November 2021
Joy and Gratitude

Mother of All and Mother of None

This article is also available in Spanish here. Este artículo está disponible en español aquí.

Motherhood is a beautiful thing. It is a vocation of sorts. From the time I was a preteen, I had clarity about two callings in my life – of being a priest and of being a mother to my own children. My vocation to serve God as an ordained minister was intentionally aligned with my secular profession, and God has blessed me with a fruitful and profoundly diverse ministry. Motherhood, however, did not happen in a smooth and traditional manner.

My husband and I married in 2010 and tried to conceive for eight consecutive years. Given my age and health complications, it soon became clear that we were not able to conceive without professional help. The knowledge and realization that my body was not conducive to reproduction was my first loss in this long and heart-wrenching journey.

Shattered dreams

For someone like me, raised in an environment where children are viewed as a gift from God (as the Psalmist says, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from Him”), my soul felt out of grace as my dreams of being a mother shattered into a million pieces.

Our attempts to conceive with assisted reproductive technology failed. Chemical pregnancies or total and absolute failure greeted us each time, bringing my heart to a place of sadness and deep wondering. Will God ever bless me with a child? Would I be able to share all the love my heart has to give with a little child? Those were the questions dwelling in the most profound places of my soul and mind.
Over eight years, I experienced six spontaneous miscarriages. Each loss was a reminder of the fragility of life and the complicated process of bringing a baby to term, a process that many take for granted.

Priest in the midst of pain and loss

Serving as an Episcopal priest while facing infertility and pregnancy loss brought its own set of challenges. While serving in New Jersey, I remember vividly getting lost on a pastoral visit at Saint Barnabas Medical Center and ending up in the neonatal unit. It was just days after a terrible miscarriage, and the emotional labor I had to exercise while visiting my parishioner that day was daunting.

Another challenging occasion was the baptism of an infant during an Easter Sunday service. Actively miscarrying that day, I didn't have the energy or the strength to embrace that emotional upheaval. I ended up asking my bishop, who visits his Cathedral on Easter Day, to perform the sacrament while I went to the sacristy to spend a moment in silence to get myself back together. On that day, in the compassion and gentleness of my bishop, I experienced the Church as a healer.

There were moments in my ordained life when I experienced a mixture of joy and sadness as I interacted with the communities I served. Joy for the opportunities to celebrate with folks in the context of their community and sadness for the reminder of what my heart yearned for and could not have. Coming to terms with these mixed feelings was not an easy process. It was challenging to face and own those feelings in my life and my vocation.

For many years, I felt that I was a mother of all, yet mother of none. Well-intended souls reminded me constantly that through my vocation, I was “mothering” many lives. In retrospect, I am not sure which was more harmful and painful – well-intended comments like that, or the loving parishioners who would touch my belly and ask, “Are we pregnant yet,” only to hear me say, “Oh, no, I’ve gained a lot of weight,” followed by an awkward moment.

Another path to motherhood

Thanks to the encouragement of a woman of God, who had adopted an intelligent and beautiful girl from Guatemala, adoption became an option in my heart and mind. While I was open to adopt, my husband was not convinced that it was his calling. Through prayers, conversation and what I would call “the right timing,” we agreed to explore adoption with open minds and hearts.

We decided to inquire at our local State Department for Children and Families. Sooner than we thought, we were enrolled in adoption classes, which lasted fourteen weeks. A week before we “graduated,” a social worker showed us a picture of a sibling group, two toddlers. We met our potential future sons, understanding that their biological parental rights were not yet terminated, and the process was foster to adopt.

At any moment, our sons could be reunited with their biological family. Even though we were told that the case was solid for adoption and not reunification, the uncertainty and ambiguity were difficult realities to manage. Experiencing motherhood in a non-traditional way is the biggest blessing I have received. Seeing our sons, Dominic and Darius, grow and exhibit traits similar to ours, even though there is no blood relation, has been a joyful journey of discovery. They lived with us for almost twelve months before parental rights were terminated. During the fostering time, we lived with the fear of losing that for which we had prayed and hoped for almost a decade.

Our beautiful, smart, loving and caring sons brought joy to my life and fulfilled the long-sought dream and vocation I had been yearning for. After living with us for sixteen months, adoption was finalized. We share a home, a last name and a great number of similar, perhaps learned, traits!

God’s love and mercy

As God has a unique sense of humor and grace, we were blessed with a biological child who was conceived exactly one month after our oldest sons arrived.

Conceiving spontaneously was not in the cards! My body was not able to do it, even with assistance for almost a decade! After six previous pregnancies, we heard the heartbeat for the first time. We rejoiced, cautiously, for the entirety of the pregnancy. I now recognize that one of the losses I experienced, was that of a celebratory, fearless, stress-free pregnancy. As a woman in my forties, my pregnancy was considered geriatric. The baby showed signs of calcification in various organs and the prognosis was not hopeful.

God gave us a gift. We believed God. We lived nine months in fear and hope. Where the doctors put a period, God put a comma. We were told our baby would possibly live only 48 hours, or be born blind or deaf, or lose his hearing gradually, or show signs of cognitive impairment.

To God be the glory, Dorian is a healthy child, who is developing according to God’s plan and in line with human expectations.

Now I am mothering three children who are my inspiration and joy. I am a mother of all and a mother to three miracle boys who are a great sign of God’s love and mercy in my life and ministry.

The Very Reverend Miguelina Espinal Howell serves as Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut, and was previously Vicar of the Cathedral. She serves as Chaplain to the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church and Spiritual Faculty for CREDO, a wellness program of the Church Pension Group (CPG), as well as on CPG’s Client’s Council. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Seminary of the Southwest and a member of the Governing Board of Directors of Hartford Stage in Connecticut.

Originally from the Dominican Republic, Miguelina is passionate about social and racial justice as well as the intersection of spirituality and the arts. She leads spiritual retreats and serves as guest speaker across our denomination.


Footnote: Psalm 127:3: Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.

This article is part of the November 2021 Vestry Papers issue on Joy and Gratitude