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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.

  • Annie

    You know, you could use condoms or a diaphragm or an IUD for a while, and if you decide you want to have more children in the future, you could. If being more certain that you would not get pregnant for a few years is good for your health, your marriage and your existing children, then do it. I know that many Catholics believe birth control is a mortal sin, but many do not. Besides, if God really wanted you to have another child in the next couple of years, do you really think a diaphragm would stop him? I cannot imagine not having sex with my husband for months on end and the toll that would take on our marriage (I know you have written about how abstinence is good for marriage, and I agree- but for months at a time? I don’t see how that can be a good thing) You can still be a good person and use birth control. You do not have to have 6, 7, 10 or more children if you do not wish to, and with the advent of reliable methods of birth control, you don’t HAVE to. God gave us a brain and free will so we could make smart decisions.

    • Eugene Yeo

      No.

      We are Catholics. We don’t decide as individuals what sins are mortal and what are not. We don’t get to pick and choose what parts of the catechism we will obey. We are obedient to the word of God.

      2399 The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).

      2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil: Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.

      • pagansister

        Not to be disrespectful here, Eugene Yeo, but your name indicated that you are Male. You do not have the responsibility of carrying and giving birth to a human being. You may be the sperm donor, but you are not physically spending 9 months of time with all that brings emotionally, physically etc. as the woman. Those rules you mentioned were written by MEN who again, do not have the job of carrying and giving birth and under the best of conditions, all that takes a physical toll on a woman’s body—forever. Many show up as a woman matures into older age. Won’t go into that here. The more children a woman bears, the more of a toll it takes. So I have a very hard time feeling that just popping out kids is something a woman should to to fulfill a religions rules. There are, as mentioned in the 2 previous posts above yours, safe ways to prevent an unwanted pregnancy and to space children should one wish to do so. Women are far more than baby machines.

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

          I’m a woman, and I agree with him – as do many others. The Church teaches that contraception is a mortal sin. It is not an option any more that it’s be an option to rob a bank or run a scam to cure financial woes.

          • pagansister

            Yes, JoAnna, many probably do agree with Eugene and from my experience as a teacher for 10 years in a Catholic school, many women don’t happen to agree with him or the Church. Many of the good Catholic female teachers (no nuns happened to be left as teachers in this school, all lay teachers) did not disagree with ABC. It is an individual decision. A woman should always be the one to decide as much as possible what happens to her body or IN her body.

  • Eugene Yeo

    Oh, my sister. You show me so many of my own fears come to fruit, so many of my frustrations spotlighted. Will I be a good father? Will I be able to afford my children? Will my *damage* play into the equation too far to let anything else matter? I wish that I could offer some words of wisdom to you, but all that I have are the words of someone with no kids of his own. Please, schedule time with that poor priest, I promise he’s now as worried as you are. Coming from a tradition with married clergy, I admit to be somewhat terrified of having people walk into a confessional and break down like that.

    Have you gotten together with the other mothers of your parish family? The older mothers who are the voice of experience, the ladies who are empty-nesting, or the other young mothers who could, perhaps, share secrets gleaned?

  • casey

    Calah,
    I’ve been a long-time reader, but I don’t think I’ve ever commented before. I just wanted to let you know that you are in my prayers as you work through this difficult time in your life. And you will work through it. I haven’t experienced the situation you’re in, because I have no children due to infertility. However, I do understand overwhelming feelings, just from different contexts. And no matter hard it has been to want to remain a faithful Catholic at times, no matter how much I have felt almost abandoned by God, it has gotten easier. He is faithful, He loves you, and He will help you through it.
    And I have to say, just never mind advice from people like the two commenters above me (Annie and Towel). The fact that they (presumably) read your blog and understand your conviction to be a faithful Catholic, and yet still encourage you to disregard Church teaching, is just plain rude.
    God bless, and I’ll be praying for peace and strength for you.

