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.

 

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.

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

Sydney and Calvin Have a Baby: A Book Review

One of the coolest things about blogging is getting free books in exchange for sharing my honest opinion of them here.  As I might have mentioned, I love books.  I love them so much that I have big stacks of them and so sometimes I don’t review them as quickly as I am supposed to.
But not this one! Sydney and Calvin Have a Baby has such a compelling premise that I could hardly wait to read it.  And since William had to have a root canal this week, I had a perfect opportunity to do it all in one sitting.  In fact, I had just a few pages left and I read them while sitting in the Arby’s drive-thru on the way home because I just HAD to know what happened.
I read a lot of young adult novels because my daughter loves the genre and brings them to my attention. But this one is different for a couple of reasons–one, it’s a specifically Catholic novel, and two, it starts with a rape and ends with a baby.
That’s pretty heavy stuff for a teen novel, and let’s throw in a couple of deaths, an orphan, mean girls, a close call at the abortion clinic, and dysfunctional families aplenty.  But the lovable, quirky main characters and the fresh narrative voice (Calvin, whose British accent you can almost hear) add humor and humanity without ever glossing over the truly terrible events in the story.
Perhaps when you think of a Catholic novel you imagine characters who pray all the time, lots of priests and nuns, and plenty of preaching.  That’s not what you’ll find here.  The Catholicism is mostly background–the kids go to a Catholic school, the families are nominally Catholic in that they go to Mass on Sunday and not much else.  The only truly devout Catholic we see is Calvin, and the Catholic heart of the story is in its redemptive message.
I enjoyed this novel so much that I would love to read more about Sydney and Calvin.  I would especially recommend it for a Catholic youth discussion group.

Author:  Adrienne Thorne

Publisher:  Gracewatch Media



Use the above link, or the one in the first paragraph, to purchase this book, and I will receive a small commission.

From Attachment to Free Range: A Progression

Free Range Is Not the Opposite of
You know, there’s an awful lot of sneering about “Attachment Parenting” on the Web. (Actually, there’s a lot of sneering about all kinds of parenting, for that matter–and I’ve done my share!)  But most of the snark seems to stem from a misunderstanding of what AP even is.  So let’s talk about it–and how a self-proclaimed slacker mom such as myself, who openly advocates for Free Range parenting and benign neglect, can also embrace (as an ideal, mind you) Attachment Parenting.
So here is what AP is, from the actual website of Attachment Parenting International, and with a link to click if you want to know more:
Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting
Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting
Feed with Love and Respect
Respond with Sensitivity
Use Nurturing Touch
Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
Provide Consistent and Loving Care
Practice Positive Discipline
Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life
Doesn’t sound as crunchy and weird and extreme as you thought, maybe? It doesn’t mean that you have to breastfeed your six-year-old and have a family bed until middle school.  It does mean that you don’t leave your baby propped up with a bottle in a crib alone in his own room as soon as you possibly can.  It doesn’t mean you have to give birth unassisted at home.  It might mean that you do a little research and preparation for birth instead of just believing every word that falls from the lips of your doctor.  It doesn’t mean that you are a failure as a parent if you ever raise your voice.  It does mean that screaming and smacking aren’t the preferred choices in your parenting toolbox.
For me, it meant extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and staying home with my kids, but you can practice attachment without doing any of those things.  One thing AP theory stresses is following the cues of your child.  Some kids don’t sleep well in bed with someone else.  Some babies self-wean early and never look back.  It’s not AP to force your children to conform to some ideal that that has nothing to do with the people they are.
Which brings me to the Free Range part of this post.
Free Range parenting also gets mocked online by parents who call it neglect, who would never leave their kids alone for one second, who hover over their big kids because they are so scared of the big bad dangerous world.  But Free Range doesn’t mean leaving your baby in the car in the Kmart parking lot for an hour, or abandoning your six-year-old to fend for herself for the day.  Simply put, according the website:
The short Free-Range Kids and Parent Bill of Rights is this:
Children have the right to some unsupervised time, and parents have the right to give it to them without getting arrested.
Now, how does that go along with AP?  It’s all about listening to your child’s cues.  That means when your kid WANTS to stay alone at home, you let him.  You don’t go off for the day.  You make sure he has a phone, and knows what to do in an emergency, and you go to the grocery store five minutes away for half an hour to begin with.  When he wants to stay in the car and listen to the radio while you pick up some milk at the convenience store, you leave him there.  When he asks to walk down the street to play with his friend, you teach him about watching out for cars and you wave good-bye.
A securely attached child, in my experience, is very likely to want to do all those things, because she has learned from experience that you are there when she needs you.  She hasn’t been raised to be fearful, because her needs have been met, she has been listened to, she knows the world is a good place, and she is confident.
Our society is seriously messed up.  We put babies in cribs alone and expect them to sleep through the night and do our best to put them on schedules and make them conform to our needs, and then when they are teenagers we won’t let them out of our sight.  Think about the animal kingdom.  Mammals keep their babies close at the beginning, then start teaching them independence a little at a time, and eventually actively push them away.  That’s the way it is supposed to be for us too, and if you DON’T give your kids a little freedom at the right time, just watch how they will push YOU away.
Free Range v. Attached

