Fear, Prayer

This weekend I drove into Naples, to a parish I’d never been to before, for an intentionally anonymous confession. I knew it would be a rough confession, and I preferred to seek out the comfort of strangers rather than the well-meaning concern of friends and neighbors here in Ave Maria.

It was indeed comforting to walk into a church and not feel obligated to say hello or make small talk. I found my way to the confession line and began to complete the examination of conscience I had begun on the drive over, and was immediately grateful that I had made the drive. Instead of soberly examining my conscience, all I could do in the line was hold back tears. And more than a few escaped, leaving those obvious trails down my face. The ones that say, “no, I’m not just here for a routine confession…I’m desperate, and a sinner, and miserable, and only here at last because it was this or pulling a Thelma and Louise.”

I thought maybe I could pull it together in the confessional, but all I managed to do was stop sobbing long enough to sketch out for the priest the general reason for my tears. I didn’t even make it to the list of sins I had collected in my mind in the car. As soon as I had given him a rough outline of my general state of mind, I resumed crying loudly while the poor priest, in a mercifully soothing Irish accent, reminded me that God loves me and hasn’t abandoned me, asked me to come see him some time when he didn’t have ten other people in line behind me, and gave me absolution.

I’ve never broken down like that in a confessional before. I’ve cried, sure, but I’ve never been sobbing so hard that I couldn’t even give a coherent confession. The priest asked me to pray for peace for my penance, and while I’ve been doing it, I’ve also been more aware than ever of just how elusive peace is for me.

There are a million reasons for it. A million reasons why I’m not at peace with my life as a wife, mother, homemaker. I’ve explored a lot of them here, on my blog. But I’m starting to realize that it wasn’t as if I had this great, peaceful life and then BAM! children ruined it for me. Actually I was a drug addict before I was a mother so no, not so peaceful. And before I was a drug addict, there wasn’t much peace there either, in my hard-studying, hard-partying college days. Or in high school, when I was a studious, disciplined head cheerleader. Or in middle school, when I was a nerd, the butt of jokes, vulnerable and insecure. Or really as far back as I can remember.

I don’t know why I’ve always been so unsatisfied, so unhappy with my life right now, no matter when that “right now” was. I do know that I’ve never, ever wanted to be like this.

Toward the end of my pregnancy with Sienna, I was starting to feel excited, even a little giddy to meet this new little person, this stranger, my daughter. It must have showed, because once in Target while I was browsing through the tiny pink onesies and impossibly small hats, a woman with three kids hanging off the sides of her cart stopped and snapped, “You won’t be nearly that happy when that kid is on the outside, I promise.” She practically spat the words at me, glaring hatefully, as if my happiness personally offended her. Then she stomped off, barking irritably at her children to shut up, already, and don’t touch that, and leave your sister’s hair alone and sit down right now! I could still hear her sharp voice after they rounded the corner. I stood there, frozen, shocked at her anger but also genuinely afraid. I do not ever want to end up like that, I thought. I will never, ever let myself get to that point.

Last week I had to rush into Target for an unplanned trip. I had been to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s for Thanksgiving supplies, and was planning on rushing home before everything melted when I got a phone call from the doctor. They had been trying to fit us in before the holiday break without success, but they had a last-minute cancellation, and they wanted to see us that afternoon. I agreed and then immediately regretted it, since I had a car full of cold and frozen items and had forgotten our cold bags at home. So off to Target we went in search of a cooler, me with Lincoln strapped to my chest, fussing irritably at all the strapping and unstrapping, toting Charlotte and Lincoln, who were equally irritable after a day of being shoved in and out of carseats. They immediately commenced bickering while Lincoln cried and struggled in the Maya wrap. I flew up and down aisles, getting increasingly more frustrated when I couldn’t find the cheap styrofoam coolers, and finally settled for a regular one at triple the price I’d wanted to pay. I had to get baby wipes while we were there, so we hastily made our way over to the baby section. As we walked toward it, I saw a heavily pregnant young woman eyeing a crib, touching the mobile, smiling that secret last-trimester smile while one hand stroked her belly. Bitterly, I thought, she’s not going to be nearly that happy when that kid is on the outside.

On the way home from the doctor I called the Ogre, crying. I told him what had happened in Target, how horrified I was at my knee-jerk reaction to the woman, and how much I hated the person I was turning into. A person who is so stressed and overwhelmed by the demands of young children that I can’t even enjoy them. A person so unhappy that I can’t even let other people be happy without wanting to destroy it, somehow. To make them understand how hard life is, or will be.

