"Letters to Mary" - Springfield Author confides joys and frustrations of motherhood to mother of Jesus

by Sharon Roulier
Assistant Editor
Originally published May 28, 2004 in The Catholic Observer (reprinted with permission).

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur wondered if motherhood came easy to Mary. Did Jesus ever cry at night? How did she cope? What did Mary, Jesus and Joseph do as a family?

New motherhood brings with it many changes and new responsibilities. Overwhelming moments, sleep-deprivation and shifting priorities often present challenges about which these women rarely speak.

Letters to Mary from a Young Mother, a newly published book by Fagnant-MacArthur, explores the identity crisis of motherhood. It's a book written from first-hand experience.

When Fagnant-MacArthur, 29, a parishioner of Holy Name in Springfield (MA), became a mother three years ago, she searched for a book that described what she was feeling from a spiritual perspective, but found very little.

"I wasn't looking for another article telling me to sleep when the baby slept or to go out with friends for a night out. While that is good advice, it didn't deal with all the deeper issues that were going on inside of me," she said. "While I had this amazing child whom I loved more than anything, as a person I was going through a fundamental shift and I didn't feel that there was anyone to talk to about it."

So she kept on writing down her feelings in her journal, something that she had done since she was 15 years old.

Then one night she was up with David, the child who wouldn't sleep, and the idea came to her of a book of letters written to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

"We don't tend to think of Mary as a wife and mother going through all the same struggles that we do, but 2,000 years ago, that was exactly what she was. She understands what we are going through," said Fagnant-MacArthur.

Fagnant-MacArthur wondered what the Holy Family was like. "They had to have those daily struggles of survival. Mary had to cook and clean and do the things we all do."

Now that her second son, Isaac, was a year and a half, Fagnant-MacArthur finally had the chance to sit down and write Letters to Mary this past fall, relying on journal entries for inspiration.

The book explores the humanity of Mary, delving into how she might have felt during her own motherhood e experience.

In one entry the author writes:
"Dear Mary,
Last night was so tough. David got up for his feeding and just wouldn't go back to sleep no matter what I did. I walked him and sang and walked him so more and ended up crying out of sheer frustration. I am so tired today.
Did Jesus ever cry in the night? How did you cope?"

"I wanted to write something that said yes, there are wonderful moments, but it's also a very difficult transition," she said.

Throughout the book, self-published through www.iuniverse.com, the author confides her joys and frustrations to Mary with the goal of helping others who are experiencing the same range of feelings.

"One thing that I found is that the feelings I had are pretty common, but you don't share them with others," she said. "You think that you should feel wonderful all the time."

Motherhood comes with shifting priorities and the creation of a new identity, said Fagnant- MacArthur. "You are going from being a woman to being a mother - to having that new identity," she said.

Now the mother of two sons, David, 3, and Isaac, 18 months, she says the identity crisis has passes.

"The title of 'mother' fits me now. In hindsight, I can see how necessary the whole process of recreating myself as a person was, but it doesn't make it any easier to have gone through," she said.

Fagnant-MacArthur said as a new mother she saw a need for practical spiritual help, primarily for lay women, as her faith as always been very important to her.

"My mother is a third-order Dominican and as a family we always went to daily Mass. I had a very active faith life growing up," she said.

Fagnant-MacArthur grew up in St. George Parish in Chicopee (MA) and attended the parish grammar school. She graduated from Holyoke Catholic High School and Elms College, where she majored in art and history. She met her husband, Bernie, at Elms College, when they were undergraduates. They married a year after graduation. She then received a master's degree in applied theology while working at the Elms.

"Our first child was born the month before Bernie graduated from law school and a month after I got my master's degree," she said.

Through her book and also a newly created web site, www.spiritualwoman.net, and newsletter Spiritual Woman, Fagnant-MacArthur hopes to give women ideas for carving out time for spiritual life.

Fagnant-MacArthur said that new mothers need to be encouraged to express all of their feelings, the good and the not so good.

"It's a process and it gets better. There's hope," she said. "You will sleep again."

© Spiritual Woman Press, 2004. All rights reserved.