Five Favorites: Books That Change Lives

I’m a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short, to Five Favorites, hosted by Mama Knows, Honeychild.
five favorites
Let’s talk books today.  I don’t know how I would go about making a list of my five favorite books ever, so instead I will call this Five Favorite Books that have changed my life.  And if that sounds like an exaggeration, it’s really not.
1.  Humanae Vitae

If you are Catholic, this book should need no explanation.  It SHOULDN’T.  But sadly it probably does.
This is the papal encyclical issued by Pope Paul VI which confirmed the Church’s condemnation of artificial birth control.  But it doesn’t just condemn; it also explains, and does so beautifully.
Of course I grew up knowing that the Church was against contraception.  But in spite of 12 years of Catholic school, no one ever once explained WHY.  I went into college thinking that this was just some sort of old-fashioned and unimportant idea that I should feel free to ignore.
Then I took a Christian marriage class at Georgetown and read this book, and my life was changed.  And the change went deeper than just my understanding of this one issue; it also affected my relationship to the Church.  Because it was in reading this that I realized that Church teachings have explanations, that they aren’t just pronouncements from on high.  I decided right then that before ever disagreeing with the Church, even in matters of conscience, we must first read and reflect on its teachings.
2.  Let’s Have Healthy Children

When I found out I was pregnant with Emily, the first thing I did was go to the library and look for books to check out.  This was in the first batch, but I soon bought my own copy and annotated it heavily.  Adelle Davis’s findings remain a topic for debate today, but I remain convinced that the regimen of vitamins that I took while pregnant and breastfeeding are responsible for my children’s vibrant good health.
When my kids were babies I introduced foods to them the way Davis suggested too.  I have continued to believe that nutrition is the key to good health even when I didn’t always follow Davis’s guidelines.  The effect of the dietary changes I have recently made on my health confirms this belief!
3.  Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing
breastfeeding and natural childspacing

Besides the practical advice Sheila Kippley provides on breastfeeding, her stance on mother/baby togetherness formed the way I parented my children.  I didn’t know then what attachment parenting was, but Kippley told me that babies should be fed on demand, that nursing wasn’t just about food, that extended nursing was normal, and that mothers and babies shouldn’t be separated.
Before I read this book I thought of breastfeeding as something you did to give a baby a good start before weaning to the bottle at six months or so.  I would never have imagined myself nursing children until three or four years of age, and I wouldn’t have understood the parenting aspects of breastfeeding that go far beyond nutrition and shaped my mothering as well as my children.
This book also changed my life because it turned me into a breastfeeding advocate, which led me to develop online friendships with like-minded people that endure to this day, after our breastfeeding days are done.
4.  Childbirth without Fear

I never did have the all-natural childbirth I dreamed of when I first read this book, although I got closer each time.  Still, this book changed my life by influencing the way I viewed childbirth, by encouraging me to be skeptical of all interventions into this natural process, by leading me to read further (Painless Childbirth; Thank You, Dr. Lamaze; The Experience of Childbirth; Open Season), to take Bradley and Lamaze classes, and to become an advocate for myself in this area.  This book set me along the road that led to two successful VBACs after three C-sections.  It led me to connect with others who felt the same way who were a support for me and taught me so much.  And it contributed to my attitude toward medical intervention in general, because it became clear to me that doctors can be life-savers but that we have a responsibility to learn about our own health and advocate for ourselves, not just blindly follow medical advice “because doctor said so.”
5.  Kids Are Worth It!
kids are worth it

