Bioethics, Catholics Do What?, Contraception, guest post, Living Humanae Vitae, Marriage, NFP, Parenting, pregnancy, Sex

Med school pregnancies and IUDs {living humanae vitae part 6}

June 25, 2018

This installment of the Living Humanae Vitae series is near and dear to my own desperate-to-be-in-control heart, and it represents a beautiful surrender to an awareness of God’s faithfulness and the sometimes nonsensical economy of grace. I can relate to the “this makes no sense-ness” of a seemingly unwise or imprudent action in the eyes of the world, only to have it end up being one of the preeminent blessings in your life.

K is a medical student, a future doctor, a mother, and a faithful Catholic. This is her story:

I am third-year medical school student and many of my classmates think I’m a bit nutty for being open to life in this season of life.

My husband works full-time and I’m a full-time student. I had our second child between my first and second year. Our third child is coming early next year.

Medical school is full of many driven and intelligent people. It’s only by the Lord’s grace (and my husband’s gentle reminders) that my drive to achieve and compete is tempered by keeping priorities in line.

For me, this means having open hands and an open heart and trust in the Lord’s faithfulness when I choose not to contracept. As human beings, we are both body and soul. As such, I know that the decision to insert an IUD has spiritual ramifications. Decision to obliterate a man’s vas deferens or to sever a woman’s normal and healthy fallopian tubes echo deeply into our souls.

We shut ourselves off from the Lord when we say “I am the master of my own fertility.”

Many of my classmates cling to their IUDs as if those little devices held the key to salvation itself.

The Lord gave me the tremendous gift of good catechesis, and as such I choose to live according to the wisdom of the Church and trust in the Lord’s providence in regard to my fertility. And even then, the effectiveness statistics between artificial birth control and NFP aren’t much different.

Now, one can absolutely live in death-gripping fear while using NFP. I was there during the postpartum period after our first baby was born and we were heading off to Virginia for medical school in a few months. I knew that if I got pregnant by accident and then was due in the middle of school year, that was it, and I just wasn’t going to be able to finish. I’ve never been so tempted by contraception. It was knowledge and trust in Magisterium of the church and my husband’s strength that held me back.

But I’ve learned time and again that the Lord is faithful. I know He doesn’t want me to live in fear or distrust. But I have to choose not to live there, which took effort at first. I became pregnant with our second baby in September of my first year, just when we were hoping to. We were trying and praying for a perfectly-timed baby.  The only summer you get off during medical school is the first one. The break was only 6 weeks. We had one single cycle to make that narrow window. We tried for it.

In any given cycle, if everything is perfect- the egg is good, the sperm is good, the mucus is good and the passageway is clear, there’s only a 20-25 percent chance that you’ll conceive. With a precise due date in mind there’s always the two-week window on either side of the goal that is variable just due to cycle variation.

Emma was conceived during that cycle, and was due the day of my last final. She was born a few days after that – with enough time for me to catch up on some errands and house cleaning before she arrived. My OB-GYN didn’t think I would make it. All of my other babies were born before their due dates. But Emma patiently waited for the semester’s end to make her debut into the world. That’s really the story of her personality: she was one of the most serene and patient people in our house when she was an infant. She even slept through the night starting at two months.

I know some people’s stories with NFP are different, that babies come unexpectedly and are untimed, even despite diligent effort. Our story is not that story. Baby number three was timed for February so that my husband could have a birthday month buddy, so that baby didn’t arrive during study time for step two, so I wouldn’t have to haul a newborn around for audition rotations 4th year, and so that I wouldn’t be so pregnant over Christmas that we couldn’t travel to Minnesota.

The Lord blessed me with beautifully obvious fertility signs, as if my body just screams at me each month “I’M FERTILE!”

I believe it’s because the Lord always gives us what we need. He called me to medical school, He’s getting me through it, and He knows we needed precise timing for children. Time and again I come back to the passage from Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, according to his purpose.”

I try to live every day as if “this is exactly what the Lord has given to me, and I have everything I need.” There have been many nights before exams where children were awake or sick and I had to stay up with them. Those ended up being some of my highest exam scores. There were weekends before Monday morning tests that everyone else seemed to be madly studying and I felt like the Lord wanted to me take a day off to be with my family. It didn’t make sense at the time, but my studying was enough and I did well.

When I’m faithful to the Lord, rather than making a little god out good grades and studying, I do better in school. He has been so faithful and merciful, and I thank Him and praise him daily for beautiful little souls He has given me the privilege of bringing into the world.

Catholics Do What?, Contraception, guest post, large family, Living Humanae Vitae, Marriage, motherhood, NFP, pregnancy, Sex, Suffering

Alleged miracles, hyper fertility, and the Cross {Living Humanae Vitae Part 5}

June 18, 2018

You may already be familiar with Bonnie Engstrom’s story from her blog, “A Knotted Life.” If you are, then you know that her son, James Fulton, was stillborn. His allegedly miraculous return to life – through the intercession of Venerable Fulton Sheen, is the official alleged miracle for the beatification of that good bishop. Bonnie is a wonderful storyteller, a talented writer, and a mother of extraordinary courage. I’m privileged to have her here today to share her story as part of the ongoing Living Humanae Vitae series.

My husband and I entered our marriage knowing the Church’s teachings on sex, marriage, and family life. We were totally on board and completely gung-ho to use NFP to have all sorts of great sex while we spaced our four to five children every two to three years. This is what we were promised, people, and this is what we were going to get!

Our first baby was eagerly anticipated, but was sadly lost early in pregnancy. Our firstborn was an NFP success story; she was born a year after my miscarriage. Ecological breastfeeding isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and so our second baby came along twenty-one months later.

Twelve months and two weeks later our third baby was born, because it turns out you can get pregnant before your period returns. There were a variety of complications at his birth so he stayed in the NICU for seven weeks and spent the next year of his life with multiple therapy and doctor appointments each week. If you were to guess that having a two year old, a one year old, and a baby with medical needs is incredibly difficult, you would be correct. We abstained for nine months that first year of his life, knowing that we needed a break and having lost all faith in my ability to chart when my body was under so much stress.

But at the end of that first year my husband came home from work and said to me, “I want more children. Today I was looking at the pictures on our desk. Our wedding picture, you and Ell, Ell and Ben, and then the one of the three kids where Ell and Ben are holding JF.” He moved his hand horizontally, pausing it with each picture he described. “And I just knew I wanted another baby.”

Less than a year later we had another girl. Her labor and delivery were hard on me – emotionally I was reliving my son’s traumatic birth and physically I was birthing an eleven and a half pound baby with no medication. It took her a minute to breathe after her birth and my husband and I were at our wits’ end. With two traumatic births, four wonderful kids in our home, and one baby entrusted to Jesus we felt like we had done our bit. No more kids, we were done.

Yet it turns out that, all rookie mistakes aside, my husband and I are on the hyper end of the fertility spectrum and another surprise pregnancy came. Our son was born when his older siblings were 1, 2, 3, and 5.  

But now we were really, truly done, done, done!