  • Laura

    Hang in there. You can go three months without vacuuming, not give presents or card to anyone, spend too much, be too fat, fight with your husband for a month, spank all the kids too much etc. and the world will not end. I know, because I’ve been there. Take a deep breath. Try to find little moments of love. Don’t worry if you can’t.

    It will get better.

    I know there are great things about NFP, but I think it sometimes adds to the stress to be trying to figure something complicated out and not be able to just be at peace and love spontaneously, and then feel like a failure when your best efforts don’t work. Plan on a kid every 18 months and if they don’t come that fast have a good laugh about it. Every lady with a lot of kids I know will tell you it wasn’t easy (well, those who won’t say that are lying) but they also don’t regret it. I will pray for you. Pray for me!

  • Cally

    Dear Calah,
    First, thanks for sharing this. Our faith is lived in out in the messiness of real life, and it will never do us good to pretend everything is shiny and smiley when…it’s not.
    Second, I will pray for you and your family (well, mostly I mean I will keep asking our Momma Mary to pray for you guys, because she does such a better job of it!)

  • Caroline

    Oh, I ache for you! I understand the desperateness, wanting so badly to get some kind of relief from the feelings of hopelessness of the situation. People pray for me. I pray. But the minute-by-minute experience of daily life remains a struggle,a battle for my very life.

    I won’t give you advice except to seek out every source of support you can find. Sometimes it is just a matter of getting through the day in any way possible. The closest I can get the majority of the time is to believe that others believe.

  • Kel

    Long time reader, first time poster. My heart broke when I read this and made me think of the time I had a mental breakdown. There is something that we as beings are never happy with, and it may be easier to blame, the load of work we have with the kids, a full time job, the husband, the cats or the dogs. I mention that because there might be a deeper issue, though we want to blame something so basic. Working for an organization that has over 20k employees, I’ve seen many walks of life, and most of the women that have a breakdown are not because they have many kids, they have one or 2, a close friend of mine, is newly married and only has a cat and was in a slum for months on end. I had a breakdown when I only had 1, now, my 3rd is 7 months, with 10 more fertile years to go and agree with the catholic faith. Who knows, I may be the one with the many kids with a breakdown, but I ask god for peace and help me maintain my composure (yes, I turn heads in corporate america). Being the breadwinner in my family with a full time job in corporate america, I always question god if this is his will, many times I am at peace with it, but many times I want to quit everything and get rid of everything materially and live off of my husbands elementary school teaching job salary so I can stay home with the kids. Though I must admit that he is so much better with the kids than I am, which is why he loves teaching small children. In my daily prayers I always ask him what is his will and there are times I understand, there are times when I don’t and get mad at him for it. I take it one day at a time. In asking for his will I always contemplate this reading: Matthews 6 25, 32-33 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.clothing? 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God* and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

  • Autumn

    Calah,

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for reminding me that personal frustration and that sense of being overwhelmed doesn’t make me less a creation of God. Thank you for reminding me of the wonder and beauty of confession. Thank you for being so honest. Thank you for reminding me that we all struggle, even those we look up to (the way I look up to you)!

    My prayers are ever with you.

    Autumn

  • pagansister

    Calah, as a non-Catholic (as is evident by my posting name) I can not imagine having a faith that tells me that by artificially preventing a possible pregnancy I’m being “sinful”–whatever degree of sin attached to it I have no idea. Someone in all the responses said something about “mortal”. Heck, I have no idea. If I understand correctly, the whole idea of NFP is to NOT get pregnant. I spent 10 years teaching in a Catholic elementary school—all the teachers were Catholic except me and one other. I learned that many of them had no problem with birth control other than NFP. In the school population there was only one family that had more than 5 kids (and that was just 1 family)—they had 8, but due to that they had to drop out of the school and go to public school because they couldn’t afford to stay. The teachers I taught with had no more than 3. IMO, and that is all it is, worrying about a pregnancy every time you wish to have intercourse is very hard on any marriage. You have an absolutely beautiful family—-you and your husband make a great combination when it comes to children. Those beautiful children, however, are time consuming, as all children are, and from what you wrote, things have become overwhelming. I only had 2 (vasectomies are great) and they were spaced 3 years apart, and I feel that that gave me time to enjoy them a bit more that those with larger families. Also financially we were able to take good care of them. No disrespect to you and your attempt to fulfill what the Church teaches—but right now I think you could call it quits as a giver of life. The MEN who wrote all those rules, which they say came from God, don’t have to feed, clothe, house and raise your children. (in fact, I wouldn’t trust them with my children with the past in the RCC coming to light over the past few years). They can tell you to pray, etc. but there again, IMO, you are still the one to do the work, not God or any other person. I wish you and your husband the best, and I hope you can get some relief from the constant care giving, if only for a few hours. Enjoy the little ones you have and perhaps think about a break (without NFP) using other means for spacing/and or deciding if this family is just fine the way it is. IMO, God won’t think any less of you —

