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Growing up Catholic, if I thought about the word “vocation” at all, it was in the context of a call to the priesthood.  We were encouraged to pray for more vocations because of the looming shortage of priests.

And this sense of vocation as a specifically religious phenomenon was in fact its original sense–not necessarily as a call (the word comes from the Latin for “to call”) to the priesthood exclusively but nevertheless a call from God.

More recently the term has been diluted to refer to one’s way of earning a living, which may in fact be a calling from God for some, to use the gifts and talents with which He has blessed them to serve a particular purpose, but which for others may be nothing more than a preference or an accident of fate.

But in the Catholic sense vocation means primarily your call to the married life, the single life, or the religious life.  Starting from the the basic premise that “all men are called to the same end: God himself” (CCC 1878), it is up to us to discern with God’s help to which of these states He is calling us.

CCC 1603 states that ” . . . the vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator.”  Marriage and motherhood is my vocation and I’ve never really doubted that even though at times I think somewhat longingly of how much easier I would find it to be holy if I were a cloistered nun.  From the time I was about 17 I fell in love with babies and I remember wondering how I could possibly stand having to wait years until I could have one of my own.  I loved shocking people with my declaration that my aim in attending a prestigious university was to find a husband.  I was only partly kidding, and I did it too.  I was married the summer after graduation and had a baby 18 months later.

I am a well-educated, extremely competent, intelligent woman, and my oldest son told me the other day that he had no doubt that I would have been a millionaire by now if I had chosen to pursue a career.  (I am NOT a millionaire, and we have struggled financially thanks to my remaining mostly unemployed.) But even though I’ve worked part-time outside the home and work at home now running my husband’s law practice, all I’ve ever really wanted was to have lots of children and be at home with them.  Even now with my youngest entering her teenage years I have no plans to embark on a career outside the home–after all, I’m expecting (and hoping) I will eventually need to be available to help care for grandchildren!

Yes, I am a writer and I LOVE to write more than just about anything, but writing (and any hobby) is an AVOCATION.  It’s our challenge to use our avocations, whatever they are, in service to our vocations.  It was instructive to me to discover that the derivation of avocation is from the Latin to call AWAY.  So if our avocations become a distraction from our vocation then it’s time to reevaluate.

If you believe God speaks to our hearts, even if not from openings in the clouds or burning bushes, then maybe you’ll believe He spoke to me the other day.    Everyone in the Catholic blogosphere is talking about their Saint of the Year, which you can randomly generate here.  I clicked and prayed, as I was advised to do, then clicked again . . . and got MARY.  Yes, that Mary.  I hope she will (of course I know she will) forgive me for being disappointed.  I mean, I know all about her already!  I wanted some obscure, interesting saint I could learn about, who would somehow mystically illuminate my path for the year.

So there’s also a word generator, where you can get a Word of the Year if you don’t want to pick one yourself.  So I clicked again and my word was . . . MOTHER.  OK, Holy Spirit, I see what you did there.  My mouth more or less dropped open.

So it looks like I’m supposed to be doubling down on that wife and mother vocation this year, and seeing how Mary can help me with that.  And who better, of course, than the young woman who accepted God’s extraordinary call and lived that vocation so fully and perfectly?

This post is part of the Catholic Women’s Blogger Network Blog Hop.  For more posts on the topic of Vocation, click the image below!

CWBN vocations

 

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Autumn Baby

Highlight of my day: Visiting with my precious nephew Leo.

Image

 

He’s a little blurry, because he is always in motion, but isn’t he darling?

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Inquiring minds want to know . . . does that woman on the cover of Time Magazine REALLY nurse her kid in that position?  And did she REALLY think she was furthering the cause of extended breastfeeding by posing for that controversial cover shot?  And did it ever occur to her that she was exploiting her kid and her relationship with him for personal gain?

I hate to give this any more attention than it has garnered already. (Good job, Time; your tactic worked!)  I haven’t even read the article and don’t intend to.  But if anyone ever doubted that the sources we once counted on to inform us of the news are now in the business of CREATING the news, look no further than this stunt.  Time doesn’t care to inform us about the truth of extended breastfeeding and the benefits of attachment; they wish to inflame us and create a controversy where there doesn’t need to be one.

