at Faith & Family today.
Guess whose blog comes up on the very top of the page when one Googles for
“what did you cook during your first trimester pregnancy i just want to throw up when i smell food”?
That’s right. Mine.
Prayers for you, poor dear desperate pregnant mama, whoever you are.
I have decided not to delete any of the comments in this week’s Coffee Talk. I simply don’t have the time or the energy to pick through and decide what stays and what doesn’t. But this is my space and I have been really bothered by some people’s words here, and so I will say this much:
It is not selfish for a poor mother of many to remain open to life. It’s heroic.
A woman who places her trust in God and accepts new life under less than ideal circumstances is being as generous to God, to her family, and to her community as she possibly can be.
Someone else, who has never had to decide between paying for a baby’s prescription and buying food for her family, might not understand this kind of humble heroism.
But Mary does.
At the annunciation, Mary did not tell the angel Gabriel that she needed to check her account balances and would get back to him about the whole baby idea. She just said yes.
Only someone who has never needed financial help could possibly think that anyone takes government assistance because it’s fun or because they’re lazy. People take government assistance because, for whatever reason, THEY NEED IT. They would LOVE to not need it. It’s embarrassing and humbling. It’s not selfish.
We shouldn’t be asking anyone why they need help. We should be falling over ourselves looking for ways to provide it. Where would you rather your tax dollars be spent — Planned Parenthood programs or some politician’s pet pork project?
We should be overjoyed that at least some small percentage of the money we pay in taxes is providing food and health care for families that need it. And if Catholic families with many children are some of the beneficiaries of that? Double bonus!
We need to be very careful when we talk about “responsible parenthood.” All too often, this phrase leads to the idea of preventing pregnancy as the default mode for Catholic marriages. In this way of thinking, couples must meet certain criteria, financial or otherwise, before they are “allowed” to have children. I can think of many words to describe this kind of thinking, but not one of them is “Catholic.”
I am convinced that women who accept new life when God sends it, planned or unplanned, have a special place in Our Lord’s heart. It is anything but selfish to imitate Mary’s “fiat” and her simple trust in God in such a humbling, self-giving way. It’s the stuff that saints are made of.
But to begrudge people the help they need to provide for their families while you yourself have been blessed with plenty? Now that would be selfish.
Reader Debbie sent me a link to this beautiful profile of a family that chose to carry their baby son to term, despite the fact that he was diagnosed prenatally with a terminal illness (Trisomy 18).
“God didn’t do it,” Georgianna says. “I’m angry, but not at Him. He didn’t do it. He’s right by my side, and Mary’s on the other side. When Liam got diagnosed, I said, ‘God, take my one hand. Mary, take the other. Walk me through it.’ If there’s anybody who knows how I feel, it’s them.”
CORRECTION: It appears the couple has not left the Catholic church, but has only switched churches, from one Catholic parish to another — something that I did not understand in my first reading of the article. Thanks to Frances L. for sending along the confirming information!
[tags]pro-life, trisomy 18, prenatal diagnosis[/tags]
I want to see scientific studies that demonstrate the blessing of being born eighth in a family of closely spaced siblings. I want to see statistics that prove the social, psychological, and intellectual benefits of learning early on that you are loved much … and by many.
I want to know exactly how a baby’s brain develops a deep sense of security and confidence in his own unique self worth when he is cuddled by an older brother while he reads his history book.
I want to see studies proving the naturally generous, cooperative, I-am-not-the-center-of-the-universe attitudes that are fostered among a gang of kids who must accommodate myriad mealtime preferences, compromise on story time choices, and share a single bathroom.
I want the stats on how a toddler’s stress levels are lowered when he shares a bedroom with a roomful of older brothers who read him stories, sing to him, and answer his every blessed question about bears and bumblebees until at last his eyes grow heavy and he drops off to sleep while listening to the sound of his oldest brother’s breathing in the bunk above.
I want scientific proof that mothers and fathers, when they face a not-specifically-planned-by-them pregnancy, are challenged to give up selfish inclinations and controlling notions of what their family size and spacing is supposed to look like. I want to see the studies that show how, when they ultimately embrace the unexpected, they grow in holiness, generosity, and faith. I want to quantify the value of their learning to trust in Divine Providence and to lean on God’s graces to help them through tough times. I want to prove that in the end they are better people — humble people who have grown in real holiness — for having remained open to life and generously accepted God’s plan for themselves and their families.
