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.

  • Rachael

    I’m hesitant to write what I want to say because my overwhelming feeling after reading your post is compassion. There are many people who love God who believe (with intelligent reasoning) that birth control can be a gift. I also struggle with coping with many children. I have 6, I have a wonderfully supportive husband, I homeschool and yet there are times when I wonder how on earth I got here and how I will survive. I have really great children but nothing prepared me for the intensity of the teenage years. The changes and hormones all require much love and guidance – so hard to do when you are also coping at the other end of the spectrum with a baby and toddler. I feel a little annoyed that when I was being encouraged to have as many children as possible that no-one thought to say that it will get even harder when you are stretched emotionally by teenagers and physically by toddlers. We took permanent steps to ensure that I wouldn’t have a nervous breakdown and that the children we have would have a present and nuturing mother. Our youngest is now 4 and the freedom that this decision gave us has been life-changing. Perhaps it would be worth researching why some people believe that some birth control can be acceptable. In my homeschooling circles I meet many large families and it scares me when I see a mother not coping and an unhappy family with the prospect of more and more stress via new babies. Little people are great blessings, it’s so sad when we are stretched too thin to enjoy them.

  • MP

    O Calah, I am so sorry. I wish I could help.
    I had my own mothering despair, but with teanage daughters. What got me
    through the sleepless nights and frantic worry days was saying the rosary. I started reciting the rosary to
    relax when I couldn’t sleep but soon I was praying. There is peace in repeating these simple prayers.
    I’ve been praying for you and your family since I read this yesterday.

  • Kate

    Just wanted to say that I’ve been reading (and very much enjoying) your blog since your post in response to Steven Crowder’s abstinence article. I’ve really appreciated your honesty about how difficult it so often is to try to live out our Catholic faith, and how it can be hard to see how exactly God’s grace is helping in certain times.

    One thing that occurred to me when reading this is perhaps there would be some teenagers who could occasionally watch your kids for an afternoon? I know when I was a teen I needed volunteer work for my college application, and sometimes it can be tricky to find somewhere to volunteer, what with opportunities being taken and the times organizations need people.

    Anyway, I’ll keep you and your family in my (too infrequent!) prayers, and thanks for writing this blog.

  • Sally

    Hi Calah:
    Because I am neither a Roman Catholic nor a young mother of many, the part of your story that jumps out to me is the drug addict experience in your story. I am a recovering alcholic of many years standing and would be somewhat concerned with that part of your history as it relates to what sounds like incredible stress . I don’t mean to scare you but addiction is not necessarily a here today, gone tomorrow thing. We need to be ever vigilant.
    Best to you,

  • http://www.cleansingfiredor.com Nerina

    Calah, if I could wrap my arms around you and say “you are NOT alone,” I would. I remember vividly sobbing through several confessions, wracked with guilt for feeling like a fake, having all these kids, using NFP and resenting so much of it. Not long ago, my husband uttered, in the dark as we were falling asleep “I hate NFP. I hate it.” Like you, we agree with the Church, we follow her teaching trusting that Christ knows what is best for us, but boy it is not easy. Your brutal honesty will help someone – of that you can be sure (I know it helped me).

  • anna lisa

    Oh wow. Calah, you really are in the thick of it right now. I promise, promise, promise it gets better. I have a confession to make: After decades of trying to be a great Mom that is totally handling “it”, I learned to put my foot down. I don’t bring more than one kid to the store anymore. almost NEVER! I either go when my husband is home, or send *him* to the store for us. I don’t even do well at Mass with my two youngest that constantly get into trouble. I used to go alone at times, or hide in the cry room. We don’t have to be around our kids non stop to love them! The other thing that I figured out was that even though my obligations as a mother came first with my infants, I was a WIFE first, and nurturing my relationship with my husband was the foundation and cornerstone of the whole kit and kaboodle. When your oldest turns 13 or 14 you will really “round a corner”. You will learn to hand that bouncy baby over to outstretched sibling arms, and go to the movies with your husband (with a wine bottle if you are like us). You’ll start feeling yourself again. As for NFP…I’m an unapologetic lame-o. Once my husband and I got out of the thick of our toughest baby years, we stopped using it altogether. After a lot of different kinds of travail, we really did rearrange our mentality, our goals, and our unity as a couple. This made a huge difference’t in being *Joyfully* open to life. (I didn’t say without fear). In retrospect, I realized how abandoned I felt at times. I prayed pretty insistently to St. Joseph. I continue to thank him every day for the deep happiness that came back to my marriage, and thus, our family.
    If you had told young, party-girl me, that I’d have kids from the age of 21, to now–46 (I’m pregnant with my ninth) I too would have had a Thelma and Louise moment.
    Please, please, please know my ear is always here if you need to have a good rant e-mail me any time. Just so you know too, I’m also impervious to colorful language, as I have three in their teens and two in their twenties.
    God Bless you, you are center stage at mass, first thing in the a.m. I also second the first comment about the soothing quality of the slow, rhythmic prayers of the rosary.