The reason I’m responding instead of ignoring is because I’m an expert on extended breastfeeding.  And in the interest of my passion for the truth, I want to share my experiences so that the cover of Time won’t be all that rises to your brain when the subject comes up.

Just like anyone my age, I grew up seeing babies fed mostly with bottles.  For a variety of reasons having to do with the culture of the times and poor advice, four months was the longest my mother nursed a baby.  My impression of breastfeeding, even when I was first pregnant, was that it was something you did for a few months and then you switched to bottles.  I saved the formula coupons I received in the mail while I was pregnant.

But, as you know, I love to read.  It was inevitable that I would do a lot of reading while I was pregnant and a few books I read at that time changed my life.  Emily never had a bottle of formula and I nursed her for 26 months.  I nursed Jake for 38 months (and yes, that means I nursed him throughout my pregnancy with Teddy, and nursed the two of them together until they weaned when Teddy was 26 months old).  William nursed at least until Lorelei was born (which is 42 months) and I don’t remember exactly but I know Lorelei was past four when she stopped.  (Yes, I nursed babies for 13 years.  Give me a medal.)

When Emily was born, the above would have sounded just as weird to me as it may sound to you.  But it’s different when it’s your own kid, your own baby.  Sure, you look at a four-year-old next to a newborn and the contrast seems extreme,  But when you are in the middle of mothering, there’s little difference between nursing your four-month-old or your six-month-old, your one-year-old or your eighteen-month-old, and so on.  It’s a seamless transition.  Do you think anything about letting your ten-year-old sit in your lap?  Would you think it was odd if he wanted to climb into bed with you if he had a nightmare?  Is it strange that my eighteen-year-old son likes to hug me and say, “I love my Mommy?”  I don’t know, maybe you will think it’s strange, but whatever.  You probably have your own sort of strangeness in your house.

I didn’t stand around in the kitchen with my kid on a step stool.  I didn’t pose for any cameras.  I lay down with my preschoolers and bedtime and naptime.  We cuddled on the couch.  They wanted to nurse for comfort when they were hurt or upset.

There are many benefits to extended breastfeeding.  The nutritional and health benefits don’t go away as the child ages.  I have the healthiest children I know, bar none.  Emily has not visited a doctor for illness since she was TWO YEARS OLD.   We’ve had one earache per kid.  No strep throat.  One or two antibiotic prescriptions apiece throughout childhood.  My two younger kids slept with me from birth.  There were no sleep issues or problems.  I never had any difficulty getting anyone down for a nap or to sleep at night or back to sleep if they woke up (once I stopped stressing about solving sleep problems, which I may post about another time).  If someone was hurt or sad, I could comfort them easily.  And my kids are not clingy at all.  Having their needs fully met as infants, toddlers, and preschoolers helps them feel good about themselves, helps them feel secure and safe.  We live in a society that pushes independence on little kids and denies it to big kids.  We stick babies in their own rooms and expect them to sleep through the night and then we monitor our teenagers’ homework and grades and go with them to college orientation and tell them what classes to take.  That’s BACKWARDS, people.

And you know what?  Extended breastfeeding is NORMAL.  It’s  NATURAL.  Around the world, 50% of babies are still being nursed at the age of 20-23 months.  In many countries the figure is much higher.  The WHO recommends children be nursed until the age of two or beyond.  If you don’t want to, that’s fine.  But biologically it is not strange, not weird, not abnormal.  It’s what women’s breasts are FOR, and even though Time meant to be provocative, it’s pretty damn pathetic that people can be whipped into a fury over a woman using her breast for its intended purpose on one magazine cover while not saying a WORD about all the synthetic almost-bare breasts adorning the covers of all the other magazines.

extended breastfeeding

Courtesy of Mama Fresh (www.pusteblumenbaby.de)

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This will be short and sweet today because we are having a birthday party here tonight which means I have to actually clean the house.  And bake a cake.  In addition to all that other stuff.

It’s a measure of just how crazy things are around here that poor William turned 11 on March 5 and had to wait until tonight to have his party.  And just a family party at that (which translates to probably 16 of us).

So today, in honor of my baby boy, I will post TEN INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT WILLIAM.

1.  William weighed 13 pounds and 5 ounces at birth and was 24 inches long.  He was my first vaginal delivery after three C-sections.  All three local news stations interviewed us, and the story was picked up nationally.  I got emails from all over the country.  Later one of the clips somehow ended up in an episode of Animal Planet entitled “Extreme Births.”

