Catholic Exchange: Lessons on Motherhood from the Visitation

Today is the Feast of the Visitation of Our Lord. It is a feast day that draws us into a deeper love of Our Lord and Our Heavenly Mother. It is also through the Visitation that mothers can enter more deeply into the joy of their vocation, as well as the joy of ministering to one another on the journey. After the Annunciation and Mary’s fiat to God’s plan of salvation, she proceeds “in haste” to her cousin Elizabeth.

During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me. For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:39-45

There is much to be gleaned from this beautiful passage. It is the coming together of two women, united by joy and the promise of salvation. Two women sharing the great gift of motherhood. One bears the son who will pave the way for the coming of the Lord and the other is the New Eve whose son will take away the sins of the world. They greet one another as kinswomen united in a deep communion. The encounter between these two women invites us to be drawn closer to God by the gift of not only their pronouncement, but their pious love for one another. Their womanhood and motherhood is an example for all, but mothers can learn quite a bit through the Visitation.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Miscarriage Grief: No We Aren’t Going Crazy

Grief is an arduous journey for all of us to walk. It is also a process we have very little control over and we have no choice but to walk it; often only relying in trust and hope that God walks beside us. Grief is a lot like being in a dingy in the ocean. The shore is somewhere off the port side, but we can’t see it. It’s foggy and dark and all we feel are the enormous swells. When periods of peace do come, they are often not serenity, but numbness. In fact, we may have days, weeks, months, years of numbness and then some trigger will pierce through and torrents of tears fall once again.

I have been in a period of numbness for a couple of weeks. Once the miscarriage finally ended the initial intensity subsided and the numbness set in. The miscarriage itself stopped and started over a period of 2.5 weeks, prolonging the initial agony. It now seems to have completed and the numbing–somewhat zombie like–period has begun. I started to wonder why I couldn’t seem to cry. I cried for days in the beginning, but then I couldn’t cry anymore and the ache turned to emotionless nothingness. This numbness is often worse than the intense suffering. Numbness leaves me wanting to reach out, but I can’t seem to grasp anything solid.

The numbness lifted temporary in the last few days. The tears began anew. Every mother and father grieving a child lost in miscarriage has different triggers. In the past, an infant Baptism at Mass would reduce me to a blubbering mess. I battled mightily in my first three miscarriages with the pain caused by my inability to baptize my babies before they died. Years of theological study and my trust in God’s mercy finally lifted that burden. Through the direction of different priests  and theologians, I was guided to a place of trust, even if I lacked solid answers. God assuaged the pain I felt because my babies died unbaptized.

This time the trigger is toddler and infant boys. My husband and I believe our most recent loss was a son, Andrew Thomas. Named for St. Andrew and my hero St. Thomas Aquinas. This past weekend, I once again returned to tears after attending Mass where five male altar servers served with great reverence in the more traditional cassock and surplice. This is such a rarity in my Diocese that the beauty from seeing it alone would have reduced me to tears. Instead, watching the youngest boy serve with the teenage boys reminded me of how much I miss my sons Andrew and Caleb.

The youngest boy serving must have been 7 or 8. He clearly had just received his first Holy Communion this year and the teenage boys towered over him, but they treated him with great care and guided him through the Mass. This young boy followed the great dance of the Liturgy (no I didn’t say liturgical dance….shudders) beautifully. His reverence and attention were remarkable in one so young. He did just as well as the older boys.

The second time I ached for my children was while we were at a park. My family and I went camping this past weekend. On our way home, we stopped at a park so our daughter could play. There was a little boy toddling around the playground. He clearly had only been walking for a short time. He was trying to keep up with the rest of the children playing around him. He was adorable.

My husband and I sat watching our daughter and the other kids play while we discussed adoption. We greatly desire more children, but it does not seem to be God’s will that they come from us. We have been contemplating adoption for over a year, but we are taking our time discerning when to put in our application. We want to make sure we make a clear-headed decision because we are grieving so deeply at this time.

