How My Time in the Convent Prepared Me for Motherhood

IMG_0886If there was one blog post I never thought I’d write, it would be a reflection on how my time in the convent prepared me for motherhood.  And yet here I am, doing just that.  But last night, as I sat on my ottoman to put JT back to sleep at 5:30AM, I was struck by the similarities.  You wouldn’t think that there would be many similarities between the lifestyle of an unmarried woman with no children who lives in a convent with a bunch of other women and spends her days praying and working and that of a married woman with a baby boy who lives in a two bedroom apartment and spends her days working and feeding, changing, and entertaining a newborn.  But trust me, there are plenty.

Some of the similarities are pretty obvious.  As a Catholic wife and mother, I spend time each day in prayer.  In fact, since night-time nursing sessions tend to be fairly monotonous- the world is so quiet except for the sounds of my baby boy eating and my husband sleeping- I have found that it’s the perfect time to pray.  For the first time since I left the convent back in 2013, I’m praying the Liturgy of the Hours again.  Every night, my husband and I read Scripture together while John has his last bottle of the night, and then we pray our Three Hail Mary’s together.  While I might not be waking up at 5AM to get to the chapel in time for Meditation, Morning Prayer, and Mass, I am waking up at 5AM to nurse JT and to pray Morning Prayer just like I used to.  My time in religious formation revealed to me the beauty of the Liturgy of the Hours, and now that I’m a new mother, I can appreciate that beauty again with my son.

IMG_0766Then there’s the other obvious similarity: the early mornings.  When I was in the convent, my day started at 5AM, when I showered and dressed before running to the chapel for morning prayers at 5:40AM.  Most nights I tried to be asleep by 10:30PM at the latest, but on occasion, evening events at the high school would keep us awake much longer.  While it was rough hearing the alarm buzzing so early in the morning, most days I was fully awake by the time Morning Prayer or Mass rolled around (Yeah, if I’m going to be honest, I fell asleep during Meditation most mornings, but then, so did St. Therese).  Nowadays, while my day might not officially “begin” until John wakes up for his 8/9AM feeding, I’m awake most mornings at 5AM to nurse.  Most mornings, he falls soundly asleep afterwards; on occasion, he’ll sleep fitfully until 7AM or so.  On those mornings, though I might not leave our bedroom until 8AM, I already feel like I’ve put in half a day’s work by then.  And while my alarm clock was a lot less distressing at 5AM than a screaming baby, I would rather take seeing my little boy’s adorable face in the morning any day.

IMG_0789And then there are the more subtle similarities, like the fact that in both cases, your life is no longer your own.  When I was in formation, nearly every moment of every day was determined for me.  We had set times to eat, sleep, pray, and work, and we had to work around that schedule in order to find time to exercise, shower, and engage in any leisure activities that we might enjoy.  And even our schedule was not set in stone.  Oftentimes, we would joke that religious life meant that you had to hold on to our plans with open palms.  In a given day, we might be asked to skip before-school bagel sales so that we could help the elderly sisters with some heavy cleaning.  We might have a class cancelled because our teacher was called away for the morning.  We might be told that we couldn’t help with softball practice because our previously-cancelled class had been rescheduled for that afternoon.  We might be told that we needed to pray our Rosary on our own because we were going to a special vocations event.  At any moment, we might be asked to re-evaluate our plans to go for a run, entertain some visitors, or complete a homework assignment.  And we learned how to accept it all with a smile.

That lesson has been invaluable since John’s birth.  My life is no longer my own.  The only parts of my life that are definitively pre-determined are eight to ten feeding periods, eight to ten diaper changes, already scheduled doctor’s appointments, and the two minutes necessary to brush my teeth every morning and night.  The rest of my life is a big question mark.  I might get eight hours of non-consecutive sleep; I might get four.  I might wake up at 6:30AM; I might wake up at 9AM.  I might get a full shower; I might only get the first half.  I might have two hour chunks to work; I might be sending emails on my phone while I attempt to rock JT to sleep for the fifth time in an hour.  I might have time to go for a solo run; I might have to settle for weight-lifting a baby.  And once again, I find myself working to accept it all with a smile- because smiling through it all had made the transition to motherhood so much easier.

IMG_0786A great deal of parenting is learned through experience.  I learned how to change a diaper without getting peed on by changing my son’s diaper and investing in lots of cheap little washcloths for coverage.  I learned how to nurse a baby by nursing my baby.  I learned how to give a baby a bath by getting down on my hands and knees over a tub to give my little boy a bath.  But I also entered into motherhood with a few lessons already learned.  I already knew that it’s easier to deal with a lack of sleep when you assume from the very beginning that you’re not going to get much sleep (and then when you do find that your child sleeps well, it’s just a very pleasant surprise).  I already knew that if I stay calm, the people around me stay calm (you can read that as: A calm mom makes for a calmer baby).  I knew that all babies are unique, and what works for one child might not work for another (all you need for that lesson are two friends with babies).  And I already knew that the best way to approach motherhood is with open palms, and I have my time in formation to thank for that lesson.

Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!