2.  William is an extremely picky eater.  I guarantee you that he is pickier than your picky eater.  His favorite food is “the rolls at the Great American Steak and Buffet.”

3.  William loves animals.  “I love all God’s creatures,” he once opined as a small child.  I think he has become a bot more discriminating since–he hates hippos and pigs, he told me today.  But by far, his favorite animal is the cat.

4.  William is obsessed with Aliens, or as they are apparently correctly called, xenomorphs.  All he wanted for Christmas was Kenner alien toys from the 1990s.

5.  William hates everything to do with school, even homeschooling.

6.  William loves to play on the computer.  He loves Roblox, and he creates awesome stick figure movies.  He also spends a lot of time watching YouTube reviews of toys he hopes to get.

7.  William is VERY stubborn.  If he doesn’t want to do something, he pretty much won’t.

8.  William owns a Roomba.  It is a prized possession that he wanted for years, and inherited from his great-grandmother.

9.  William and Lorelei play very well together.  She is happy to follow his lead about the kind of games they play.

10.  William hates shoes.  We just went shoe shopping to replace the battered Crocs he had been wearing for months, and it was agonizing.

In his Daddy’s heirloom dress for his first trip to Mass–about one week old.

On the beach at Tybee Island this summer

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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.

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Twenty Years Ago Today . . .

. . . right about now, actually, I was welcoming my first child into the world.

We knew that Emily’s birth would require a C-section because she was breech.  Although my obstetrician was one of the last left in town who would assist at a vaginal breech delivery, he required that one have a “proven pelvis,” and mine, alas, had not yet been tested.  (I think we can all now agree that I can win all pelvis competitions.)  We wanted her to choose her own birthday, though, and I wanted to experience labor–I had so looked forward to a natural birth!

I woke to signs of labor that morning–it was a Monday.  John called in to work.  We were so excited!  I was scheduled for my regular weekly OB appointment that afternoon, and the doctor agreed that I was in early labor and that he would be happy to schedule the surgery that evening.  We didn’t go straight to the hospital, though–I had something I wanted to do first.

After we completed our errand we reported to St. Mary’s Women’s Pavilion, which is probably the best hospital ever.  And so, it appears from the pictures, did about half of Knoxville.  Emily’s arrival was anticipated with much excitement.  Of our friends, we were the first to have a baby.  She was the first grandchild on both sides as well.  She had four living great-grandmothers and she was the first great-grandchild for three of them.  Looking back at the pictures this evening, I believe I counted twelve people who were in the waiting room while we were in the operating room.

Here’s a picture of John, all suited up and ready for the birth.  He looks a little nervous.  He didn’t know yet how much he was going to enjoy C-sections.  (I never grew to share his enthusiasm.) 

I remember in the operating room asking when they were going to begin and John saying they had already started.  I am not one of these people that cares to watch myself being disemboweled on the operating table.  The screen was up.  A little tugging was all I felt, but I did suffer some sort of anxiety reaction at some point and had to be restrained as I was attempting to get off the table.   I recall John saying, “She’s so small!  She’s so tiny!  She’s a girl!”  He who had hoped for a boy the entire time was instantly smitten.  And she wasn’t tiny–at 8 lbs. 14 oz. she was pretty big, although the smallest of our five.

The trip down the hallway to the recovery room was surreal with all the people running out of the waiting room hoping for a glimpse.  My father even had my sister Betsy (who was away at college) on the phone giving her a play by play.  We had 45 minutes alone to get ourselves together and prepare for the onslaught of admirers.  John spent the time calling his family and out of town friends on the phone, and changing Emily’s first diaper (he had said he wasn’t going to change diapers but he could not stand to see her uncomfortable).

I love this next series of pictures because you can really sense the party atmosphere.  This first one shows John shaking hands with my father, with my Uncle Charlie looking on. 

Mima is in the background just coming into the room.

See in this next one how everyone is arrayed around the bed (which you WILL NOT see because I am in it, looking dreadful) just staring in delight at this wonderful new creature? 

From left to right are my cousin Jeffrey, my Aunt Mary Leslie, and my friends Katrice, Kim, and Rico.  Granny’s hair is visible behind them!  My sister Anne and my cousin Sarah were there too, as was my mother, who must have been taking all the pictures.

