Guest Post: Honoring the Dignity of the Shortest Lives

The following is a guest post from my friend Heidi Indahl, and all photos are hers.  You can learn more about Heidi and her ministry at the end.

From Conception to Natural Death.

As Catholics, we use this phrase often.  Honoring the dignity of life from conception leads us to protest abortion laws and educate others on the nature of contraception.  The dignity of life at the point of natural death leads us to rally against assisted suicide laws and elder abuse.  To honor the space in between is to act for social justice and for the benefit of the marginalized.  Have you ever stopped to consider, however, what honoring the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death looks like when only a short time passes between the two?

Such are cases of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death.

As a church, can we do a better job of including these smallest of persons (and as an extension, their families) into our work as a pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family people?

I think we can.

And more importantly, I believe we should.

I believe speaking for babies lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death is as hard as it is because the world has written these lives off as unpreventable losses . . . casualties of natural law and the fallen state.  Health care providers blur the line between early miscarriage and chemically induced abortion in their usage of terminology and procedures.  Celebrities grieve their miscarriage publicly one day and shout their abortion the next.  Family and friends tell women every single day to get over it because it just happens.  We all have a thousand messages a day telling us that the unborn baby is not a life that is important.  Even when we know the truth, the culture makes it easy . . . indeed, safer . . . to just stand by thinking, man, I hope that doesn’t happen to me!

And yet, it does happen.

Statistics of pregnancy and infant loss remain relatively unchanged.  We might not be able to change the frequency of this death through legislation or social justice action, but we can change the reality for a forgotten group of people inside our faith communities.

All of the unborn deserve dignity in their deaths.  They deserve to be properly buried if at all possible.  They deserve to be remembered in the prayers of the Church through mass and other available rites.  Their families need the same social support and comfort that we provide to all those grieving the loss of a beloved member of their family.  We are not just supposed to bury the dead, pray for the dead, and comfort the sorrowful when it is convenient, easy, and socially acceptable.  We are supposed to do it for every single human person that it is in our control to do so for.

I regularly speak with well-catechized, every-Sunday Catholics who have no idea that the Church provides a variety of funeral and naming rites, memorial suggestions, burial sites and more** for infants who pass away before or shortly after birth.   Women whose doctors say flush the fetus and they do, because no one has ever told them there is another option.

We can do better for our friends, our family, and ourselves.

A couple facing pregnancy and infant loss should never wonder inside the walls of the Catholic Church if their child’s life was valued and important.  It was.  Our whole pro-life argument is centered around the idea that the value of a life isn’t different because the life hasn’t existed as long or hasn’t produced the same contribution to society.  That doesn’t cease to be true because a person has passed away.

Every person matters from conception to natural death, because we know God formed human beings in His image and likeness.  Not because of their contribution to society.  Not because of their age, race, gender, or hair color.  Not because of the circumstances of their conception or death.  But because in them is the image and likeness of God himself.

And in them we can find God.

**Check with your local diocese for approved options.  If they don’t know, advocate for the next family to face this grave loss by helping get something in place!
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The mother of seven living children, three miscarried babies, a stillborn daughter, and a daughter who passed away shortly after birth, Heidi Indahl is the author of Blessed Is the Fruit of Thy Womb: Rosary Reflections for Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss and 67 Ways to Do the Works of Mercy with Your Kids.   With a passion for sharing her pregnancy and infant loss journey, she does so in a way that can enrich the spiritual life of all women while also improving the way we think and talk about pregnancy and infant loss to promote a genuine culture of life, centered in the truths of our Catholic faith. 

For more information and additional pregnancy and infant loss resources, visit Heidi’s website.

 

GUEST POST: What I Want Christians to Know about Mental Illness

This guest post was written by a young Catholic man who asked that I publish it anonymously due to the personal nature of the subject.  I was happy to do so as mental illness affects so many families, including mine.

There has been a significant growth of awareness about mental illness in recent years, and I am grateful for it. As a Christian who suffers from mental illness, I want my fellow believers who may be unfamiliar with it to know a few things.

What is a mental illness?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these.)” Mental illness is common. The American Psychiatric Association also say that in any given year, 19% of U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness, and 4.1% of Americans have a serious mental illness.

How does it work?

I’m not a doctor, but I like to explain the foundation of mental illness and the need for treatment by comparing it to physical illness, something almost everyone can relate to.

When a person experiences a physical illness, it essentially means that their body isn’t functioning the way it would when healthy. When a person has the flu, a very common physical illness, they have a viral infection of their respiratory tract. This infection causes symptoms, including fever, fatigue, and physical pain.

When a person experiences a mental illness, it means that their brain isn’t functioning the way it would when healthy. Mental illnesses often last for years or even a lifetime.

I want to address the most commonly referred to forms of mental illness: Depression, Anxiety, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, more commonly known as OCD. These terms are often used to describe everyday experiences and emotions that are not necessarily mental illnesses, which leads to confusion.

Depression

Depression is a commonly used term, and feeling depressed does not necessarily mean a person experiences mental illness. It is ordinary for a person to feel depressed and sad when life is hard.

