A reader asks about a pregnant neighbor

He writes:

I have a question I thought you might be able to help me with. An acquaintance of mine — someone I see regularly but don’t know intimately enough to consider a friend — recently announced that she is pregnant. She is not, however, married nor has she given any indication that she intends to marry the father of her child.

I found myself simply not knowing how to react to this news or how to behave. Obviously, I was pleased for her, as she is genuinely happy at the prospect of being a mother. However, part of me nevertheless cringes at the fact that she’s not married and sees no need to be. Maybe I’m terribly old fashioned and out of step but that doesn’t sit well with me.

At the same time, I most definitely do not want to be a Christian who’s more concerned about propriety than I am about the fact that this woman is not only about to become a mother but is doing so in a culture where many women in her situation would choose otherwise. I want to be supportive of her decision to give birth but I also don’t want to be condone her decision to do so unwed (I should add that she is a Catholic).

Am I straining at gnats here? Is this something worth worrying about or am I tying myself in knots over a problem that doesn’t exist? I know only too well how many well-meaning Christians come across as scolds rather than as conveying the joy of the Gospel. I don’t want to do that, but her decision to have a child with a man she doesn’t intend to marry doesn’t sit well with me.

I think the thing to do is affirm what can be affirmed here: the decision to choose life and to love her and her child.  If she asks (which she won’t) if you approve of having children out of wedlock, you can tell her the truth: that it’s not so much about Breaking Rules as it is that single motherhood is tough on her and her child, which is why your faith urges marriage.  The law was made for man, not man for the law.  But lots of moderns, Catholic and non-Catholic, imagine it’s the other way around and fear that God wants to punish our sexual sins for the sake of The Rules.  But the truth is the rules are there, not because God wants to punish, but to protect us.

That’s important for you to bear in mind because the primary thing she and her child still need is love and protection, not a scolding (as you note).  I may be wrong, but chances are pretty good she would marry the guy if she could.  Most women are not Murphy Brown.  They seek and are built for relationship.  So focus on the good of her and her child and encourage them however you can.  If the morality of fornication comes up in conversation, don’t hesitate to say what the Church teaches.  But remember that it’s all about her good and the good of her kid in the loving plan of God, not about Rulekeeping.

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  • Rebecca Fuentes

    I’m going to second what Mark said. Also, pray for her and her child, and if you can, befriend her enough to be someone she might call on for help. You might be the only Christian voice in her life, or the only one she might listen to someday.

  • http://lovedasif.com Drusilla Barron

    I also second Mark’s response. And encourage you to become her friend. Single women and their children need a great deal of help and support. Love her as Christ loves you. God bless you, your neighbour, and your child.

    • zoltan

      They need a good deal of male guidance too!

  • S. Murphy

    I agree, too. “Babies are God’s way of saying the world will go on.” – Chesterton.

  • David Naas

    I know of one family where the daughter got pregnant at 16, and their “good, Christian” acquaintances urged an abortion so she could “get on with her life”. After the baby was born, the grandfather made a point of carrying the child up to those people and saying, “This is my granddaughter, isn’t she wonderful?”

  • orual’s kindred

    part of me nevertheless cringes at the fact that she’s not married and sees no need to be.

    Perhaps she has actually said so, but if not, then she may have reasons (good or not so good) for not not marrying her child’s father; reasons that she may not be comfortable talking about. As Mark Shea has said, it’s very likely that she would prefer to. And if she does think the father is unecessary in her child’s life, showing why is this a mistake would require more than one conversation. As mentioned by others here, being a friend (or at least friendly) to her is important: lacking that, efforts to remind her of or introduce her to Church teachings may perhaps be taken as the officiousness of a busybody/scold.

    Prayers for all involved! Yay for new life! Yay for Christian fellowship!

  • Andy

    Let me add – it is not just for single mothers; my son and his partner have a 16 month old son. The church they attended, a catholic church, essentially turned their backs on them when they found out a child was on the way. The found some solace in a pentecostal church where the only responses were – congratulations and when they brought the baby there – :Boy is he big” and he was = 23 inches and a bit less then 10 lbs. They have found so much support that it is enable my son to resume going to school, and his partner to resume her job part-time. When a child is born, regardless of circumstances we are called to suffer the little children.

    • orual’s kindred

      I am so sorry they were treated that way. Congratulations on your new grandson though! And I am glad your son and his partner are able to try to make things work. Prayers for all of you!

      • Andy

        Thank you of your prayers. I too am sorry about their reception at the church they used to attend, but am thankful that they and our randson are well.

  • http://inquietumcor.blogspot.com/ John Thayer Jensen

    I recall when my son told us – in fear and trembling – that his girlfriend was pregnant. The two came to tell us, not just him. I told him that was wonderful. He (and she) seemed somewhat upset by this :-) They knew – and asked, in case there was any doubt – that they ought to have waited. So I had to explain that, no matter where or how, a baby was always a blessing.

    It’s always hard, these things. One day I am sure (now that gay marriage is legal in New Zealand), some friend will tell me about his (or her) new ‘marriage.’ I think what I will have to try to do is to affirm their friendship with one another. Whatever else is said, that much is true and is a good.