Doesn’t it look like a party?  That’s because it was!  The errand we ran before coming to the hospital was picking up a birthday cake.  It was John’s 25th birthday, and right after this picture we cut the cake, while he admired the best birthday present he ever received.

Emily Rose Sholly, three days old

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The following was one of my last columns for the East Tennessee Catholic.  I did a quick check before reprinting it here to make sure that it still accurately reflects the Church’s position on this issue.

Most of the mail attorneys receive is dry and uninteresting, as you might expect.  But the brochure I pulled out of my husband’s PO Box one morning last Spring was different—it was eye-catching, all pink and spring green and adorned with butterflies and an adorable baby peeking out from under a blanket.

It was an invitation to a conference in Washington, D.C.:  “Emerging Issues in Embryo Donation and Adoption.”  Sponsors included the National Embryo Donation Center, Bethany Christian Services, and UT’s Graduate School of Medicine.  The sessions looked fascinating, and I was particularly intrigued by one of the speakers, Father Peter F. Ryan, a Jesuit priest with an impressive array of academic credentials, who planned on “Making the Ethical Case for Embryo Donation and Adoption.”

To me it seemed like a perfect solution to the tragedy of the thousands of embryos abandoned to cryopreservation tanks after their parents “completed their families” through assisted reproductive technologies.  We Catholics believe embryos are morally equivalent to born children, right?  And it’s a moral good to adopt unwanted children, surely?   Says the 1987 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith instruction   Donum Vitae:  “The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life.”

Our evangelical brethren have embraced embryo adoption.  One prominent Christian adoption site has a program trademarked “Snowflakes,” a clever moniker referencing both the current condition of the embryos and their uniqueness.  However, reading stories of some non-Catholic couples who have chosen embryo adoption highlights some of our theological differences since evangelicals do not object to IVF.

What is the Catholic Church’s official position?

Donum Vitae was silent on the issue.  A 2005 article in the Washington Post, written by Alan Cooperman, said:   “[T]he debate over embryo adoptions is just beginning to take shape.  ‘There are very few moral issues on which the Catholic Church has not yet taken a position. This is one,’ said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, chief spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.”  The article went on to say, “One of the leading voices in the church in favor of embryo adoptions is the Rev. Thomas D. Williams, Dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome.  ‘It’s reaching out to another human being, albeit in an embryonic state, in the only way that that little being can be helped.’”

Responding to the many new bioethical issues that have arisen since 1987, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions in September 2008.  It addresses the problem of frozen embryos at length:  “With regard to the large number of frozen embryos already in existence the question becomes: what to do with them?  . . .  a grave injustice has been perpetrated  . . . The proposal that these embryos could be put at the disposal of infertile couples as a treatment for infertility is not ethically acceptable for the same reasons which make artificial heterologous procreation illicit as well as any form of surrogate motherhood;   this practice would also lead to other problems of a medical, psychological and legal nature.  It has also been proposed, solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction, that there could be a form of ‘prenatal adoption’. This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above.”

The USCCB’s December press release does not characterize this statement as an absolute ban on embryo adoption by faithful Catholics:  “The document does not reject the practice outright but warns of medical, psychological and legal problems associated with it and underscores the moral wrong of producing and freezing embryos in the first place.”  The National Catholic Bioethics Center, in an article written  by Director of Education Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D, concurs: “There is ongoing debate among reputable Catholic theologians about this matter, and technically it remains an open question. . . . Dignitas Personae expressed serious moral reservations  . . . without, however, explicitly condemning it as immoral.”

This is yet another debate that no one saw coming back when the birth of the first test-tube baby was celebrated.  The problem of the orphaned embryos underscores the intrinsic immorality of IVF.  As Dignitas Personae concludes:  “All things considered, it needs to be recognized that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved.”

  

The column turned out to be eerily topical as only a few months later an unmarried teacher at the Catholic high school my children attend (as did I and my mother) decided to adopt an embryo.   She wrote the parents of her students a lengthy explanation of her research into the issue, which included consultation with the Bishop and the Principal of the school.  A minor firestorm erupted when one family expressed their disagreement by sending an email to every parent in the school and then withdrawing their children. 

 

 

Any thoughts?

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