But we weren’t done with Natural Family Planning. Heavens no! NFP isn’t something to be used during the times when it would be okay to get pregnant even if I don’t really want to. NFP is what we’re supposed to use when we cannot get pregnant or do not want to, and sometimes, that means lots and lots of abstinence. This time we went a year without having sex. I won’t sugar coat it: it was hard and at times very hard. Were we tempted to use contraception? Probably. (I don’t remember!) But what does it profit a couple to gain all the sex they could want in their happy marriage but lose their souls?

I might have been afraid to have another kid but I was more afraid of eternal damnation. I know that will sound harsh and maybe even dumb to many of you, and so be it. I know what the Catholic Church teaches, why the Church teaches it, and I agree with Holy Mother Church – which is why I am still a Catholic. I appreciate and respect the consistency of the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage and I believe that if I am going to expect single people, unmarried couples, gay couples, the divorced, priests, and religious to follow Church teaching in their state of life then I should hold myself to the same standard. With those convictions firm, we found the postpartum time to be about faithfulness, trust, and obedience as an act of love.

After twelve months of abstinence we successfully used NFP for another eight months before I had another unplanned pregnancy.

By now I was scared and I was angry. I loved and enjoyed my kids but I was mad at every woman who could space her children with just breastfeeding or could afford things like new minivans, babysitters, and pizza delivery.

I resented women who talked about their contraception and sterilizations and I was embarrassed by how relieved they were when it was me pregnant and not them. And I lived in the daily fear that even if I did not miscarry our seventh child as I did our first, there was a good chance, based on two previous traumatic deliveries, that this baby would not survive birth.

Additionally, I was worried. My husband did not want any more kids, as the stress of providing for five small children and a wife on a public school teacher’s salary had been building. We had finally come to a good spot – a place where we had some wiggle room in our budget and I was on a medication that made a world of difference in my PPD – and we didn’t want to leave it.

I felt like NFP was a joke, and that I had let my husband down.

To make things even worse, I learned of an online forum that discussed how horrible it was that I, personally, was pregnant again. While it may be possible that some of the women were well-intentioned, it was a horrible sucker punch to read through a series of strangers talk about what a wreck my life was, and how it was too bad that there was a new little life growing in my womb.

Regardless of how anyone felt, my seventh baby was born and we love him to the moon and back. I’m so grateful to God for adding him to our family. Babies are gifts – only and always – even the ones we hadn’t planned for.

And of course now, after those rough nine months and a c-section, we were finally  D O N E.

Except ten months later I had another unplanned pregnancy. It was another instance of my nursing and hyper fertility combining with my “best” efforts at charting, but this time as soon as I saw the positive pregnancy test I didn’t cry or worry. I beamed. I thanked God, I touched my tiny womb, and told my tiny baby how much I loved her. I was nervous to tell my husband – so nervous I laughed while telling him – but he smiled too. And we laughed for joy together. We laughed through progesterone shots in the first trimester and we laughed in the operating room when the doctor held up a beautiful, healthy baby girl. She is one this June and every day with her has been a gift and a joy, and we are so grateful.

Our family is bigger than most and smaller than some.

Using natural family planning has not always been easy, but I am grateful for this tool which first and foremost requires a trust in God and His goodness. We had seven kids in nine years and it has been hard at times, but Jesus has asked me to take up my cross and follow Him, promising me that the burden would be light.

I have good kids, a husband who loves his family, and a home filled with laughter and love. God is faithful and generous. Thanks be to God.

About Me, Catholics Do What?, Family Life, large family, Marriage, mental health, motherhood

5 months with the Fab 5

June 14, 2018

How about some OG mommy blogging on this Friday Eve? I thought I’d update all my wonderful readers who have not yet abandoned ‘ye olde blog’ for the flashier and more fragmented pastures of Instagram with a good old fashioned “life lately” post, and tell you a little bit about what having 5 kids has been like so far.

In a nutshell: tiring. I am just so tired. I’ve had all these blood tests done looking for vitamin deficiencies and asked all the questions about thyroid function and cut out all the food groups and…I’m still just tired. Bone deep and almost always, so I think it’ll just be a matter of time before things kind of normalize and my brain gets the memo that if it wants 8 hours of zzzs, it needs to shut down by 10 pm every night.

So earnest is my search for that mythical fountain of stable energy levels that I even (drops voice to a whisper) stopped drinking coffee again… I found myself slipping into a naughty little afternoon espresso habit that was surely not helping my circadian rhythms, so off the drip I went. In the past 6 weeks I’ve had 2 coffees. I know! Who am I? I don’t know! But it is slightly easier to wake up in the mornings now, and much easier to stay asleep (rooster babies permitting) once I get there. But gosh do I miss that artificial pick me up that helped me cruise through the 4 o’clock hour.

How are the kids, you’re wondering? Screaming in the backyard, currently. I have no idea why our neighbors don’t want to socialize more. In one particularly special encounter some friends who were staying with us last week were spraying the hapless preschoolers on the other side of the fence with the hose and also changing the words of a Vacation Bible School song to something borderline vulgar, which was very meaningful for neighborhood relations. I think everyone is really glad to have us on the block.

End of the school year visit to Whole Foods for kale chips and turmeric smoothies.

It has taken me 40 minutes to write the past 4 paragraphs. That basically sums it up. My margins are gone, erased by needs and noise and summer vacation and a not-quite-3-year-old who has decided to drop his nap but also acts feral from 3-5 pm every afternoon and is frequently found naked.

Every ounce of selfishness is being exposed and stripped away, violently and reluctantly. It is extremely painful and extremely worth it, and I can absolutely understand why people do not, in a culture that does not uphold the dignity of family life or the nobility of parenting, choose to have larger families. If I were not Catholic, I doubt that we would have more than 3 kids.*

Without a theology of suffering, the life I am presently living, however punctuated with moments of transcendent joy, makes little to no sense. I took 5 kids to the pediatrician this morning for a strep test for number 3 and felt every ounce the spectacle that we were, a baby tucked under my arm because her infant seat was too saturated in vomit to make the trek inside and a 2 year old with sandals on the wrong feet and lots of little faces that all look like mine, and everyone stared. Nobody was unkind, and everybody stared, and this is just life now, and I’m so busy most of the time I never even notice the attention. Nobody dares approach my RBF in the checkout line and crack wise about “what causes that.” They take one look at the sheer multitude of us and they know that I know, and they know better than to ask if I know.

So that’s a definite upside.

I’m not painting a very rosy picture, but the truth is that I feel like I’m drowning a lot of the time. And I’m disappointed with the many ways I fail my family hour after hour as the long days of summer (was it only 2 weeks ago I was moaning about carpool? manic LOLOLOL) crawl by, bringing another load of laundry, a bathroom accident from a totally unpredictable source, and a frantic tearful canvassing of the neighborhood for the missing cat, who always turns up but who always gives the anxiety-prone 6-year-old full blown panic attacks when she wanders outside the bounds of our property lines.

I know this isn’t forever. That it’s a really, really hard season…but only a season. I don’t feel the weight of PPD like I have after previous pregnancies, but I wouldn’t say I’m operating at 100%, either. I’m snappish and frustrated and the baby weight is very, very reluctant to leave its comfortable perch around my midsection. Zelie is an angel baby and I have no regrets about adding her to the mix, and still, life is harder than before she got here.

