On Catholic Motherhood and Disillusionment

On Catholic Motherhood and Disillusionment April 11, 2019
Source: Samantha Motto

I swooned as I read the words:

Thus amongst the blessings of marriage, the child holds the first place. And indeed the Creator of the human race Himself, Who in His goodness wishes to use men as His helpers in the propagation of life, taught this when instituting marriage in Paradise, He said to our first parents, and through them to all future spouses: “Increase and multiply, and fill the earth.”[12]

As St. Augustine admirably deduces from the words of the holy Apostle Saint Paul to Timothy[13] when he says: “The Apostle himself is, therefore, a witness that marriage is for the sake of generation: ‘I wish,’ he says, ‘young girls to marry.’ And, as if someone said to him, ‘Why?,’ he immediately adds: ‘To bear children, to be mothers of families’.” (Casti Connubii).

These words were printed in Casti Connubii, written by Pope Pius XI, a papal encyclical on Christian Marriage that was written for all the faithful to read in the 1930s.

This had been required for a class I took at my conservative Catholic college. I read this as an idealistic 19-year-old girl who hoped to find her husband at said school and live out the words printed in that encyclical.

And so I did. My boyfriend at the time went on to propose to me that summer, and we were married 15 months later, just one week after I turned 21. We became pregnant shortly after our first anniversary with our first daughter, Sophie. The day after her first birthday we decided the Lord was calling us to have another child, who we conceived almost immediately: our second daughter, Cora.

While I was pregnant with Cora, I was simultaneously pregnant with the self-righteousness that comes from being a Catholic who is open to life, exclusively using Natural Family Planning, and embracing her fertility. I thought I had it all figured out. Sophie had been an easy baby; yes there were times of struggle as well as late nights, but it was all worth it to watch that precious baby coo and smile at me from her crib. I thought that anyone who couldn’t endure the small amount of sleep deprivation I personally experienced must truly be a selfish person unwilling to sacrifice for the good of The Kingdom.

Then Cora was born.

I knew it would be harder juggling two kids; how could it not? But the tornado I found myself in with an almost two-year-old and a 2-month-old baby began suffocating me. Cora never stopped screaming. It didn’t matter if I nursed her, rocked her, gave her skin-to-skin cuddles on my chest…the child always cried. My confidence was shaken.

But that wasn’t the worst part. I began thinking this baby hated me. But how? Babies are incapable of hate… Unless I am really that horrible of a mother?

This is how my postpartum depression and anxiety began.

I worried non-stop. The louder she screamed, the worse conclusions I jumped to. But finally she began sleeping in four-hour stretches. You’d think the silence would be a welcomed consolation—but instead, it was gasoline on the fire of my anxiety. Why was she so quiet? Was she breathing? Would I slip into a feeling of relief only to wake up and find her blue, suffocated in her crib? I would wake and rush over to the crib and scoop her up, only for the cycle of screaming to begin again.

These thoughts got progressively worse. I’d get visions of us falling down the stairs, or of me losing my grip on her and dropping her. This suffering was unlike anything I had ever experienced over the course of my life. How could this be so difficult when I was doing everything right?  

I had done everything the Church taught and trained me to do in my vocation. I never used contraceptives; I prayed for my future children; I prioritized my husband’s needs and the needs of my girls above my own. Friends and family always gushed over how holy and righteous my husband and I were, and how beautifully we were living out our vocation. Well, where was my beloved church community when things got tough?

I was in a frantic search for Catholic resources on PPD.

Surely if the Church had written so much about sex, marriage, and family life, they would have some information on postpartum depression? After all, 10% of all mothers report having it, and even more suffer through it silently. I could find no Catholic results, Among the Christian responses were women claiming that postpartum brought them closer to God. Well, maybe it would eventually, but that was no help to me now.

Not being a shy person, I reached out to other Catholics I knew. None of them would validate my specific situation and instead insisted that all mothers have tough days, but if you suffered virtuously through them, the Lord would bless you.

The more prosperity Gospel lines they fed me, the more rage swelled in my heart. So eventually, I stopped seeking a Catholic answer to my burning questions.

Fortunately, there are many non-profit organizations who connect moms in need to therapists and support groups that focus on postpartum depression; that is how I began to heal and reconcile with my symptoms.

Cora is 3 years old now, and to this day I still have not been able to reconcile with the Church on this matter.