Major Depressive Disorder, a mental illness, can cause people to feel depressed and sad when things in life are good. It alters the brain, causing chemical and hormonal imbalances that affect a person in negative ways.

When people suffer from Depression, the mental illness, they may experience sadness, hopelessness, and excessive feelings of guilt and worthlessness. Physically, they may experience restlessness, fatigue, or sleep in excess or lack. If left untreated, or if treatment is ineffective, it can lead to suicidal thoughts and inclinations.

Anxiety

As with depression, anxiety is a commonly used term and a widely experienced emotion. Feeling anxious does not necessarily mean that a person experiences mental illness.

There are several types of what are called anxiety disorders. Among them are Generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Anxiety disorders are mental illnesses; the brain’s functioning is altered.

When a person has an anxiety disorder, their anxieties, or worries, are often persistent and irrational. A person may fixate on a specific thought or happening nonstop for hours or an entire day. These fixations can be so severe that they hinder a person’s ability to function.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

OCD is a term that is widely misused to describe someone who is a perfectionist or very detail-oriented. According to Mayo Clinic, OCD “features a pattern of unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions).”

They also say that “Ultimately, you feel driven to perform compulsive acts to try to ease your stress. Despite efforts to ignore or get rid of bothersome thoughts or urges, they keep coming back.”

Obsessive-compulsive disorder causes what is known as a vicious cycle where obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior beget only more obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior. Obsessions and compulsions can be physical, mental, or both. Individuals who suffer from OCD can experience obsessions such as repetitively washing hands, needing to re-check whether a door is locked, arranging physical items a certain way, or repeating specific thoughts or prayers for lengthy periods without respite.

How to and not to treat a Christian with mental illness

The Bible has a lot to say about worry and anxiety.

In Philippians 4:6, St. Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” In Matthew 6:34, Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” 1 Peter 5:7 says about the Lord, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

These verses are easy to remember and share with others but may be of no solace to a person who experiences mental illness. Why is this?

When you suffer from mental illness, not worrying, not being anxious, and being happy can often be beyond your control, even with the help of medicine.

If I get provoked by criticism, a personal attack, or hearing bad news, I can literally think about such a thing for the rest of the day, making it take longer to go to sleep.

I know to my core that God loves me, but telling me not to worry, or to be joyful at times doesn’t help because it is simply something I’m often not able to control. Prominent Christian speakers have said things such as “there is no such thing as a sad Christian,” and “worry is practical atheism,” which I think are insensitive and untrue, especially when considering the experience of Christians with mental illness, and that those are common, natural emotions.

Never, ever, ever, criticize a person’s faith when they are struggling not to worry, or when they feel depressed and sad rather than joyful. I’m not less holy, less faithful, or less believing than anyone else if I don’t feel joyful or if I am overwhelmed by worry.

What should you do?

From my perspective, offering a listening ear, without telling people how to think, is the best thing a person can do to help. Suggestions may be welcome and helpful, but at times they may not be. Praying for them is essential and asking to pray with them when in-person can also be comforting.

Seeking treatment

Though miraculous healings occur, as with a physical illness, mental illnesses such as Depression and anxiety disorders are not problems that you can simply pray away: it requires treatment and stigma has no place in preventing someone from seeking it out.

If you know someone who shows signs of depression or an anxiety disorder, ask if they are seeing a counselor and taking medicine, and if they say no, encourage them to speak with their doctor and a licensed counselor. A psychiatrist can evaluate someone and determine if they have a mental illness, and then provide them with medication and refer them to a counselor. A counselor can provide practical ways that a person can cope with their thoughts and experiences, which when combined with medicine can make things much better.

Illegal or Unthinkable: One Pro-Life Catholic’s Perspective on How to End Abortion

Confession: I really don’t want to write this post.  Despite evidence to the contrary, I don’t court controversy and don’t enjoy being bombarded by people from both sides of our country’s political divide. And so I’ve been uncomfortable but quiet over the past few weeks as many of my pro-life friends celebrated and most of my pro-choice friends decried the latest laws limiting abortion.

Then I attended my 30-year Georgetown Reunion, and took part in a workshop on Social Justice.  One of the takeaways was that although the need for change can seem overwhelming, and we may wonder what–if any–impact an individual can have, we all have spheres of influence where we can hope to make a difference.  And we were charged with committing to doing what we could within those spheres.

So here I am, y’all.  A blog (and its associated social media) seems like a pretty obvious sphere.  And not writing about the controversy surrounding the new abortion laws is starting to feel like cowardice.  After all, I have a history of writing at the intersection of the Catholic faith and social justice, and even though I have been keeping quiet, it’s not as though I have nothing to say.  So here goes.

The Goal of the Pro-Life Movement

Let’s start with a question: what is the goal of the pro-life movement? I suspect if you asked a pro-choice person, he’d say it’s to make abortion illegal.  On the other hand, if you asked a pro-life person, I’d hope her answer would be that it’s to END abortion.

By itself, outlawing abortion won’t END abortion, because women with means will procure safe illegal abortions while poor women resort to unsafe ones.  Babies–and some mothers–will continue to die.