I sometimes catch myself chanting under my breath “you can do hard things” and also “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” while I’m wiping up another puddle or getting up with someone else in the night for the third or fourth time and especially when it’s 4:15 and the entire universe feels like it might be tilting out of alignment and time is actually physically slowing down.

(I’m really making the case for being open to life, right?)

Here’s the thing. We all have hard stuff. Something is really hard in your life right now, whether it’s your job or your marriage or your grad program or a sick spouse or a terrible family rift or, or, or…there is no such thing as a comfortable life. A comfortable life is an illusion, and it is often a lonely one.

On my darkest afternoons (y so terrible, witching hour?) I occasionally have the wherewithal to project my imagination into the future and I envision these 5 needy puppies as teenagers who are joking and tossing a football and going to dances and games and parties together, getting into trouble but also keeping each other out of trouble, walking hand and hand through life long after I’ll be out of the picture. This foresight sustains me, and I can lean on it reliably because I have witnessed it come to fruition with my own siblings.

And it’s not only the future I’m working towards, but also the almost indecipherable improvements in the here and now. I can only hope that these rough edges of my personality and areas of sin and selfishness really are being scourged away, making room for new growth and a strength and resilience that I can’t imagine now, at age 35. I’m not the mom I was at 30, much as I might wish I still looked like her. I’m stronger than her, however, and softer too.

I was talking with a priest friend about how difficult this season of motherhood has been, wondering if I were essentially still 17  on the inside, maybe? Because I struggle so much with anger and selfishness when “my will” is transgressed by one of the kids, and I often still feel like my shallow teenage self. He laughed and said “Jenny, if 17-year-old you were dropped into your current life circumstances, she would run. And you’re not running.” (He didn’t know teenage me, but he’s right.)

Some of the less esoteric stuff: Joey is 7 and will be 8 in September. He is extraordinarily helpful and sensitive and responsible and also goofy and loud and forgetful and always, always screen-seeking. We joke that his middle name is actually “where the party at?” and I do shudder when I think about what that means for college, but we are not in college yet, mom brain, so find your chill. He can make breakfast, carry a baby on his hip, feed said baby a bottle, and process a load of laundry. You’re welcome, future daughter in law. The age of reason is amazing because it’s real. Over the past few months his goodness and his conscience have really come out in full force, and I literally see the lightbulb going on behind his eyes when he realizes he has done something wrong. It’s amazing. He’s obsessed with all sports, our new trampoline (free on Craigslist, with an enclosure, don’t tell my chiropractor) and the neighbor kid, Andrew. Also screens, of which we do none but a few shows on the laptop or PBS kids on the tv in the afternoons after 4, much to his dismay.

John Paul is 6, wishes he were 7 like Joey, can’t understand that he and Joey are not actually twins, and is about as sensitive and melancholic as they come. He has big feelings, good and bad, and is very sensitive to the needs and moods of others. He adores our cat and will pine for her if she doesn’t come indoors in a timely manner at night. He’s amazing at climbing trees and he has zero fears of high places despite being so anxious about other stuff, which is interesting. He loves holding Zelie and is the only one who actually asks to do so on a regular basis. He is great at sports and runs with an older crowd, namely, Joey and the 9-year-old neighbor kid. They bounce between our two yards playing basketball and Bey Blades, which has nothing to do with Beyonce as far as I can tell, but which is apparently all the rage.

Evie is 4.5 and is crazy like a fox. She’s incredibly smart and funny and throws tantrums the likes of which I have never seen before. I don’t know yet if it’s a girl thing or if it’s an Evie thing, since she is our oldest and first girl, so…I watch in fascinated horror as the meltdowns unfold. She has zero regard for other people’s opinions of her, is a little bit terrifying at library story time and/or playdates, and will either play college rugby or perhaps run a small corporation before she’s 22. She scares me and impresses me and infuriates me at turns, and I love her fiercely. I also think now, with 3 years of hindsight and personality observation, that all of her refusal to hit milestones was 100% pure stubbornness. She had no underlying medical issues; she’s just like an angry housecat, is all. And if she didn’t want to crawl/walk/stand at 17 months, nobody (and I do mean nobody, entire PT/OT team) was going to make her.

 

Luke is almost 3 and has an immense joie de vivre and also, appetite. He’s our little human garbage disposal who eschews clothing and shoes and prefers scavenging food and running wild and free through life. He has the vocabulary of a 3rd grader, wears size 4/5T clothing, and can sing along to my entire Tom Petty greatest hits album, so he’s pretty amazing. Except when he’s not. Yesterday I caught him crouched on the bathroom sink drinking from JOEY’S DIRTY SOCCER CLEAT AND I HAD ZERO CHILL ABOUT IT. Zero. Parenting has crushed my obsessive tendencies towards cleanliness but you haven’t really lived until you’ve seen someone’s tongue in someone else’s athletic shoe. His alibi? “I couldn’t find a cup, mommy.”

OK THEN.

Zelie will be 6 months old at the end of June (how??) and is delightful and placid and has an amazing crow-like squawk during the rare moments of non-placidity. She sleeps pretty great both day and night and just rolls with the punches as they come. Someone asked me her nap schedule recently and I had to laugh because what is a nap schedule? And can I get one for myself somewhere? She is the most chill and pleasant baby and never really cries unless she is in the car between 3-4 pm (#carpooltrauma) or very dirty. She loves water and had her first dip in the pool last weekend and was smitten.

She is sleeping through the night-ish in her own room and alternates passing out in the swing with being laid down flat on her back, still swaddled but with arms free, and falling asleep completely on her own. She just pivots and adjusts. Life is grand with her, and none of the problems (ahem, except for that pregnancy weight) that I’m currently puzzling over have anything to do with her. It’s more of a threshold of chaos that we’ve crossed over and can’t seem to find our way back. Yet. I know I’ll read this a year from now and laugh because things will have settled so much and there’ll be new and bigger fish to fry with my super effective worry, but for now it’s the lbs and the lack of sleep and a general ambient noise level of 140 decibels that are really giving me a run for it.

On a closing personal note, my parents just arrived in Arizona to say goodbye to my last living grandparent, my Grandma Jean, who is in her final hours. She’s my dad’s mom and is the only grandparent I had much of a relationship with, including letters and emails back and forth over the years. She was also kind/crazy enough to let my sister and I stay on her sailboat for a 3-week stint when she and my grandad were cruising down in Mexico and we were sneaky, angsty teenagers. Señor Frog’s, anyone? If you would remember her in your prayers today and pray for the Lord’s mercy upon her, and that my parents make it to her bedside in time to say goodbye, I’d be so grateful.

Whew, how was that for a good old fashioned, high word count random bit of mommy blogging? Guess I’ve still got it.

*Not all big families are Catholic, and not Catholics have big families. If the HV series I’ve been running has demonstrated anything, I hope it’s the reality that not all couples who are open to life are blessed to actually have their children with them this side of heaven. We are humbled by what God has entrusted us with, and also, completely overwhelmed.
current events, mental health, PPD, Suffering

You know someone struggling with mental health (and you probably ate dinner with them last night)

June 8, 2018

Have you ever been so depressed or overwhelmed with anxiety that you had the thought “I wish I could just stop existing?” The classic suicide questionnaire used in doctor’s offices to assess mental health includes some version of the concept of “the means and a plan,” but for many people it isn’t the thought of self harm that brings relief, but simply the thought of stopping the pain.

