A Little Bit of Hope, A Lot of Musing

I have received 130 comments on my Fear, Prayer post, dozens of personal emails, and several facebook messages. I’m honestly overwhelmed by the response that post generated. With very few exceptions, the comments and emails were deeply compassionate. Even those who urged me to reconsider birth control were written with such obvious love and sympathy that I wanted to hug each commenter.

I know this is going to sound cheesy, but this is one of those times when the blogsophere has reminded me of the beauty of humanity. We can be deeply divided on personal, political, religious and social issues and still recognize someone else’s suffering and reach out to help. I know some of my commenters were upset that I received so many “ditch the rules” comments, but I wasn’t. I was grateful and humbled that so many people I’ve never met cared enough about my struggles to try and help, in whatever way they could.There have been many times in the past few years when I have looked at comment boxes and despaired of man’s ability to love his fellow man, but this one time, I looked at the comment box and saw overwhelming love. I said at the bottom of my post that I would pray without hoping, and I meant that I wouldn’t hope for a respite for myself, a reprieve from my own struggles. But, in fact, all of your comments left me with a hope that I haven’t felt in a long time. A hope for humanity, for all of use, that we can put aside ideological differences and choose to love each other. So thank you.

I know a lot of people were wondering, in the comment box, why I follow the Church’s rules on birth control. I think the phrasing I just used, “the Church’s rules”, or the phrase I used in my post, “the Church’s ban”, are part of the problem. I’m a convert, not a cradle Catholic. I haven’t had the rules of Catholicism pounded into my head since I was a child. In fact, I grew up Evangelical, among people who had no problem at all with birth control. I chose the Catholic faith freely, knowing what would be required of me. I went in with  my eyes wide open. I did not understand just how difficult a life of Catholicism would be, as evidenced by my struggles to live it, but I had a rough idea of what would be required of me.

In my quest to understand Catholicism, before I took on the faith, I did a lot of research about the birth control issue. I knew it would be a huge issue for me, perhaps even the huge issue, because I’m not a child-centric person. I’ve never been the girl who wanted nothing more than to be a mother. In fact, I didn’t really even like children until I had my own. Even then, it took some time. I still don’t do well with newborns. I find that stage awkward, difficult and exhausting. Give me a toddler and I’ll be set, but a newborn? No thanks. So I set about trying to understand just why the Church had this ridiculous rule.

I wrote about it extensively here, in one of my first posts. Basically what I found out is that the Church doesn’t make rules. There’s no, “do this or you go to Hell” or “don’t do this or you go to Hell”. That’s the wrong way to understand the faith. Rather, the Church, after much study and reflection, says, “these things are morally wrong, and to do them would be to commit a sin against God.” The Catechism is less a rule book and more a road map, marking areas for us that are dangerous. I understand 100% the arguments against hormonal birth control. They are abortifacient drugs, not to mention Class 1 carcinogens. They are physically dangerous drugs to ingest, both for the mother and for potential children. They also don’t work very well (evidence, Sienna). The arguments against barrier methods and sterilization, however, I’m less empirically convinced by. The idea is that sex is supposed to be both unitive and pro-creative, an anything that falsely separates sex from it’s natural life-given potential damages the integrity of the act. I sort of understand this, but I sort of don’t. After all, during pregnancy, a couple can’t have pro-creative sex. Nor can a couple have pro-creative sex when a woman is infertile. I understand, intellectually, that abstaining during fertile periods is completely different than altering the sexual act to render it infertile. Still, though, it seems like a lot of hair-splitting and philosophizing. Basically, the argument makes sense philosophically but doesn’t hold much water for me when it comes up against the practical reality of babies, and lots of them. That’s where faith comes in. I believe, to the core of my being, that the Catholic Church has both wisdom and truth. I believe that the “rules” in the Catechism are not there to ruin my life or to make me a slave to children, but to allow me to be the freest, most complete person I can be by keeping me separate from sin. I try not to see myself as “oppressed by the rules”, even though I fail regularly. I try to remember that I chose this path because I saw truth, beauty and love here.