What we should really want is to make abortion UNTHINKABLE.

Tell me, why don’t you beat your children? Until 1875, there were no laws in the United States to protect them from abuse.  But is that why you don’t beat them, because you are afraid of being caught and arrested? No, you don’t beat them because it is abhorrent and you would never dream of doing such a thing.  That’s how we should want everyone to feel about abortion in the future.

If you think all of the above means that I don’t think abortion should be illegal, you’d be wrong.  If an unborn baby is a human person, then it deserves the same protections as any other human person.  We cannot allow killing an innocent human person to be legal.

The “Heartbeat Laws”

So why am I not enthusiastic about the “Heartbeat Laws” virtually banning abortions (because most women would not find out they were pregnant in time to get one)?  There are a number of reasons and I am here to break them down for you.

These laws have not yet gone into effect and I doubt they ever will.  They were drafted with one goal in mind–and it wasn’t to make abortion  unthinkable.  Rather it was to force a challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision, gambling that the latest conservative-leaning Supreme Court justices will seize this opportunity to overturn it.  AND I DON’T THINK THEY WILL.

These laws are going to be challenged and overturned, as they are currently unconstitutional, as they were designed to be.  Babies will continue to be aborted as the laws make their way through the courts.  If the Supreme Court chooses to take them up–and remember, they can refuse to–I believe they are so extreme (not including the rape and incest exceptions that most Americans–NOT ME–favor) that the justices will uphold Roe v. Wade as settled law.

I might be 100% wrong.  I hope I am.  But remember, even if Roe v. Wade goes away, that leaves many states where abortions will continue to be legal, and where those pro-abortion laws will no doubt become even more entrenched in response.

An Incremental Approach

The legislative approach I prefer is an incremental one.  For example, it’s perfectly licit for a Catholic legislator to vote for an abortion-limiting law that contains exceptions for rape and incest, not because those babies ought to have any fewer rights, but because it is still better than the current situation and such bills have a better chance of passing into law and being upheld by the courts.  In the same vein, there are other laws that could be proposed to limit abortions that the majority of Americans find reasonable.  Laws that limit abortions after a fetus can feel pain, laws requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital, laws regulating abortion clinics in the same manner that other free-standing medical clinics are regulated, laws requiring parental consent:  these are measures that the majority of Americans who are in the mushy middle on abortion can understand and support.

The Mushy Middle

And that’s most Americans.  Most Americans don’t embrace the extreme positions represented in our online debates.  They think abortion is wrong and should be limited but not prohibited before a certain point.  Most Americans would be perfectly happy with unlimited abortion in the first trimester and increasing regulations thereafter, with exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, and to save the mother’s life.

For practicing Catholics (and other pro-life supporters) and extreme pro-choice supporters alike that position doesn’t make any logical sense.  To be clear, if abortion is killing a human being, it is always gravely wrong; and on the opposite end of the argument, if it’s ever acceptable it must be always acceptable.  These are the facts that underlie the entrenched positions of those of us doing most of the arguing, that we cannot ever really get past.  But the position of most Americans on abortion–the folks I call the “mushy middle”–is not rooted in logic.  It’s rooted in their feelings–their feelings of distaste for the procedure AND their feelings of compassion for women in difficult circumstances.

Making Abortion Unthinkable

Those people in the mushy middle are the ones we have to win over if we really want to end abortion.  And we are not winning them over by passing extreme laws.  They are horrified by diagrams of partial-birth abortion, but they are equally horrified at the prospect of twelve-year-old incest victims forced to bear their rapists’ children.  Never mind that both of those scenarios are rare compared to the total number of abortions; they are what we both sides trot out to to try to swat opinions and they end up canceling each other out.

I fear these new laws will take those moderate folks and turn them radical, that they will be more moved by the “my body my choice” argument as they see abortions becoming illegal without the exceptions they largely favor.  And that would be a shame because we have been making progress with them!  Millennials are a more pro-life generation.  People with disabilities are becoming more visible, many of them advocating themselves for their right to be here.  We’ve succeeded in some states at passing more moderate laws limiting abortions.  Clinics have been closing.  Abortion rates have slowed.

So how do we continue the progress we have made?  By helping women.

Respecting All Life

Look, I know that there are lots of folks active in the pro-life movement who are also providing assistance to women and their unborn babies and caring for babies after they are born.  I know all about Catholic Charities.  And I know that I’m not the only pro-life “social justice warrior” in the state of Tennessee, not even close!  I also know that some people who oppose legislation to help the poor are very generous on a personal level.  And while it’s true that people of good will can disagree about the best way to help these women, it’s hard to ignore the statistics in articles like this one demonstrating that abortion rates go down during Democratic administrations.

But this is the reality: women are aborting babies because they don’t have affordable day care, because they don’t have maternity leave, because they don’t have affordable housing, because they are desperate.  Until we fix some of this, abortion will remain the first thought for many desperate women, and the people in the mushy middle will want them to have access to it, thinking that is compassionate.  If every pregnant woman had the support she needed, the perceived need for most abortions would disappear and most Americans wouldn’t see any reason for it anymore.  In time we could look back on the past 40 years and wonder how this ever could have happened and why on earth it took so long to fix it.