For many people this pain is unfathomable and deeply unfamiliar.

And for many others, it is not.

According to the CDC, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death for adults in the US. For teenagers, it is the second.

One in five Americans will suffer from a mental health issue in a given year. Data collected from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicate that of those 20% of the population suffering, 4% will experience severe and life-interrupting symptoms.

All those numbers are interesting – or maybe they aren’t, I’ve never been much of a numbers gal myself – but what they can obscure is the reality that if you live in a 5-person household with a couple parents and a few kids, you are statistically likely to be sharing a kitchen with someone struggling with depression, anxiety, OCD, panic attacks, schizophrenia, or some other ailment affecting the brain and the areas under its control (read: everything. When your brain isn’t working right, nothing is working right.)

I hate mental illness. I hate anxiety and I hate depression and I super hate postpartum depression. These diseases rob you of your ability to relate to your family. Of your ability to perform at work. Of your capacity for joy and wonder and compassion. And in the case of PPD, of precious moments of joy and wonder at the very beginning of one of the most important relationships of your life. The cost is staggering.

(For many people the cost is compounded by the difficulty in obtaining good treatment. Mental healthcare is expensive. For many people, prohibitively so. It is difficult to find a good provider. It is difficult to get scheduled with a good provider, with many counseling and psychiatric practices maintaining waitlists that stretch out over weeks or even months. But that is beyond the scope of this post.)

I have been fortunate to be surrounded by compassionate, intelligent, and deeply empathic friends and family who have walked alongside me during some of my darkest days of struggle with depression. It is because of this deep well of support that I feel a grave responsibility to my fellow sufferers to speak loudly, boldly, and publically on the matter.

If you or someone you love is battling mental illness right now, I want you to hear this: you are not crazy, things are not hopeless, and you are not alone.

There have been two high profile suicides in the US this week. In the devastation left in their wake, let us pause for a moment to pray for the repose of the souls of the departed and for the comfort of their families, and also take stock of who there might be in our own immediate circle of friends and loved ones in need of our attention and compassion and action. Not everyone who commits suicide has a mental illness, but many people who commit suicide do.

When I read the news about Kate Spade earlier this week I immediately thought of a friend who has been struggling. They share nothing in common other than their gender and their motherhood, but she sprang to mind as I scanned the sad headlines. Mental illness often requires more than compassion and communication and even prayer. But it very often receives not even these minimum attentions. (I do not seek here to minimize the profound power of prayer and God’s ability to heal. But He frequently heals through medicine – few people would treat cancer with prayer and encouragement alone, but frequently those suffering from depression or anxiety are assured that these alone are sufficient.)

We all know someone who is struggling with mental illness. But we might not know that they are struggling with mental illness.

I try to make it a point to ask my new mom friends, acquaintances, and even total strangers at Target how they are doing emotionally when I see them with a new baby in hand. Very often they’re doing great! And a few of them are not. And more than a couple have burst into tears and started pouring out their story to a stranger holding a box of Up and Up diapers, so relieved are they to have been asked the question.

It can feel scary to invite someone to share their burdens with you. But there is nothing scarier than walking through life just floating on the surface, never really knowing what other people are dealing with.

The devil loves mental illness as I’m sure he loves all things that cause people pain. But he seems to have a particular affinity for a disease process that is steeped in secrecy and shame and private suffering.

Shame and secrecy are Satan’s calling cards.

But bringing things out into the light and speaking truth over them? That’s when healing happens. Keeping them bottled up and private and buried beneath vows of “I will never” and “nobody can find out” are much more in line with the plans of the prince of this world.

Jesus wants our pain out front and center so He can work with it. So He can lessen the burden on our shoulders, shifting some of the weight to His own. So He can lead us to the right doctors, the right medicines, the right kinds of therapy and lifestyle changes so that healing can happen.

And healing – the total, miraculous, this-obstacle-has-been-removed kind of healing?

That doesn’t always happen. It just isn’t in the cards for everybody. God has a plan larger and longer than our mortal minds can fathom, and so yes, 14 year-olds die of cancer and babies are stillborn and husbands leave behind grieving families. But God does not will for us to suffer alone, separated from Him and from our brothers and sisters by shame and secrecy and lies. That kind of suffering, my friends,is actually a great working definition of Hell.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, or otherwise feeling despondent, do not be afraid to speak up. To speak life. To speak compassion and kindness and healing and hope over the circumstances and to persist with courage until you find someone who will hear you.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard from over the years I’ve been writing publically about mental health who felt unheard or uncertain or ashamed after mustering up the courage to broach the subject with someone only to hear crickets or platitudes in response.

Keep trying.

Keep speaking up and reaching out and believing that you are worthy of feeling whole and healthy.

Don’t let an uneducated comment or an inattentive doctor prevent you from seeking the help that you need. And if someone has the courage to share their secret pain with you? Don’t leave them hanging. As awkward or ill-equipped as you might feel, push through the social norms that leave so many of us us cripplingly lonely in this society of ours and help that friend or neighbor or brother who just bared their soul to you find the number of a good therapist. A doctor you’ve heard good things about from someone. Your pastor who is generally a wealth of resources on mental illness from spending hours and hours in the confessional and who has every major counseling practice within a 40-mile radius on speed dial.

You are not alone. Your beloved friend, estranged cousin, barely-familier coworker or your darling daughter are not alone. Be somebody’s Simon. Put your shoulder under that cross and help them get where they need to go when they’re just about ready to quit.

The world needs what you have to offer. But you must offer it!

St. Dymphna, St. John Paul II, St. Teresa of Kolkata, pray for us.

infertility, Living Humanae Vitae, Marriage, NFP, Suffering

Think you know a “perfect” family? Maybe you can’t see the whole picture {Living Humanae Vitae part 4}

June 4, 2018

Have you ever looked longingly at someone else’s cross and thought to yourself, “I’d trade places with them in a heartbeat,” while morosely focusing on your own troubles? Have you ever wondered, “I wonder what’s going on with that family – they seem to have it all together,” and figured you had a pretty good idea of what life looks like for them behind closed doors?

What if most of what we assume about other people turns out to be only that: an assumption?

What if it turned out that most people are carrying heavy, invisible crosses that aren’t apparent to the naked eye?

What if everyone you know – and I do mean everyone – is struggling with something, even if things look beautiful from a distance?

This is today’s story. It’s a story that demonstrates how none of us are usually in possession of the full story, unless we’ve been invited in. The woman who contributed today’s piece wished to include this disclaimer with her contribution: *Please do not offer suggestions about adoption, foster care, NAPRO, supplements, or other fertility enhancers, etc.  It’s not helpful and I promise I have already heard about it in the decade we have been shouldering this cross. Thank you for your consideration.

 

My husband and I have the quintessential American family. We have two children; a boy and a girl, spaced five years apart. We can fit into a booth, a sedan, take advantage of the family deals (two adults and two children), and barely take up a fourth of a pew. It’s all so convenient, seen from a distance; the typical American dream.

We use Natural Family Planning and are open to life. And it hasn’t worked very well for us, at all.