If you’ve read this book, and you know me, you’re probably thinking, “What’s she talking about?  She doesn’t parent her kids anything like what this book says!”  And you’d be correct.  But we all need something to aspire to, right?  I know that this is the best parenting book I’ve ever read because I keep coming back to it and quoting from it.  I don’t disagree with one word in it and I only wish I’d read it before I had so many kids and was already overwhelmed and making every possible mistake!
Still, even when I don’t follow the principles of this book, I can see where I’ve gone wrong and why, and that’s something, isn’t it?  There’s always hope.  And especially as my kids have gotten older I take comfort and advice from this: “Is it life-threatening? Is it morally threatening? Is it unhealthy?”  That’s helped me pick my battles.  Now that William is 13 I probably should re-read the teenage section of this book and see how I can improve this time around. 🙂
That’s it for this week.  If there are any books that have changed YOUR life, I wish you’d tell me about them in the comments!

Not Your Parents' Rhythm Method

I’m late to the party, but thought I should do my bit to promote NFP Awareness Week.
If you aren’t Catholic (and in a sad commentary on . . . lots of things, maybe even if you are) you may have no idea what NFP even is.  The doctor I went to see right after I was married didn’t.  Of course, that’s been a while back, so maybe the situation has improved.
NFP stands for Natural Family Planning, and it’s not your parents’ Rhythm Method, which didn’t work.  Learned properly and followed exactly, it’s just about as effective as the Pill.  Only it’s permitted by the Church and non-abortifacient, and if you don’t care about that stuff, maybe being able to avoid pregnancy AND possible blood clots and other unsavory consequences of bombarding your body with unnatural hormones for extended periods of time might pique your interest.
I remember my first exposure to NFP.  I was a Senior at Knoxville Catholic High School, in a co-ed class taught by a priest, and he showed us some goofy movie.  We heard the words “cervical mucus,” became disgusted and/or embarrassed, and quickly tuned out.  Now, I give him props for at least trying, but I can think of better ways to introduce the topic.  And because no groundwork had been laid beforehand (at least, not that I remember) to explain exactly WHY artificial contraceptives were wrong, other than “because the Church said so,” none of us understood the importance of what he was trying to teach us.
I was engaged to be married before I heard about NFP again, not in a marriage preparation class, but rather in a Christian Marriage class at Georgetown, which I took voluntarily as one of the classes I needed to get a minor in Theology.  This priest had us read Certain Declarations Concerning Sexual Ethics, Familiaris Consortio, and Humanae Vitae before we read The Art of Natural Family Planning.  These books changed my attitude and shaped my future life (and John’s, which he didn’t much appreciate since he was not a Catholic at the time!).
I’m not going to go into the details and the science because if you are truly interested and want to know you can Google the links as well as I can.  I can only share with you the freedom of knowing that you  are 1) following the law of the Church; 2) not polluting your body with chemicals; 3) not interfering with intimacy by the use of unpleasant and inconvenient devices.  Given today’s value for doing things naturally, I’m surprised that more people don’t embrace NFP for purely ecological reasons.
Well, you say, but it doesn’t work.  You have five children and everyone I know who writes about NFP has at least that many if not more.  I don’t want five children.
I didn’t want five children either.  I wanted ten.  See how I don’t have ten?  John didn’t want ten.  That’s called compromise.  I’ve been married for not quite 25 years.  If NFP doesn’t work, why do I only have five children?  Do you think that six-year space between Teddy and William was just luck?
Teddy's Graduation

The Exception that Proves the Rule

Original source: http://www.france24.com/en/20120820-furor-over-republicans-legitimate-rape-comment