I know that most pro-life people really do care about babies, but I also understand why many Americans don’t believe that.   When we vote to end abortion but for caging migrant children,  against health care reform,  for removing welfare funds, and against family leave, we don’t seem pro-life.  We don’t look consistent.  We really make it look like “controlling women’s bodies” is all that we care about.  If we can demonstrate through common-sense, compassionate legislation that we really love them both and that our opposition to abortion is rooted in our respect for ALL life, I believe that’s when we will start to change hearts and minds.

And while legislation may make accessing abortion more difficult, it’s changed hearts and minds that will make abortion unthinkable.

Unplanned: Can Its Truth Reach Those Who Need It?

I hear that Unplanned, the movie that recounts Abby Johnson‘s conversion from Planned Parenthood clinic director of the year to pro-life activist, is under a media blackout, but you’d never know it from my newsfeed.  I’d been hearing about it from all my Catholic pro-life friends for weeks before it premiered, and I had no interest in seeing it.

But my next door neighbor and dear friend talked me into going with her and I’m glad I did.  I can’t really say I enjoyed it because of the subject matter, but the movie held my attention.  I was impressed and I wasn’t really expecting to be.

The irony that it’s legal for a 17-year-old to have an abortion without a parent’s consent but not to watch one simulated on screen is not lost on me, but even so I wouldn’t take my own teenagers to this movie.  I believe the R rating is justified and I had to avert my eyes more than once.

That’s not to suggest that Unplanned‘s gore is gratuitous.  As Abby herself says to her husband when she arrives home in blood-spattered sneakers, “Nobody ever said that abortion is pretty.”  The scenes were appropriate and effective within the context of the story, although the aftermath of Abby’s at-home chemical abortion probably could have been cut shorter.

Reading the above, you might assume that Unplanned is just a moving-picture version of those awful graphic photos with which over-the-top activists like to assault unsuspecting bystanders.  On the contrary, the film is surprisingly nuanced.  Even as an unapologetic pro-choice clinic director, Abby is a sympathetic character, and so are the other women who work with her (the obvious exception is her villainous, money-grubbing boss: “Non-profit is a tax status, not a business model.”).  They truly believe the work they do helps women, and Abby sees the real mission of her clinic as providing healthcare and resources to prevent unplanned pregnancies and, by extension, abortions.

I was shocked and then thrilled to see some pro-life protesters who were decidedly unsympathetic, screaming at women, calling them murderers, waving aborted baby pictures at them.  It was honest of the movie to confront this abusive behavior head on, and to use the prayerful, kind protesters to rebut it and to demonstrate throughout the movie the importance of dialogue and respect and finding common ground.

While Unplanned left me with a mostly positive impression, I do have two criticisms.  And while that may not seem like much, I fear that they are quite damaging to the film’s potential to change the minds and hearts of abortion rights supporters.

At the very beginning of the movie, we get a disclaimer: Based on a true story.  I know lots of movies begin that way.  I know translating events from a book to film requires a certain amount of dramatic licenses.  Still, this immediately called every event into question for me.  I had to wonder what exactly was changed? What exactly was not strictly true? And while there is Truth to be found even in completely fictional stories, if I were a skeptical pro-choice Planned Parenthood fan watching this movie, I would take the disclaimer as license to question–even discount–everything I saw.

Even worse was the confrontation between Abby and her former boss, Cheryl, just after Abby makes her debut into the world of sidewalk counseling outside the fence of the very clinic she once ran.  As a way of intimidating Abby with the power and influence of Planned Parenthood, Cheryl brags, “We’ve got Soros, Gates, Buffet . . . ”

Maybe Cheryl really said those exact words in real life, although it didn’t sound to me like anything a real person would say, but I was immediately pulled right out of the movie, cringing inwardly as I imagined how a pro-choice viewer would react to the name-dropping of George Soros in particular.  Don’t comment and tell me how much money Soros donates to Planned Parenthood.  I am sure he does and you don’t have to convince me, but he’s also constantly accused of being involved in various “liberal conspiracies” by far right wing types, and including this here will make some viewers dismiss the entirety of the movie.

Which leads me to the big question I was left with after watching Unplanned:  Who is the movie for?  I can see it as a vehicle for energizing those who are already against abortion, or perhaps as a recruitment tool for 40 Days for Life.  I can see it providing topics for discussion among pro-lifers.  But even if we can get pro-choice people into the theatre to watch, because of the foregoing I am not sure I can see it changing their minds about abortion or Planned Parenthood; and it’s a shame that reservations about the truth of events in a movie might obscure the Truth about abortion.

Bold, Brave, Catholic: Living Like Others are Watching

A lot of people think of bravery in terms of combat or mountain climbing or running into a burning building to rescue someone.  And no doubt it takes bravery to do those things.  But I think most of us don’t give ourselves enough credit for the small moments every day in which we overcome our fear.   I know I’ve read—and agree—that bravery is not a lack of fear but rather is feeling fear but acting anyway.  Being bold to me means being a little extra-brave.  It would be brave, for example, to pray in front of an abortion clinic.  It would be bold to offer to pray with someone who was on her way inside.

