Being a Catholic Mother of “Only” One Child

KLAngelGrief

When my husband and I got married we figured given our somewhat later age (I was 29 when we got married) that we would have four or five kids. We had undergone a radical conversion while dating thanks to our priest sending us to a Theology of the Body seminar. We finally understood the why of the Church’s teaching instead of just the no. We decided that we would be open to children, even as I applied to graduate school. In fact, I was accepted to graduate school and then discovered that I was pregnant with our daughter. I put graduate school on the back-burner at the time.

Pregnancy was very difficult for me. I did not leave the house for a month because I was vomiting so much. Then something happened that was never on our radar. We went to our first ultrasound to detect the heart-beat. Our daughter’s heartbeat was strong, but we discovered that she had a twin who had died. What? Is all I could think of at the time. I had lost a baby, my daughter’s twin. It never dawned on us that we might lose a child in the womb. On the happy day of the wedding and Sacramental joining it doesn’t typically dawn on the couple the suffering that will be asked of them. It should. Through our Baptism we are united to the Cross of Christ and the mysteries of his life and death, but most of us don’t give it enough thought and prayer. It usually happens as it did for us, with a complete and total shock.

I was over-joyed that our daughter was healthy, but my heart was broken for the child that I had lost. I was sick and alone with my grief on many days while my husband worked. Eventually God gave me some peace in prayer that my other baby was in fact in Our Lord’s arms. It was enough to help me through the unexpected grief. But, it never occurred to me that I would be in this state of grief for years to come.

My daughter was born healthy and beautiful after an un-planned c-section. I was so happy and cried when I heard her for the first time. The first few weeks were the typical sleep deprivation and wonder of being a new mother. It is a time that I honestly don’t remember well and unfortunately it was marred by a rapid descent into post-partum depression. Ladies, PPD can come on suddenly and with bizarre symptoms. Get help immediately if you start having weird thoughts, anxiety, or depressive symptoms. I spent months crawling back out.

Five months after I had my daughter, I discovered that I was pregnant. I was pretty shocked, but happy. The pregnancy started differently. I had more energy and only threw up once or twice a week. It was a vast improvement from my previous pregnancy. I should have known better. One day I woke up and just didn’t “feel” pregnant anymore. It was a strange sensation. A friend (may she rest in peace) mentioned that with her miscarriage she stopped feeling pregnant. I knew deep within me that something was seriously wrong. About 12 hours later I began to miscarry. I was devastated. My husband grieved quietly so as not to add to my burden. I do wish men would share in that grief with their wives. It isn’t a burden.

Once again I descended into grief. The Church offered little help in this area. I read Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Limbo, which has never been a formal teaching of the Church. I spoke to multiple priests. I couldn’t baptize my little children before death, so I was concerned. Everyone told me to leave it to God’s mercy. So that is what I have done.

Ten months later I discovered that I was pregnant again. I was happy, but scared. Then I went through what I can only describe as the pregnancy from hell. I would have four days of horrendous vomiting and then three days of debilitating depression and anxiety. It was hyperemesis and PPD together in one pregnancy. Then I went in for the ultrasound to detect the heart-beat. I really dislike those ultrasounds. The doctor came into see me and I knew it wasn’t good. There was no “fetal pole”, but I could be off on my dates. I knew I wasn’t. I chart after all. I went back a week later and all I heard was “blighted ovum”. The baby had died just days after conception, but my body missed the memo. Since I was at the 8 week mark, he said that we could see if my body miscarries naturally or I may need a D & E. I might need the same operation that they use in abortions. I was devastated. I chose to go home and wait, I had been through this before.

I began to miscarry shortly after, but it was not normal. The bleeding was extremely heavy and pouring out of my body at one point. I was terrified. This was not how things had gone before. I talked to the on-call OB who didn’t quite believe me. I am seasoned in miscarriages and knew something was wrong. Soon she told me to go to the ER, where they scooped me up like the actual emergency that I was. I can tell you that when the ER responds to you like you are an actual emergency it is very disconcerting. I had large clots and my body was incapable of having the miscarriage. I needed an emergency D & E. I remember they put me out cruciform on the table before I went under and I just thought of the Cross.

I also went through periods of post-partum after my miscarriages and my body never fully recovered from my last miscarriage. My hormone levels tanked and have never returned to normal, which is why I have to have my husband give me a shot of hormones four times a month in order to help my body function normally.

This is what my husband and I went through in the first four years of marriage. It had not dawned on us that we may only have one child. I didn’t want my daughter to be alone. My husband and I both have siblings and an only child was never our plan. Our plan. Isn’t that the great lesson? Even when we are Catholics who do not, I repeat, do not use contraception in any form, how many children we have is not up to us.

Catholics need to work on charity in this department. I am very happy for those families who are able to have tons of children. What a blessing! The reality is that God’s will is not the same for every family. For whatever reason, he may will only one child for us and we are under no obligation to justify that to others. The illusion of control in this department is rampant in our contraception laden culture, but it is also rampant within the Church. The open to life crowd forgets that being open to life also means being open to death. We have three beautiful children in Heaven precisely because we were open to life. We opened ourselves, albeit unknowingly, to the mystery of the Cross.

God wants me to be able to serve my family. Pregnancy and miscarriage has decimated my body. I am now on hormones for medical reasons and on a low dose of Prozac because of what I went through. Hormones are closely linked to neuro-chemistry. While a good many Catholics ignore Church teaching to their detriment, not all families do. My husband and I work hard to live as faithful Catholics and only having one child doesn’t change that fact. People who use NFP do so for a whole host of reasons, many of which are medical. NFP cannot be used in a gravely sinful manner, and at most, it could result in venial sin. Let’s try to remember that the families sitting in the pews next to us have a story that we know nothing about. I am the woman who still cries when she sees a new baby.

