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You guys, Aaron was such a champ all trip long, sleeping through most of an 8-hour car ride, staying calmish enough for me take care of other criers during an insane night of my sister-and-law and I watching 5 babies during the bachelor and bachelorette festivities, and and letting us bounce him all over the dance floor. He finally lost it during the last two hours or so of the trip home and squalled for that whole leg, but I really can't complain.
Anyway, I expected going to a wedding with a baby would have different demands than going to a wedding without one, but something else came up in my heart this weekend, too, that I didn't expect. It started at the rehearsal. I was sitting there in this gorgeous basilica, sobbing my eyes out at the beauty of it all as I watched our friends practicing saying their vows (you can laugh, I don't mind), when I started feeling the sense that I was so far removed from being a bride. Simply put, I didn't feel like one anymore. It's been three years now since my wedding, and the feeling of newness and possibility seemed foreign to me.
It isn't that celebrating with Ed and Maile made me jealous. I don't want all the attention surrounding me again or another wedding day for myself. I think, thought, that motherhood has been such a sea change, one that seems like an entirely new version of me, that how I was when I first got married seems sort of like a lost part of who I am. Don't get me wrong; being Aaron's mama is one of the greatest gifts of my life and I totally get that your life doesn't stop and become complete with marriage; it continues to grow and change as your family does, and that's so good. It does feel like such a different life now--showering maybe three times a week, staying up all hours of the night, and having such little time to really be alone and present with Andrew makes it a little hard to remember the more sexy, carefree days of nighttime walks, elaborate weekend breakfasts, hopping in the car to visit faraway friends, and lazing the day away reading on a blanket outside.
I felt torn. I want this life, this way of living my vocation, that's before me right now: motherhood and finding joy in its sacrifice. But I also felt such a bittersweet sense that part of my old identity (and not just the fun trappings of it I just listed, but the actual essence of it), as just a wife and maybe even as a newlywed, was gone. Even when a change is welcome and good and sanctifying, it can be hard feeling like it came at the cost of a part of yourself, yeah?
It's amazing, the graces that pour down during a nuptial Mass. The new husband and wife receive them to the full, and in their receiving, I'm convinced that just being in the presence of such tremendous grace works on the hearts of everyone in attendance, too. On our friends' wedding day, I'm happy to say that the funk I'd been feeling seemed to lift. As I prayed before the Mass, I started feeling like bride and mother, newlywed and just regular wed, aren't either-ors. I'm still working all this out in my heart, but two things have put me on a path to peace.
The first is the words of a father of five whom I met on our trip. Emily, a reader, works at the Theology of the Body education center Ruah Woods and invited me to come visit the offices for the morning. This man and I started talking about his family, and when I asked if I could see a photo of his five kids, he told me he didn't have one in his office, "but here's a picture of my bride." He said it with such love and pride. I forgot about it until I was going through my whole crisis on the wedding day, but as I remembered, I felt so happy and in awe, thinking how beautiful it is for a man so fully immersed in parenthood to still see his wife in that way, not as the exact same woman he married, but as the woman he's grown more in love with as each new change has taken place in their lives.
The second thing is the photo at the top of this post. I shared it on Facebook a couple weeks ago and it was one of the most-liked posts I ever put up, so I get the feeling there must be something universal about it. Leave it to Edith Stein to have already stated the big revelation I had, that bride and mother aren't separate entities--they're two parts of our entire identity as women, whether married or consecrated, with or without children. I'm glad to be reminded.
So tell me…am I crazy? Have any of you felt this way? Also, let it be said that I know biological motherhood isn't the only way a woman might feel a departure from her identity as a bride; I imagine infertility or loss could create a similar feeling. I'm inviting you to share what you're thinking and would love to know!