I want to quantify that kind of real growth, that kind of real work toward holiness, and that kind of blessing.
But of course you can’t quantify it. You can only live it. And I do.
“Americans are known for generosity to your children,” said John Paul II. “And what is the best gift you can give your children? I say to you: Give them brothers and sisters.”
I really don’t know why I am doing this. This is not my kind of thing AT ALL. We’ve got a stomach bug in the house and I am furiously trying to get some dinner prepared before I need to go out for the evening, but since many of you are emailing me in frustration after reading Dr. Popcak’s and others’ comments over at Heart Mind & Strength I feel compelled to share my own email to Dr. Popcak here:
Thanks so much for commenting on your blog about Do What Works Best for Your Family. I accept your comments in the spirit of charity that you intend and want to be sure you know that, while we may disagree, I recognize your good intentions and harbor no ill will toward you. I do, however, want to add a few different points:
To begin, I think I need to point out that no one is saying parents ought to do only what feels right or good. What we are saying is do what works best for your family, which is quite a different thing. It might feel good if I, as a homeschooling mother of 8, just sat around all day eating ice cream, but that would definitely not work best for my family.
I don’t know the science as well as you do and I won’t argue with you about cortisol levels. I will point out, however, that saints were raised for centuries before anyone even knew what a cortisol level was. I also do wonder if anyone has bothered to study the cortisol levels (or any other symptoms) of older children in large families who might be neglected, snapped at, or left to do too much for themselves too soon because their exhausted mother is focused on wearing, nursing, sleeping with, and otherwise bonding with the “baby” who needs her to keep his cortisol levels down.
I am not trying to be flip here. I have read and re-read and re-read again dozens of books on AP and ecological breastfeeding. Time and again I come away with the thought that these are high ideals and great ideas, but that people who are dogmatic in their promotion of them as “right” or “best” for everyone, especially Catholics, are blind to an entire segment of the faithful Catholic population.
Personally speaking, if I had had a baby only every 3-5 years or so, I would probably feels lots differently about the practice of AP. I have often felt that AP proponents and others don’t know what to do with families like mine, where, despite ecological breastfeeding, the babies come fast and furious and parents struggle to homeschool as well. They don’t “get” our experiences because they are not their own. They don’t “get” that AP might not work perfectly for different kinds of families because it has indeed worked very well for their own. “God does have a plan for our families!” I want to tell these leaders. “It’s just a different one from yours!”
You say: “More often than not, however, ‘Doing what is best for your family’ just means, ‘Do what comes naturally and feels right to you’ which is a perfect way to raise kids who exhibit the same sins and sinful tendencies that you do.”
I think you are underestimating motherly instincts and inclinations here. It has been my experience that a mother’s instincts or “feelings” do not naturally lead her toward selfishness and taking the “easy way out.” A mother’s natural inclinations are toward generosity and nurturing care for her offspring. Babies need to be touched, and mothers love to touch and hold their babies. Babies need to be responded to promptly, and every mother I know jumps at the sound of her baby’s cry or an older child’s “Mama!” Every mother I know wants to do what is best for her child, even if it costs her emotionally and physically.
But most mothers I know want what is best for all of their children, even the ones who have moved beyond the baby stage. A mother is only one person. She might have an infinite supply of love for her children, but I can attest to the fact that she does indeed have a finite supply of energy and patience, particularly when pregnant, and as a result she must balance her children’s needs — the older ones, the babies, the toddlers, and the unborn ones too. I think it is short-sighted to imply that this kind of “balancing” as it plays out in a faithful, large family is un-Catholic.
You say: “There are a million ways to raise a basically decent, grow up, get a job, and function in society kids. Personally, I think Catholic parents are called to do more than that. We called to raise (and be) saints. ”
Here I think you are implying that parents who don’t use AP are just shooting for the “bare minimum” and aiming to “get by” and I find that an unfair assessment. Good Catholics who do not use AP are aiming to raise and be saints every bit as much as the AP parents are.They are just called to do it in a different way — to imply that their way is less “Catholic” is wrong-headed, and I cringe at the thought of young, vulnerable mothers reading words like these and then beating themselves up in the future when they wind up doing what actually is best for their families.
