Mystery of Motherhood: Intolerable Pain, Unfathomable Joy.

It’s been seventeen years since I held my oldest child for the first time. It was a day of pain and fear. And even though I was filled with joy, my happy emotions were subdued in the context of the unexpected, overwhelming, throbbing physical suffering. Seventeen years later, I realize that it wasn’t just a solitary incident within the experience of motherhood; rather, it was a foreshadowing of the entirety of my vocation.

Intolerable pain. Unfathomable joy.

Motherhood is indeed a valley of tears. Not just because we suffer for the sake of our stretching, growing children, but because we give of our very physical substance to nourish them, and it costs us something. Eight times I have staggered under the weight of the illness and fatigue of pregnancies that seem to drain my very soul. Eight times I have cried out in anguish as I labored and birthed. Seven times I have nursed my babies until they were chubby and strong… and so many times through the dark nights of illness. Once I had to say goodbye. I have bled and broken and wept through the physical struggle. And my heart has broken at least as often.

I lay last night nursing my youngest. The pain was exquisite. Infection made the effort hardly endurable. I bit the inside of my cheek and I groaned . Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. My reason and love forced gratitude while my body raged against it.

Intolerable pain. Unfathomable joy.

If I knew during those first days of motherhood how unalterably hard it was going to be to get through these years, I would have been too paralyzed to go forward. Or I wouldn’t have believed it. So this is what happens to experienced mothers who are a little older, a little more tired, a little more suffering than we were on our first day. We know now that it doesn’t get any easier. And we are afraid in a way that we weren’t at the beginning.

Loved ones have died. Our children have strayed. Our bodies have broken. Our hearts have wavered. The bills have mounted. We have hurt and been hurt. Our very souls have been shaken by the earthquakes that God allows to rock our lives.

As I prepare to send my firstborn from the nest, I look at my youngest and feel a moment of panic. I am like the younger mother I once was as we begin her journey with energy and hope. I am also an older mother… and very tired. I am tired in a way I was never tired in the early years even during my worst moments… with this exhaustion of soul that does not go away with a good night’s sleep. Or ever. And I’m afraid. With a fear that does not go away with the morning light.

Intolerable pain. Unfathomable joy.

I never understood the devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows until recently. Now I cling to her. Not because my life isn’t blessed. Not because I don’t know joy. Oh, I do! Often with an intensity that surpasses understanding. But I cling to the Mother of Sorrow because I have met the depths of my human weakness and I know that there is no escaping it in this life. It is a knowledge that comes with age…

The funnyman brings laughter but weeps in his soul.
The courageous man saves others but succumbs to the waves himself.
The shepherd of souls drops to his knees in the Confessional.
The counselor takes medication for his mental illness.
The writer can’t find words for his burdened wife.
The celebrity is utterly alone.
And the mother’s heart swells to bursting with joy… and alternately shatters.

Intolerable pain. Unfathomable joy. 

This intensity of authentic movement of soul pushes us to the foot of the Cross where we are renewed by his gaze. As much as it stings, which of us would go back and return the gift of our motherhood? Which one of us wouldn’t walk Calvary road with our loved ones, just as Blessed Mother did?

It is said that Mother Teresa, in her old age, approached Pope John Paul II and asked him for permission to retire. And that he said no – You are not finished. I think of that often as I go about my days. I keep asking for a break and don’t quite get the one I’m looking for. What I do get is an invitation to return to the very depths of my vocation.

Intolerable pain. Unfathomable joy. 

It is the great and mysterious gift of motherhood. We are invited to go to the depths of sorrow, in the shadow of the Cross, in imitation of Blessed Mother. It is there where He pours out His abundant Mercy and Grace. And where we will find the answer to every prayer for respite. There is no sorrow that will go unmatched by joy. There is no sorrow that will not be exceeded by joy. There is no sorrow that will not be utterly annihilated by the joy that Jesus Christ promises to the faithful soul.