Adoption is a long, invasive, and difficult process. We have four adopted nephews, so we know it is a rough process. It is also extremely expensive. It will cost us $15,000-25,000. Yes, you read that right. That’s for a domestic adoption. We have already been through orientation at our local Catholic Charities, so our decision will be made understanding that we will have to cut back tremendously, save a lot of money, and probably stay in our current home for a few more years rather than buy our dream home, which is a small farm. It’s a matter of choosing greater goods, and a human being is always a greater good. Pray for us as we discern God’s path for us.

Grief is a long process and it never fully goes away. There is always that slight prick whenever the lost person or persons is remembered. The ache to hold my children will never fully dissipate until, Lord willing, I meet them in Heaven. My daughter’s loneliness serves as a reminder that I have not been able to give her a sibling. And I even battle the pain that my writing has expanded to wider audiences because of my suffering. Writers often expand their audience because they are willing to enter into suffering. I would give up writing another word to have my children back, but that isn’t possible. Instead, it appears that for reasons not entirely clear to me, God has called me to bring attention to the miscarriage-abortion connection. Doors keep opening that I never imagined or thought possible, even as I sit in my dingy off the shore.

If like me, you are journeying through grief, you may have moments when you feel like you are going crazy. It seems like small things set you off and torrents of tears come streaming, even in public. There may be times the sobbing is uncontrollable and the wound that seemed to heal ever so slightly is gaping wide open once again. This is a part of grief. The senses are how we understand the world around us, which means our senses will trigger memories. Seeing a baby, hearing their laughter or cries, or any other type of sensory response can remind us of the lost child we miss so deeply. All we can do is ask for God to walk with us during this time of intense suffering. We have to hope that good will come of all of this, even if we don’t understand it on this side of eternity. Know that I am praying for all of you grieving. I know that I am not alone in my pain and so you remain in my thoughts and prayers. Pax Christi.

The Wisdom of Children and Hope in Suffering

My daughter is my greatest teacher. This seems strange in a world where children are reduced to a means to an end or even viewed primarily as accessories. In the West, children are something we have on our own terms. They do not exist for their own sake; they only exist if we will it. This is of course bunk. Any mother or father who has truly embraced parenthood knows that the entire meaning of our lives is to love and be loved in return. We love imperfectly, but it is why we are here.

Children teach us to love. They remind us of how selfish we are, which is the main reason so many in the West have abandoned parenthood. Parenthood comes with sacrifice and hard work. We don’t like having to look in the mirror, and children have a penchant for lifting up the mirror to our faces each day in order to reveal our failings. Parenthood is also the intermingling of joy and sorrow.

Our children take on our worst traits first, and then some of the good. It is one of the great struggles of parenthood. It is something that takes most of us by surprise and causes great disappointment within us. The last thing we want is for them to take on our bad traits. Our child will mutter some expression or respond in a manner that reveals our worst selves and how these little ones have absorbed exactly what we wish them to avoid. It should leave us stunned and humbled; pushing us to do better. Parenthood is to go on a journey. It is to walk along with a person who can reveal the good and the evil inside of our own hearts. The hope is in the end we will both have attained holiness, by God’s grace, and our perseverance.

Lately I have been contemplating the nature of suffering. I myself have entered a period of intense suffering. It has been a month since my fourth miscarriage. The original grief started with frenetic energy, an attempt to avoid the inevitable spiritual and emotional pain, and it has now lulled into the numbness that inevitably surfaces after a loss. I am also not one of those women who bounces back quickly physically. My body is a complete mess right now and all I can do is wait for it to reset. It took a year with my third miscarriage. Hormone deficiencies are exacerbated through miscarriage and the intensity of grief adds great emotional and spiritual weight.

My daughter has responded as well as a 5-year-old can be expected to respond in the face of my recent miscarriage. She only knows what it is to be an only child and she does not have the ability to comprehend the depths of grief at this point. I am thankful for this because no 5-year-old is mentally prepared for such gulfs. That does not mean she does not suffer. In fact, she suffers deeply through loneliness.

If ever there was a child who should not be an only child it is my daughter. Since a very early age, she has demonstrated a deep and open love towards other people. She is social, kind, and greets everyone she meets. She is an extrovert to the core, which she gets from her daddy. She accepts every child she comes across as a new friend and she is deeply hurt when that friendship is not reciprocated. She engages adults and children in conversation wherever we go and she is wholly unaware of her place as a child in society. She functions as a human person among other human persons.