The Final Countdown (When You Can’t Really Count)

Teddy BearWeek 39.  John Whitmore could realistically arrive any day now.  Or it could be another three weeks before we meet him.  As his due date creeps closer and closer, my husband and I know that it’s only a matter of time- but at this point, only John knows how much time.  Every morning I wake up and wonder, “Is today going to be the day?”  Every day that I drive into work, I have to ask myself, “Will I go into labor while I’m sitting in my office?”  Every time I begin to teach a class, I find myself worrying that my water will break in front of a bunch of eighth grade students.  But so far, every night I fall asleep knowing that we’ve made it through another day without incident.  Every night I give thanks that I am one day closer to the beginning of my days of working from home.

Last Sunday I taught my last Confirmation class.  This past Tuesday I held my last Youth Night.  Sunday was my last CCD class.  Tomorrow will be my last service activity at the parish.  Andrew has accompanied me to most of these events, but there has still been a degree of uncertainty.  We don’t know when JT will decide to make his first appearance in this world.  We don’t know when labor will begin, or how quickly it will progress.  We do know that it’s a 45 minute drive from our apartment to the hospital, and from both of our jobs to our apartment.  Forty-five minutes can be a very long time, especially when you’re in labor.

Every day, we pray that JT will wait until his due date to make his first appearance in this world.  We pray that everything will go smoothly, that we will arrive at the hospital safely and in a timely manner, that JT will be born healthy.  We can hope, but we obviously can’t be sure.  JT will work on his own schedule.  Ultimately, he’ll arrive exactly when he wants to, and no amount of stress and worry will change that.  And I think this is just our first lesson in being parents.  In the weeks following JT’s birth, Andrew and I will have the difficult task of establishing some sort of “schedule” to fulfill his needs.  We will need to learn how often he will nurse, how often he will nap, how long his naps will last, and how often we’ll need to change his diapers.  We’ll have to figure out the best times for sleep, showers, exercise, work, and shopping trips.  After my maternity leave ends, I’ll have to figure out how to balance being a mother and being a DRE and Youth  Minister.  I will need to figure out how to fit work between nursing sessions, playtime, and naps.  And I’ll need to figure out how to do all of this on less than my usual 8.5 hours of sleep.

Friends

Before I got married, the only person that I needed to consider was myself.  I ate when I wanted to eat, slept when I wanted to sleep, exercised when I wanted to exercise, and showered when I wanted to shower.  The only part of my life that was pre-determined were my hours in the classroom or at work.  When I wasn’t in school or at work, my time was my own.  I did with it what I wanted to do.  I didn’t have to worry about satisfying the needs of anyone else.  It sounds selfish, but this is simply the life of a single woman.  Of course I thought about the feelings of my friends and family, but their needs rarely prevented me from eating, sleeping, and exercising whenever I wanted.  Life was about fulfilling my needs.

After I got married, the amount of people that I needed to consider when I made decisions doubled.  Now it wasn’t just me.  It was Andrew and me.  I couldn’t just heat up soup for dinner anymore; I actually needed to cook, to make sure that Andrew and I were both eating a balanced diet of grains, meat, veggies, and fruit.  Andrew and I needed to work out a shower schedule when we both had places to go at the same time.  Sometimes, I needed to postpone my workout to run an errand for Andrew, or I needed to stay at home for a day because Andrew needed to borrow my car when his had a flat tire.  I had to make sacrifices for him, to rearrange my schedule to fit our needs, but he also was more than willing to make all sorts of sacrifices for me as well.

Andrew and IEven after we found out that we had become parents, our lives didn’t change much.  We knew that we were now a family of three, but for the most part, it still felt like just Andrew and me.  Yes, my unborn child had needs, but they were mostly met by meeting my own.  I needed to eat well, but I was already in the habit of eating healthily.  I needed to exercise, but I was already walking daily.  I needed to get rest, but I was already used to getting a full 8.5 hours of sleep a night.  Though I know that I have already had to make sacrifices for my son, they never really felt like sacrifices.  Yes, I gained weight, but I was eating well, exercising, and I even had the opportunity to buy lots of new clothing.  Yes, it was more difficult to walk up and down stairs because of the added pressure on my already asthma-laden lungs, but this just gave me an excuse to rest periodically through the day.  Andrew began doing our laundry (the laundry room was four floors down from our apartment) without a fuss.  When my morning sickness prevented me from cooking and/or washing the dishes, Andrew readily began cooking and washing the dishes himself.  Over the past eight and a half months of marriage, we have both learned how to make sacrifices for each other.  We have also settled into a very efficient routine, meeting our own needs and making sure that each other’s needs are satisfied as well.

Both of our lives changed when we got married.  In a few weeks (or days), our lives will change again.  We will have another set of needs to consider, and this time, we will be the only ones who can make sure his needs are met.  JT will not be able to take care of his own needs.  He will not be able to feed himself, change his own diaper, or give himself a bath.  He won’t be able to put himself down for a nap or dress himself.  He won’t even be able to lift up his own head at first.  He will be completely dependent on us, his parents, to make sure that he gets all the care and love that he needs.  He will need us to put our own needs aside on a daily basis to guarantee that his needs are met.  He will need us to make sacrifices, to abandon our own routines from time to time.  Our lives are going to change a lot, but Andrew and I are okay with that.  We love our son already, though we have not yet laid eyes on him even, and we would do anything for him.

Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!