A Mother’s Womb Is a Portal to Eternity

COMMENTARY: The immortal soul of the new human person brought into existence comes from God.

‘The Mother of God ... is our mother in our need,’ writes Susanna Spencer.
‘The Mother of God ... is our mother in our need,’ writes Susanna Spencer. (photo: Unsplash)

The pain radiated from my womb outward, encompassing my whole body, mind and being as I draped myself over the exercise ball. Again and again, it came like a wave over me. I had felt this before, the pains of birth. But I never had this intensity come with the passing of a baby who had died inside me. This little one had passed away at only six weeks’ gestation, but this ninth pregnancy, this ninth passing of the body of a person from within my womb, was one of the hardest. Four of my children have come into the world, passing naturally from me, alive, breathing, beautiful. And five have both begun and ended life within me.

Gertrud von le Fort, in her book The Eternal Woman: The Timeless Meaning of the Feminine, offers her reflections on woman as mother, the maternal woman, as timeless and in a “relationship to that which is beyond time” (p. 91). Woman in eternity nurtures and shelters, and mothers, everyone who needs mothering. And the most perfect representation of this is found in the Mother of God, who is our mother in our need, but also the model of motherhood for all women. Individual women participate in this maternity in various ways, whether as a spiritual mother or foster mother, stepping in when another human being — a child, a friend or a stranger on the street — is in need. And, yes, some of us are even blessed to be able to bear new life within our wombs.

Motherhood begins with the creation of new life and the giving of birth. Von le Fort says that “as the woman in giving birth carries life on into endlessness, so in her capacity of nurturing and sheltering life she injects into time an element of eternity” (p. 89). Yet she can give birth only to what she has received. Every child brought into existence in the womb is a gift received. The Blessed Mother is our example of how to receive this gift of new life. The woman’s own life is a gift, her fertility is a gift, and in the act of co-creating, she receives from outside herself, and the immortal soul of the new human person brought into existence comes from God. But when she receives all of this within herself, eternity exists within her in the child who will exist forever.

Perhaps we were more aware of it in the past, but life and death are so closely tied together in the bringing about of new human life. Von le Fort puts it this way: “In motherhood as nature has fashioned it, life and death rest beside one another. The stream of generations break forth out of eternity, and there also it empties itself” (p. 91). Every child brought into existence will die. The question is not whether, but when. We come from God in order to go back to God.

And that brings me back to my most recent loss. As I went through my labor pains, during that early March snowstorm, with the flakes quietly piling on the feet of snow already encasing the plants preparing for new life in spring, I felt a connection to eternity. My baby was already gone from this valley of tears — already in eternity, entrusted to the great mercy of God. Yet I had to go through the risks that come with the natural end of pregnancy. We monitored my blood loss that day and searched for our child’s remains. And before the end of this story, I did end up with an infection that had to be treated with modern medicine. My life is forever tied to the life of this baby. And after this whole process, we were able to bury our baby.

That day, several weeks later, I wrapped the tiny remains up neatly, and the children took turns holding the basket on the drive to the cemetery. Yet again, we stood among the gravesites for the miscarried and stillborn babies with our pastor as he read the prayers of burial for the unbaptized child. And we walked away, letting go, receiving some closure, but also opening our hearts more to eternity.

When I read these words of Gertrud von le Fort, I realized, as the mother of all of these babies who have died within me, that I am uniquely connected to eternity:

“The surf that breaks forth out of eternity and rolls back to eternity opens the mother’s womb as it were, at the moment of birth like a portal leading two ways. The life that comes out of an invisible eternity enters the visible world of time. From eternity to eternity, religiously expressed, mean but one thing: from God to God” (pg. 92).

Four of my children have entered the “visible world of time,” and I delight in their very present existence daily. But there are the five who have “come out of an invisible eternity” and gone on into that same invisible eternity without entering the visible world of time. Their only physical living existence has been that within me, and now they are beyond the veil. But the portal of my womb was a necessary door to lead them into existence and onto eternity. All this is possible because of our Blessed Mother, who received God-Made-Man within herself, birthed him into this visible world, and suffered with him into death, and is now joined with him for eternity in heaven. My womb is blessed because hers was blessed first. And that is a complete gift. And such gifts, and the gifts of nine persons existing in eternity, are worth all of the suffering, suffering I have always been nurtured through by my Blessed Mother.

Wilhelm von Kügelgen’s 19th-century painting, “The Visitation,” depicts the encounter between the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth, a patron saint of infertility and pregnancy.

Dealing With Infertility (May 20)

The month of May, with its celebration of mothers, can leave some women feeling desolate. Today we talk with two women, writers and advocates Leigh Snead and Mary Bruno, who have experienced the pain of infertility and who have leaned into their suffering, through God’s help, to yield beautiful witness to adoption and spiritual motherhood.