Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, a day very close to my heart. It is a day when I can proudly proclaim, “Feel free to praise me as the giver and sustainer of life that I am and don’t expect me to cook a damn thing all day!” In honor of mothers, here are four important moms in different religious traditions who managed to keep it all together in a time before parenting books, mothers’ groups, and Google.
So there’s Mary just hanging out one day, reading a nice book. An angel appears and tells her, “God wants you to carry the Messiah. Thoughts?” “Can do!” Mary answered, “But, um, could you tell the man I am supposed to marry that this will be happening? Let’s not start this marriage off all weird.” (see this post) Not much is known about Mary’s early life but one thing is certain. Next time you hear stories about women in labor giving birth in cabs or cars, think of the fear Mary had about having to pull over on a dirt road to give birth next to a donkey.
There is a reason why Catholics, non-Catholics, and Jersey Shore residents love imagery of the Virgin Mary. Here was a woman who God completely trusted to be the mother of His lamb. Mary went on to have four more sons (her Costco bill must have been outrageous with five boys). But let’s be honest, we all know that in that family there probably was a favorite child. I will give you a hint about which one: it was the child who later allowed Mary to ascend into heaven on the shoulders of angels.
Fun Fact: The earliest known image of the Virgin Mary is found in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome and it depicts Mary nursing an infant Jesus. Not pictured in the catacomb: the judgmental townspeople telling her to cover up with a hooter hider because how dare she feed her baby in public.
Let’s be honest: Sarah had to go through some rough times. She and her husband Abraham traveled to Egypt during the famine in Canaan. While in Egypt, Abraham told Sarah to pretend that she was his sister so if some other dude wanted to marry her, Abraham would be spared. And there was a guy who wanted Sarah and he happened to be the pharaoh. God, having bigger plans for Sarah than her wearing kohl eyeliner and sitting on a throne, sent a plague to the pharaoh and they were released. But that wasn’t the end of their struggles.
For years, Sarah and Abraham wanted to have children. Sarah even gave her handmaiden, Hagar, to Abraham so that he would not go childless. That union resulted in a child named Ishmael. (For more info click here.) In the start of Biblical tradition, an angel (who along with two other angels appearing as men to Sarah and Abraham) told Sarah that by that time next year, she would have a son. Sarah laughed because she was about 90 years old at that time. I am still not sure if her laughter was nerves or the fear that her retirement years would include chasing a toddler. But sure enough a year later, she had a son named Isaac. Don’t get me started on what Sarah had to endure thanks to God testing Abraham, but you can read about it here.
Fun Fact: Sarah was known for two things: her gift of prophecy (which surpassed even Abraham’s) and her beauty. She would compete in the Miss Universe but she would be able to predict who would win (spoiler alert: it would be Sarah).
Khadija was Muhammad’s first wife and the mother to his children. How awesome of a wife was she? Well, Muhammad and Khadija were married for 25 years and it was only after her death that Muhammad then entered polygamous marriages. It was as if many women had to take the place of just one Khadija. (As a clarification, Muhammad’s wives were widows or women in poor financial situations who would not have been able to make it on their own. But Muhammad was able to provide for them thanks to Khadija’s wealth.)
Khadija was a widow (twice over) and a rich caravan owner when she met Muhammad. He actually worked for her, heading up her caravan to other towns. When one person told Khadija about how fair and trustworthy Muhammad was, Khadija got married for the third time (because even in 1st Century Makkah, when you hear about an honest and trustworthy man, you snap him up). When Muhammad started having visions of God and His angels, he told Khadija that it was God’s desire for him to spread the message. Khadija, being a much more understanding wife than most, instead of just patronizingly patting his head and saying, “That’s nice, dear,” she actually encouraged him to spread the message. Khadija is actually considered the first convert to Islam. The couple would go on to have six children and adopt others.
Fun fact: When early Islamic converts were enslaved or harassed, Khadija used her own money to pay for ransoms, feed the poor, or help financially whenever she could. This was pre-Upworthy.com so there are no viral videos showing this.
Queen Maya was the mother of Siddhartha Gautama, better known as Buddha. Maya dreamt of the coming of her child, unlike many drunken nights that end in conception and are not remembered. Imagine this video being shown in Lamaze classes: Picture a beautiful woman walking with a caravan of people. She is experiencing labor pains but she wants to try to make it to her home city. She bathes in the water of a forest filled with beautiful flowering trees. (By this point, you are thinking, “Oh, it’s one of those water birth videos.”) She begins to walk again but the contractions by this point are quite severe and she grabs hold of a tree’s branch overhead and hangs on for dear life. And while hanging on, Buddha springs from her side and starts walking around, taking seven steps and probably shocking the hell out of the witnesses. Then he speaks and cements the award for most non-newborn baby ever.
Unfortunately, in a twist of Disney-like sadness, Maya died seven days after giving birth to the Buddha. His maternal aunt raised him but did not force him into any sort of Cinderella/slave labor. And even if she did, he would still have just come to the conclusion that life is suffering.
Fun Fact: It is said that Buddha was not soiled by being near any of Maya’s lady parts (hence the birth from her oblique muscles and not in the more traditional manner) and that while he was in her womb, he was actually encased in a jeweled box. This may be the origin of why women should be given jewelry or another fancy gift after having babies.