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.

  • Rachel

    I just wanted to say that I understand. I hope it gets easier for both of us. Peace to you during this Christmas season.

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

    ugggg. look at all those typos…

  • Kelsi

    Please, just take the birth control. I PROMISE you will not go to Hell.

    • pagansister

      Ditto, Kelsi. IMO, what god would condemn a woman for NOT having children constantly, and preventing them in a more reliable method than NFP? No divine being I believe in.

  • Ashley

    Calah – not sure if you are reading responses to this post anymore. 163 is a BIG number. But what you are describing is exactly what I said to my husband last week and my spiritual director this week. Why, when we make the right choices guided by the moral directives of the Church, does life become so hard (little children everywhere…screaming mom not far behind) and the ability to develop and maintain any kind of sound faith footing to deal with hard moments disappears, thus rendering me even less equipped to deal with increasingly taxing days. Why does making the right decisions make ALL of life so hard? Is this my own personalized version of a dark night of the soul? And is there an end point? W e teach NFP at Pre Cana, b elieve in it, understand its larger implications for our physical, spiritual, and emotional relationship. But often that means NO SEX for months on end because getting pregnant would be too much at the time and by the time I’m no longer fertile (and no longer in the mood) good luck to Dear Husband waking me up enough for a good night kiss let alone anything else. So Fabulous Spiritual Director, herself a mother of 4, suggested I just look for one single moment in the day to be thankful for. One instance when all four kids were playing wonderfully, because they are there and there are so many to play with. One time when an unexpected check came in the mail so we can buy four gallons of milk and not the regular two that doesn’t really stretch to feed a family of six. Don’t know if it will work, do enough to lift the gloom, but it actually sounds do-able which is more than my “If I could just get away for a week…” or “I’ll wake up early and pray 30 minutes each morning before the kids get up” options. God bless, and MUCH love, hugs and understanding from another mom in the trenches.

  • SLG

    I have been thinking about this post a lot and began to wonder if you may want to re-think homeschooling? I total understand not using contraception as a moral stance but homeschooling shouldn’t be the same. It would relieve a lot of stress for you to have your oldest daughter and possibly the next child (depending on the early childhood programs offered where you live… the ones where we live allow children to start at 3) away at school for 7 hours a day… and it would allow them to have time learning and growing around different children. This would give you time to concentrate and really be there for your two youngest children. Just a thought! I will continue to pray for you during this Advent season.

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  • Lily

    Hi Calah,

    I have 4 children 6 years and under. I didn’t begin to enjoy life until this last one. I fully understand your post. God is asking you for a lot of faith at this moment in time. It is okay to cry. It will get better, I promise.

  • hate_every_4th_year

    Wow – I am crying reading your post. You mean I am not a failure for feeling angry? You mean others try to redeem themselves, recommit, follow the rules and feel a bit left behind by God?
    My marriage suffered greatly due to the fallout from the difficult delivery and PPD and what it has continued to trigger. We do and have abstained for multiple months at a time since then (years ago) because another pregnancy was a huge risk and terrified us both. Caleh it can be done. It is unfair, it is unnatural and it is probably against God’s plan, but we could not risk another pregnancy.

    It is sad but we contemplate separation now — it has been so trying (not just the abstinence but the entire situation and how unhelpful church guidance was on it when I was dumb enough to seek it rather than just be silent and pray) but your marriage seems so much better than what ours is now. Keep ahold of that gift, Caleh, hold tight to your love story. When it STOPS hurting to abstain it is a whole different kind of hurt – if that makes any sense.

    I am a cradle Catholic who still when pressed doesn’t fully understand intellectually the non-abortificant ABC ban/teaching of the church. I am more logically in line with the approach of our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters but follow our “rules” just because that is what we are asked to do. I have sinned in the past, I have been trying to do it all right and in the light now (hence fear-based but technically licit abstinence versus my whacked out NFP charts). That said – I DO NOT think birth control is the answer to what you are suffering through, yes maybe charting and a couple of forms of ABC buys you better odds but that also comes with its own set of frustrations, complications, and even failures.