When I say we are open to life, I mean we are wide open. We are down on our knees begging, saying novenas, reciting rosaries, lighting candles, searching for the next saint, or prayer, or petition, or prayer warrior that might make the difference this month.

Our dream was a large family. I wanted to sit across from my husband in our old age at a table filled with our children, their spouses, and their children. Each time we get a positive pregnancy test, I mentally set a place at our family table. So far, we have six empty chairs.

We have lost six children.

When my husband lost his job, we didn’t stop trying because what if that month was THE month? When we are sick, when we are exhausted, when we are fighting, when we are stressed to the point that any sane person would say getting pregnant would be the worst choice, we still try.

We don’t need NFP to space our children or avoid a pregnancy. My body does that all on its own.

We use our knowledge of NFP to give ourselves the best chance of conceiving and to hopefully save and support a possible pregnancy, if a child results. Most months, for years at a time, it doesn’t work. There is nothing and no one.

The knowledge that we gained from learning NFP has created a dilemma in the past. It’s like Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit; learning NFP has left us with knowledge that my husband and I many times wish we didn’t have.

It’s not hard for me to tell when I am fertile. I know when I am at peak. There was a time in our marriage where that knowledge created fear. My husband and I had to process what it meant for us to be intimate at those times knowing that if a pregnancy resulted, most likely that child would die. It was indescribably difficult for me to feel like I was a bearer of death, not life. That constant and continuous death was what resulted from physical intimacy in our marriage.

My body felt like a graveyard.

And NFP left us in this cyclical rut. Would we try again this month? Could we emotionally take another loss? Could I handle another negative pregnancy test after two years of trying with no success (our marriage has been subjected to both repeated miscarriages and long bouts of infertility where we can’t conceive for years at a time)? But if we avoided, what chance could we be missing? Often we would agree to avoid for a few months to give me time to physically and emotionally heal. And then fertility signs would begin to appear and I would panic and all our resolutions would go out the window. Using NFP left us in a constant cycle of fear, endless discussions, and emotional rollercoasters. I began to associate our intimacy with sadness and anger, loss and grief. It wasn’t a positive or joyful thing.

Birth control as protection sounded tempting. Not to protect us from pregnancy; but to protect us from more losses, or grief, or fear. NFP left us completely open and vulnerable, which was terrifying at times.

I also resent the culture NFP can create, especially in Catholic circles. So many faithful Catholics who use NFP look at my family and assume we are not. It’s hard to see others pregnant or see large Catholic families at conferences or events and not be envious. I have actually looked enviously at other’s Transit vans. I have poured over Sancta Nomina’s blog wishing I had another child to name and read Simcha Fisher’s weekly meal planning menu fantasizing about having a brood of children to cook for. So much of Catholic NFP culture seems directed at those that actually have a choice between avoiding and achieving and those that have large families.

It’s hard not to feel excluded or somehow lesser. It’s hard not to fear being judged.

Yet, we have also benefited from NFP.

Having the knowledge of my fertility and my body has enabled me to get pregnant in the past. NFP led us to our NAPRO doctor, whose progesterone support is probably a large reason why our son is here.

NFP has kept my husband and me communicating about our shared desires and hopes for our family and about our shared grief over our losses. NFP has also given us hope. We continue to be open, we continue to be intimate during my fertile times, we continue to pray and trust that maybe this month God will answer our prayers.

For me, each month we are open to life is a month that hope is created anew. And that hope has been a balm.

Everyone bears their own cross and I won’t compare mine to yours. NFP hasn’t been easy for my husband and me, although our struggle with it looks different than others. For us, continuing to be open to life comes with a certain kind of risk. I am not past dealing with the emotional fallout of infertility and I do have a great fear of another miscarriage.

But years ago, I decided to trust the Lord with my fertility. I turned it over to Him and put my trust in Him. I can’t say the result is what I pictured or hoped for, at all.

Joy comes in the morning.

Until then, with my husband and two living children kneeling by my side, I know I am reunited with our six deceased children in the Eucharist. In Heaven, we have a filled table waiting for us.

Our struggles with NFP seem pretty trifling compared to that.

Uncategorized

It’s a miracle that…

June 1, 2018

Sometimes in life you stumble across a little gem of advice or a shining anecdote so winsome that you commit it to memory and vow that it is probably – definitely – going to change your life.

Then, before you can make good on your resolution, you find yourself plunged back into the privileged business of ordinary life and … the illumination fades. Thankfully, life has a way kicking the good stuff back up to the surface.

This morning as I enjoyed a rare a.m. shower (praise hands for my competent and incredibly sweet 7-year-old who is home for summer and can wield a tv remote in one hand and unwrap Go-gurts for a preschool sibling with the other) I recalled this little exercise I’d been meaning to try; a gem of wisdom that a friend had proffered at our women’s group weeks earlier. It was something she’d actually been given as a penance by a wise and creative confessor, and I couldn’t wait to get home and try it myself.

But then, you know, life happened. Life happened and time marched along and ears were infected and laundry was washed (and unfolded) and dinners were dropped into the cracks of the dining room floor and I forgot, which is deeply ironic and appropriate and the precise reason I think that making regular use of this technique is going to change my life.

Because it is so easy to forget, and it’s even easier to coast along and let the current of life just kind of take you. And in the steady stream of ordinary business it becomes difficult to see the extraordinary business that is constantly happening to and through and for us. Every day.

So my friend was instructed by this priest to go home and make a list of all the miracles she had seen God do. She must have raised an eyebrow at him because he clarified “in your own life.”

So she pulled out a sheet of paper and started writing, probably wondering “how am I going to fill a whole page?”

It’s probably no great surprise that she didn’t fill one page. She filled seven.

As she was sharing this story with us you could hear the mental light bulbs going off around the room.

Naturally, I went right home and…went to bed, forgetting all about her story.

Until the shower this morning, relishing the momentary peace and freedom of hot water and silence and no chubby fingers peeling back the curtain to “check” on me and I thought to myself “it’s a miracle that…all my kids are safely and quietly playing together downstairs right now.”

And I remembered.

And then I couldn’t wait to sit down and start the list in earnest as miracles – ordinary and extraordinary – started filtering to the surface, pulled from memory banks that might as well have been labelled “high school” or “unimportant” or “what have you done for me lately?” or, best of all, “coincidence.”

I tend to dismiss the miracles God has done for me. I dismiss them by failing to give thanks, I dismiss them by failing to call them to mind over and over again, rejoicing anew at His faithfulness and His provision, and I dismiss them by attributing them to some benign, dumb force of equilibrium that I imagine – even unconsciously – that the “universe” is maintaining for me.

A lot of the Psalms are miracle lists, when you think about it. So are a lot of St. Paul’s letters. “Beaten, shipwrecked, scourged, imprisoned…” miraculous? Well, he was there afterwards to tell the tale, wasn’t he?

So here’s mine. Brief and a highlight reel, for sure. The girlfriend who shared this with me said something else really beautiful. She said it was important to her that she create – and maintain – this list for herself, because she owed it to her children. “Someday I will be able to show this to them and say, “look, see the miracles that God has done for Mom.”

I can’t think of a more beautiful inheritance to pass on.

