So, do you still want to have kids?”

This is probably the most common question that strangers ask me during “getting to know you” conversations. Whether I’m meeting someone new at church or hanging out in a bar, once someone learns that I am a single, childless 30-something who works professionally in maternity care, they have to know if someone who has seen the raw side of being a mother still wants to be one.

I have worked as a birth and postpartum doula for four years, and it’s true that I’ve seen a lot. Pregnancies can be hard and births difficult. “Good babies” can suddenly develop impossible sleep challenges. A family can weep with joy over their micro-preemie surviving against the odds, only to be thrown into crisis by the shock of a million-dollar NICU bill.

And then there are the challenges that a new baby brings to a relationship. A new baby affects all relationships, be it between spouses, relatives, friends, and - perhaps most dramatically - between a woman and her self-identity.

I have witnessed the total breakdown of marriages, trying to be supportive of each spouse while they tell me that the reality of their current life isn’t what they thought it would be. It’s a wonder that I still believe in the power of love and the idea of a Catholic vocation to marriage and motherhood, but I sincerely do. For all of the ugliness this vocation can involve, there are plenty of beautiful moments, such as when a birth becomes an opportunity for healing between a new mother and her own mother, or a new dad steps into his role despite not having had a father as a child.

While most of my clients don’t share my faith, I occasionally work with Catholic families, many of whom show me the power of God’s grace made present during birth and those vulnerable postpartum moments. Through my work with parents, families, and new babies, I’ve learned a lot about the vocation to family life, one that I believe is also my own vocation.

Here are a few key lessons my work has taught me about marriage and motherhood:

1. You Can’t Really Plan a Baby

These days, you can somewhat time a pregnancy and delivery, in terms of waiting for being in between work projects, after marriage, or once all of your debt is paid off. But the baby him/herself? You can’t plan that at all.

You can’t plan personality or sleep habits (because for every sleep training method, there is a percentage of children who will resist it). You can’t plan your body’s reaction to changing hormones or whether your partner will collapse in on himself because parenting a newborn can be just as overwhelming for men as it is for women.

I caution my clients against thinking about their children as “planned” or “unplanned,” because it can undermine the reality that you can never fully prepare for what you’re getting into as a new parent, regardless of how well you plan. Acceptance and surrender to the unknown is just as essential to parenting as it is to the rest of life.

Acceptance and surrender to the unknown is just as essential to parenting as it is to the rest of life.

2. The First Parenting Choice We Make Is the Choice of Our Children’s Other Parent.

I heard a childbirth educator say make this statement to a room full of parents, and my jaw almost dropped to the floor. Her point was to inspire trust in each partner. Giving birth requires a lot of trust, and so does parenting. Some parents tend to excessively criticize or undermine their partner’s parenting, especially early on. “He’s not doing it right!”, a mom will tell me. “She should do that differently!”, a dad will confide.

If you chose this person to be your child’s parent, why wouldn’t you trust them to discover their unique parenting style in their own way and in their own time? Trusting the choice you made in your specific partner — and, therefore, trusting your partner — can be the difference between a miserable or a positive transition into parenting.

3. Modern American Parenting Is Kind of a Scam

You don’t have to be Super Mom.

A client once asked whether she should buy a particularly well-reviewed toy from Baby Einstein. Baby Einstein makes cool products, but the more we talked, the more her anxiety increased about which exact toys to purchase. “I’m pretty sure Einstein himself didn’t have any Baby Einstein toys, and he turned out alright,” I told her.

I think this anecdote is a symptom of an American problem. American parenting is in a league of its own. Our individualistic society doesn’t prepare people to become parents. Our culture isn’t set up for extended parental leave. The American maternity care system’s support for mothers is severely lacking, compared to maternity care in the rest of the West. Most people have never held a newborn before holding their own.

Parents have to fill knowledge gaps with a mix of family advice, parenting books, Google, Perfect Social Media Mom, and the occasional postpartum professional. This reality is a stark contrast to other cultures, which are built around family in such a way that adults are learning to be parents from the time they’re young.

It is vital for parents, especially women, to be merciful with themselves while learning to navigate this new season of life.