That being said, I’m convinced that the Church does not want me to have a nervous breakdown, to lose my marriage, or to lose my faith. There simply must be a way to track fertility that allows us to determine fertile periods and abstain during them. I’m going to try the Marquette protocol for breastfeeding, and then hopefully after my fertility returns I can figure out a method that combines the different aspects of Creighton, Sympto-Thermal and Marquette that allows us to accurately monitor fertility. I am feeling cautiously optimistic about having the monitor to rely on. I’m also trying to stop myself from issuing threatening prayers at God, like, “This better work, God, or so help me, I will have the doctor tie my tubes the second the next baby is born! I mean it this time!” I’m pretty sure that’s not how praying is supposed to work, although at this point, I’m willing to bet God understands.

But I do think that there is a real problem with the Church’s teaching on the morality of birth control. It’s the same problem that many pro-choicers point out (inaccurately, I believe) when citing the Church’s hypocrisy on abortion; namely, lack of follow-through support. The Church says, “don’t use birth control, have big families” and then when we do, and when we find ourselves drowning because of it, there’s no help. No support. I was angry and upset at Gretchen’s story in my comment box, about how she was bedridden with twin newborns and two small children, a husband who couldn’t take off work, and her local parish said, “sorry, we can’t help”. That is wrong. It’s so bloody awful and heartless that it makes me want to scream. The Anchoress wrote a post about how the Church needs a ministry to young mothers. I wholeheartedly agree. I’d go a step further and say that every parish needs a ministry that provides not only psychological help and comfort, but also physical aid. There are women who are completely isolated with several children, who have no family to help after childbirth, no friends to make meals, and whose husbands can’t take time off to help. These women should not be left to fend for themselves. They often do not have the time or resources to build a network of support for themselves. The Church needs to step up and help. The days of big, extended families all living on the same block are gone. It’s more difficult than ever for a family to try and live in accordance with the Church’s teaching, and there ought to be recognition of that difficulty, and help given to those who are struggling. The more I think about it, the angrier I get at this complete dearth of support and succor for families struggling desperately to do the right thing. I don’t know how such a ministry might be started, but I think that parish pastors have an obligation to try and find some way to help the young mothers of the parish.

Anyone else have any ideas about how to get a ministry for young mothers up and running? And what are your thoughts on the arguments against birth control that I’ve outlined here?


  • http://housewifething.blogspot.come Robin E

    The problem with the world is indeed me. I’m an older (almost 42) mom of eight, and believe me, I know how those early and middle years are hard beyond words. And I know you’ve probably heard this before, but trust us older moms on this one, it gets not only better, but indescribably wonderful. There is a reward coming for all your hardship, sooner than you think.

    In the meantime, yes, you desperately need support. A lot of us older moms never got that, so I really think we need to step up to the plate on this, because to be really honest, I’m not sure how anybody else is going to. The ones who don’t have big families, and who work, probably don’t feel called to do this thing because it is so completely out of their experience to even understand what the difficulties are.

    For years I dreamed of finally going back to work, of making money, wearing nicer clothes, making a difference in “my field.” Now I’m thinking this has become my field. The experience you are going through will utterly transform you. Ask the older moms of many you know to consider this form of ministry, whether its formal or just as needed. I wouldn’t have thought of it on my own. Thank you for expressing your need to us. I’d be willing to bet there are many of us out there who would be responsive to the need we felt so keenly for so many years.

  • Joke Vermanen

    I agree with you. Birth control is not the problem. It’s you getting the family up and running and don’t get insane doing it.
    I don’t use birth control because it’s abortive. We did use condoms because I’ve had a period where I couldn’t not get pregnant in case of medications and the period was to long to call for abstinence. But I also agree with my sister having her tubes tied. She has had lager and larger bleeding’s at the birth of every single one of her kids. The last one nearly got her killed. Ignoring that fact would be a sin to and rely on abstinence until she got the menopause is also not good for the marriage. Because God says we cant put our self deliberately in danger. So knowing that you don’t survive the next pregnancy and still getting pregnant is a sin.
    God wanted a kid to have 2 parents: a mom and a dad. Of course something else can happen so he/she still only has one parent but it better not be your own negligence of the facts.