She greatly desires a sibling. Yes, much of it has to do with the desire for a playmate, but she also wants a sibling to love, take care of, and lead. Mommy can only fill that void to a very limited extent. She reveals the ontological reality that all people are made for communion with God and with other people. We are social creatures by nature. She intuitively knows that she doesn’t belong alone. She knows that she is made to commune, to be in deep relationship with other people. She feels her status as an only child at a profound level. As her mother, I share in this Cross with her. The Crosses I face on my own are nothing compared the level of pain I endure in watching my daughter suffer. I would take all of her Crosses on if I could, but I know that is impossible and not even what is best for her.

It is a mother’s greatest desire to relieve their child’s suffering. One of the great battles I wage right now is in realizing that my daughter’s suffering comes from the fact that I cannot seem to have any more children. I cannot will my body to carry a pregnancy to term. I could not keep the four babies I have lost alive. My grief is exacerbated by my daughter’s loneliness. I can’t take her loneliness away. For reasons that are largely mysterious to me, God has willed only one child for us. No matter how much I yell at Him or my own body, I cannot change that fact.

My daughter is very good friends with our neighbors who have four children. She plays with them frequently, but she does not understand why she can’t play there whenever she is available. She doesn’t understand their need for family time. There are many times I have stood watching her, shoulders drooped, tears streaming down her face, and wails coming from her throat, because she is not welcome to participate in whatever is happening next door. She wants to commune and come to the party. She sees that community is a part of her deepest self and that Heaven is the realization of this reality as we enter into communion with the Most Holy Trinity.

No my daughter does not understand this at a theological level. She understands it at the deepest level of experience and I see it every single day. I walk it with her as I watch her struggle with loneliness. I long to take her loneliness from her. She isn’t a play-by-herself kind of person. She doesn’t cut herself off from her neighbor. Instead, she invites others in and she wants others to invite her into relationship. She waits for others to play and then she embraces everyone she meets.

My only hope is to trust that God will use her loneliness for some good. I must trust that He gave her the heart that he did because of the mission He will give her later in life and so she can touch lives now in true charity. I have to find some comfort, no matter how difficult right now, that all of this intense grief and suffering will come to some glorious end in God’s infinite wisdom and plan. Right now, I can’t see it, and chances are, I will never understand why my body is the way it is or why my husband and I have lost four children. It is as Bishop Barron points out in his Catholicism series: I am staring at a pointillist painting from an inch away and all I can see are dots. All I see is my pain and my daughter’s suffering. I am unable to stand back to see the whole masterpiece until I stand before the Glory of God, and based on past writings of the saints, the answers probably won’t even matter. Pax Christi.

 

I Gave Up Facebook Again

Photo by Brandon Russell
Photo by Brandon Russell

I gave up Facebook, again. Anyone who has read my blog over the last couple of years knows that I have one of those personalities that struggles with temperance when it comes to Facebook. I like to read the news, watch the Church, and engage in discussions with people. What I have discovered over the course of the last few years is that most FB conversations are not discussion, they turn into fights that typically end with ad hominem attacks. For whatever strange reason, I get sucked in.

Facebook is not a bad thing. In fact, it can be used for great good. It has allowed people to stay connected well past the relationships of previous ages. We can stay informed in real-time and share a bit of ourselves on our tiny slice of the Internet. For someone who tends towards introvert in social settings, it is an opportunity to express myself without all of the awkwardness of idle small talk. It is also a great place to share writing projects, get feedback, and have people share your work. I am very thankful to the people who have shared my writing over the years. I want to be honest, though, in the hope that my weakness will help others. I have allowed my iPhone and Facebook to take over my life.

I have forgotten how to sit in stillness. I cannot even seem to sit for five minutes in the car without my phone when my husband runs in the store. At night, my husband sits and watches TV, I am on my phone or laptop, and our daughter is either vying for our attention or on her tablet that we got her for school use. I have become one of those mindless drones. I have forgotten how to live in the present.

