All women can participate in a "motherhood according to the Spirit" as St. John Paul II points out.
While many women experience the joy of physical motherhood, either through pregnancy or adoption, not all have the opportunity. In fact, many struggle with the inability to have children of their own and bear this cross for the rest of their lives.
It can be an isolating experience, but this does not mean women can not become mothers in a different way.
St. John Paul II wrote about a spiritual motherhood in his apostolic letter, Mulieris dignitatem, that encompasses women who are married, single, religious and even mothers in the physical sense. All women can participate in this type of motherhood, no matter their vocation or station in life.
Spiritual motherhood takes on many different forms. In the life of consecrated women, for example, who live according to the charism and the rules of the various apostolic Institutes, it can express itself as concern for people, especially the most needy: the sick, the handicapped, the abandoned, orphans, the elderly, children, young people, the imprisoned and, in general, people on the edges of society. In this way a consecrated woman finds her Spouse, different and the same in each and every person, according to his very words: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). Spousal love always involves a special readiness to be poured out for the sake of those who come within one’s range of activity. In marriage this readiness, even though open to all, consists mainly in the love that parents give to their children. In virginity this readiness is open to all people, who are embraced by the love of Christ the Spouse.
This type of motherhood does not only exist for religious women, but also for those who are single or married. Outside of physical motherhood, a woman can express her motherhood in this concern for “people on the edges of society.”
Above all, John Paul II notes, a woman should look to the Virgin Mary for the supreme example of spiritual motherhood.
Mary is the “figure” of the Church: “For in the mystery of the Church, herself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin came first as an eminent and singular exemplar of both virginity and motherhood … The Son whom she brought forth is He whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren (cf. Rom 8: 29),namely, among the faithful. In their birth and development she cooperates with a maternal love.”
In a certain sense, motherhood is the vocation of all women, though expressed in different forms. It is a beautiful calling to care for others and is a specific way women can live out the Gospel in their everyday life.