How can they call themselves pro-life? Some women suffer silently, and while one could argue that it is harder to help someone who hides their symptoms, I was a person who practically shouted them from the rooftops, only to be answered with silence. There are no papal speeches or encyclicals on this matter—even though it is extremely common and is so closely connected to the one thing the church encourages women to do:  “To bear children, to be mothers of families.”

As a self-proclaimed advocate of Catholics who suffers from postpartum, I am still disillusioned by the lack of response from church officials.

Until we are given dignified attention to this issue, I refuse to bear them more children.   There are many who suffer from other issues related to prenatal, perinatal, and postpartum issues that directly impact their health, and it can no longer be ignored. Postpartum is only one of the many problems being ignored by the Church, while that same institution demands women have an openness to life.

Like the adulterous woman caught in the act of her crime, I don’t want to lay in the dirt while our modern Pharisees tell me I should be thankful for what I had. I don’t want to wallow face down, while the Church tells me to keep embracing my fertility and accept the trials that come with it as a gift.

Instead, I want Jesus. I want the Messiah to kneel down, grab me by the hand, and lift me up and out of my own despair.

That is what I am asking of my leaders: to be Christ to the women they shepherd.

My Secular Shepherds

There are no comprehensive resources provided or sponsored by the Catholic church to help men and women suffering postpartum depression (yes, it affects 10% of fathers as well as mothers). My husband and I found support through Postpartum Support International. They have a database for counselors, hotlines, and support groups all over the country that specialize in prenatal and postpartum mood disorders. Through this database, I was connected to a counselor who ran a successful support group out of Pittsburgh. Once I felt safe enough to tell the rest of my friends and family about my condition, I was flooded with love and support. However, I resent that I had to suffer silently for so long while my church—the church who is a self-proclaimed advocate of babies and mothers—offered me nothing. Many people do not feel comfortable disclosing their condition to friends and family and need access to articles, hotlines, and therapy tailored to their needs from within the Church. Until then, please consider these secular outlets for help if you or someone you know is struggling with postpartum depression.

 

Samantha Motto is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville where she obtained her BA in English Lit. She lives with her husband and three children in Steubenville, OH and works as a freelance photographer. You can follow her on Instagram @BuckeyeBabiesPhoto.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • “Until we are given dignified attention to this issue, I refuse to bear them more children.”

    That’s pretty messed up. We don’t and shouldn’t have children simply because the church tells us to. And if she thinks the church is going to care that she’s holding her fertility hostage? She’s wrong. They’re not going to care. She’s only hurting herself and her family. Family planning is a matter of discernment between spouses. It isn’t a tool to be wielded or a method of extortion.

  • Thank you for sharing. I know how hard it can be to be this vulnerable and risk people who don’t even know you coming in to pass judgment. I believe we can do so much more to support mothers. It’s important for us to listen to experiences like this.

  • ClanSutherland

    I think part of the problem is the the church looks at mental health as something God “fixes” and it holds any kind of psychology and psychiatry suspicious. The church pretty much acts like mental problems don’t exist or can be solved through prayer; that going to mental health professionals somehow separates you and God and make things worse.

  • 281commenter

    I’m not sure there is a specifically Catholic medical treatment for PPD, and I’m not sure it would be appropriate to attempt to create one. I’ve always been under the impression PPD is primarily a medical problem, so I would expect to be looking for a medical solution, not a religious solution. The main moral directive for a household with little babies, I would argue, is to husbands, to stretch themselves after work (by doing housework, holding colicky babies, making dinner) so that their wives can get some rest, and to definitely not come home from work and ask “what did you do all day?” or “why isn’t dinner on the table when all you’ve been doing is watch the baby sleep?”. If you have family nearby it is wonderful if they are willing to step up and help provide support, such as holding the colicky baby or making dinner once in a while. But many people don’t have family nearby and have to do it on their own.

  • Ame

    I am feeling the struggle too. While I have not concluded to stop having children, I do feel it important for us women to speak, and cry out in the wilderness like Elijah if we have to, to let the Church know how we’re hurting so that we no longer have to ask, like the Psalmist, “Is there no balm in Gilead?”. The more Catholic women write about our experiences, the more we’ll get closer to the development of Catholic resources to help us.