    The point is, God gave us brains. Watch the animals they all have instincts but we have brains. God puts us in a situation and asks us to use that brain. If you know that having an other baby while you can’t manage this amount of kids will only making it worse you need to make a decision. First create order in your life. He did not want you to have as many kids as you can get and not being able to raise them the way he also asks from you?

  • http://fineoldfamly.blogspot.com Sally Thomas

    More thoughts . . .

    I wonder whether one place to start, on the parish level, is with something already in place: the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. One small step a parish could take, if it hasn’t already, is to include new mothers on the list of “homebound parishioners,” on a temporary basis, so that someone is at least taking them Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament when they’re unable to come to Mass (and that could frankly be a pretty broad and flexible category in those baby days). That’s then ONE person who knows at least something of what’s going on with that mother, ONE face-to-face contact with the parish. It wouldn’t be everything, but it would be a start.

    But really, at the end of the day, who is the Church? We are. And every one of us can do something, whether it’s not to get outwardly irritated by the crying baby in Mass so that the baby’s parents don’t feel that everyone wishes they would leave; whether it’s to make a point of greeting a person we don’t know (there were times when I felt rested by the anonymity of our former, very large parish, and times when I felt that nobody even knew we existed, even though we were standing right there with children hanging onto our legs); whether it’s to send or respond to an email; whether it’s to register the faces around us so that if we see someone crying in Target, and she’s someone who’s been at Mass with us, maybe we recognize her (and then try to figure out whether she’d want us to come up and speak to her, or whether she wants to be left alone; at least we can pray — as we should for anyone we might see crying anywhere . . . ). Anyway, *we* are the Church. If the Church should be doing something, that means *we* should be doing something, with whatever limited-seeming gifts and opportunities happen to be ours.

    And yes, as Robin E. says, those of us who are older and have been around some may very well find ourselves with this charism particularly, though to be honest, as long as there are kids at home, we’re all pretty stretched. Still, I’ve had time today to write two responses in this combox, which means that I probably also have time to email somebody to touch base and see how she’s doing. Though actually, the person who comes to mind that I most need to email is not a new mother but a childhood friend whose sister is fighting for her life in the ICU and quite possibly losing even as I write this — there may be many reasons why a woman might be crying in Target, and for some of them there’s not even the illusion of an obvious easy fix. All any of us can do is to remember, as best we can in our stunted way, to be the Christ who gives His love, for *everyone* who comes our way in the guise of the Christ who receives our love.

  • http://www.indiatoappleton.blogspot.com Mom of 4

    In general, I think the lack of support is a “lack of community” issue. People at mass don’t necessarily have any other contact with other people outside of mass once a week, or that contact is merely service-oriented. There should be ways for couples/families to connect, like a Bible study in someone’s home every other week, a once-per-month pot-luck dinner club where 4 families cram into each other’s houses and share a meal, or mom’s groups that meet in the parish basement one morning a week. That’s where you develop relationships — those are the people who will bring meals, help clean your house, take your kids for the afternoon after the new baby is born. Community doesn’t just happen — it takes time, investment, and intentionally sharing each other’s lives as we follow Christ. It doesn’t need to be a formal “meals for moms” type of thing — but if more young families are in relationship, those things will happen within those relationships.

  • Jane

    Hello, I apologize that I didn’t take the time to read all of the comments, so if this has already been said, I’m sorry.

