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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.

  • entropy

    Oh, Calah. Praying for you. You are not alone.

  • http://www.ekblad9.blogspot.com Amy Ekblad

    A friend of mine showed me your blog. Your family is beautiful! I know it can be incredibly overwhelming when you’re a young mother of many. I was blessed with five children by age 27. 12 years (and five more children on earth with 8 in heaven) later I’d say I just have a different perspective. Surely parenting 10 children (and homeschooling) isn’t easier now that I have double the amount of children. It just sort of seems that way (even though the last four came in four years!!). I know many people above told you to pray. I do that alot in many different ways (which rarely include any kind of quiet, lol). We started off rough (I was a 17 year old single mother) and were told by multiple priests that contraception was fine. So we went that route thinking it would be “easier”. Um, no. It was not easier. And it nearly destroyed our marriage. I get pregnant when my babies are about 5 months old even when I’m (tandem) nursing. It’s how God made me, I guess. I understand alot of your feelings/fears. I will pray for you to find peace in your situation. I think for my type A personality I only finally found peace when I gave up the idea that I would have only a few children and my life would be mine. My life will never be mine because I belong to God. I’m not here to do my will. I’m here to do His will even if that means we live in a bit more mess and chaos (and no vacation money, lol) for the next forever. God bless you and hug those babies!! We lost another one this summer and I’m not sure I can have more. I know the days last forever but the years fly by.

  • http://www.havingleftthealtar.com Katherine

    Oh Calah, I am so sorry things are so difficult right now. I wish I could help but know you are in my prayers.

  • KK

    You and I are on the same page. I have had three babies in 2.5 years and the youngest of those is now 8 months. We have been abstaining since he was born b/c when I nurse I have nonstop fertility signs and it is all very confusing. Funnily enough I just bought an Ovacue fertility monitor a couple months ago (Same as the one referenced in an earlier comment). So I am going to use it along with charting. I lose my mind regularly and generally feel overwhelmed and overdone by my life. I will tell you for sure that the women that seem to have it all together and just have baby after baby like it is no trouble at all are FAKING!!! And I can tell you that I have asked enough SAHM’s of multiple small children to be sure of that. When I have been candid with them about how hard I find it , they say the same thing. One thing that I can say that I have done is getting a mother’s helper for 12 hours per week (hours that my husband is away). She is a young teenager and is homeschooled so she is available during the day and not expensive! I don’t know if this is an option for you or not but it does help. Please realize that many many women are struggling just like you and I. You are not doing a bad job. Cut yourself some slack – you have also had a very fussy baby and that is seriously hard on the nerves. I don’t know if you have any family nearby, I don’t and it makes it harder, so if you can get any kind of help try to do so.

  • Mel

    Dear Calah, one last piece of advice if I may, gently, get yourself back to the doctor if you have not already.
    You had a difficult traumatic delivery, you have a bit of a fussy babe (as you’ve stated) and it sounds like some ppd and maybe even some ptpsd (post traumatic partum stress…not a real term but applicable). If we were friends in the same room talking I would give you a big hug, hold your baby for a while, and tell you to get back in there for a check up and tell the doctor what you are feeling. Ok? Love and peace. And prayers.

  • Daphne

    Calah-

    Know that Bill and I love you, Christopher and the kids dearly and we will pray for you.

  • Nadia

    I have no Ogre, no children. I may yet marry, but any chance of children is behind me. Of course, it’s of no use whatsoever to tell anyone that it could be worse — I know it has zero positive effect on me — but a large part of me envies you. And my mother raised four children (three boys and me) with a husband that traveled five days a week. I can tell you, she lived to a ripe old age, knew much joy, and all of her children loved her until her last breath and beyond. And I did once meet a Catholic mother of seven — college age to toddler — who seemed unusually serene. Perhaps it just takes getting to the point where the older ones can care for the younger. Being single and childless, I have no practical advice for you but can only say that we often curse our greatest blessings and welcome our downfall with open arms. This too shall pass, and God’s sense of humor ensures that you’ll remember the worst parts with the greatest longing. You are a hero — and a hero is someone who keeps going when everything in them says stop. Keep loving your husband, keep loving your children, however many there are. We are in a world crying for babies, a world of women with empty wombs, children with missing parents. YOU. ARE. A HERO. God bless you. I envy and admire you.

    • Cordelia

      This is beautiful, Nadia… I think your words ARE encouraging. And God bless you, too!

  • Elissa

    I wish I lived closer so that you could send your kids over to play. But I will pray that you quickly receive some respite. You are a good mom.

  • http://fortheloveoflentils05.blogspot.com Magdalen

    You have my prayers

  • Laurel

    Calah, you have my love and prayers! You are depressed – get some help. Let some women in your parish know you need help (food, cleaning up, respite time, whatever). I know it’s humiliating, but so is a nervous breakdown. Anyone who says they never felt like you is LYING. Remember what the priest told you; God loves you, he hasn’t abandoned you and he won’t, no matter what. Do what you can do and don’t do what you can’t do – and leave the rest for God to work out.


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