  • Ame

    There are large swathes of Catholics that certainly have deluded themselves into thinking that. But there are solid Catholic ministries that do help people with mental health issues through medicine, therapy, and counseling. The people who believe you can pray away mental health issues don’t realize that they’re promoting the deadly sin of vainglory. It is that serious.

  • Ame

    I recognize the statement as a cry for help. So how are you helping??

  • Evelyn

    I’m so sorry you didn’t get the help you needed from Catholics! Napro physicians (Creighton model NFP) treat postpartum depression by testing progesterone and then giving injections to get levels back up where they belong. i’ve known women to try multiple antidepressants (after they finally stop trying to tough it out), only to find that they don’t work, because the underlying issue is hormonal. One or two shots and they are back to their normal selves. I’m sure it’s not for every woman, since not all PPD is going to be due to low progesterone, but it’s sure worth looking into, and it’s not anything any Catholic should be fussing about, because it’s just correctlng a deficiency. Not that any Catholic should be giving anybody any grief for having to deal with PPD. . .

  • RIP Pooka :(

    I am on the other end of the spectrum. While I’ve been able to get pregnant, I can’t stay pregnant. At this point, I have given up on the idea of being a mom. The Church offers NO support or direction for women like me. In that sense, I can relate. I wish you and your family the best.

  • Ame

    May all of us mothers of lost children be blessed with finding them in eternal life, in the Holy Infant Jesus, with His Blessed Mother. Amen.

  • fractal

    I know a woman that miscarried 11 times.
    She just kept trying.
    Her 12th pregnancy took, and she now has a baby.
    Don’t give up, but do go to an endocrinologist.
    My mother miscarried many until she got a thyroid supplement—her levels were “low normal”, and the doctor just took a chance and tried it…
    It worked great.

  • fractal

    Post-partum is the LEAST of your worries.
    Just wait—the worst is still to come.

    Adult diapers
    Pelvic floor collapse
    Rectal vaginal fistulas
    Need I go on?

  • RIP Pooka :(

    I am pregnant again (just happened, we weren’t intentionally trying) and go for the first appointment on 5/16. I am dreading this weekend as this is the first Mother’s day without my mom (she died right before Christmas, a month after my last miscarriage) and am incredibly anxious about the upcoming appointment (will I make it and if I do, will God bless me or curse me).

  • fractal

    Please.

    The Church does NOT CARE.
    That fact must be faced.

    My mother miscarried more children than she delivered—and she delivered one dead.
    She had a hormone imbalance that made her bleed vaginally without warning—gushes of blood.
    When she was 15, she was hospitalized for losing so much blood.
    This was 1940, and no one knew why this was happening.

    She was a fervent Catholic.
    So, when the Catholic men doctors couldn’t diagnose her, they decided she must have “PSYCHOLOGICALLY INDUCED VAGINAL STIGMATA.

    Seriously.

    They put her in a mental ward for 4 months, but couldn’t find the crazy.
    She kept bleeding for years.
    Decided she would become a nun.
    BUT—the Church wanted a good work-horse for Christ, not a woman that bled too much. They denied her the religious vocation she had desired most of her life, because she was “sickly”.

    So she married and miscarried over and over.
    Finally had three successful pregnancies.
    By the time I was seven, she was hemorrhaging so chronically, the doctors told her she must have a hysterectomy.
    BUT—she put it off, because she “was waiting for needed permission from the Vatican”.
    !!!!!!!!!!!! Can you imagine? !!!!!!!!!!!!

    So, on the eve of my first communion at age 7, my mother was taken, bloody and unconscious, by ambulance to a secular hospital (thank God for the ambulance driver who explained why to my father) where she almost died having an emergency hysterectomy.

    God Bless the Patriarchal Church.

  • Ame

    I feel for your trauma. That’s all that can be said.

  • Sharon Diehl

    My wise mother escaped catholicuckooism at age 18 when she left home. It took my maternal grandmother many more years before she, too, left the nonsense behind. I’m proud of them both.

  • Sharon Diehl

    Ramen.

  • fractal

    The CHURCH is responsible for my mothers chronic spiritual trauma.
    Perhaps you can say nothing.
    I could say a lot more.

  • Ame

    Chicken flavor is superior to shrimp flavor.

  • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

    Oh goodness! My heart is with you!

  • Daniel Roberts

    Its too bad they didn’t think like you and have an abortion rather then lay on their backs and do the whores works .

  • Sharon Diehl

    Pork is best.