You rightly point out that Catholic teaching on contraception might not “feel” good or right to some, but the fact is the Church’s teaching on contraception is clear and incontrovertible. Our Church, in her wisdom, has not given us such clear directives on co-sleeping, baby-wearing, bottles, or even homeschooling. There is lots of room for different styles of good parenting within Catholicism. To tout the benefits of AP is one thing, and to promote its use for the benefit of Catholic families is a very good thing indeed. We must be cautious, however, about placing a burden on all Catholic parents that the Church herself does not.
Feel free to continue discussing (nicely of course) below!
UPDATE: I’m all done with public discussion here, but you can read Dr. Popcak’s response over at HMS blog.
A Reader Writes:
My youngest is 17 months and sleeping with us. We are all happy with this arrangement but we are due to have another baby in 3 months and I would like to hear about people’s experiences with co-sleeping with two babies. Is it possible? Is it lunacy? She is no longer breastfed but still wakes with teething and I can see that happening for quite a while. Also, since she has stopped feeding, she goes down for a sleep with a bottle and a cuddle from me if necessary. I lie down next to her and she relaxes and goes to sleep. I love this time and part of me hates to lose it. But am I being unrealistic? The other part of me thinks “get her used to going to sleep in the crib by herself so it’s not so traumatic when the baby comes.”
We have never officially called it co-sleeping with two babies, but we surely have had multiple children in our bed at night. Sometimes it’s nice and sometimes it’s … really, really not. They key is figuring out and doing what works best for your family regardless of what the books, the mothers-in-law, the friends, and other “experts” might tell you. You probably won’t know exactly how you will like multiple co-sleeping until it happens.
For now, I think the key words you have used are “I love this time.” If you love your current sleep arrangements you should not feel pressured change them in anticipation of the new baby’s arrival. Every baby, every toddler, every mother, and every father is unique. They all have different needs and different preferences. I would suggest you keep an open mind and remain flexible about your family’s sleep arrangements as you head into the coming months. You might all co-sleep and love it. Or you (or Dad) might find your sleep is too disturbed and you need to find ways to encourage the toddler to sleep on her own. Be open to doing whatever works best for your family – even if it’s not what you envisioned as “ideal” all those years ago before you had children – and it will work out best for your family.
A reader writes:
I am 25 years old and about to become a mother for the first time! My husband and I were high school sweethearts, so it has been just the two of us for 9 years now. I worry about how he will cope when the baby comes along. It sounds silly, as I know he’ll adore our baby, but I’m thinking more of the little things that I may not be able to do for him anymore … at least for a while. Like the back massages, or going to a lot of effort for dinner, packing him a wholesome lunch etc. The housework is obviously going to take a tumble, but I wondered if there is any advice you could share, as I don’t want my husband to feel ‘replaced’ by the baby, or that he’s lost his best friend. I’m due in 4 weeks now and I would love to make this a wonderful, positive experience for both of us.
First of all, can I just gush over you a bit? Your words have me smiling all over. Do you know how sweet you are? I suppose you can’t fully appreciate it while you are living it, but take it from me: You are incredibly sweet. What a darling wife and mother you are already.
Second of all, let me reassure you that your feelings are quite natural, loving concerns. It’s hard to see exactly how love multiplies instead of dividing before you’ve quite experienced it. But it does. I can distinctly recall my own sweet husband standing over the crib of our firstborn and announcing that he could never love another child as much as he loved her. Well, guess what? He now loves seven other children every bit as much. And I do too.
Have you talked to your husband about your concerns? If not, do so. He’ll be touched by your worries about his adjustment. He might give you some insight into which things you do that matter most to him so that you can focus your attention and let the rest go as needed. And you should also share the kinds of things you value about your relationship so that he can prioritize as well. That might get you through some rough spots.
Did I say rough spots? Yes, I did. Because no matter how thoroughly and lovingly you both prepare for your baby’s arrival, some rough spots surely lie ahead. Life altering experiences, sleepless nights, and hormonal fluctuations will challenge even the happiest of couples on occasion. But talking now about the stresses you anticipate will go a long way toward giving you some perspective in the heat of the moment.
After talking with your husband and physically preparing for your baby’s arrival as much as possible, try to relax and put the rest into God’s loving hands. He has wonderful plans for you in the coming weeks. And years. May he bless your family always!