  • Conerned Reader

    Have you ever considered getting professional counseling and/or marriage counseling (or both)? The comment made above about drug addicition is spot on. Addiction doesn’t go away when one gets clean and sober. In fact, addicition is usually the symptom of a much deeper emotional/psychological issue. Sometimes it takes years to heal that trauma, but you can do it with God’s help. And though I haven’t read this blog before, based on the description you gave of your husband in the “About Me” section, there seems to be some unresolved tension there worth exploring. If he really loves literature and very rare steak before you, and if you really call him an Ogre, and if he really comes across as gruff and unfriendly towards people, drag him in front of the Eucharist and demand that he treat his wife and other people with more respect. Sometimes jokes mask hidden truths.

    • http://a-star-of-hope.blogspot.com JoAnna

      “And though I haven’t read this blog before..”

      Hint: perhaps you should before psychoanalyzing its author. To those of us who HAVE read Calah’s blog over the years, you’re coming across as pompous and ignorant (not to mention completely off-base).

      • Conerned Reader

        My apologies if I am off base. I admitted that I had not read the blog in order to be honest, and because sometimes objective advice is worth considering. Maybe I am wrong. However, maybe I have touched on some truth. I’ll leave it to the author to decide, with the caveat that I offered my advice in good faith.

    • Josh

      Conerned Reader – No one questions the accuracy of your About Me section that just reads “I’m an asshole.” Why are you questioning Calah’s?

      • Conerned Reader

        You should go to confession. You just called me an @$%hole.

  • Anna Ray

    “Perfect love casts out fear” 1 John 4:18
    God desires our good, He does not want us to live in fear. Fear is a tactic of the devil.

    “Delight yourself in The Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” Psalm 37:4
    God made us for a purpose, a vocation. We will be fulfilled by seeking Him first, by allowing Him to be our first love.

    “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” ” Isaiah 30:21
    God has a plan for us. We can know His will.

    “God is love. But love can be hated when it challenges us to transcend ourselves. It is not a romantic ‘good feeling’ …. It is not about basking in self-indulgence; on the contrary, it is liberation from self absorption. This liberation comes at a price: the anguish of the Cross.” – Pope Benedict XVI

    We expect life to be easy and instead God hands us a cross and says walk with me. That cross gets pretty heavy if we try to carry it without Him. Here’s a link to a great blog on trust, and love, and mercy.


  • http://Thetheologyoflaundry.blogspot.com Marissa Nichols

    Dearest Calah, I have so been there. And I am very serious when I make the following suggestion: medication. I needed it…you sound like I did right before I went on it. I was only on it for six months but it made all the difference. And for heaven’s sake, what are you doing cooking for Thanksgiving? Goodness, girl! Let it go! Order Chinese! Your kids will forgive you! Long before imsufferedmfrom depression I suffered from perfectionism and pride. Pray to let it go, just make rue butts are clean and tummies full, and forget about the house. I will pray for your peace to return. pray for me – my third one is on the way- this time we are going into it excited but completely aware that I am.not.wonder.woman. And that’s ok too.

  • http://schroederfamily-cynthia.blogspot.com Cynthia

    Calah! Oh my goodness, it’s been so long since I’ve commented on your beautiful blog…way too long. This post brought me back out of sitting from “in the wings.” I can’t tell you enough how many times I nodded to everything you said here. Honestly, there have been so many moments in my own motherhood that I’ve felt the waters rising up around my face. I look at my children and love them with such intensity, but at the same time, struggle to stay patient…and happy…and sane almost every day as of late. I think what has helped me the most are realizations that “it’s going to be ok.” Really. It will. It may not be today or tomorrow, but even if it’s a small moment of triumph where you held your breath and prayed instead of yell, or took a moment for yourself without guilt or anger, you can know you are making progress. You know there’s hope. I’ve found that there is an army of people behind you experiencing the same thing. We are made for community, so you putting such honesty out for the world to see is actually helping others struggling (myself included) at the same time. We thank you for that. I thank you for that. I have a good feeling that it’s going to be ok…for all of us.

    In addition to all the comments and suggestions, I have a few that I’ve learned that still have to be beaten into my head, but when I’ve done them, I’ve seen such powerful results. First things first: 1) Get some good sleep. Having a new baby negates that statement entirely, I understand, but if you can (even if Christopher has to help take a night one night) try to sleep. Hard. Skip the tv, the phone and the computer…and just sleep. 2) Take care of yourself everyday. Whatever that means to you. Working out, talking to someone, visiting your family, eliminating sugars from your diet, etc. There are so many paths of freedom to take. Just pick one and start today. 3) I agree with the women who have mentioned getting a sitter or a teenage helper for a couple hours a week. If you are anything like us though, even the most inexpensive sitter is expensive. I’m seriously praying for you right now that some friend or neighbor will come to the “free” rescue. At least that’s what our prayer has been where we live! It’s hard going about all of this alone!
    Ok, I’m rereading this long comment and it sounds way more annoying and assuming than I hoped it would. I’m so sorry. Of course you know all of the above. Of course you’ve probably been told all of this before! I know I’ve had to hear the same thing over and over again from my family to finally wake me up this year. A good friend of mine said the other day, “You have to be ready to change your life. It has to be the right moment. Then when you do decide to go for it, no one can stop you.” I believe that. While we are never fully in control…we can choose to change some pretty powerful things happening in our lives. You are really that awesome and strong, I believe it :) Please be assured of my prayers and so sorry for the novel left in your combox…