I am ashamed admit this out loud. The only other people who are aware of it are my regular Confessor and my family. I am sure people have guessed who are friends with me on FB. They see my frequent posts and know that I have been sucked in. That I have chosen to use the distraction of Facebook to try to quiet the restlessness in my own heart. It became my go-to “distractor” (as my husband calls it) after my miscarriages and when the post-partum depression/anxiety was so bad. It became a way for me to engage in adult conversation when my husband was traveling for work. It started off as simply a way to connect, but then I allowed it to consume me.

I have seen people argue that we should not leave Facebook because we have an obligation to evangelize. I disagree. Perhaps God is calling me to evangelize in a different medium than social media? If I cannot use it in a temperate manner and I allow it to take time away from my family and my life, then it is no longer a good in my life.

I convinced myself that I needed it to be a writer. If I was going to get my work out there and find writing gigs then I need a social media presence. That is a lie. I am already a regular contributor for one of the largest Catholic websites available and the other sites that interest me are only looking for submissions, not my blog presence. I do not need Facebook to be a Catholic writer. I am already a Catholic writer.

How many of us struggle with our isolation or loneliness through an overabundance of social media? I suspect it in a few of my former Facebook friends who like me struggle with living in that moment. Mine stems from periods of existential dread and a battle with sloth. I realized the answer to my struggles in two very different experiences.

Yesterday was the Feast of the Holy Archangels. It is a huge feast day in our home because our daughter is named after St. Michael. I went out of my way to make it a special celebration. We made cookies, cards to deliver to Catholic friends, and I made a nice traditional dinner. I was living the rhythms of the Church and sharing it with my daughter. I felt the most profound joy and peace. It reminded me of what kind of life I want to live and how I want to lead my daughter.

Today is the exact opposite. I woke up tired from my hormone issues and didn’t want to accomplish much. I spent the morning on my laptop while my daughter played and watched PBS. We did about an hour of school with her practicing her writing. I am a bit of a zombie today. I then got into an argument with someone on Facebook in which we were probably both a little right and then I got irritated with my daughter. After that moment I could see clearly, once again, what I was doing. I was wasting my time arguing with someone whom I do not even know in person. Yes, a fellow brother in Christ, but he was not the flesh and blood daughter standing in front of me.

Our culture tells us social media is wonderful and that it is okay to be on it all of the time. To be clear, I am not condemning social media. I am cautioning against its overuse, especially in the face of loneliness. It quickly becomes the way we see the world. We are constantly looking at our phones or computers instead of the people around us. There are plenty of people who use social media in a healthy manner, at this point I am just not one of those people. So this is me being honest. I am addicted to Facebook and I just gave it up again. This time I pray for the long run. I have gone months and months without it, but then I get back into it for whatever reason. This time I want to focus on the gifts of my husband and daughter and see where God leads me. I want to quiet that restlessness through the stillness of God. Giving up Facebook means that I can devote time to my family, studies, and write the books I want to write. So I am walking away from it. God bless.

Honesty About Being a Stay-at-Home Mom

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There are a lot of mommy blogs out there and I read various authors to get ideas for my daughter and my home. I am not crafty or creative in the same sense as many of these mothers, so I appreciate their help. Sometimes, though, I wish stay-at-home moms would be a bit more honest. In our rush to fight the stigma that has been manufactured against mothers who choose not to work outside of the home, we can put on airs that isolate other women.

Here is my honesty. Being a stay-at-home mom is hard. There are days I am bored out of my mind. Days I am not sure how to keep my insanely active daughter entertained. How to get through the drudgery of singing Old McDonald for the twentieth time in a row. How to establish the ideal schedule for us. I struggle to find the organizational system that we need. I am starved for adult interaction because, let’s face it, being the mother of a young child means isolation. I battle my call and desire to serve my daughter with my desire to write or engage in intellectual pursuits. There are days those two are at war within me.

To put it in perspective you have to understand my life before I was a stay-at-home mom. It is similar to many other women. I worked for over a decade before I got married and had my daughter. I had a job that college graduates only dream about at the age of 20, thanks to the Navy. I lived in Europe and traveled all over. It’s always amusing when someone finds out about my past, which I don’t discuss often these days, and says “Oh, you did something before your daughter?!” It’s as if it is impossible for people to realize that I worked before I was stay-at-home mom. It is funny, but also strange.