It is vital for parents, especially women, to be merciful with themselves while learning to navigate this new season of life.

4. Your Husband and Your Village Is One of the Greatest Determinants of Your Motherhood Experience

This one is really directed at my fellow single women. Having a ring and a kid will not change someone. For your future spiritual and mental health, consider whether you would want to have a child with the man you are dating now. Those problems you have right now will only magnify after you get married.

In addition to your partner, you need friends: single friends, married friends, older friends, and all other kinds of friends. You need people who will build you up, be honest with you, provide a different perspective, and be a listening ear and prayer warrior. Whether you decide to work or stay at home, motherhood can be lonely at times, and it is so much better with a circle of trusted friends, however small that circle may be.

5. Family Is a Gift, and Each Member’s Needs Are Equally Important — and Prioritized at Different Times

As a teenager, I saw an episode of a talk show in which a mother proudly proclaimed that her kids weren’t the center of her life and that she prioritized her marriage first. This statement is part of an age-old debate that cycles through social media, causing Catholic wives and mothers to separate into two camps: husband first or kids first.

I understand the debate, but I reject the framework. One of the best parts of being Catholic is how well our faith endorses a both/and approach. Protecting the relationship between man and wife is important after having a baby. At the same time, I’ve seen how an inflexible hierarchy of needs inevitably overlooks some important needs for a healthy family. What about a mother’s needs? A middle child’s needs?

One of the best parts of being Catholic is how well our faith endorses a both/and approach.

Operating from the perspective that each family member has important needs that will be prioritized differently during seasons of life — sometimes kids, sometimes spouse, and even, sometimes, self — can help create a loving, domestic church that’s a place of comfort and support for everyone.

6. Many of Us Don’t Know Who We Are Before Having a Baby

Having served close to 100 clients across a spectrum of age, religion, educational level, and socioeconomic status, I’ve embraced the wisdom that I need to spend this current season as a single woman really getting to know myself. Pregnancy, postpartum, and the pains of motherhood are often catalysts for an identity crisis. Many of us just don’t know who we are before having a baby. We’ve been following a script, not necessarily engaging with ourselves or our Creator.

This lack of self-exploration is problematic because motherhood demands a new outpouring of energy from every part of you: mentally, physically, and spiritually. It takes a whole person to parent a whole person.

Pregnancy might be the first time someone reflects on trauma from early in her life. For many women, postpartum is the first time they seek mental health services or spiritual direction. Fear and shame are two of the biggest unresolved issues that I’ve seen surface during the journey of new parenthood.

Professional help is available, and it is always a good idea to seek it out, whether you feel like you “can handle it” or not. I encourage every person to invest in professional counseling, just to become a healthier adult but especially if he or she feels called to marriage and parenthood.

7. Parenthood Is a Crash Course in Spiritual Detachment

Our worth and value come from God alone. This statement easy to embrace as an inspirational Instagram caption, but it’s much more difficult when you haven’t slept for more than two hours at a time for six months.

Detachment is necessary in our lives but most especially during the parenting years. As author and mother Sarah Bessey wrote beautifully in My Practices of Mothering:

I believe I have these tinies on purpose. They have been given to me - on loan - to raise up to love God and love people. So clearly, I have some spiritual authority here and I am learning to walk that out - especially when that takes more faith than the other aforementioned rainbow-and-cupcake times.

I am their mother and therefore, the best mother for them. So I can turn to God to cry out for wisdom, for understanding, listening intently to my own instincts and honouring my gut feelings. I can go to my mum or other resources I respect for their wisdom and help. I can need a break and admit when I screwed up royally (because I do that too).

Our worth and value come from God alone.
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Rebecca Christian

Rebecca Christian, CPD, CLEC is a writer, doula, and lactation counselor living in San Diego, CA. She loves all things related to filmmaking, birth, and wellness. Having served over 100 families over 4 years, she has walked with women facing every type of reproductive health outcome, and is especially passionate about improving maternal health disparities, empowering women’s healthcare decisions, and building a culture of life rooted in reproductive justice. Her doula practice can be found at Fiatdoulaservices.com and on IG @fiatdoula.

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