Time magazine’s popular 10 Questions series recently quizzed actress Michelle Williams, who’s getting attention for the film Blue Valentine. She’s known for taking challenging roles, and her current one is no exception, as she plays the wife in an unraveling marriage.
Apart from her acting, Michelle is known for her engagement to Heath Ledger, with whom she had a child in 2005. Tragedy thrust her into single parenthood when Ledger died from a drug overdose in 2008.
The last of Time’s 10 questions came from a fan from Toronto, who asked Michelle what most important role has been and how it has changed her. I assume the fan expected the actress to name an acting role, but Michelle’s answer was much more insightful.
She said it was being a mother, adding:
“Somebody once told me that being a parent is like dying and being reborn, which sounds drastic, but I understood what she meant. It’s the thing that’s most important to me. If I don’t get that right, then nothing else really matters. I feel reborn as a human being in every way. There’s not a part of my life that it hasn’t touched.”
Michelle may not realize it, but her words describe the “gift of self” present in the theological reality of motherhood — something that is absolutely defining of a woman’s life because it is one of “the dimensions of fulfillment of the female personality,” according to Mulieris Dignitatem, Pope John Paul II’s 1988 encyclical on the Dignity and Vocation of Women (the other dimension of fulfillment is “virginity for the sake of the kingdom,” as lived by religious sisters and consecrated virgins). It states:
“Motherhood as a human fact and phenomenon is fully explained on the basis of the truth about the person. Motherhood is linked to the personal structure of the woman and to the personal dimension of the gift. . . . The Creator grants the parents the gift of a child. On the woman’s part, this fact is linked in a special way to ‘a sincere gift of self.’”
According to a 2007 U.S. Census report, there are 13.7 million single parents with custody of their children, 84 percent of whom are mothers. Sometimes Catholics can be quick to judge the circumstances that led to single parenthood, like divorce or out-of-wedlock births. Yet, during a 2008 visit to Sardinia, Pope Benedict XVI prayed especially for single moms, asking for their protection.
As U.S. Catholics reflect on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade Jan. 22, our minds rightly turn to the millions of babies aborted in the last 38 years, but it’s worth pausing to thank God for the mothers who, despite less-than-ideal situations, have chosen death to self and life for their child, inevitably allowing that child to affect every part of their lives.