In the wake of Todd Akin’s stupid (really, I could think of a fancier word but I think that one covers it) remarks about rape and abortion, and then VP-hopeful Paul Ryan’s follow-up distancing himself from Akin and downplaying his own oft-stated convictions regarding abortion in exceptional cases, pregnancy and rape are everywhere in the news this week.
I think I have something to contribute, though, and I would like to solicit contributions from you as well, if you have something to add in the comments.
I understand, I believe, the pro-choice position on abortion, as much as I disagree with it: that a woman should have the right to decide what to do with her own body, including whether to become or to stay pregnant. And I think most pro-choice people understand the pro-life position: that abortion is wrong because the unborn is a person whose right to life cannot be trumped by its mother’s rights.
But I CANNOT understand the reasoning behind allowing exceptions for rape and incest. I challenge anyone reading this who holds those beliefs to explain them below.
Pro-lifers and even many people in the muddy middle on abortion often find themselves frustrated by radical pro-choicers who refuse to allow for any limitations on abortion: waiting periods, parental notification, banning procedures most people find repugnant, like partial-birth abortions. But abortion rights activists realize that they have to argue against these limitations because to admit limitations is also to admit that there is something unsavory about abortion, somethings serious, something that makes people uncomfortable. When President Clinton opined that abortion should be “Safe, legal, and rare,” some were uncomfortable with his language because why should it be rare if there is nothing morally wrong about it?
On the flip side, allowing exceptions for incest and rape does much more damage to a pro-life argument. After all, WHY are we against abortion? Because we believe that the unborn child is a human being from the moment of conception and therefore entitled to the protections that human dignity demands from that moment forward. With that as our premise, how can we offer an exception based on how that human person was conceived?
We can’t, not logically. But most Americans have not been trained to think critically. They are uncomfortable with abortion on some level. They are also uncomfortable with allowing suffering of any kind. They look for compromises and find them in limiting abortions to certain trimesters, and to allowing exceptions in certain circumstances.
But offering exceptions based on mode of conception is sexist, honestly. It’s saying, “Well, you poor innocent woman, you shouldn’t have to be further victimized by carrying this baby because it wasn’t your fault.  But as for the rest of you sluts, you play, you pay.”

Those Conversations You Don't Want to Have with Your Kids

William (age 10) hit me with a couple of difficult topics right in a row the other night.  This post is part one.
Many parents struggle with how to talk to their children about where babies come from.  When I was growing up, I had many friends whose parents completely ignored this essential topic, leaving them to be instructed God only knows by who, how, or when.  Lucky for them they got to go to Girl Scout camp with me.  No joke, I drew a diagram and labelled female body parts–they had never even been taught the proper names.
I was raised to call things by their right names.  And when I was four, and my little sister was on the way, my mother showed me pictures of birth, which fascinated me.  I remember getting in trouble for telling a friend how babies got out of stomachs.  Her mother had told her they were all cut out (much less rare nowadays, sadly, but not in the early seventies) and she was upset with me for telling her the truth.  I remember being puzzled as to why this mother, who was by profession a nurse, would lie about this.
When I was seven, my mother took the occasion of my aunt expecting to read me a book entitled Where Do Babies Come From?  It was a simple book with artistic illustrations in soft colors (I hate the cartoony sex ed books that are popular these days).  I remember being extremely skeptical and asking her to show me exactly where it really said the part about how babies are made!
I admired my mother’s approach and saw no reason to deviate from it in the raising of my own kids.  I wanted them to be informed, and I also wanted them to be comfortable asking us anything.  So when Emily was little, I picked up my very own copy of the previously mentioned book at the used bookstore.  Then I waited.  I had always heard that you shouldn’t give kids more information than they were ready for, and to follow their cues.  With two brothers arriving in quick succession, Emily knew plenty about pregnancy at a young age.  Finally, when she was seven, she asked me what the daddy had to do with it.  Voila, I pulled out the book and read it to her.  Then I let her read it again herself.
The hysterical sequel to this was when her Daddy came home, and she was so excited that the first thing she did was to share this information with him, and then demanded that he read her the book as well.  He was horrified but hid it well.  Then she asked us. “Did YOU do that?”
I don’t have as clear a memory of talking to Jake and Teddy–Jake says that Emily actually told him surreptitiously at some point–but I know I read them that same book, and taught them the right words, and answered all their questions.  I recall Jake saying something like, “Well, you must have done it three times, since you have three children.”
This approach was a success with my three big kids.  True, occasionally someone would holler, “Penis!” while standing in line at the grocery store.  And I have been amazed at some of the questions they asked me, without any embarrassment.  But today, they are not shy about saying anything in front of me, which can be disconcerting but is better than the alternative.
So now we come to William.  He’s ten–will be eleven in March–so you would think we would have had this talk by now, right?  I kept waiting for him to ask me the questions that would start us down the path to the conversation.  But here’s the thing about William–besides being extremely innocent for his age (he’s homeschooled and doesn’t have close contact with any other little boys except his cousin) he also doesn’t pick things up unless they concern the topics he is vitally interested in–at the moment, xenomorphs, transformers, Godzilla, and animals.  He knows just about everything there is to know about those subjects.  I have frequently heard him refer to animals mating, and I wondered what he thought that entailed.  I assumed he probably knew a lot–how could he not, in a houseful of teenagers with their computers and movies and uncensored conversations–even though we had never had an official talk.
Because William is so oblivious we often carry on discussions right in front of him and assume he is not paying attention.  So the other night John and I were working and I asked a question that involved the very young mother of a client, who was married to a boy who was not the father of our client.  William wasn’t even in the office but he heard me and started asking questions.  “How could her husband not be her baby’s father?” he asked me.  I said, “Well, she was married, but she had a boyfriend at the same time.”  He mulled this over for a moment and then said, “People don’t mate like animals, do they?  I mean, you just have a baby with someone if you spend a lot of time with them, right?”
I could just feel John cringing at his desk and knew I wasn’t going to have any help in this conversation!  I said, “Actually, people do mate.”  “How?” said William.  Buying time, I asked him, “How do you think animals mate?” “I don’t really know,” he responded. “I know they have to be near each other, and bugs have to actually be touching each other.”
So here’s where I should have been able to reach for my trusty book, right?  Oh wait.
Right.  The book was in the house.  The house that BURNED DOWN.  Damn it.
Flying solo, I started with the part about each parent having a seed that will make the baby and that the seeds have to get together.  “How?” was the natural next question.  So trying to sound completely at ease, I briefly described the process.  “Really?”  he said.  “That sounds disgusting.”
“It sounds strange,” I said.  “I didn’t believe it myself when I first heard it.  But it’s really not disgusting, it’s nice.  It’s something people want to do when they love each other.”
“I still think it sounds disgusting,” he said.  Then he turned to John to continue his discussion of the Cloverfield monster.

