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.

Jesus Christ Leading Us Into the Deep

” Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
 After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,* he came toward them, walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I;* do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
 But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith,* why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
Matthew 14:22-33

A lot of the spiritual life is about being led out into the deep.  I was thinking about St. Peter walking out on the waves as I prayed my Rosary Sunday evening.  I was thinking about it because I lack the courage to step out of the boat a lot of the time.  To be led deeper into God, towards God. It takes great courage.  It is something that a lot of us intentionally avoid.

St. Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and starts sinking.  He and I are so similar that way.
St. Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and starts sinking. He and I are so similar that way.
We all like to be comfortable.  We want to feel good in our spiritual life, but faith is  not about feelings.  In fact, the journey to holiness requires us to get out of the boat and serve others outside of our comfort zone.  I am learning this by doing the ministries I have been called to.  Being a Eucharistic Minister to the sick, was not my doing.  Our Lord called me there to minister to his faithful who are on, or carrying their Cross.  It is deeply uncomfortable.  Why?  Well, I struggle with fears of death, I have to walk into strangers’ rooms where they are suffering greatly (haven’t done that since 9-11), I am a deeply empathetic person, so it is really hard for me to see people suffering.  Even with my struggles, He blesses me as I bring Him to those in need.  In doing this ministry I am serving “the least of these” in His name.  I am actually walking into the deep.
I am also teaching junior high religious education this year.  Teaching is a gift God has given me.  I have taught for years.  It just happens that I believe junior high is the hardest age group to teach.  It is a difficult time.  I hated junior high.  It is an awkward time period.  I really like my students.  They don’t know it, but I offer up Masses, Rosaries, and prayers for them weekly.  But, more than anything, I want them to have a personal encounter with the Risen Christ.  That is my prayer for them.  All I can do is give them the tools, they have to choose to answer His call.
Being a catechist to this age group requires great patience on my part.  I can have a tendency to be too theological at times and that is not what this group needs from me.  I can save that for Lay Dominicans.  What they need is to see the joy that stems from the Christian life.  They need to know that Our Lord loves them and is calling them to follow Him.  They need to know what a gift the Church is to us.  What an incredible gift we have in the Sacraments.  The world does not understand us, in fact, it is hostile to Christ and His Church.  It has been that way since the beginning.  We need to give these kids the tools to help them live out the mission.  I have had to acknowledge my own limitations.  I am not these kids’ parents.  It is their parents’ job to teach and raise them in the faith.  Something that is sorely lacking and that is why I pray so much for them.
Christ the King of the Universe.  Is it bad that I told our students that is is not Obama?
Christ the King of the Universe. Is it bad that I told our students that it is not Obama?
When Christ calls us to serve, He is calling us into the deep.  We are to keep our eyes on Him and trust that He will lead us.  St. Peter could walk on water, until he took his eyes off of Jesus.  I know it is the end of the liturgical year and we just celebrated the Feast of Christ the King of the Universe, but trust and a deeper relationship with God were on my mind.  Probably because no title reminds of God’s awe-inspiring Creation, power, and authority than Christ the King of the Universe.  It reminds me of how truly small I am.
To be quite honest, ministry is much easier for me than deepening my spiritual life through prayer.  Yes, I pray Lauds and Vespers, as well as a Rosary every day as I prepare for a secondary vocation as a Lay Dominican.  When I enter into deeper prayer, I get the feeling like I need to catch my breath.  Like I am not ready for the deep end of the pool.  I can only describe it as a sense of the Numinous that CS Lewis writes about.  I get a sense of awe that is accompanied by dread.  Going deeper into the heart of God is not easy.  Look at the Saints.  It comes with joy, but also great trial and suffering.
This monk is not running from the Numinous.
This monk is not running from the Numinous.
My tendency is to want to stay in my comfort prayer zone.  I do my prayers, I read the Scripture often, I read theological books, but I tend to turn and run from anything resembling contemplative prayer.  When I read the mystical prayer experiences of many of the Saints my first thought is, that is just not for me Lord. Okay, so I won’t be levitating anytime soon and that is not what I am afraid of.  It is more a fear of the unknown.  Part of it is the darkness of sin that I see on me, which is why I go to regular Confession.  There is nothing in this life that will remind us of our sinful nature like prayer and Confession.  I feel I am not worthy of a deep encounter with God.  I have to get over this and be humble, but not self-pitying.  Part of it is fear of the unknown, especially the Numinous.  Some of it is my fear of suffering.
The Crucifixion must come before the Resurrection.
The Crucifixion must come before the Resurrection.
The great paradox of joy is that it only comes from God.  It is not happiness.  It  is something so much deeper and more profound.  I have experienced real joy only a few times in my life: during the reception of Sacraments to include my wedding day, the day my daughter was born, and the day she was Baptized.  But joy only comes when we are fully open to it.  It also seems to come to us once we are in our vocation, receive a Sacrament, or some other grace.  That is my personal experience.  In order to more fully receive joy, we must free ourselves to God’s call in our lives, including that call to follow him into the deep,  and that inevitably means the Cross.  There is no Resurrection without the Cross.  I know this and that is why I struggle with moving forward at times.  I long for God, but I allow my own fear to win out sometimes.  I know the Cross is conquered, but I still have to go through my own Cross (I carry it daily) and death some day.
Gave up her life to serve the poorest of the poor.  Her countenance? JOY
Gave up her life to serve the poorest of the poor. Her countenance? JOY
Lived under the Communists.  Became Pope.  JOY.
Lived under the Communists. Became Pope. JOY.
I have to wonder if that is why we distract ourselves so much these days.  We do everything we can to block God out.  We have TVs, computers, radios, tablets, cell phones, etc on constantly.  It’s as though we do not want to hear that still small voice calling to us.  It makes us uncomfortable.  He requires change from us.  He requires we give our all to Him.  He calls us on the path to Sainthood.  That is the meaning of life: to be a saint.
How many of us stay in our comfort zones in how we serve Christ?  How many of us push back against a deeper encounter with God in our prayer life?  How many of us rely on good feelings rather than a genuine faith in God?  Do we really want joy?  Will we give up everything to attain joy?
Two men who radiate Christ's joy now.
Two men who radiate Christ’s joy now.