Who We Are:

We are women, we are wives, we are mothers, and we are open to life. This is our way of standing by one another, learning from each other, and leaning on Christ our Savior.

May 24, 2011

How Many Kids Do You Want?

Oh THEE question. A seemingly lighthearted, fun question that is asked by young girls to each other everywhere as they sit around at a sleepover and girl-talk. I say seemingly because once you actually get there (to having those kids, that is) all-of-a-sudden it is a much more weighty question. And that is just one big reason why I LOVE natural family planning. NFP doesn’t make this question any less important or even give you the “right” and “easy” answer; it actually drastically changes the question all together. Instead of asking “How many kids do I want?” like you would ask yourself “How many purses do I want?” you learn to integrate the idea of children into a more central part of your life, into your vocation. Children aren’t purses, accessories that you can add to your lifestyle as you choose or as the size of your closet allows. And NFP teaches you that in a very real way.

NFP teaches you to value kids as lives you are bringing into the world. This is the way you grow as a person, as a married couple, mature in your vocation, grow closer to God, and help others grow as well. NFP, when boiled down to the basics, is really a lifestyle that simply means: I will trust God to show me where my vocation will take me.

There is no way to know what you need and no way anyone should or could have to know exactly what is needed to get them--or their husband or children--to where they need to go: ultimately heaven. What we do need is for God to help us figure that out as we go. Marriage changes a person so much. Even someone who has wanted to get married forever, and has felt called to that forever, is changed in ways they can’t imagine or anticipate. The same goes for getting a certain job, entering the priesthood, or any vocational call. And this also applies to having one child, two, or ten. You’ll never know until you are on your deathbed that the number of children you had is the amount you needed. Only God can see that. I wouldn’t want to wait until that day and find out I was wrong because I did not trust in God.

But people and culture today have all kinds of answers and non-answers to this question about the number of kids for them. Here’s a few I’ve run into and took note of lately, in no way a complete list.

I was at the dentist and had one of those really chatty dental hygienists. You know the kind of person who talks right through the appointment and since you have those tools in your widely propped open mouth all you can say is “uh huh” to answer? She started talking about how she had two kids, but then always “felt” the need for one more. Then when she had her third awhile later (after hmming and hawing for a few years) she just “knew” she was done. She said, “You’ll just feel like it is right to be done. That feeling that you just know your done having kids.” …etc. Hmmm, I thought. Is this the same as that feeling when you find your wedding dress? So she (as I’m sure a lot do) relies on a “feeling” for how many lives get to be created through her. Feelings are always so accurate too. ;) Now, don’t get me wrong, feelings sometimes do lead to correct thought, but especially as women, I think we have to balance those feelings with thought and ground them in prayer. NFP gives us that foundation.

I saw an interview with Tina Fey written out in an article online. She was describing how she agonized over the decision on whether to have a second baby. Would it end her career? Would her first child be ok? Is it the right thing to do? Ultimately she decided she would get pregnant and was happy with her decision. But how many people (who don’t get that “feeling” of being done) agonize like this? Is it right that one should carry that responsibility completely on her shoulders? If you don’t trust and follow the lifestyle of NFP it would be hard not to get sucked into an anxiety-ridden black hole of trying to figure out the reasons to have or not have a child. True peace and happiness can only result from letting that go - giving up the control - because at the end of the day, is anyone ever completely in control anyway?

On a TV show, “Pregnant in Heels,” the woman on the show details the process of her and her husband trying to use IVF to have their second child. She is an emotional roller-coaster as I can imagine I would be as well. It’s honorable that she desires to have a child. But, she goes on to say something along the lines of “Despite the extreme hardships of doing IVF and then having an ectopic pregnancy, we will keep trying it until we get pregnant because my husband and I feel very strongly that we will work as hard as we need to in order to bring our family into the world.” It seems she has this vision of a child waiting for her on the other side of heaven to come and get him. Whether this soul is there or not, she’s willing to fight for this “right” to have a child. In this case, fertility is a right, not a gift. Fertility becomes a part of a person that should be controlled for the desired outcome; which, in this case, is to bring a child into the world naturally or not. On the other, but not dissimilar side, are couples using birth control trying to control their “illness” or “burden” of fertility.

On another TV talk show, an actor who had a couple of children was asked if she would be having more kids. Her answer came quickly and harshly (trying to be funny in a very over-dramatic, overly compensating way), “I’d rather [graphically do something to my uterus] than have another child.” How sad, I thought, as the audience and hosts laughed loudly in a “oh I understand” kind of way. She tries to feel better about her decision for the amount of children by playing it off as “my body seriously couldn’t handle that AT ALL.”

