It was religion scholar Joseph Campbell who pulled back the curtain on more or less every book and movie in the Western canon. Campbell demonstrated the common shapes and themes of our great stories, from Star Wars to Great Expectations to Paddington Bear.

In Campbell’s “hero’s journey,” an unlikely suspect gets called on some sort of mission. After some equivocation, he agrees to the task, endures a series of setbacks, and ultimately achieves his goal. Along the way, the experience transforms him; he grows up and becomes a hero.

We see the same narrative at work in real life. It’s what we suspect when we hear that someone has survived cancer. It’s what we hope for in the face of tragedy. It’s the narrative that pops up on the evening news.

Yet I wonder how many young women realized they are also embarking on a hero’s journey when they become mothers.

Not just mothers with exceptional challenges—I’m talking about run-of-the-mill mothers with typical children, the soccer moms and stay-at-home moms and full-time working moms alike. Every one of them has the makings of a hero.

For a long time, I didn’t believe it. I had lived the dramatic version of the hero story. Our oldest daughter Penny was diagnosed with Down syndrome shortly after birth, and it took me a year to wrestle through my doubt and fear and sadness. And yes, I came out on the other side transformed, with a deeper appreciation of the gift of each human life and with a deeper recognition that intellect does not determine human value.

Then our son William was born, and a few years later his sister Marilee, and ordinary parenting posed challenges of its own. Moreover, the doubt and fear ...

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