    • http://www.maryellenbarrett.com Mary Ellen Barrett

      “IMO, God won’t think any less of you”

      I’m wondering why you think your opinion is relevant. You are obviously not well informed about Church teaching or the basis for it. The fact that you know people who claim to be faithful Catholics while simultaneously rejecting a basic tenet of our faith does not make you well informed. It kind of makes you “National Inquirer” informed about our faith. Just because a lot of people behave immorally does not change that behavior to moral. If a bunch of people just decided to cheat on their income taxes would that make that particular form of dishonesty ok because many do it? I think not. The Church’s teaching on sexuality are beautiful and extensive taking into account the whole of a person, body mind and soul, as well as marital and family relationships. If you are going to be critical or presumptuous enough to give advice it would be more intelligent to do so being familiar with the subject matter and the teaching you are so casually dismissing.

      • pagansister

        10 very happy years teaching in a Catholic school gave me some insight. But considering that my comments were for Calah, and not you, I’m not concerned with your opinion of them. Have a nice day. :o)

  • Jenny

    Reading through these comments, I am stunned by the number of people suggesting that Calah just chuck her religious beliefs.
    When someone says to you, “I love my religion. I believe my religion is true. I am having hard time living with my religion right now. It is harder than I ever thought possible to live my religion in a way that I believe is honorable,” the proper response is not, “Well your religion has stupid rules so ignore them.”
    Really, people, do you think that helps in any way? Because it doesn’t.

    • pagansister

      How do you know it doesn’t help in any way, Jenny? Calah isn’t a stupid woman—she is from what I have read of her blogs, very intelligent. She can either reject well meaning advice or accept it. And frankly, some religions do have “stupid rules”.

      • Karen

        But those “rules” are part and parcel of the belief system. You cannot tear out those rules and throw them away and still claim to be following the faith. The rules are not arbitrary, they are formed out of the teachings and beliefs of the church.

        I really wish that you would respect the Catholic faith as much as you would like your own belief systems to be respected.

        • pagansister

          Actually, Karen, if I didn’t respect (but don’t always agree with) the Catholic faith, I wouldn’t have spent 10 years teaching in a Catholic school. Many of the “rules” are very outdated, and IMO, thinking that playing “Russian Roulette” every month is fine for a married couples (after all, unmarried folks do not have sex) is one of those. Have known several very faithful Catholics (some of the teachers I taught with included) who felt the same way. I consider supposedly celibate priests, giving marriage advise and telling women to “accept all children God gives them” a bit dark ages. How many kids has the Pope actually raised?

          • http://www.maryellenbarrett.com Mary Ellen Barrett

            That’s a fairly juvenile argument. The Pope may not have raised any children but being inspired by the Holy Spirit gives the man wisdom that the rest of us do not possess. Even you. Teaching in Catholic school, unfortunately, does not seem to have imparted any actual Catholic teaching to you.

            As for being outdated, yes the Church is not trendy. That’s why the Kardashians aren’t in charge, we have a mind above the latest thing. The Church’s main concern is the human person whose needs to get them to heaven ultimately do not change. Trendy or updated does not get you to heaven. Trying to live God’s will and love Him to the best of our imperfect ability may just do it.


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