience are unique, there are moms who have walked precarious paths before you. There are moms facing similar challenges today— moms like me who sometimes feel our foothold slipping and who are attuned to anticipate something lurking, ready to pounce, when we round the next bend. The apostle Peter reminded persecuted Christians that “the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Pet. 5:9). Though our suffering, yours and mine, is of a different nature than that of his immediate audience, here’s a similar truth: there are women in our neighborhoods, sisters in our churches, and moms around the world experiencing hardships related to suffering and motherhood just like we are. You’re not the only one. And here’s another truth that is even more precious: Jesus is a Savior who is familiar with sorrow and “acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). He wants to walk with us—and he is able to help us persevere by faith, with grace—even on difficult paths we never would have chosen.
When we walk with the Lord, these off-road trails aren’t ends in themselves. They aren’t just painful parts of our motherhood journey. They too are part of our journey heavenward. This reality offers great hope and comfort to moms facing challenges in all seasons and stages of motherhood. The path of a medically complex family wasn’t one that my husband and I wandered down on purpose, and this story isn’t the one I would’ve chosen to tell; the telling itself stirs emotions, draws forth tears, and exposes my weaknesses for any and all to know. But “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Cor. 1:3–4). My family’s trial is real, but so is God’s comfort, and I love him more and cling to him more tightly because of it. My hope is fixed on him, and through it all I can say with certainty that he is still good.
This article is adapted from God Is Still Good: Gospel Hope and Comfort for the Unexpected Sorrows of Motherhood by Katie Faris.
Are you worn down by the weight of the countless roles and expectations in your life? Are you feeling the pressure of doing more and striving harder to please the people around you?
While motherhood is a desirable and godly calling, it also brings pain and heartache. But God is still good. He really is, no matter what. These are ten truths for moms like me to cling to on our difficult days.
Our wayward feelings about motherhood—whether we are prone to glorying in it or growing bitter about it—need to consider the related truth that our Father has given his Son a heritage.
Katie Faris talks about the love, joy, and heartache of motherhood and how moms can experience God's comfort and grace in the midst of it all.