God has blessed us with one beautiful, intelligent, and amazing daughter. It comes with it’s own Cross. My daughter is extremely social and loves people. It makes me ache constantly that she is alone, but God has his reasons. God sanctifies each of us differently and watching her times of loneliness is a time to unite our suffering to the loneliness of the Cross. The next time you are at Mass, pray for the smaller families and the bigger families. We have no idea what is going on with them and the Crosses that Christ has asked of them. I am deeply grateful that I am the mother of my only child. She is the greatest blessing that my husband and I have been given. God bless you in this Easter season.

12 comments

  1. Thank you for this. It is so important for us to remember that we cannot see the heart – much less the life experience – of those in the pews next to us; we ought not to judge. I have more than one child and have felt less than a good Catholic mother by Catholic ladies who have many more than me. Please remember, keep it in your heart and ponder that Our Blessed Mother herself had “only” one Child.

    1. swimmingthedepths · · Reply

      Audrey,
      Thank you so much for your beautiful comment. Your reminder that Our Blessed Mother only had one child resonated deeply with me. She is our greatest example of motherhood. Thank you! God bless you.

      Constance

  2. My wife and I are also looking at the very real possibility of only one, as her first pregnancy is approaching a close and has been extremely difficult and life-threatening. We hope for a safe delivery, and beyond that we only can trust God. It was very good I was able to be there for her, and I am sorry your husband was not able to do that. Of course, that came with a price: I was unemployed for the majority of her pregnancy, and she had to work. Now we both work but barely make ends meet, and we are once again desperately hoping for another answer than the Cross, but will likely not get another.

    We will pray for you.

    1. swimmingthedepths · · Reply

      I am sorry that things are difficult for you and your wife right now. I will pray for you and your family. My husband was there for me, he just didn’t grieve with me. He was worried that he would add to my burden so he mourned in secret. I will ask for St. Gerard’s intercession for a safe delivery for your wife. God bless you.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. While I have not experienced the pain of miscarriage, I do know the pain of longing for a big family and having to wait for God’s will as my husband and I have been dealing with infertility for a few years now. I will keep you in my prayers!

  4. Rachel · · Reply

    We have no idea what life has in store for us. In my case, we thought that once my husband had his surgery, that we could start having children but, it’s been 6 1/2 years after our marriage. It’s been 3 years since his surgery and we don’t have any. We are faithful Catholics yet the babies haven’t come. There have been times when I thought I felt pregnant but the tests always, always are negative. I hate NFP for this reason because it would give me hope when there was none…every, single month. So, I don’t keep track anymore, just my periods for medical purposes.

    So, I guess that not only do we say yes to life and yes to death but yes to none at all. That is what I suffer and I’ve been to confession several times about this..the anger, the envy. I don’t like being around children much and that’s due to several reasons: I feel awkward around them. I don’t know how to relate to them and it’s a CONSTANT reminder of what I can’t have. Baby announcements hurt too..especially if I’ve heard too many like last year when everyone I knew was popping out babies.

    I love my cute little nieces but again they remind me of what I can never have :(. It hurts a lot. I don’t think of it all the time but it still hurts. I also admit that I cringe whenever a good friend tells me how she’s glad she’s child free. For whatever reason she’s decided that she didn’t want children (she’s not a Catholic). I don’t talk about that with her though and I won’t. Thank you for sharing.

    1. swimmingthedepths · · Reply

      Rachel,
      I am so sorry. I have multiple friends who have not been able to have children, some for completely inexplicable reasons. I am sure it is a very painful and heavy Cross. Thank you for sharing your story. I will be praying for you and your husband. God bless!

      Pax Christi,
      Constance

  5. Thank you for your post. I actually found it while struggling this evening with being Catholic and having only one child after 17 years and never using birth control. My husband and I both come from very large Greek and Italian families. Like you, God really blessed us with one daughter, and I am so grateful. I love reading Catholic Mom blogs but the majority of them have 4-10 children….and sometimes I just can’t take it. Thank you for your perspective. I really needed to hear it this evening. I will keep you and all families in my prayers. I know that no matter the size of the family, we all have our own story and struggles.

  6. Mary Kocis · · Reply

    This was a beautiful piece- thank you! My husband and I never thought of the (much) suffering and many crosses we would bear when were celebrating on our wedding day, but thankfully its part of the glue that keeps us together, those shared experiences. I have never been good at seeing that others may be in the same situation when I feel so alone, but will keep your essay in mind!

    1. Mary, Thank you for your lovely comment. Marriage is a path to holiness for a reason. It is a mix of great joy and intense suffering. You are definitely not alone. God bless you and your family.

  7. Christina · · Reply

    Thank you for your essay. We also have “only” one, and it’s hard seeing other people have more so easily. And everyone is doing IVF these days, never giving it a second thought, but I agree with the Church that IVF is morally wrong and a terrible cheat to the children it produces, who will never know their biological mother or father (or sometimes both). But only children can be perfectly happy. My son spent a week with his cousins and came back saying that he was glad he didn’t have any siblings! Of course he would love them if he had some, but he doesn’t feel that he’s missing anything, so don’t grieve too much about your daughter being an only.

    1. Christina, Thank you for reading and commenting. My daughter is actually quite the opposite. She is an extreme extrovert and prays regularly for another sibling. I think it depends on the child. She understands that it is up to God, but she greatly desires a sibling. God bless you and your family.

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