And here’s the worst part, I told him. The worst part is, I blame the Church. I blame the ban on birth control, the fact that NFP doesn’t work for us, the reality that I will never, ever have a chance to get a handle on things because I’m constantly pregnant or nursing. I can’t crawl out from under the pregnancy-and-postpartum rock because the rock follows me everywhere, just waiting to smash me again. Intellectually, I believe the Church. I understand the arguments against birth control. I agree with them, even. I just no longer think I’m a good enough person to follow the rules. There are mothers around me who have 6,7,8, 10 children and they do it with so much grace and love that it is beautiful to see. But I’m over here, doing a terrible job raising my own four, barely scraping by, hanging onto my sanity by my fingernails, and turning our home into a place of anger, frustration, bitterness and fear. All the grace and love and joy that I want to raise my children with is being suffocated by my own sheer terror at the thought of another pregnancy, and another, and another.

The Ogre didn’t say much. We’re in the same boat, me and him. Me terrified of the physical, mental and emotional toll wrought by more children, and him terrified of the financial weight on our already sinking ship. To tell the truth, I think he’s equally terrified at the thought of losing me to a complete nervous breakdown, or a heart attack or stroke brought on by overwhelming stress. And neither of us have any answers. We know what the Church says. We know that we ought to have faith, and trust. Personally, I don’t think I have any faith or trust left in me. I think that well was depleted by the last two pregnancies, immediately following courses in new methods of NFP. Ones that, we were assured, would really work. Is it possible that we did it wrong, that I misread signs, that it’s all down to user error? Absolutely. I’d even say it’s probable. But there’s only so much perfection in reading signs and charting that can be expected from a sleep-deprived, over-stretched mother whose every bathroom break is accompanied by a toddler or two. And there’s only so much abstinence that can reasonably be expected of a couple not in a Josephine marriage. Seven, eight months last time? I lost count. How long this time? A year, two? And how do we deal with the incredible strain that so much abstinence places on our marriage? The frustrated desires, the feelings of rejection, the guilt, the anger, the loneliness?

So, pray, the priest tells me. Pray for peace. Yes, I will pray. I will pray without hoping, from a place quite near despair. And I will write about it, even though perhaps I shouldn’t, because someone will certainly tell me in the comment box or over email that I am giving scandal, that I should set a better example of Catholic faith in this very public forum. But this is faith. This is what a life of faith can be like, what it very often is like, even for people much holier than I. And in this Year of Faith, I suspect that everyone’s faith will be tested. So I’ll add an addendum to my prayer for peace…that when the Year of Faith ends, I still have mine.

  • Jordan

    This is the first post I’ve read of yours, but I just want to thank you so much for writing it. I for one definitely relate to you (well, somewhat at least, I only have 1 little guy so far) of feeling so guilty about being frustrated with being unhappy about life, particularly when it relates to following Church teaching. Like you, my husband and I definitely agree intellectually with the teachings on sex & procreation, but we also get into mental ruts like that with “How can we possibly do this?”, and sometimes I wish I’d never heard of these truths, because I can’t possibly ignore them or turn my back now without feeling tortured inside (worse than I already do sometimes trying to follow them!). I’m sorry that all I can offer is a little comiseration and some prayers, but from the bottom of my heart, thank you so much for sharing your struggle. It makes me feel not so lonely, which really is a big deal.

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  • http://www.theguidingstarproject.com Leah Jacobson

    All I can say is that I honestly completely understand where you are writing this from. Four babies in under five years with unbelievable sickness brought me to a similar place as you. I never dreamed I would ever get the way I felt with God. I was MAD! I actually got pretty darn upset with our “loving” God and couldn’t believe He would ask this of me. We were drowning financially, physically, spiritually when I finally brought my case to my priest in the confessional. My sobbing confession sounds an awful lot like yours. Except my priest had no one else in line and took the time to hand me a tissue and talk me down off the ledge. His best advice was to “have it out” with God. “He can take it.” So I did. I screamed and cried and complained that this wasn’t fair. We had been abstaining for months and then BAM, first time. Pregnant. WHY?!?!? I didn’t get an answer from God, and honestly didn’t feel much better about it. But time passed. And when baby was about 9 months old we finally broke our intimacy fast at a point when all the NFP methods said infertile, but then immediately (like next day) showed signs of fertility. I was despondent. Convinced I was pregnant again. I seriously teetered on psychotic break. Faith almost gone. Then 13 days later I got my period. I cried for joy and knew immediately that God had indeed been listening and that He truly did not give me more than I could handle; as long as I had the tiniest seed of faith. He would not abandon us. This was the first and only time in our marriage where sex during a fertile time did not result in a pregnancy. God works mysteriously but I am convinced He used all our months and years of “useless” NFP training so that I would know I had ovulated and that it was by His grace and mercy alone that I was spared a pregnancy I could not handle. The blessing of NFP in my life has not been that it has helped to space my children and plan my family, but rather that I now know God is merciful and does love me. Not sure if any of this resonates with you, but I wanted to give you a little light at the end of this tunnel you are in. I now have 5 babes in 8 years, and am starting to feel like I have a small handle on the chaos. My house is still a mess and we’re still broke, but at least I am feeling joy at the mess God has called me to. I can smile at the newly pregnant mamas again. I am praying for you that you will experience His great love and mercy this Christmas season.