One more example. I recently asked an engaged acquaintance of mine (a non-practicing NFPer) if her and her fiancĂ© had ideas of having children soon after getting married. (Trying to word it as politely and politically correct as possible since I don’t know her well.) Her response was quick. She mentioned something about definitely not wanting kids until at least 30 and then she’d have two. She said she had two in her family growing up and so did her fiancĂ©. End of conversation. No further thought. That’s what she was used to and there’s really no other reasons needed in her mind, I guess. Not only is having kids in a completely separate sphere than getting married for her, it’s also something that she wouldn’t open up to, consider, or question, out of what seems like fear of the unknown.

I think I can be an example of misunderstanding this concept as well. Before I was married (as a person who knew they would do NFP) I would respond to the question “How many kids do you want?” with a very (typical) Catholic answer: I am open and want to have a big family. Maybe 5, 8, 10. I would always throw out a large-ish number. My future husband and I would see families in church with many kids and I would flirtingly and excitedly look over at him and say “we could do seven” or however many they had. Now, that wasn’t a wrong answer per say, but I had no idea how much I would learn after I actually started my vocation to married life and being a mom.
Many people would imagine that now after I know all the work that actually goes into having kids, I would look back on my pre-motherhood self and say, “Wow, she didn’t know what she was saying…I can’t have that many!” But instead I just realize that you can’t put a number down, big or small. Having a family is not a fantasy-world, whether you dream of having lots of kids or none, either way you are trying to control something not meant to be controlled.

Now (only three years and two kids in with hopefully many more of both to learn from to come) when people ask that question about the number of kids, I realize how utterly impossible it is to answer that with a number or even a short answer really. A child cannot be planned. I can’t look into the future and see what any part of my life will look like so why should the amount of children I will have be apparent? Each child comes with a set of so many of life’s variables so each one has to be taken as it comes. Of course I am open to a big family, but in the end I hope and know that God will give me what is right. (Although some days I struggle with having this faith more than others.) I can talk about having lots of kids and prepare for what that would mean, but in the end I’m going to keep living my life each day to keep overcoming my many flaws and being ready for what God asks.
Among many, many things, my first child taught me flexibility. She stretched me to give, give, give, things I never thought about giving. She forced me to learn to live more like Christ did. I couldn’t have learned those things unless I had her exactly when I did. My second child taught me joy. He taught me to live in the moment more, to appreciate and have gratitude. And these kids are only 2 years and 7 months old respectively. I am so thankful for what their lives have already accomplished; simply by being.

Connecting ourselves to God’s will for us is really the goal of life. It’s the “why” of everything. NFP is the tool that makes a marriage into a vocation and lets us communicate with Christ to learn His will. By devoting oneself to prayer and keeping an ongoing conversation between spouses, as well as any spiritual advisors, we can be sure we are doing what we need to be open to the gifts of life.

Helping us answer and rework the question of “How many kids do you want?” is just one reason why NFP leads to holiness and happiness.
- Written by Joanna Milroy

May 17, 2011

Catholics and Contraception

This article was in the National Catholic Register last week. In case you missed it....

A new study finds that most Catholic women use artificial birth control. Pastors respond about how they share Church teaching on marriage and family with the people in the pews.

NEW YORK — Most Catholic women use artificial contraception, according to a new report issued by the Guttmacher Institute.
That’s the research group allied with Planned Parenthood, the target of a fierce campaign by pro-life advocates and House Republicans to defund the “family-planning” organization.
The fresh data provided by “Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use” has been disputed by some pro-life critics, but it confirms what Church leaders call a decades-long failure to transmit the prophetic teaching of Humanae Vitae .
Yet the damning statistics haven’t discouraged parish priests from experimenting with new arguments and methods to encourage Catholics to embrace Church teaching on contraception.
Inspired by Blessed Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body, and a growing awareness that Humanae Vitae’s prescient wisdom has become even more valuable, priests use homilies, pre-Cana sessions and the confessional to foster enthusiasm for this countercultural teaching.
“When the Pill was approved [by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration] in 1960, people were told it would make everything better,” noted Msgr. Edward Filardi, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Bethesda, Md. “So, one of my openings is this: Let’s look at the promises and see how many were actually fulfilled. The Pill was supposed to strengthen marriage and family life, and instead it’s astounding to see what has actually happened.”

The Guttmacher Institute’s study was released last month, as Planned Parenthood’s allies on Capitol Hill sought to de-emphasize the organization’s commitment to abortion services and characterize it as the nation’s chief provider of contraceptive services and health screenings for poor women.
Asked about the timing of the Guttmacher report, Joerg Dreweke, a co-author, said the study had been in the works for over a year, well before the GOP targeted Planned Parenthood, but after the passage of the health reform bill. Asked to identify the funding sources for the report, Dreweke responded in an email: “The study was foundation-funded. It was neither funded by Planned Parenthood nor the federal government. The foundation wishes to remain anonymous.”