Read the rest of this guest post at A Beautiful, Camouflaged, Mess of a Life.

Five Takeaways from the Covington Catholic Controversy

This will be my first–and I hope last–time weighing in on the post-March for Life encounter between MAGA hat-wearing teenagers from an all-boys Catholic school in Kentucky and Native American activists visiting D.C. for the Indigenous Peoples March.  I don’t have definitive answers on the truth of what was actually happening in the viral video (which I will NOT link to), but I do have some observations and thoughts.

What You See Depends on Where You Stand.

That’s pretty obvious, right?  There are dozens of videos of this moment taken from many perspectives; if, for example, you watch one that was filmed from behind the boy who was involved in the face-off with the Native American elder, you wouldn’t see his now-famous face (sporting an expression that has been characterized as both a nervous smile and a smug smirk).  But I’m speaking metaphorically here.

Where do you stand as you consider this encounter?  Are you Catholic? A Southerner? Someone who has participated in Marches for Life?  Do you despise Donald Trump and MAGA hats? Are you Native American?  Have you experienced bullying?  Are you a mother of teenage boys?  Your answers to these questions will determine your predisposition to interpret the video, especially since by the time you watched it you had already read opinions about what was happening from the sources you trust.

We Are Angry About the Wrong Things

Don’t get me wrong–we should absolutely be angry about racism, bullying, misunderstanding, misrepresentations, death threats, disrespect, and many other evils that this video and the furor around it have come to represent.  However, it isn’t our job to be angry about everything everywhere all the time.  Fifteen years ago, no one but the folks involved would ever have known about what happened in those few minutes.  It would have been up to them to make sense of it and to perhaps learn something from it.  Meanwhile the rest of us should spend more time being angry about–and trying to do something about–the injustices that we certainly encounter around us every day.  Would those of us who bravely wield keyboards in the face of injustices five hundred miles away be so ready to actually intervene in person at home when, for example, a co-worker tells a racist joke?

Teenagers Are Not Adults

Teenage boys may look like adults and they may think they are adults but they are not adults.  Their brains are not finished developing.  They have poor impulse control.  They tend to follow the crowd.

Our criminal justice system recognizes this by having a separate system to govern underage crime.  We don’t execute teenagers or give them life sentences.  We recognize that they can be rehabilitated.

If these boys are guilty of the worst possible interpretation of the video, they are still boys.  Stupid teenage boys who can learn to be better.  I’ll bet you knew some people who were, frankly, assholes in high school who grew up to be pretty good folks.  You might even have been one of them!  I know I’m a better person now than I was when I was a teenager.  Should they suffer consequences? Make reparations?  Absolutely! Should they receive death threats and have their lives ruined forever?  I don’t think so.

It Is Not Wrong to Extend Mercy to the Privileged

I have read several posts from writers who have walked back their original interpretation of the encounter and have decided to give the Covington boys the benefit of the doubt.  And I have seen those same folks attacked because they are giving privileged white boys that which is denied to other sectors of the population.  If you doubt that these boys are privileged, imagine the exact same scenario only with a big group of African-American boys from a D.C. public school.  Would the reaction be the same?  Would those boys be interviewed on the Today Show and be invited to the White House?  I expect some of the very same people who are defending the Covington boys would assume the worst about these hypothetical black boys.

Some seem to be saying that fairness demands we assume the worst about everyone.  But look, y’all, what we should be shooting for is a society that gives EVERYONE the benefit of the doubt.

Catholic Students on a Field Trip to the March for Life Should Not Wear MAGA Hats

Nor should they wear I’m with Her hats or Yes We Can hats or any other kind of political hats.  They should wear their school uniforms, if you ask me, or matching t-shirts identifying themselves as students at a Catholic school.  And they should remember that when they are in uniform, they are representing the Church and act accordingly.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Grieving Together: Review and Giveaway

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

Ten years ago, I lost our sixth and last baby in an early miscarriage, a baby who was planned, wanted, loved.  I’ve never written about it here.  In a very dark period of my life during which I lost first the baby, then my dream home, and finally almost every possession to fire, it was and remains by far the most painful of the losses I suffered.  I don’t like to talk about it and I’ve never wanted to write about it.

But I decided to share just a little today in the hopes of helping ease the burden of others who have lost babies.  There are so many of us, which is something I hadn’t realized until I miscarried and women started whispering words of commiseration: “It happened to me too.  It is hard but it will get better.”

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

When I was deep in grief–a longer period of time than I would have expected–when all I could do was lie in bed and sob while clutching a board book, the only thing I had bought for the baby, I felt very alone.  I looked online for resources, as one does these days, and found very little.  Eventually my husband and I conducted our own private little ceremony of praying together and naming the baby.  This did bring closure and healing to him, but my grieving process was very different.

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

I wish that I’d had a copy of Grieving Together: A Couple’s Journey through Miscarriage.  This is the book you never want to need, but are so glad exists if you do.

Reading it even now, I felt affirmed, comforted, accompanied.

