This week, CNA says farewell to our summer intern, Lizzy Joslyn. In her final week at CNA this summer, Lizzy offers "The Genius of Woman," a four-part series of interviews and profiles, based on Pope St. John Paul II's "Letter to Women," and interviews with seven Catholic women from very different walks of life. This is the third piece in that series:
Ginny Kochis never expected to feel resentment toward a child — let alone a child of her very own.
Like many children, Kochis’ oldest was curious, energetic and extremely disinterested in sleep. However, there was something different about her.
“She was just very intense and focused, like she would sit at the table and work on a piece of artwork or something for the longest time.”
Exhausted and caring for her newborn second daughter, Kochis “fell into a really deep postpartum depression,” she said. “I was not being the kind of mother that she needed, by any stretch of the imagination… I really found it difficult to enjoy being around her… she wasn’t turning out to be the kind of child that I thought… I wanted.”
As Kochis fought through her depression, her eldest was diagnosed with autism. Soon after, they found out that their second child was also “twice exceptional” — as Kochis explained it, “a gifted child with special needs” and severe anxiety.
Kochis found treatment for her depression and a strong homeschooling community for her girls. But her struggles were not over yet.
During her third pregnancy — this time with a baby boy — Kochis grappled dramatically with the prospect of having a son.
“I really didn’t want a boy,” she said. “I was terrified of raising a son… I had raised two girls, and I’m a creature of habit.”
Kochis refused to think about baby names and even avoided baby boy clothing sections at stores, enduring an extremely tough mental battle, she told CNA.
It was during this time that Kochis’ steadiest and most relatable mentor materialized.
Because her baby was born in October — “very shortly before Advent,” she said, the opportunity to grow closer to Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus, occurred to her.
“Having a boy just helped me identify more… with Mary,” she said. “I could think about Mary… with Jesus, wondering, ‘did he sleep?’ That really helped me feel closer to her… to have her with me, praying for me, experiencing what I experienced.”
Kochis continued to experience hardships with her “three very intense children,” as she described them. Nonetheless, she found strength in her homeschooling community and anchor in the Blessed Mother.
Through each of her past and continued struggles, Kochis would cling to “the idea of Mary standing at the foot of the cross,” she said.
She would think of Mary “making that sacrifice and praying, and continuing to pray and trust him… while she watched her son die… that’s an incredible feat. [Mary] had to put all of her faith and her trust in the Lord, and that’s what I’ve come to understand, is that… I can do everything for my kids, but at the end of the day, I just have to stand at the foot of this cross and trust that it’s all going to work out, and he has them in the palm of his hand.”
For Catholics, Mary is a special figure — the Mother of God and Queen of Heaven, but also a model of humility, gentleness and obedience.
In his 1995 Letter to Women, John Paul II says that the Catholic Church “sees in Mary the highest expression of the ‘feminine genius’ and she finds in her a source of constant inspiration.”
The pope notes the importance of Mary’s role as ‘handmaid of the Lord.’ He says, “Through obedience to the Word of God she accepted her lofty yet not easy vocation as wife and mother in the family of Nazareth.”
It is in this role of wife and mother that many Catholic women find Mary relatable — a reminder that the call to holiness often materializes in the daily routine of family life, and that the path to sainthood is paved with the continued renewal of saying “yes” to God’s plan.
Learning to incorporate that “yes” into daily life is one of the greatest lessons we can learn from Mary, said Michelle La Rosa, managing editor at CNA.
“How did she take that ‘yes’ from the Annunciation and carry that through in every moment of her life? She had to renew that ‘yes’ when she was being told, ‘Your heart will be pierced with a sword.’ She has to renew that ‘yes’ when she’s trying to find Jesus and can’t find him. She has to renew that ‘yes’ when she’s 9 months pregnant and has to travel on a donkey…to somewhere where there’s nowhere for her to stay.”
Reflecting on these aspects of Mary’s life can help us in our own lives, La Rosa said, because just as we sometimes face uncertainty and have to trust God, one step at a time, Mary also had to rely on God plan for her in many different ways.
For recent college graduate Veronica Miller, devotion to Mary is a reminder to be humble, combatting the self-glorifying impact of social media, which tells women, “You have to be perfect in these ways.”
An aspiring doctor, Miller told CNA that she has always been drawn to Mary’s “humility, her lowliness, the way that she lived.”
Miller particularly noted the fact that Mary would not have been seen as perfect woman in the society in which she lived.
“She was poor, and she was obviously pregnant without a husband… she could have been a reject of society but she didn’t care… Even though her feet were on the world that rejected her, her mind was in heaven.”
“With the loudness of the world, it’s cool to see that she was just silent through that all and was able to keep her mind in heaven… continue to be humble, loving to Joseph and the baby she was going to have.”
Lizzie Reezay, 23, found trust and peace in Mary during a particularly difficult time in her life.
Reezay had decided to convert to Catholicism, and although she was confident in her decision, she was terrified to tell her family.
“I realized how much this would hurt my parents,” she told CNA. “I just knew they’d be so heartbroken and almost feel like they failed in the way they taught me growing up…It was just heartbreaking for me because I hate hurting people.”
Reezay dreaded telling her parents so much that she waited to do so until she was three months into RCIA.
“I wrote them a 3,000-word letter with all my arguments and my reasons,” she said. “And I told them that, to me, this doesn’t negate the way I grew up at all because I’m still a Christian, and I told them that I’m so grateful for everything they gave me growing up.”
“They said that it doesn’t matter, and it almost feels like I’m going against everything they taught me.”
Dismayed by the strain in her relationship with her parents, Reezay found comfort in the presence of Mary.
“Understanding that even if my own mom can’t understand the decision and can’t be there for me emotionally through everything I’m going through in my conversion, Mary can, and she’s… the perfect mother,” she said. “Jesus gave her to us as a comfort and… to help us spiritually.”
“Even though this is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do because of how it affects my family, it was just realizing that God has to come first…it was a crazy trust exercise, when I converted to Catholicism, because it was what I was scared of the most,” she said.
“What I love about Mary is that she was so close to God every step of the way, even though it was really, really hard,” said Reezay.
“Wanting to be like Mary as the ultimate woman has really helped me be more brave in my journey.”