Because it is a miracle that I have children. 5 of them, so far, all full-term and healthy and conceived without difficulty, arriving at the end of pregnancies that, if enormous, were largely (roundly?) uncomplicated. It is a miracle that I bungled my NFP charting and Zelie is here at all. It is a miracle that I didn’t lose my mind, as I feared, when she was born. It is a miracle, in fact, that I did not suffer from postpartum depression after she was born, after living through it with our first four babies. It is a miracle that my dear friend gave me more than 100 ounces of gluten free/dairy free breastmilk she had stashed away in her freezer when she couldn’t.stop.producing last summer. when it turned out that I couldn’t produce enough.

It is a miracle that I’m alive, that I didn’t die in a high speed rollover accident at age 17 when I fell asleep at the wheel of my dad’s Volvo station wagon going 75 mph on the freeway in the wee hours of the morning. It is a miracle that my dad didn’t kill me himself when he met the ambulance at the ER and found me entirely unharmed, save for the shame of having snuck out and wrecked his car. It is a miracle that my dad owned a car like a Volvo, which just happened to be the make his brother in law had bought a few years earlier and then decided to upgrade from, but not before selling it to my father at a ridiculously below market “family” price. The paramedic told him as much, explaining how the steel frame encased me like a monster truck roll cage and kept me from being crushed. Did I mention that I was a little different in high school than I am now?

It is a miracle that I had a conversion. That some mysterious lightning bolt of grace hit me one morning in April 13 years ago when JPII died and God broke through all the drunkenness and pain and partying of college and invited me to come home. It is a miracle that only 6 years after that I stood in St. Peter’s Square in Rome with my 7-month-old baby listening as he was proclaimed “Blessed” John Paul II. And then, 3 years and 2 babies later, it is a miracle that we were able to return to Rome as a family to stand in the same spot and hear him proclaimed a saint. Somebody bought our plane tickets and paid for our lodging, asking only that we visit a particular church and offer prayers in front of a particular image of St. Joseph on his behalf. And we still don’t know his name.

It is a miracle that my 4-year-old, whilst careening down our hill into the busier street that intersects ours en route to the park last night, dug into the pavement sufficiently hard enough with her little pink Paw Patrol sandals to bring her Plasma Car to a full and relatively non-violent stop with fewer than 4 inches of sidewalk to spare. It is a miracle that I didn’t dispatch her myself when I’d caught up to her (“but mommy my heart was exploding with joy because it was so fast and exciiiiiting”- hold me, I’m parenting Moana.)

It is a miracle that any of us are here. That whatever God is permitting to happen – or to not happen – in our lives today is unfolding according to His plan. My dad’s cancer diagnosis the day after we brought Zelie home was a miracle, but only in retrospect. Elevated PSA in some routine life-insurance bloodwork. Cancer had possibly been growing for a decade. Asymptomatic. Initial pathology showed only 30% containment. Not good. Secondary MRI 6 weeks later showed…total containment. We’d been praying a 54-day rosary novena, my 6 (practicing, Catholic, miracle!) siblings and I, the doctor was now cautiously optimistic. Surgery. Good news:  total excision and no spread to lymph system. Bad news: loss of 70% of nerve tissue. Quality of life TBD. Good news: 3 weeks post op and entirely absent of any nerve damage. But the nerves are…missing. But what nerves are left have picked up the slack? Cancer free with normal quality of life. Miracle. Grandbaby number 13 (not mine) due to arrive next Fall and no worries that our patriarch won’t be around to greet the youngest of the baker’s dozen.Miracle.

Turns out I could fill a page or seven, myself.

What’s on your list?

It’s a miracle that…baby Joy is alive and vibrant and just turned 3. This photo of her grieving mother and her priest uncle saying Mass at the foot of her little pediatric hospital bed will never not get me. Photo cred/Kristin Laboda, FB.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Living Humanae Vitae, Marriage, NFP

The strange in between {Living Humanae Vitae part 3}

May 30, 2018

This week’s installment comes from a dear friend from my Steubenville days who is approaching her first wedding anniversary this summer. She is a beautiful, faithful woman who gave many years of service to the Lord before finally meeting her Prince Charming. As she shares from her experience, marriage hasn’t necessarily been a fairy tale. She was generous and humble enough to allow us a peek at the other side of the NFP coin: subfertility.

We started taking NFP classes a few months before our wedding. I had already been charting for a while. I took copious notes, because that’s what I do. I have always been a rule follower and so I figured all my beloved and I would have to do was follow the rules.

So there we went with tracking temperatures and mucus and having the conversations you can have before you’re married. The conversations came easily, of course we were open to life. It was a no brainer. I was also 34 when we wed, so I felt like a ticking time bomb in regards to my fertility.

We were married on July 29, 2017. We had 8 priests concelebrate our wedding. The church where I was a youth minister for 6 years was packed. It was everything I had ever dreamt of and even more. We honeymooned in Rome, got our marriage blessed by the Pope, traveled to Paris for my artist husband to have a full heart and then went onto Lourdes for me to thank Mama Mary for sending the husband I had begged her for 6 years before in that very spot. I prayed for a baby, having figured that if she got me a husband she would give me a baby.

We came home. I was late. I was, however, not pregnant. Test after test and I wasn’t pregnant. You might as well have ripped my heart out with all those negative tests, because I felt like I knew what was best for us, that we were ready.

We have followed the rules and still no baby.

See, that’s the strange in-between of NFP. You haven’t been ruled infertile, but you also haven’t conceived. You’re open to life and have discerned it and nothing is happening. This strange in-between is where the evil one tries to work his way in. And this in-between place can begin to make you feel not “Catholic” enough.

We are good, NFP following Catholics, we follow the rules, we have fairly good relationships with the Lord and we aren’t pregnant.

And this? This where the judgment creeps in.

Because my sisters, you’re not Catholic enough if you don’t breathe on your spouse at some point during your honeymoon and get pregnant.

Here we are around the 10 month mark of our marriage and there’s no one growing in my womb. The judgment – whether perceived or actual –  is so hard. Because when you do everything right and you still aren’t pregnant people start to ask to questions or to make assumptions or to judge and that’s… really awful.

But God is breaking through the strange in-between. I went on a retreat for the wives of the members of the lay religious community my husband is a part of. The theme was unbeknownst to me: Joy in Sorrow.

Imagine my surprise when out came the overflowing tears, the pain and the sorrow of my heart for not being holy enough and for not being Catholic enough and for following the rules and still not conceiving and how hard that is.

These women, they got me. And in that moment, they spoke to my heart and encouraged me to see the joy in front of me and to not miss the blessings around me in the midst of the suffering. They spoke the truth in love to me: that God is good and faithful and that only my husband and I could possibly know what’s going on with our fertility and to trust the Lord.

I was surrounded by a room full of women who had the lives and the children I have always dreamt of and I wasn’t jealous.

And so in the midst of all of this, when it feels like everyone else has a sweet baby to cuddle and we don’t, we remain faithful, because no matter how much you discern, no matter how much you plan, no matter how carefully you follow the rules and still things aren’t turning out the way they are “supposed” to, you discover that God who is the author of life wants to teach us something new in this strange in-between.

coffee clicks

Coffee Clicks: Memorial Day Weekend

May 25, 2018

Yay summer. We launched from winter straight into the 80s this week with only a quick pause for spring, which I’m going to be honest, I’m fine with. Get thee into the backyard wonderland which I am slowly assembling with water features from the Target Dollar Spot and buckets of snacks, darling children mine.

