Becoming a mother changed and charged my faith life. I went from worshiping at church and lingering over spiritual memoirs at home—especially books by Anne Lamott and Kathleen Norris—to missing sermons for time in the nursery and streaming Bible webcasts in the kitchen. Gospel on the go.
I also went from gratitude for my ancestral faith to, well, deep need: for proof of meaning beyond the worry that arrived with a newborn; for ways to handle grief for my pre-birth life and the reality of a changed family—not to mention all the attacks of joy. Parenthood intensified my talks with God (or Howard or Her, as Lamott sometimes prefers) and brought growth of faith tempered by dips and plummets into doubt, which continue today.
I still reach for beloved memoirs, mainly those that connect spirituality with childrearing or caregiving. Any mom who loses patience with her kids has a friend in “Ashes” in Lamott’s book Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith and in her essay “Heat” in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (a version appears at Salon.com as “Mother Rage: Theory and Practice”). All parents who feel ignored by society or who work in areas where “the labor is long and the rewards are slow to appear,” as Kathleen Norris says, can fuel up at her latest memoir, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life.
I have also discovered new writers in my postpartum faith journey, mother-writers with small kids at home who blog about parenting and faith right in this moment. Two of these writers have recently broken into print: Ginny Kubitz Moyer, author of Random MOMents of Grace: Experiencing God in the Adventures of Motherhood, and Amy Julia Becker, author of A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny.
Kubitz Moyer’s Random MOMents explores mothering two small boys as a kind of workout that leads to spiritual discovery. The physical sacrifices of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding bring her closer to the cross; commitments such as daycare pick-up enhance her grasp of covenant. Even time away from Mass (at home because a toddler is restive) reveals grace, Kubitz Moyer finds, if she pays attention. Her comparison of worship pre- and post-parenthood rings true: slipping into a church to meditate, spending weekends at a retreat house, or wandering in nature give way to praying on a hard chair to avoid dozing. Where she describes putting her tots to bed, removing her husband’s clothes from her chair, and saying part of the rosary to scour “free of the grease of the day,” she reveals one Catholic mom’s discipline of drawing near God despite, and through, demands of new parenthood.
Amy Julia Becker tells a different story: that of having a daughter born with Down syndrome (undiagnosed before birth) and seeing grief shake her bond with God although, as a Princeton seminarian who proudly “live[s] in the Northeast and believe[s] in Jesus,” she feels she should be strong. In the months after giving birth, Becker struggles to pray even as she sees that her daughter, Penny, is offering her a crash-course in love. This look at how Becker moves through shock and anger to acceptance amid setbacks, may offer hope to new mothers who face crisis on top of nursing a newborn. The book also demystifies Down syndrome, and shows new possibilities for children who live with this condition, which Becker has addressed in essays for The Huffington Post and The Atlantic.
Kubitz Moyer and Becker explore not only the joys of new parenthood but also loss—Becker forfeits certain dreams for herself and her daughter; Kubitz Moyer suffers an ectopic pregnancy followed by a miscarriage as well as the death of her young son’s godmother at age 48. These stories ground hopeful messages in reality. The authors also infuse their writing with humility. A passage by Becker, for example, recalls gaining undergraduate admission to Princeton and neither celebrating, nor feeling surprise, but smugly knowing that she deserved the honor. By the end of A Good and Perfect Gift, however, she can declare that she does not deserve Penny.
Both of these writers share my tendency to skirt personal imperfections. Becker writes of raging at God with words she was forbidden as a girl, but does not list the words; Kubitz Moyer reports writing a pious passage only to “fail at mindfulness” with her sons a tick later, but does not show how she fails. (In contrast, Anne Lamott confesses thinking her son a “little shit” in Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year, and in Traveling Mercies she “grab[s] him by his pipe-cleaner arm.”) Neither author addresses underprivileged households, diverse cultural contexts, or mixed-faith families; I noticed this while reading in my not-all-Christian household in a Third World country.
Nonetheless, I am grateful for these books and hope for more from these authors, as they help to fill an important void in the literature. While Kathleen Norris writes of spiritual quest, she does so without children, and Anne Lamott now writes as a grandparent. In my own generation, Catherine Newman sets a high bar for memoir of new parenthood in Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of a Growing Family, and Vicki Forman masterfully captures mothering a baby with disabilities in This Lovely Life: A Memoir of Premature Motherhood, but neither writes from a Christian perspective. (If they did, I would be in danger of consulting their work more than Scripture.) Kubitz Moyer and Becker write to connect new motherhood with faith, and lead a community of mothers doing the same. I urge and need them to keep going. I hope for memoirs that pair their resilient faith with our memoir-godmothers’ reverence for reality and unswerving devotion to craft.