    I guess I’m coming at this from an entirely different perspective: my husband and I have been trying to conceive for a while now, with no baby. So in all honesty, I find it hard to relate to what you’re going through, although my heart certainly goes out to you! What I wanted to say is that even though my husband and I have never conceived (and maybe never will – only God knows), we’ve been open to life in each of every one of our marital acts. I think struggling with infertility has really brought that home in a new and powerful way for me. At the end of the day, conceiving new life is not up to us. It’s just not. And of course I don’t mean that charting is evil, etc. etc. It’s just that we can only do so much – come together in love, and not holding anything back from each other. Open to life. Hopeful for life. Really really wanting a new life to come about from our union. But that’s it. We can’t elbow our way into parenthood, a lesson that’s been awfully hard to accept.

    I guess I’m saying this in light of your comment that “Nor can a couple have pro-creative sex when a woman is infertile.” I think that’s confusing what our role is, maybe. Whether we’re open to God’s gift of life – that’s up to us. Whether our act of love is actually procreative, that’s not up to us. Anyway, that was stated very imperfectly, but as a subfertile woman, it gives me immense comfort to know that our love is open to life, that it is fruitful, still, that it’s beautiful and fitting to our vocation, even if we’re never blessed with a child.

    God bless you. Thanks for reading.

  • unapologetic catholic

    I am the wrong one to ask.
    After too many long military deployments and arriving home too many times after many months away at just the “wrong”time, I became convinced that the Curhch’s teaching on birth control is slightly in error. The Church’s teaching errs because a married couple be sexually active achieving both the unitive and procreative aspects of human sexual love. Both do not need to be fully expressed each and every time the couple has sex as long as both are expreassed during the marriage and the parents are oepn to and welcome children. Furthermore, the distinction betweeen NFP and artificial birth control is a distinction without a difference.

  • unapologetic catholic

    …and may the peace of the Lord be with you.

  • http://felixlegion.wordpress.com Flavius Aetius

    Peace be with you all.
    First, I get that NFP is hard. As a healthy man who loves his wife and wants more children (and she does not), abstinance is sometimes a cross to bear. I get frustrated that the “time isn’t right” from time to time. But it’s only a cross if we approach sex with a contraceptive mindset, that is, that somehow sex is for me and my wife, and not for anything else. Of course that’s just not true…sex is the foundation of families, not couples. When we fully understand what that means, then the yolk doesn’t seem so heavy.
    BUT…while a “young mothers’ ministry” seems like a good idea, and probably is, it’s not the Church’s responsibility to support young mothers, it’s the young mother’s family’s (her sisters, mother, father, aunt, and husband) responsibility. It’s the friends’ responsibility. She is our Mother, not our servant.
    Now, I’m not blind to the realities of modern life…with adult children living hundreds or thousands of miles from their extended families. I’m a military officer and I haven’t lived closer than 5 hours from my home in thirty years. That’s hard.
    All that said…as human beings it’s sometimes hard to think with the mind of God. The yolk seems hard. The burden heavy. During those times it’s been my experience that the best course of action is to hold on tight and “Pray, pray, pray, little children.”
    Sometimes we fail…even when we pray…but thank God for His mercy in Confession.
    Peace be with you.

  • Barbara C.

    Actually, there is a ministry designed to help mothers…http://elizabethministry.com/
    My parish doesn’t offer it, but our sister parish in town just started the program. Some of the women from my homeschooling group are organizers. I think they are chomping at the bit to help people. Of course the flip side of this is IF the mothers will accept the help…especially the help of people they may not know well.

    Actually, I would just be happy if my parish gave everyone a break from taking the Baptism class after their third baby. :-/

  • Annie

    Have you read anything by Malcolm Gladwell? He is pretty cool author. Anyway, he wrote an essay in his book What the Dog Saw about the invention of the birth control pill that, as a Catholic, you may find very interesting. I thought it was interesting, anyway. I am by no means either encouraging or discouraging you from using birth control, I just think Malcolm Gladwell writes very relevant and though-provoking things and I like him. Also, if I were to encourage the use of birth control to you, I would suggest a barrier method, since you seem convinced that the pill is very unhealthy.