Your Easter is coming. Lean in to the Cross with everything you’ve got. The days are long but the years will go by quickly… and He is waiting for you. Give Him all with joy.


Melody is a Catholic mama joyfully seeking truth, sanctity and a clean kitchen amidst the hustle and bustle of her full house. A happy wife and homeschooling mother of seven, she is devoted to her vocation while finding bits of time for a few happy distractions. How does a Catholic homeschooling mother manage faith, family, education, creative pursuits, fitness and fellowship? The calendar is set. The reality is flexible. The days are colorful. The dishes are piling. The children are blossoming. The Lord is merciful. Blessed be the Lord! You can share in Melody’s journey of hope and joy at her blog, Blossoming Joy: A Journal of Home Education, Christian Womanhood and the Pursuit of Sanctity.

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  • Lovely reflection. I have little to say as I find myself in the depths of it all. ~Imprint, O Lady, thy wound upon my heart, that I may read therein sorrow and love: sorrow, to endure every sorrow for thee; love, to despise every love for thee.~

    Continued prayers for you as you venture into a new season of your vocation. May you continue to embrace the intolerable pain and unfathomable joy. AD JESUM PER MARIAM

  • Claire

    This title sums up my experience of motherhood. I’m an adoptive mother, so I can’t claim that I gave of my physical substance to nourish my living child, although I tried very hard to do so for my babies who ended up in Heaven. But I can honestly say that as a mother I give until it hurts, and there are days when I wonder whether the endless fears, worries and heartwrenching experiences of watching my child suffer are worth the incredible joys that come along with motherhood. But in my stronger moments I know that they are, because they give my life a deeper level of meaning, and make real God’s love for us.

  • Kelli

    This was utterly beautiful! It made me weep for a bit and as a mother of 9, I know the how old the body can feel. Yesterday, I escaped for a holy hour, begging God to renew me. As I sat before the Blessed Sacrament I felt so sad for all that I have lacked in the moments before my meltdown. 🙂 How many times have I been pushed, poured out, exhausted by the duties and love that I need to give. God listened and he filled me up again. I came back ready to sleep and begin again. Today, I arose with a “head cold.” And I could laugh, my perspective a little lighter and feeling a little feverish I think, I said, “Thank you God.” Today, I can lower my expectations a little and remember how wonderful good health can be. He knew I needed that hour with him. Thank you for the timing of this article. It was true poetry. God love you! And God love all mothers!!

  • Melody Marie

    Kelli- Thank you for sharing this. Your words are true and beautiful. Our Eucharistic Lord loves us so much. I will pray for you today.

  • Melody Marie

    Claire- I have no doubt that adoptive mothers experience the same sufferings and joys. Our motherhood is called to imitate Christ, regardless of how we have “birthed” our babies. I loved reading your perspective. Thank you! Offering up my prayer today for you and all mothers.

  • Melody Marie


  • Mary

    Ah, what beautiful words. Daunting and yet encouraging at the same time. Sounds like the cross 🙂

  • RufusChoate

    A very, very fine contemplation. A mystery and a gift that a husband can only appreciate and wonder at as a interested spectator if he has the will to pay attention.

    God bless you and your family .

  • Melody Marie

    Thank you, Kathy. Not every mama needs to read something like this but I was hoping that it would reach the ones who do.

    And I’m hoping the Catholic Exchange editor will catch your comment and fix the ‘h’… thanks for letting us know. 🙂 God bless.

  • Melody Marie

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It is hard sometimes to see the changes in me and know that I am not to my younger children (as far as energy and activity) that I was for my older ones. But “joyful, cheerful”… those are the words I can certainly cling to and the memory I would love to leave with all of my children. God bless you!

  • Melody Marie

    Thank you. And I know that husbands have their own heavy crosses to bear. I honor that gift of self and thank God for the men who give courage and consolation to their wives by their witness!

  • Melody Marie

    Yes… the beautiful, horrible cross. Thanks be to God for His perfect example. 🙂 God bless!