Got baby?

Because I’m on vacation (where I envisioned I would have uninterrupted to hours to blog, but that isn’t happening) here is another column reprint for you:
Billboards. They are everywhere in our town and in our state. Their unsightliness mars the beauty of rural roadsides, and adds to the ugliness of already overdeveloped commercial strips.
The particular billboard I’m writing about is more attractive than most, though, because its subject is a baby, a winsome, chubby little thing with head slightly tilted and tiny hands clasped together, almost as if in prayer. Perhaps you might expect it to be an ad for baby products, or for an agency that helps children. I hope you’ll be as shocked as I was to see that the baby itself was the product this sign was selling.
emily-baby-1
“Want one?” the sign asks. Catchy, isn’t it? A bit like the “Got milk?” campaign. Maybe it’s cute and catchy so we won’t think about what is really going on here. The name and the web address of a fertility clinic complete the legend on the sign. Its message is clear: Babies are something we have a right to. Babies are something we can buy.
Many years ago another ad moved me to write a letter to The University of Tennessee’s student publication, The Daily Beacon. That time it was an ad for a local abortion clinic. Bracketed by Visa and MasterCard logos, its slogan read: “No one believes in abortion until they [sic] need one.” Once again, they treat human life like a matter of economics. In this case, babies are things we have a right to be free from. And we can be rid of them, for a price.
One ad promises us sex without babies, another promises us babies without sex. Neither is right, and both are related. Separate sex from procreation, and funny things start to happen. Pretty soon, and people start to forget why we have babies in the first place. Having five kids, my husband and I have gotten more than our share of teasing, for example: “Haven’t you figured out what causes that yet?” about 500 times. It’s good for a chuckle, but the fact is that many people haven’t figured it out, or else they’ve forgotten. Babies are caused–or they are supposed to be caused–by the physical expression of love between a man and a woman. An important corollary is that sex isn’t supposed to be a recreational sport.
I’m sure you are familiar with point/counterpoint columns, where self-proclaimed experts take on some controversial issue and argue opposing sides, usually divided straight down predictable liberal/conservative lines. I cut out one of these some months ago, planning to discuss it here later. This one discussed yet another side of assisted reproductive technology: is it a good idea for single women to become pregnant via sperm donors?
The “liberal” columnist predictably embraced the idea, with comments like, “Women who want children shouldn’t be barred from motherhood just because they never fell in love or don’t want to marry.” The only reason, she claims, that studies find two parents to be better than one is that two parents usually have more money than one.
The “conservative” columnist responded that it’s wrong to deprive children of fathers, and that there are plenty of parentless children in need of adoption already for someone with motherly love to spare; one parent is indubitably better than none! And I agree with her, as far as she goes. But it’s not far enough.
Both columnists spent a lot of time talking about the rights of women to become mothers, but neither mentioned in any way that children are supposed to be–that they have the right to be–generated by an act of love between their parents. Just like the concept of sex without consequences, the concept of babies without sex is already entrenched in our culture.