    Sin is always choosing the good – just the wrong good or the wrong time for the good or choosing the good in the wrong way. I think one needs always to affirm the good, whatever else one does.

    I remember once when a friend of my and my wife’s, a 17-year-old girl, came to my wife to tell her that, though she was a Christian, she had been sleeping around. She was upset. My wife said to her (she told me; I wasn’t part of the conversation), “Well, at least I hope you enjoyed it!” Right thing, I think.

    Sin is the only evil. The evil of sin is not lessened by affirming the good sought – but in most cases, if our own Christianity is well-known, there is something good about affirming the good sought. It can help open ways of talking about the solution for sin: grace, repentance, healing.

    jj

  • Blobee

    I am facing a similar dilemma. It is my niece who became pregnant at age 18. The problem is that her parents and grandparents are acting as if this occasion is the same as if she had a wedding and now is expecting her first child. They are having a baby shower for her, and everything is sunshine and roses. (She has no intention of marrying, or even naming the father, having found out that if she names him on the birth certificate he will have rights to a relationship with the child. He is out of her life.)

    When I first heard she was having the baby from my brother, (I’m sure if she had an abortion all of this would have been kept secret) my heart leapt for joy that this new little baby was coming into the world, because I was so glad she had not aborted it. Yet, I expressed my concern for the very difficult road she had chosen, and was dismayed that she had taken this course, because she doesn’t even have a job and still lives at home. I also worry she could continue this type of thing, and have several children to different fathers.

    Because I wasn’t overjoyed and instead responded with reservations, I am now anathema. I was told I needed to be “more Christian” but I honestly did not condemn her or say anything harsh. I guess for my relatives, anything less than pure unmitigated joy on her behalf is apparently unacceptable. Its hard to ignore the fact the girl is guilty of fornication but has no shame about it, and in addition her selfish actions have now burdened her parents with another mouth to feed and raise, something they can ill afford since her father is also recently unemployed.

    So I find myself in a similar dilemma as the writer of the email above. Of course I sent a gift and congratulations, and I do not in any way reject her or the baby, yet the gravity of the situation is being glossed over, and I find that astounding. It amazes me woman these days feel entitled to the same (no, more) support than someone who lives a virtuous life receives. That just seems wrong. How can I praise someone and be joyful for one who has committed such a grave mortal sin? It truly calls for the wisdom of Solomon to negotiate this situation.

    I pray for her and for her child. I believe in a few years the gravity of what she has done will occur to her, and she will begin to appreciate what she has lost in terms of her own future, and I hope she won’t begin to resent the child or show anger toward it. I also hope she won’t leave the child to be raised by her mother and father while she persues her dreams.

    I guess I feel so disappointed in what she has done, yet know what’s done is done, and now we can only move forward and make the best of it. Hopefully God will bless her and the little one and this which did not start out well will be righted by events in the future.

    • Jean

      Maybe God wants to bless her and the baby through you?

    • orual’s kindred

      If your relatives ignore the joy you expressed and instead focus on your reservations, that’s no longer on you. However, as you yourself say, this is far from over. I think you will find opportunities to demonstrate how you care about your niece and her child while disapproving the choices she made. She may yet realize and repent of the sin she has committed, and as mentioned, perhaps God wants to bless her and her baby through you. Prayers for all of you!

    • Spastic Hedgehog

      Just out of curiosity, what would you have your family do differently? One of the primary reasons women choose to abort is because they don’t feel they have the support to raise a child.

      I don’t think it’s an either/or, by the way, that the family is either “sunshine and roses” or hellfire and brimstone. But what’s done is done.

      I am Spastic Hedgehog but discuss is giving me heartburn this morning.

      • Blobee

        I guess I would have them not act as if this is the same as her getting married a year ago and now having her first child – that is, not have the hoopla and be low key about it. Statements on Facebook like “I’m so proud of you, baby girl” (referring to the new mom), and celebratory announcements in the mail, invitations to baby showers with mentions of where she is registered, all suggest what just happened is equivalent to a child born within wedlock. Of course our family should support her and help, because she is now really financially stricken, and probably doesn’t even realize the dire straights she is really in (and by that I mean unable to support herself and her child but needing housing, food, baby items and just about everything for both of them supplied by her parents) but I find the denial of anything to be ashamed about sort of offensive.

  • freddy

    Going to bookmark this excellent response, Mark!
    .
    Your reader mentions being “old fashioned.” I like that, since traditional manners dictate that the proper response to the announcement of a pregnancy is “Congratulations!” no matter what the circumstances. The unfortunate effects of widespread “family planning” discussions seems to have changed pregnancy from a personal matter to a community matter. This is evident on both sides of the issue: on the one hand you get the raised eyebrow, the sneer, the questions and comments from “Was this planned.” to “Don’t you know what causes that?”; on the other hand you get the, well, raised eyebrow, the sigh, and disparagement masquerading as “concern” for “the poor woman.”
    .
    What is a Catholic to do? Offer congratulations, any appropriate material help, and prayers.


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