Our brisk walks are a nightly routine. My sister-in-law coos, talks and giggles to her precious baby while she pushes him in the stroller. She beams with gratification at her son's glowing, sunny smile. Every now and then she pauses to offer him another toy, readjust his seat or fix his blanket. Of course she has to relate her precocious child's newest and cutest feats.
I walk right alongside. But in my eyes, she stands astride a mountain while I look up at her from a valley far below. My sister-in-law, considerably younger than I, is a mommy and I am not. My sister-in-law has an adorable extension to herself, while I only dream of one. My sister-in-law is wheeling a bundle of joy, while I walk empty handed.
Oh, how I feel like a small child as I counter her personal baby stories with advice I only know from watching my mother care for younger siblings. And as my sister-in-law discusses the annoying wake up calls of the previous night and the terrible mess he made that morning, I can't help but notice how mothers live in an entirely different realm than non-mothers.
It is more than just the vast magnitude of mothers' responsibilities that creates my hang-up of inferiority.
While non-mothers often have a hard enough time finding enough hours in the day for themselves, mothers somehow manage to care for entire families in that same time. While the rest of the world enjoys relaxing nights of sleep, mothers spend a considerable portion of their nights comforting crying babies. While many non-mothers expend all their energy disciplining themselves, mothers simultaneously discipline and raise all their children.
While others find their own food preparation too time consuming, mothers cook for large families. While others can come and go on a whim, mothers must take into account their little charges. Whether it is the need for gentle guidance, some TLC, someone to take the brunt of a child's frustration, assistance with homework, chauffeuring, birthday parties... a mother's job is truly never done.
It is more than just the vast magnitude of mothers' responsibilities that creates my hang-up of inferiority. It is the nobleness of the job that was granted to them and restricted from me. It is the clarity of their purpose in life and the lack of mine. Mothers fulfill the ultimate role of women and bequeath the world with the greatest contribution possible – another living soul. They are the exalted partners of God in the creation of a new being. And they are the royal caretakers, appointed to provide for the child, to see to all its needs and to teach it to lead a good life.
Suddenly, I stop in my tracks. I seize the debilitating thoughts that infiltrate my mind and chase away the beliefs that crush me. I begin to reevaluate my situation. I reflect upon all the experiences I encountered on the roads of infertility and begin to appreciate the positive impact of those experiences. I recall the grave disappointments that followed fleeting moments of hope and understand how the pain helped me grow. I think about all the inner battles that I fought and continue to fight, and realize that those are the precise factors that provide my life with meaning.
How many heartfelt prayers did I pour out in my desperation? Prayers for myself and prayers for others. How many tears did I shed to the One above – tears that would have never otherwise been created? Who knows what affect those prayers have on me, or the rest of the word for that matter? Who knows what power those tears wield up in heaven?
How much closer to God have I grown over this period? How many extra times do I think of God during a typical day because of what I lack? How far have I come in internalizing the notion that even seemingly terrible situations are for the best? How much better have I become at overcoming those constant feelings of disappointments? How hard do I work on overcoming my natural jealousy to share in others' joy? How much more do I still have to accomplish in all these areas in order to become a truly righteous individual?
To the world, I may appear empty-handed, but I know that I am not.
How many extra undertakings did I take on as a merit for children? How much extra precaution did I begin to exercise in my mitzvah performance – mitzvot which bring blessings down to the whole world? How much more do I concentrate on my husband and his needs? What kind of special kindnesses have I been able to volunteer for? My life may not be as clearly defined as a mother's life, but there are certainly important jobs for me to accomplish, and I was given the added task of discovering them.
My sister-in-law and I continue walking – she wheeling her stroller and me walking alongside. And to the world I probably still appear empty handed. But I know that I am not. I walk with my head upright and my shoulders straight as I joyfully push my own invisible stroller. My stroller is filled with all those cherished prayers and precious good deeds that I have accrued, as well as the painful feelings I have overcome. My stroller is weighted down by all those challenges that still face me, the trying emotions that still gnaw at my nerves and the vital acts of kindness that are still calling me. As I walk, I beam at accomplishments I have brought to the world, while I lovingly tend to those challenges that still face me.
I continue to pray and beg God to allow me the opportunity to fulfill the unique role of being a mother. And when that happens I will ask God, "Please envelope the physical stroller I will push into the spiritual stroller that I have so painstakingly created. Allow the bond I have forged with You, together with all my prayers and undertakings, to serve as merit that my children grow up properly. That they learn to serve You in the path You set out for them." Because that is really the true purpose of every life.