I have a big Kindergarten graduation ceremony to attend this morning and I’m trying to psych myself up for swatting cupcakes out of Luke’s reach and keeping him lap bound for the pomp and circumstance. Call me heartless but I’d settle for an end of the year popsicle and a pile of papers and school supplies handed to me in a cardboard box in carline. (Edit: I promptly went into raccoon mode and cried embarrassing mom tears as soon as they called his name. Guess there’s a heart in there after all.)

Our big weekend plans involve a neighborhood happy hour, a birthday party, a family brunch, and a date night to see what is reportedly the best Star Wars movie in recent years, which I hope I can concur with once I’ve seen young Han Solo played by someone else than Harrison Ford. I’m cautiously optimistic.

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Archbishop Chaput is one of the clearest and most charitable voices in the Catholic Church today. He is so easy to read and has a knack for cutting through the static and getting right to the heart of the matter. His piece on the kerfuffle in the German Church about reception of the Eucharist by non-Catholic spouses is no exception.

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We’re fasting today for the vote on legalizing abortion in Ireland. I’m the children of fourth generation immigrants so I don’t have a horse in that race, but two of my great great grandparents were born in County Mayo, and every time we’ve been there it has felt mysteriously like home. U2’s frontman, Bono, has been vocal in his support for legalizing abortion in his homeland, and it’s a stark contrast with some of the band’s iconic lyrics(and with his social justice track record). Pray for Ireland.

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Denver’s crisis pregnancy centers were smeared in an ironic ad campaign funded by Planned Parenthood and while watching the spot (which, I don’t recommend doing, by the way, since it only increases their views) I had fun swapping out the phrase “crisis pregnancy centers” for “Planned Parenthood” and then suddenly all the things they were saying became true. Fueled by propaganda? Check. Filled with medical and scientific inaccuracies? Check. Staff who were poorly trained and not licensed to provide medical services? Check, check, check.

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Last week the media went berserk for approximately 36 hours covering the story of a gay man recounting his private conversation with the Pope. Here’s some helpful Catholicism 101 which the guys on the religion beats at the major news outlets would have done well to consult before crafting their headlines.

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Adding this to the growing list of reasons we don’t give our kids devices. Parents, there is no reason your child, tween, or even teen needs a Snapchat account. Full stop. Even Instagram is starting to catch some blame for contributing to troubling social and mental health trends like depression (especially in girls) and bullying. Do your kids a favor and table the screens this summer and push them outside and help them learn how to have conversations with other human beings. Give them freedom to explore and stretch boundaries in their own actual, physical communities and help them understand how much more rewarding – if not as immediately gratifying – living irl can be. And also (speaking from a recent conversation I had with a 10-year-old neighbor child) if your kids are going online, you need to go there too. They don’t know the potential ramifications of sharing their GPS location online or of posting nudes, even in “private” chats, or of meeting up with “friends” they’ve only ever spoken to in virtual reality. Stuff that seems like a no brainer to an adult is not intuitive to a child whose mind and whose capacity for reason are still very much in development mode.

Hope your kickoff to summer is glorious! Be back on Monday for the third fresh installment in our Humanae Vitae series: Tales from the Pew. (Parts 1 and 2 here.)

Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, guest post, large family, Living Humanae Vitae, Marriage, motherhood, NFP, pregnancy, Suffering

Suffering, surrender, and seven boys: {Living Humanae Vitae part 2}

May 21, 2018

I’m honored to introduce you to these next contributions to the Humanae Vitae series – their story is both extraordinary and unusual, and has the potential to open a dialogue about a rarely-discussed aspect of NFP; namely, that NFP is optional.

Not optional as in “one of a variety of options for managing your fertility,” (as Catholics we believe that contraception is immoral – see CCC 239) but optional as in “there is no compulsion to practice NFP at all.”

In fact, some couples choose to place their fertility entirely in the hands of Providence and live out a radical openness to life. I’d like to introduce you to one such couple today.

When Morgan first contacted me about contributing to this series I was blown away, not because her story was “too intense,” as she told me many people have found it, but because it reminded me a bit of Sts. Zelie and Louis Martin. (Morgan disclosed that both she and her husband only ever wanted to enter religious life, but found that God was calling them to something else entirely.)

This is their story. Their story won’t be everybody’s story, and that’s okay. NFP is a beautiful discipline that, when used for right reasons in the right way, is completely in line with the Church’s teaching.  I am immensely grateful to be able to avail myself of it. We are free to make discernments using NFP, and we are free to accept the gift of children coming as they may, according to our discernment of God’s call for us. Because every couple is unique, family stories can unfold in very different ways. This is a story, though, that gave me a lot to think about.

———–

My husband Joseph and I met while we were freshman at the University of Notre Dame and were married after our junior year. We knew from the start that NFP was just not for us and that we wanted to welcome children as they came.

Our oldest son, Thomas, was born right after our graduation at the end of our senior year. Our next son, John Patrick, was born a year and a half later, and our third son, Andrew, was born a year after that.

Andrew was born very sick, but no doctor was able to diagnose him. He relied on feeding tubes, had developmental delays, would turn blue with breathing trouble, and was the fussiest baby I had ever encountered. With three boys in three years and our closest family members a 10-hour drive away, we were lost and completely stressed out.

So many nights were spent holding a screaming baby that was turning blue while we would meditate together on the suffering of our Lord. Never have I felt closer to Our Lady of Sorrows than I did those nights at home or in the Pediatric ICU.

When Andrew was one, we found out we were expecting baby number four. Even though our life was seemingly filled to the brim with chaos, it never even crossed our minds to avoid a pregnancy, nor did we ever think to be afraid of welcoming more little souls into our family.

Boy number four, Philip, was born healthy. When he was six months old we found out we were pregnant with number five. Right before our fifth child was born, Andrew took a turn for the worse and was once again admitted into the ICU. The following week our fifth son, James, was born even sicker than Andrew, and two days after that Thomas, our eldest, lost the ability to walk.

In a span of 10 days we had one child in the ICU, a baby who was born with the expectation of needing life support within days, and now suddenly our oldest son was found to have a mass in the marrow of his femur.

James and Andrew ended up both being fed by feeding tubes, needing breathing assistance, and taking more medications than I can possibly remember.

Thomas ended up not having cancer, but still has to has scans every so often to check his leg. I always thought I would be in a convent being called to prayer by bells. Instead, I found myself cloistered with infants and being called to prayer by screams, alarming feeding pumps, machines alerting me that a child has stopped breathing, or nightly seizures.

I was not spending my days adoring Our Lord in the Eucharist, but I did and do get the beautiful chance to serve Him in these children and their many needs!

For the first time in our marriage, I told Joseph that maybe we should learn NFP and try to avoid getting pregnant just until I got the hang of taking care of two kids with severe medical needs, homeschooling, and life in general. We weren’t totally at peace with the thought of NFP,but decided we would go ahead and learn.

By that time James was seven months old, and right after we decided to learn NFP we found out baby number six was on the way.

In a way, another pregnancy was a relief. The idea of using NFP did not bring us peace at all, and surrendering to the will of God will always bring peace. At the same time, I was terrified that this baby would also be sick.

