Homeschooling while bringing eight infants into this world, suffering through a few miscarriages and recovering from the death of two babies, I think I finally am getting in the swing of things… at least maybe… a little. Inspiring words of comfort from Pope John Paul II highlight the unique experience of motherhood, with its joys and travails:
“Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God’s own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child’s first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.”
Homeschool moms know that one of life’s many challenges is to continue to homeschool during a pregnancy. Indeed, it takes determination to not let the pregnancy “get in the way” of keeping on track with the schedule of school work. I would often wear myself thin (aside from gaining my pregnancy weight) getting workbook pages finished in the midst of bouts of nausea and morning sickness. I continued to work remotely from home so that I could afford the best educational materials and books for my children, skipping naps to plan lessons. I still found time to read to my children for hours while making certain that schoolwork got done regardless of prenatal appointments.
Throughout the first part of my recent pregnancy (at age 43), I was overly concerned about getting all of my children’s schoolwork turned in by the date of my c-section. I had every lesson plan mapped out; I had trimmed our vacation days to the bare minimum; and I had planned to give myself and the kids a few days off school before the baby came.
Admirable as that was, by the time my second trimester rolled around, thank God I realized that I was ultimately missing out on some of the most valuable homeschooling assignments of all – those which naturally blossomed from the very fact that I was bountifully pregnant with a child of God. I had also failed to humbly admit that I was overly emotional and exhausted. As Agnes Penny writes in Your School of Love (TAN Books, 2014):
“Eventually, as the children grow, they will learn another valuable lesson from watching our pregnancies. They will remember our illness, our tiredness, our struggle to do housework, and our sacrifice of the enjoyable activities we gave up, and they’ll remember why we made those sacrifices: to bring forth new life. Thus, they will learn one of life’s most valuable lessons: people are more important than things, and new life is a gift to treasure, to suffer for, and to cherish over comfort and worldly goods… our children will learn lessons they could never learn in a classroom – lessons about independence, problem-solving, self-sacrifice, and love.”
Looking back, I can see God’s hand at work in the midst of it all. I see that my children spent nine months watching me pray for grace and strength, and in some ways laying down my life to bring forth new life despite many obstacles. The message imparted to their impressionable little minds was abundantly clear – that being fruitful is a divine calling; that each child is a beloved gift from on high to be savored. Perhaps no one said it better than Mother Teresa when she asked, “How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.”
By involving our children in our pregnancy, we can use this profoundly meaningful time as an inspiring way to fulfill our family’s homeschooling mission. We can bring some of our children with us when we get ultrasounds; read them child-appropriate books about pregnancy (such as Angel in the Waters by Regina Doman, The New Baby by Anne Civardi, Before I Was Me by Frank Fraser, or Alive Before You Were Born: God’s Gift of Life by Kim Bestian), pray novenas for a healthy pregnancy and delivery; explain to them that we are eating certain nutritious foods to nourish the baby; watch weekly videos online which follow the progression of the pregnancy; and take advantage of rest time to read them enriching stories. With the help of a little creative thinking, our pregnancy can serve as an asset to their education, not as an impediment to it or a distraction from it.
Importantly, if we consecrate our pregnancy and our unborn child to the Heavenly Father, our children may experience extraordinary spiritual growth alongside of us. Truly, being open to life also means being open to the supernal graces of God, the majestic Creator. A faithful Catholic pregnant woman so naturally becomes an authentic contemplative in the midst of her bustling house and the world around her. As her body endures the many pains and penances of pregnancy, her heart burns with charity and her soul becomes consumed with zeal for the Creator’s glory. As St. Zélie Guérin Martin, mother of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, once put so eloquently, as mentioned in Story of a Family (TAN Books, 1994):
“Above all, during the months immediately preceding the birth of her child, the mother should keep close to God, of whom the infant she bears within her is the image, the handiwork, the gift and the child. She should be for her offspring, as it were, a temple, a sanctuary, an altar, a tabernacle. In short, her life should be, so to speak, the life of a living sacrament, a sacrament in act, burying herself in the bosom of that God who has so truly instituted it and hallowed it, so that there she may draw that energy, that enlightening, that natural and supernatural beauty which He wills, and wills precisely by her means, to impart to the child she bears and to be born of her.”
By heeding the sound advice of this canonized Saint, we can sanctify our pregnancies, and permeate our domestic churches with this same fragrance of sanctity. If we are genuinely homeschooling for the sake of eternal life, bringing a new child into our family with the hope of raising them up for Heaven can only further this beautiful goal. And let us never forget that Our Lord, the Blessed Mother, the Mother of Life, and all of the Saints are near and dear friends to pregnant women.
They will not fail to be by our side in the midst of our struggles. As Servant of God Fr. John A. Hardon, a very strong and vocal advocate of homeschooling, once reminded us, “You must pray… without prayer, all the schooling in the world will not produce the effect that God wants homeschooling to give.”