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.”
As St. Augustine admirably deduces from the words of the holy Apostle Saint Paul to Timothy 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.