I wasn’t sure if I could handle everything, and I knew putting the kids in school was not an option because Andrew and James were just too susceptible to even the most minor things. We’ve had ambulance rides and ICU stays for the common cold, ear infections, and runny noses, etc; school and the germs that it brings was simply not an option for us.

Matthew was born healthy in the midst of so much chaos. James and Andrew had nearly 20 hospital trips that year, and it was during that year that we were given some hard news: no doctor in the world had ever seen the disease that the boys have, and therefore there was no treatment, no cure,and no research.

I distinctly remember getting that news in our front yard on the phone. The first thing I did was call my husband, and the next thing I did was put a frantic call in to our beloved pediatrician.

The pediatrician gave me words that I so needed to hear at that moment and would come to really shape our outlook. He told me that Our Lord is doing a beautiful thing in asking us to trust Him over and over again. What a gift that no one in this world can help us; we can do nothing but rely on the Divine Healer.

His words have become something that we have meditated on over and over again.

What does it really mean to trust in God and hand over our family to Him?

What does it look like to radically surrender completely to God?

Well, right now it means that baby number seven is on the way.

That is seven boys in eight years. We haven’t prayed for a healthy baby, even though we know there is a chance this baby will be sick. The only thing we have been praying for is that the will of God be done, and that we are open to all of His gifts and graces. God is so incredibly generous in His giving,if only we allow ourselves to receive them.

Our story would be different if there were financial concerns, health problems for one of the adults, or an inflexible work schedule. However, with our lives right now, the only way we have found that we can respond to our call for holiness and openness to life is to set aside our fears and give a “Fiat”.

Our children might not live as long as most, and they certainly take more care than most other children, but they have the same beautiful immortal souls and are made in the image of God.

Their lives are worth the sacrifice no matter how long or short they are— how can we not say yes to that?

For our family, being open to life means also being open to pain, suffering, and to death; but, really, it means that for everyone, just in different ways.

I asked Joseph if he had any input for our story and he said, “Well holiness requires a magnanimous soul. That is all we are doing, trying to give as generously as the God who gives to us.”Every day the Prayer of Generosity is prayed in our house; may God give all of us the grace to be generous to each other, our children, and to God Himself!

Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve, to give and not count the cost, to fight and not heed the wounds, to toil and not seek for rest, to labor and not ask for reward save that of knowing I am doing your will” – St Ignatius

mental health, mindfulness, motherhood, self care

Pulling weeds

May 17, 2018

This morning I sat down on the porch to do a little spiritual reading while the three youngest kids played in the yard (read: laying on her playmat kicking the air silently like an angel; falling repeatedly off the concrete step and injuring every part of his body; hitting her brother, a tree, the mailbox, and, occasionally, a ball, with a tennis racquet #thetemperamentsgodgavethem).

It was nice, and it was unusual, because usually I’m “too busy” for any kind of prayer until nap time rolls around and then, wouldn’t you know it, I’d rather fall into an internet coma or go on a cleaning or painting binge for those 90 precious minutes of silence. Priorities, I got ‘em.

I peeled a yellow sticky note from my Bible and saw a handwritten penance from … some time ago. One of the priests at our parish frequently assigns Scripture reading in the confessional as penances, and I am wont to misplace his little scraps of notations. Which is terrible! But I did finally read the assigned verses today, so, better late than never?

The thing is, it was exactly what I needed to read today, and it went hand in glove with the reflection I’d read from the random Evangelical devotional I picked up on my last pass through the thrift shop. The moral of this story is that God rewards laziness and the Holy Spirit can speak through second hand retail. But I digress!

Here was the crux of the message: Stop with the negative thoughts. Stop with the interior – and inevitably bleeding into the exterior – negativity.

This was the assigned reading  from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24:

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.  May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.

And from Philippians 4:4-8:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!  Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (emphasis mine)

My takeaway? God has this. And also, that. The biggest worry on your heart and the heaviest burden on your back and the situation you are the most despondently hopeless over. Not only does He see it, but according to Saint Paul, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, as Christians, we are actually resting in the center of His will.

I have been mightily resisting this season of life because it looks different than I envisioned it would. I have this slightly hysterical version of reality worked up in my mind about what postpartum “should” look  like, even though I’ve done it 5 blessed times and know full well (emphasis on full) what it actually entails. I do not “bounce back,” unless we’re talking bouncing wadded up balls of laundry down the unfinished basement stairs. And while we’re on the subject of laundry, ohhhhhhh how the mighty hath fallen. Remember my genius “constant laundry” lifehack that had me humming along as a beacon of efficiency and clean gym shorts? Well, let’s just say standards have slipped in the second quarter and the outlook for summer is grim unless we institute a mandatory swimsuits-only policy for daily wear.

I was still pondering these verses as I leaned down to pull fistfulls of dandelions out of the flower bed that lines our front porch. Thanks to the selfless perennial planting of the former owners, I have tulips and gladiolus and roses and irises and columbines and all manner of flora popping up unbidden from the finally-warm earth. I winced as I tore away handfuls of pansies and columbine leaves in my efforts to uproot the dandelions.

Frankly, I was surprised there were so many weeds mingled in there to begin with. The bed looks pretty nice from the street and even from a few feet away. Up close though? Weeds everywhere, seemingly all of a sudden, all mixed in with the flowers and dropping their weedy seeds all over the place.

Kinda like your mind, I thought to myself, having not had quite enough coffee this morning.

My self proclaimed stance as a follower of Christ is beautiful from a distance, and probably looks pretty good even to the casual observer, but my mind is often full of garbage (negative thoughts, criticism, sarcasm, envy) that must make the Gardener wince.

It’s true. There are a lot of weeds. They are especially pernicious in the self image department.

In fact, when it comes to my inner monologue, you could almost invert that section from Thessalonians to read: “whatever is false, whatever is embarrassing, whatever is unfair, whatever is tattered, whatever is ugly, whatever is rude, if there is any failure and if there is anything worthy of complaining about, think about these things.”

Doesn’t flow quite the same, does it? And the worst thing about weeds is the effect they have on the beauty around them, vying for space and consuming what rightfully belongs to the flowers.

So all this negativity and this darkness not only gobbles up my resources, but it limits my capacity for kindness and generosity towards everyone around me. It’s awfully hard to be nice to your kids when you’re telling yourself a lie (consciously or unconsciously) about how they’ve “wrecked” your body.

It’s easy to slip into a vicious spiral of envy over a friend’s seemingly outward “togetherness” that makes you blind to her hidden interior struggles.

So I’ve got some gardening to do. And I have a pretty black thumb. I used a pen to write “true, honorable, just, lovely, pure, gracious…” on the palm of my hand this morning to remind myself to flip off that negative track when it starts playing, and it is hard. I can’t believe how much energy I must expend each day criticizing myself. And it really does pollute everything else. It’s impossible to be a cheerful, engaged mom and friend when I’m constantly berating myself for how much weight I haven’t lost or how few clothing options I have heading into summer.

I really want to keep this foremost in my mind as I continue to navigate the challenges that come with the postpartum territory. And to believe that what the Lord says is true. That he wants all of me, body and soul, and that He has a plan He is bringing to fulfillment.

“…may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.