  • Melissa

    Calah – I can offer you nothing but my prayers, and those I offer whole-heartedly. I can only ask for prayers in return, as I face a not-similar and yet so-similar problem; living chastely in accordance with the Church’s wisdom, while feeling only frustration, as my boyfriend and I try to work through the issues preventing us from moving forward.

    I will be praying for you, and would gladly hug you if I could.

  • pagansister

    Mary Ellen Barrett: You have your opinion based on your beliefs, and I have mine based on life. Personally life is here on earth—–I’m not working on trying to work on an after death home, or to please a god (or his/her representative) . I’m much happier doing the best I can here on this planet respecting it, helping it and the other humans on it. For those that follow the Church—works for them—and I have the greatest love and affection for those teachers I taught with and others such as yourself who are trying to live up to the standards it sets. As to the Pope’s wisdom? That is another subject—he is just as human as you and I are, thus some of his “advice” is good and some—not so good. All religions have their good points and not so good points. Men run the Catholic church. (and other churches). Men do not think like women—so considering that, much of that advice needs, IMO to be taken with a huge grain of salt. Oh, you mentioned in your previous examination of my comments to Calah the Church teaching on sexuality, family etc. were beautiful. Have read some of it. BUT why is it so important to just continue to make children until you fall down dead? IMO, restated–women are far more than baby machines. There is no reason to just keep reproducing if a woman doesn’t want to do so. As we’re all entitled to our opinions, I will close. As to having taken a juvenile approach? Whatever. Blessings.

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  • Elizabeth

    I am convinced that the suffering Calah and so many other young mothers (like myself) are going through has nothing to do with the fact that she won’t just wake up and use birth control. It has more to do with how our society has been completely reordered so that when it comes down to it, each mother is on her own, and it requires such a supreme effort to create a support network around ourselves. (I only have two kids and I have my mother and two sisters close by, all of whom adore the kids, but even so I see them once a week at the very best, and mostly I am just suffering in that special combination of loneliness and solitude-deprivation that comes with spending so much time with the baby and toddler.) Our families have been so atomized away from each other. I don’t think humans were ever meant to raise children like this. I realize that many people do a much better job than me at creating a village around themselves, but I am finding it so hard. Much love and luck to you, Calah.

  • Emily

    Sweet Sister in Christ – peace. (I don’t normally tlak like this but it is what is coming. I feel for you, wholeheartedly. I will pray and remember you and your family in my prayers. I totally wish we could have a cup of coffee together. I’m rooting for you.

  • Beth

    Where are all the comments? I only see about 10 but above it says there are 163

    • pagansister

      Beth, scroll down to the bottom and click on “Older comments” right above the words : TRACKBACKS.

  • http://flowersfrommyhusband.wordpress.com/ Janelle

    Calah, Interesting!!! And I loved it! Except for the confession part this is my life ! We have four…our oldest is six, our youngest 8 months. It is hard So HARD to have children! and I think of that too…when I see new mom’s to be “you have no idea what you are in for.”……For me, of course I love my children…I’d die for them…but I also can honestly say that this is not the life with children I had invisioned and I can honestly say that it would be very easy for me to say the children have ruined everything. That sounds horrible……and I know they haven’t ruined stuff (except my most beautiful christmas ornaments. vases…rosaries…etc) but still it feel like they have and feelings aren’t that easy to dismiss. I love my kids….I wouldn’t change my life but at the same time it’s a hard one…..It is so so so hard being a mother and I actually think that for some of us…for you and me perhpas…it is harder…our tolerance to motherhood is lower…so for us it is harder and the suffering is stronger. Anyway, knowing that someone feel the same as me and has the same struggles is…is nice. Thanks.