    All I can offer is my plea to you to at least consider professional help – you don’t have to blog about it and open yourself up to the bitchery of the combox but PLEASE – don’t try to muddle through what could be PPD compounded from a difficult birth and related abnormally high situational stress on confession and prayer alone because you feel you are “selfish” or that this is your cross. It is STILL your cross with a Catholic/Christian therapist and a brief assessment to see if a starting dose of medication might be a medically sound suggestion. You don’t want 5 years to go by, the kiddos be more self-sufficient, maybe the financials be a bit more stable, and you realize you STILL are struggling, dancing on the edge – you just don’t. Prayers. Prayers.

    My prayers probably don’t matter anymore but I will pry for you.

    • pagansister

      It is so unfortunate that your marriage has suffered because you have followed the Church’s requirements to not use ABC. Men in the Church do not carry, give birth to or raise the babies. They just tell you to follow the rules. How is it wrong to want a spontaneous sexual relationship with your husband, but can’t because of the fear of another pregnancy? Making love should not rely on a calendar and a test before to see if you might get pregnant. Just my opinion. Archaic rules make for difficult marriages in many situations —-and unfortunately yours seems to be one, hate_ every_ 4th_ year. Blessings.

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  • Amy

    My husband and I have been where you are MULTIPLE times over the years. We had our first 19 yrs ago and then could not conceive no matter what. We decided it was a blessing–#1 is autistic so we were busy. Still we wanted at least one more. Finally, five years later we found out we were expecting twins! At three months in, we lost one of the two babies. So, after 5 years we had two babies and one angel. After #2, I got tge Depo shot when still in the hospital and every three months afterwards. By the third shot I was pregnant again. We miscarried that baby as well. Then we got pregnant again the next month and had #3. We decided to use condoms, miscarried by the time #3 was 3 months old and had a D&C. Nine months and 10 days after the D&C, #4 was born. That’s when I got on the pill. A year went by and no pregnancy! It was such a relief. Then I miscarried back to back once again. I was devastated and blamed myself for everything. How could babies I tried so hard to prevent be so heartbreaking to lose? What was I doing wrong in terms of using ABC that it wasn’t working for us? Where do I go from here? I stopped using ABC because my husband was deploying to Iraq at the end of 2003, and I wanted to let God decide if we could possibly have one more just in case he didn’t make it home. #5 was born May 2004. My husband was gone from the time I was 5 months pregnant unti our little one was 14 months old. I was alone, away from family, with 2 autistic kids (#1 &#3), five kids total. Something about that year and having to completely surrender myself was some how very liberating. I realized I reall did have no control in my life. My husband may or may not ever make it home to us and our youngest would never know the loving arms of his father. During that deployment my husband was injured 3 times. One of those times was life threatening. I began to see how extremely lucky I was to have those babies and I deeply grieved those angels in heaven. I feared for the life of my husband and those he was serving with. I felt guilty for the sighs of relief that came with knowing that my husband was still living when word would come that another soldier was killed. I vowed that never again would I view life as a burden. well, my husband made it home, and yes, we got pregnant right away. He deployed again, and when he returned once again we got pregnant right away. So we had 7 kids in 14 years, but six of the seven were in 9 years time. After the next deployment, no baby came! Our youngest was three and a half before we got pregnant again, and we were all devastated when I lost him at 5 months. We named him Pedro. It was Christmas 2011, and my husband was gone again. The kids and I had to deal with it ourselves, alone. My husband returned in Feb. 2012. We cried each month when my cycle came. I finally gave up trying when the irony hit me–for years we tried to STOP having babies, now just a few years later are upset because we can’t conceive. Well, God loves to laugh at us. We quit trying for a baby and I was scheduled for a hysterectomy for some female problems. I went in for my Pre-op appt and discovered I was 3 months pregnant. I’m due next month with our 8th baby. Our oldest is now 19 and it seems like yesterday that we were just starting our journey with him.

    I guess the point of my long post (sorry), is that ABC isn’t always the way to go. I’m 36 yrs old and have been pregnant a total of 16 times in 19 years, most of them during the six years we were using various forms of ABC. There is no easy answers in life, but I can honestly say that through the hardest times is where I found peace. If anyone had told me that one day I would feel the way I do now I would not have believed it. I’m not gifted in writing as you are, so please forgive me if this post is not well worded. I will pray for your beautiful family, please pray for mine.