While a lot of us will spend Mother’s Day scrolling through Instagram and double-tapping our friends’ “First Mother’s Day! #blessed” posts, Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, a former Hill staffer, will avoid it all.
“I never want to be bitter or jealous of what another friend has,” she says.
Now a policy director at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, she’s the oldest daughter of six siblings. Her maternal instincts came naturally, but at the age of 19, her dreams of motherhood were stopped short. Through a routine checkup that led to further testing, Patterson Sobolik discovered she was born with MRKH — a rare condition that left her without a uterus and her dream of birthing children.
“It almost didn’t register,” she says. “Most people walk through that in the context of a marriage, and here I am … a teenager.”
“The doctor went on with her day, but my life had just completely changed,” she adds.
In describing her circumstances, she uses the word “childlessness.” To her it’s a word that encompasses more than the inability to conceive. “It’s single women who want to be married and have children, barren women, infertility, miscarriage, women that have had abortions and don’t have children, birth moms that have chosen adoption … it’s still loss,” she explains.
Born in Romania and adopted at just 3 weeks old, Patterson Sobolik doesn’t know much about her biological mother other than her name, a few photos, and the age at which she gave her up for adoption.
That both she and her birth mother became “childless” at the age of 19 is not lost on her. “It’s interesting to almost have that connection to her in a way that she’ll never know,” she says.
She opens up about her personal struggles in “Longing for Motherhood: Holding on to Hope in the Midst of Childlessness,” out last year from Moody, a Christian publishing house. It was a book she was “terrified to write.” As hard as it was, she was intentional about sharing her story, not after a happy ending, but in the midst of a broken heart.
“You can be in the middle of the struggle and still have hope,” she says.
Patterson Sobolik worked on Capitol Hill for three years as an aide to Trent Franks. As she grappled with her own infertility, another struggle was unfolding in the congressman’s office. Franks resigned in 2017 after female employees said he pressured them to act as surrogates for him and his wife — requests they saw as sexual advances, according to the Associated Press and Politico.
That wasn’t Patterson Sobolik’s experience. “I never had any inappropriate conversation with him,” she says of Franks.
In her current role at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, she spends her days on policy issues that are important to her, like fighting abortion and promoting adoption.
Mother’s Day this year looks like another day without social media, but that’s not the end of the world for Patterson Sobolik — and certainly not the only way to celebrate the moms in her life. “We always send my mom, and now my mother-in-law, flowers, write notes and call,” she says.
As for future Mother’s Days, she and her husband, Michael, have started to think about adopting kids. For now, the newlyweds are “definitely still figuring out how to be married.”