Laura and Franco Fanucci have authored a much-needed treasure, a companion and guide to grieving together as a couple.  Having experienced infertility, miscarriage, and infant loss in their own marriage, they know intimately the grief of their readers.  That experience informs the book and their empathy is tangible.  Reading a book from people who have been in your situation is uniquely comforting.

I was impressed by the book’s breadth–it starts with the more practical aspects of miscarriage: what it is, what the experience might be like, considerations of medical treatment and funeral arrangements.  But this section is anything but clinical–it is still animated by Laura and Franco’s love and concern for their readers.  The next section covers grief, including the ways the grieving process may be different for each partner. This is followed by a section of practical suggestions of support from friends, family, the community, and the Church, making this a book that’s valuable to more than those who have suffered loss themselves.  Finally, the last section discusses life after miscarriage, whether your path includes adoption, another pregnancy, or no more babies.

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

This is a Catholic book, published by Our Sunday Visitor, with Catholic prayers and rites, concrete ways parishes can help, saints to pray to for comfort and guidance, and more.  Other than our pastor’s sincere sympathy, my parish offered no support to us when we lost our baby, and I suspect that is pretty standard.  So this book would make a great gift for your pastor, along with a suggestion for a ministry to serve couples who have suffered miscarriage.  The Catholic Church is well known for concern over unborn babies threatened by abortion, and sponsors ministries for post-abortive women; her concern for babies lost involuntarily and their parents should be a natural outgrowth of these pro-life convictions.

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

Grieving Together is available now on Amazon. (If you purchase it through links on the blog I will receive a small commission.)  I received the book free in exchange for my honest review.

Or you could enter the giveaway below and win a copy for yourself, a friend, or your parish.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Summers, Swimming, and Sexual Harassment: What Girls from the 80s Remember

I was about 14 years old, looking through the stacks in the downtown public library, when a young man passing by made physical contact with me.  I wasn’t sure if it was on purpose or an accident, but it felt wrong somehow–and I still remember the way he smiled.  I didn’t tell my mother because I felt embarrassed and wasn’t really sure if I imagined the whole thing.
Leslie at 14 2
I was around 15, walking around our subdivision alone, as I often did on summer days, when a boy unleashed a screaming tirade of obscenities at me through the window of his home.  I didn’t tell anyone, and avoided walking by that house as much as I could from then on.

I was maybe 16, hanging out in the guidance counselor’s outer office with other kids, waiting for a meeting.  Some of the boys started making openly sexual comments, directed at me and my body.  I was shocked at what they said to me, but I didn’t tell anyone.

Leslie at 16
I was 17, on a bus tour of France with my grandmother, struggling to avoid Mr. Chavez, a middle-aged traveler in an open-necked shirt who wanted me to help him shop for leisure suits when we got to Paris.  My grandmother had to ask our tour guide to keep him away from me.

I was 18, getting off the van at the D.C. housing project where I tutored two little girls, when a young man standing across the street casually exposed himself to all of us.  We did our best to ignore it.

Leslie at 18
I was 19, walking home with my roommate from an evening on the town, when we found ourselves surrounded by a crowd of laughing younger teenage boys, who groped our bodies as we whacked at them with our handbags before they vanished, still laughing, into the night.  We never talked about it much afterwards, but I know we were both afraid we would encounter them again.

Leslie at 19
I was 20, working at a restaurant in the Marriott hotel, when one of my customers whispered in my ear, “When can I have YOU for dinner?” The manager told me that if I had smacked him she would have fired me.  She also refused to fire the bus boy who would corner us whenever we were alone in the silverware closet and put his hands all over us, refusing to stop when we asked him to.

Leslie at 20
I was 21, walking to my fiance’s apartment, dreading the moment when I would have to pass the parking lot where several men seemed to be always hanging out.  They would stop whatever they were doing to stare intensely at me as I walked by–every single day.

Leslie at 21
Those are my #metoo experiences–the ones I can think of off the top of my head–and I was so lucky.  I don’t remember every detail, although some are still quite clear.  And I certainly haven’t forgotten the fear, the embarrassment, the shame.  Although my trauma was not lasting, when each of these events occurred and for some time thereafter, they caused me discomfort, dread, inconvenience, and fear.

Last week during family discussions leading up to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I kept remembering more and more of these incidents, most of which I hadn’t thought of in years.  “Does every woman have these experiences?” asked my husband, incredulously.  One middle-aged white male, at least, learned a lot last week–and altered his outlook.

I, too, was 15 in the summer of 1982.  I, too, spent most of that summer at the swimming pool and hanging out with friends.  Luckily for me, my friends were all girls and we did our socializing at all-girl slumber parties.

I’ve heard people criticizing Dr. Ford’s testimony, calling her unbelievable and “rehearsed” because she sounded timid and scared and unlike the career woman she is.  Leaving aside the fact that a professional and confident woman would be even less likely to be believed (remember Anita Hill?), Dr. Ford was not her professional and confident self that day.  We saw the 51-year-old woman who was able to summon up the courage to appear before the nation to be questioned about her allegations, but we heard a girl: 15-year-old Chrissy Blasey, terrified and traumatized.