My biggest struggle is the very active intellect God gave me. I want to be engaged in profound and deep study and writing. It’s a drive he gave me, but one that has to take a backseat to my daughter. That is the great struggle for me; doing what I am supposed to do versus what I want to do. That is the meaning of vocation.

In the end a vocation is our slow dying to self. It is where we learn to serve God and to allow things to happen in His time rather than our own. It isn’t that God does not want me to engage in these pursuits, I am in grad school, it just means that I must learn a proper ordering. While prayer is a priority, reading for leisure is not. I have to choose between the book I want to read and playing soccer with my daughter. The latter is more important in most instances.

I think that there are some women who naturally enter into motherhood. I have met women like this and I am amazed. I am not one of them. Motherhood has been a major struggle and change for me. I love my daughter with a type of love I did not know I was capable of before her. I know that staying home is the right thing for her, but that does not mean that it is not hard for me some days. There is nothing wrong with being honest about the hardships. It makes it more real. It also doesn’t mean that I would or will change things. I am firmly set on being home and schooling my daughter for the foreseeable future. It does mean that God is doing some serious pruning within me in the process.

Let’s remember that when we have tough days, it is good to be honest. It does not change our choices or question our decisions to be open. Yes, others will take it as proof that all women should be working, but other women who are isolated during this period of time will know that they are not alone. They will also be reminded that this is only a season. My daughter will start co-op this fall and soccer, so the isolation will not be quite as intense.

We also need to be honest with God. We need to ask him for the grace and strength to persevere. He is the only one who can truly help us in our moments of frustration and loneliness. He gave us this vocation and He will provide what we need to endure. We have an amazing task in staying home with our children and denying a part of ourselves in the process. This is the sanctification process and it has very painful moments. In the end, the goal is holiness and we can only get there by the slow process of dying to self and putting others first. Just remember, this too shall pass, and the reward is truly great. God bless.

Catholic Exchange: Learning Prudence from Miscarriage, Post-Partum Depression, and NaPro

Two and a half years ago after my last miscarriage, I decided to stop and visit a priest friend of mine who had recently been re-located from our parish. During our visit, he told me something that I had not even considered, nor wanted to consider. It was simply: “Constance, God may only want you to have one child.” He had been our parish priest through two of my miscarriages and he had been the priest to come see me when, unbeknownst to a great many people, I wound up an in-patient at a psychiatric hospital just weeks after having my daughter because I had severe post-partum depression and anxiety. My anxiety was crippling and I could barely function. My priest friend was seeing something that I just didn’t want to see at the time and that is, God has given me a Cross and I need to decide how to live with it and that means making prudent decisions while also trusting in His love and plan for my life.

A couple of months after that visit, a Natural Procreative Technologies (NaPro) physician introduced herself to me. She had heard through the grapevine that I had experienced repeated miscarriage and she was confident that she could help me. I was stunned and had a bit of hope after 2.5 years of devastating losses. She ran an extensive battery of blood tests on me and discovered that I have very low estrogen and progesterone levels. In fact, she told me she was shocked that I had even gotten pregnant to begin with. She prescribed me HCG shots to give myself four times a month in the second half of my cycle. The progesterone corrected immediately, but the estrogen did not and she wanted me to go on estrogen. I wasn’t comfortable with that at the time. We were not actively trying to get pregnant because I was battling post-partum from my recent miscarriage in which I had hemorrhaged and required emergency surgery. Estrogen comes with a one page warning of cancer risks. While that may mainly mean women in menopausal years, it gave me serious pause. My doctor and I decided to wait to use it until we were looking to get pregnant.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Catholic Link: 7 Things I Didn’t Fully Understand Before Parenthood

Each of us has a vocation from God and mine happens to be marriage.

My husband and I got married nearly five years ago and I was pregnant with our daughter four months after we got married. That means my husband and I went into parenthood right away and both of us have learned a lot in the four years we have been parents. Parenthood is a journey as these parents will tell you.

Read the rest over at Catholic Link…