Catechetical Approach
As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops joined forces with pro-life groups to block federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the Guttmacher report targeted the discrepancy between the high level of contraceptive use by Catholic women and the legislative goals of religious organizations like the USCCB.
Asked about the report’s focus on contraceptive use by Catholic women, Dreweke stated: “The USCCB has been heavily involved in advocating on public policy related to contraception for many years, including most recently the IOM [Institute of Medicine] process to determine women’s preventive health services that should be covered without cost sharing. Therefore, it makes eminent sense to examine the actual contraceptive behaviors of the women on whose behalf they claim to speak.”
In fact, the disparity between official Church teaching and the actual practices of self-identified Catholics has been the focus of several recent surveys that partisan groups have used to challenge religious opposition to life issues, as well as same-sex “marriage.”
Michael New, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama, notes that many such surveys “don’t take into consideration frequency of church attendance. The Guttmacher report addressed that issue.”
Catholic attitudes and practices on social issues matter, said New, “because after Roe v Wade the Church was the one institution of any consequence to condemn abortion. Not every Catholic believes in Church teaching, but the Church itself still has influence.”
An effective catechetical approach to Humanae Vitae, then, will likely have far-reaching consequences for the broader national debate on the morality of abortion and contraception. But parish priests in the trenches say they must proceed with prudence as well as courage, educating their flock about the value of natural family planning, for example, while fostering a reexamination of the “contraceptive mentality.”
Evidence that rising use of contraception has paralleled a steady increase in marital breakups and unwed pregnancies gives people pause, said Msgr. Filardi, who tells couples that just 5% of married couples who use natural family planning will divorce.
Given the widespread ignorance regarding Church teaching among engaged couples, parish priests find that their own counseling sessions are more effective when they are part of a larger, diocesan-wide effort to address the meaning and purpose of human sexuality in an integrated manner.

Confessions and Homilies
Father John Evans, the parochial vicar at Holy Cross Church in Batavia, Ill., appreciates the fact that his pre-Cana sessions build on the catechetical framework provided by the Diocese of Rockford, which mandate natural family planning instruction and theology of the body seminars for engaged couples. “They have already been presented with the Church’s teaching, and I use that as a springboard for further discussion.”
For the most part, Father Evans finds engaged couples to be “very open. When I emphasized the health complications that can come from using contraceptives, one young woman told me, ‘I would never put such a horrible thing in my body.’”
During confession, however, Father Evans confronts a more complicated reality: “I hear people struggling to live the challenge of an authentic marriage open to life. I encourage them to keep trying. Since they are talking to me about this, they know it’s a sin, and they are trying not to do it. In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI expresses compassion for couples trying to live this teaching, and he acknowledged that it was difficult to do. He also said it would take time for people to understand and absorb this teaching.”
For most priests, spiritual counsel during confession and pre-Cana sessions offer an ideal context for exploring this sensitive issue, while Sunday homilies on Humanae Vitae yield unpredictable results. Some pastors who address the subject will be treated to the spectacle of an angry parishioner leaving the Church.
“The Church Fathers warned that when you preach the truth, it hits a certain individual like a missile. It hurts because they need to change, and they won’t do that because of a lack of trust,” said Father Stanley Stuglik, an associate pastor of St. Catherine of Alexandria in Oak Lawn, Ill., a Chicago suburb.
Father Stuglik has turned to the theology of the body to help him develop and hone his message.
“Our late Holy Father — a profound philosopher and theologian — set out to provide a more compelling theological rationale for Humanae Vitae. He teaches that our bodies are made to be relationship, and we are not made for ourselves alone. When married couples contracept, they say, ‘I give all of myself but my fertility.’ When we limit ourselves, it can’t be a total self-gift, and it hurts the marriage.”
Theresa Notare, assistant director of the natural family planning program at the bishops’ conference, has noticed a “mini-explosion” of catechetical programs that showcase the theology of the body.
“Today, when people look at what is true in their own life, personal experience is the focal point. Pope John Paul II took on the Church’s consistent teaching on human sexuality, marriage and responsible parenthood and cast it in modern language and incorporated modern sensitivities,” Notare observed. “All of this was presented from an extremely positive, uplifting perspective.”
Now, pastors can make use of an array of theology of the body initiatives, from correspondence courses to iPhone applications, designed to bring the late Pope’s groundbreaking insights into the lives of ordinary Catholics.
The U.S. bishops have welcomed this development and showcased John Paul’s teaching in their recent pastoral letter on marriage.
“This is a slow revolution, but it’s happening, and the bishops recognize it, too,” said Notare. “Despite budget cuts, the bishops want the theology of the body to be taught and natural family planning instruction to be provided.”

Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond writes from Chevy Chase, Maryland.

May 5, 2011

Confessions of a Naturalist

It's a popular trend to have "confessions" lately. There's the song "These are my confessions" by Usher. (There was a time in my life when I did listen to Usher, ok, I'll be honest I think I still have him on my Ipod sadly). Then confessions are in the movies, "Confessions of a Shopaholic" or "Confessions of Teenage Drama Queen."

It must be innate in us to reveal what is deep within.

Anyways....The Confession Part:

I've had an epiphany and it took about a year in the making. It all started with a minor little hang up I had, a paranoia really, about getting pregnant right after having a baby. I would gawk at stories or relatives who would be expecting when their baby was only three or six months old. It would shock me. I couldn't wrap my brain around it. "Please, please, don't let happen to me" I would say.
I couldn't understand how someone could handle it or I thought maybe they didn't know how to practice nfp. Jesus very kindly and gently has shown me otherwise.

I didn't get pregnant right away after my second. Quite the opposite. I could NOT get pregant. I lost visual signs of fertility and tried hard for nine months. So, at some point my prayer changed from "Please God don't let me get pregant right away" to "Please God, let me have another baby."

One night, after another failed attempt, I thought it could be very possible that I may be trying for years and started to cry. My husband gently asked, "Wait, I remember you crying because you thought you were going to get pregnant...and it's funny you're crying now because you can't get pregnant" ....let's just say more crying ensued.

I laugh at myself now, but those feelings were very raw at the time.

The Way God Worked On Me:
There were nights when I would lay in bed and a slight brush of panic would make my heart skip fast as I wondered if I would ever be able to have more children. I've heard many many stories of people having their first two or four easy and then never again could they concieve. Was this me? I wondered how long I should wait before getting help from a doctor. With every period, I thought about what my life's purpose would be if I could only have two? I envisioned be occupied with six or eight and I couldn't rework that life plan in my head. I grew up with 10 other siblings so the thought of life with two is foreign to me.

Truly, on a small scale, I say small, because I am expecting now. On a small scale, I felt briefly what it is like to live with a pain of not being able to have children. I'm sure my grief was only a splinter of what some women go through and I can not imagine what a heavy heart they carry. It was bittersweet to hear my sisters share their joy of getting pregnant. I thought about how lucky they were.

On the other hand, a year before, I got hung up on what "natural" spacing meant - in terms of the number of months and years. Getting pregnant with a newborn was a stubling block for me. I, without asking or going to God for guidance, didn't want to get pregant when I had a six month old because, in my mind, that was too soon.

I found myself many times, post baby phase, to wonder what the catechism means when they say natural family planning allows for the "natural spacing" of children. You hear a wide range in nfp circles, "It mean's no spacing", "It's 2 years" "It's when ever you stop breast feeding" "It's three years and three months".  I saw too, that what feels natural to me could feel unnatural to someone else and vice versa.

I got so hung up on what the right number of months or years spacing means in the church or hung up with my own ideas of what is natural to me. I think both are wrong because I could be making that very delicate decision without God and thinking about what merely feels comfortable to me.

I realized it was obviously not up to me because God had something different in mind. Life is not in our control. I couldn't make a new life in me no matter how hard I tried. But if and when that ability to conceive is up to me, it is another area of CONTROL I need to hand over to God.

After two novenas, one to St.Joseph and one to St.Therese, we conceived baby number three. On the nineth day of my St. Therese novena, I was at a dinner party out of town. I wasn't suppose to go and only decided to last minute. Sure enough, as we were gathered in the host's backyard, a single rose was blooming on a bush. I wasn't looking for a sign, I just wanted to be at peace knowing I had prayed and God had heard my prayer in whatever way He chose to answer.

A few weeks later, the pregnancy test was confirmed. I had tears of joy at finding out God allowed us to have another baby.
Slowly, God helped my heart to understand, through the painful and gentle process of having to wait for a child, that He doesn't care about the number of months your children are spaced apart, he cares whether or not your heart is is open and ready for what HE wants. He wants a heart that trusts Him, that doesn't hold back because of selfishness, superficial reasons, or want of control.

Practical Part:
This will play out differently for each couple, some will have theirs back to back and other couples will have big gaps and hopefully, each according to God's will for their marriage.  I think therein lies the task of each soul and each couple who sincerely want to be open to life and be faithful to the teaching of the church: we have to take it honestly and humbly before God each month. If we are sincere in following God's will, than each families numbers and spaces will be as different as the stars.