I believe Chrissy Blasey, and I believe Dr. Christine Ford.

Rush Not to Judgment: Why I Am Giving Pope Francis the Benefit of the Doubt

When I read the reports of Archbishop Vigano’s accusations concerning Pope Francis late Saturday night, I felt physically sick.  I think I have made it pretty clear here and elsewhere that I love Pope Francis.  And because I am a faithful and obedient Catholic, albeit a bad one, I would have been sickened by such allegations levied against any Pope, because I really believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on Earth, chosen by the Holy Spirit to lead the Church.
So at first I felt spiritually unmoored.  For the first time in all of these scandals, I felt a shaking of my faith.
But again, as a faithful Catholic, I felt bound to give the Pope of all people the benefit of the doubt, to withhold judgment while waiting to hear more.  By morning when the mainstream press was unable to independently corroborate Vigano’s statement with documentary evidence, I started to calm down.
See, I don’t know much about Church politics.  I mean, I know they exist, but I hate to think about such petty and worldly concerns being mixed up with God’s Church.  I don’t like the bandying about of terms like “liberal” and “conservative” Catholic, even though I know what people mean when they say that.  I’ve been accused of being “liberal” but I see myself as quite orthodox and challenge anyone to point to any occasion I have ever dissented from any Church teaching, feeling quite confident that they won’t be able to.
So when I saw that a person of some prominence in the Church had accused Pope Francis, my initial reaction was to believe him, because why would he not tell the truth?  But then I realized that he was the person who set the Pope up with Kim Davis, and I learned of his reputation of being too involved in U.S. culture wars.  And I started to think about where the accounts had been published–usually the first thing I look at in assessing news, but which I had overlooked in my distress–in sources I know from my own experience to be right wing and slanted in their reporting.   I noticed that the mainstream press wasn’t finding anything to write even though they were investigating hard.  Finally I saw exactly who was–not sorrowfully, not regretfully, but eagerly–leaping on the anti-Pope bandwagon and I thought I could see what was happening.
I’ve been downright horrified since this Pope was elected to see some of the things people have said about him on social media–people purporting to be faithful Catholics and held up as holy by many.  I’ve even had to unfollow some people and pages that seemed to me were bordering on heresy in their comments about our Holy Father.  I had always thought that respect and reverence for the Pope is a baseline qualification for being Catholic.  I personally wasn’t all that excited when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected, but as soon as he became Pope Benedict, that was it for me.  He became my Pope and I gave him my respect and my obedience.   And yet it was obvious that Francis-haters–some long declared as such and some who had been staying quiet out of, one presumes, respect for the office–were leaping out of the woodwork to announce their unqualified belief in Vigano’s testimony.
Do you remember the Steele dossier?  Remember how the mainstream press wouldn’t release it because they couldn’t confirm it?  I think it was BuzzFeed that leaked it initially.  Why do you think Vigano’s representative disseminated his testimony through the outlets he chose?  Why do you suppose he didn’t call The New York Times or The Washington Post with his bombshell news?  Because he knew that the mainstream media would have sat on it, as they did on the dossier, and rightly so–until they could confirm it.  Perhaps he knew that would never happen.
I waited anxiously for the Pope’s response, and I have no trouble admitting I was disappointed at first; but now I think he was being very smart.  First of all, he did not allow himself to be forced into making intemperate remarks on an airplane–as he sometimes has in the past–which seems clear to me is what his opponents were hoping to orchestrate by releasing the document when they did.  If he had openly denied the allegations, what would have made his detractors take his word over Vigano’s anyway?  Therefore, he offered the equivalent of “I am not going to dignify this gossip with a response,”  and he asked the journalists to investigate the claims, knowing that this is the only way his name will ever be cleared.
Think about it–we can and should ask the Vatican to investigate; we can and should ask the Bishops to investigate–but who really believes any of them anymore?  The USCCB came out with a statement which seems supportive of the Pope while also calling for further investigation, but not only is the credibility of the bishops at rock bottom right now, how much credence will anyone give to a show of support to the man who has the power to fire them all?
And let’s remember who else isn’t talking:  Vigano.  Why is no one upset about that?  He made allegations and now refuses to be cross-examined about them.  How can an investigation go forward under those circumstances?
Amidst calls for the Pope’s immediate resignation, I found it telling that the founder and spokesman for Bishopaccountability.org, a site dedicated to providing transparency regarding charges of sex abuse in the Church, is not yet among them.  Even though Pope Francis doesn’t have a spotless record on the site from his days as a bishop, Terry McKiernan told Our Sunday Visitor that he believes “Archbishop Vagano has ‘an axe to grind,’ [and] that there still should be a thorough investigation into what the pope and bishops knew about former Cardinal McCarrick, and when they knew it.”
Until that happens, I’ve been “investigating” myself the only way I know how:  by reading a wide variety of sources and trying to understand what is going on.  I have linked several of them below.  I am prepared to be accused of providing “liberal” sources.  I don’t believe that is accurate, but if it is you can chalk it up to the fact that the stories I am linking and the points of view they showcase seem to me to be underrepresented in what I’ve been reading on Catholic Facebook.
My “investigation” leads me to believe that conservative culture warriors have seized this opportunity and hijacked this crisis in an attempt to bring Pope Francis down.  They attack the Pope, his supporters respond, and now the conversation is about church politics instead of the abuse, the cover up, and the victims.  This, I believe, is one reason Pope Francis did not immediately answer the accusations–because he wanted the focus to remain on the sex abuse crisis, as it should.
Now, many faithful Catholics I know are sincerely alarmed by Vigano’s testimony and confused by the Pope’s response, and either don’t believe or may not realize that they are being manipulated by people who don’t care one iota about the sexual abuse or the victims but are playing politics and trying to split the Church into factions, much in the way our country has become divided along harsh partisan lines.  This is in itself a symptom of a sick sinfulness in the Church that exists alongside the sex and the silence.
Tactically I think the Pope’s response was the correct one.  Pastorally, not so much.  People are confused and upset and they want, need, and deserve answers.  I feel the Holy Father has always intended to provide them but I think he needs to do so sooner rather than later.  If there is never any documentary evidence, though, and if the people who could confirm key parts of the testimony–like Pope Benedict and Theodore McCarric–refuse to speak, I have to wonder whether the choice of whom to believe will continue to break along those same tired ideological lines, and whether the political divide in Christ’s Church is the real sin we need to be discussing.
I’ve always been on the side of the truth, ALWAYS.  I’m the obnoxious person who goes so far as to correct misinformation being passed around in emails and on Facebook, even when my own confirmation bias is triggered.  But right now, when we can’t know the truth, as a devout Catholic I stand with Pope Francis until I have more than gossip to go on.
RELATED LINKS
From the Associated Press:
Document in hand, Tosatti then set out to find publications willing to publish it in its entirety: the small Italian daily La Verita, the English-language National Catholic Register and LifeSiteNews and the Spanish online site InfoVaticana.
All are conservative or ultraconservative media that have been highly critical of Francis’ mercy-over-morals papacy.
The English and Spanish publications translated the Italian document and all agreed on a Sunday morning embargo, coinciding with the second and final day of Francis’ trip to Ireland, where the Catholic church’s sex abuse and cover-up scandal dominated his trip.
Tosatti said Vigano didn’t tell him where he was going after the article came out, knowing that the world’s media would be clamoring to speak with him.
From The Washington Post:

Pope Francis has long faced criticism from traditionalists — a group that includes academics as well as cardinals — who say the church is too willingly following the whims of the anything-goes modern age.

Much of the dissent has remained within the Vatican walls, as Francis’s opponents worked to stonewall reforms. A few high-ranking church leaders have questioned him publicly about his teachings. But the simmering opposition has suddenly exploded across the Catholic world, with a former Vatican ambassador accusing the pope of covering up sexual abuse — and demanding that Francis step down.

From Vatican Insider in La Stampa:
That it is not simply the outburst of a Church man tired of the rotten things he has seen around him, but of a long and carefully planned operation, in an attempt to get the Pope to resign, is demonstrated by the timing and the involvement of the same international media network that for years has been propagating – often using anonymous ones – the requests of those who would like to overturn the result of the 2013 conclave. This is attested by the same testimonies written in the various blogs by the journalists who published the Viganò dossier: always in the forefront in the defense of the traditional family, but careless to drop the bombshell on the very day in which Francis concluded with a great mass the international meeting of families. 
From Our Sunday Visitor:
In his letter, Archbishop Viganò also wades into ideological battles roiling the Church in the United States. He singles out several bishops who were appointed by or are close to Pope Francis, questioning their sincerity and commitment to rooting out sex abuse. And in a time when the role of homosexuality in the clergy sex-abuse scandals is being hotly debated, the archbishop accuses some prelates who are close to the pope of belonging to a “homosexual current in favor of subverting Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.”
McKiernan, of BishopAccountability.org, called Archbishop Viganò’s long statement “a uniquely comprehensive salvo in the Catholic culture wars.” He added that clergy sex abuse cuts across ideological lines.
From The New York Times:

The clerical sexual abuse is not only a personal and professional tragedy, but an institutional one, said John Carr, the director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University.

“We need to find out who knew what when, and what they did or did not do to protect young people,” Mr. Carr said. “The weaponization of the sexual abuse scandal uses the suffering of the vulnerable to advance ideological agendas and makes a horrible situation worse.”

From Steel Magnificat:
For a moment, it was all about the victims. Not people who dislike the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite or people who believe conspiracy theories, the actual victims. People who were raped or molested and then shamed into silence because it was more convenient to pretend they were lying than to work for justice.
Then the people who didn’t care about the victims found a way to make it all about them, and what they want the Church to look like, and how much they hate Pope Francis.
And I’ve heard barely a word about the victims since.

Hope from the Holy Spirit

Hope is one of the great theological virtues, one of the three things that last.  Its opposite is despair, which I have often heard referred to as the one unforgivable sin.  The temptation to despair is great right now.  Every day brings some new reprehensible revelation or confusing controversy.
But this painful purification of the Church is necessary, and we must hold onto hope.
Read the rest at Everyday Ediths.