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Catholic Life | Tag Archive | Babies
Tag Archives: Babies

Family Planning, Money, and Health

Some of the comments on my recent post on family planning reminded me of how differently I think from a “typical” American–whomever that is. I completely understand the idea of discounting money when having a child because there is never enough money. But perhaps my parents trained me so well in this regard that applying this logic to myself would lead to the sins of self-indulgence and irresponsible parenting.

In my mind one does not have enough money to have a child (in the US) if one does not have enough money to pay for nutritious food for the child, and more immediately for the pregnant mother.

For me it would seem incredibly virtuous and self-sacrificial for a couple to delay children under such a circumstance, even if it did mean never having children.

It is sometimes a challenge for me to remember that the rest of the (good, conservative) Catholic world (in the United States) views children so very differently than I do. I view children as a supreme gift from God, and in many cases the greatest blessing of marriage.

Others seem to view children primarily as an obligation which can only be avoided for grave reason. And so, while I am inclined to think of what I need to do in order to be adequately prepared for the awesome privileged of being a parent, others are inclined to think of whether they have a good enough reason to get out of being a parent.

I am sure that all of my dear readers are now judging me as judgmental (and I’ll post more about that another time) so I feel the need to explain that I do not presume to know enough about others to have any idea of how they make their actual choices (talk, especially online, does not necessarily correspond that closely to behavior in reality). All I know is the implications based on what they say to me, and the tremendous sins into which I would fall if I accepted their counsel. This is, as usual, all about how I think.

For me, it seems that sex is so connected to procreation that it is irresponsible to engage in sexual intercourse without first considering whether one has sufficiently prepared for the likelihood of conception following from that act. It seems to me that basic justice would dictate that if one has not taken basic steps needed for responsible parenthood, then one should abstain from the act which would lead to the conception of a child who would be hurt by one’s lack of responsibility.

We are not currently able to fully eradicate miscarriage or congenital disorders. But we can take the basic steps necessary to dramatically reduce them. To me it would be basic responsibility to ask myself whether I have been able to take care of my body (and my spouse’s) for the last few months in order to do what is reasonably possible to reduce harm to any child who might be conceived. If the answer was that no and I had not been able to get adequate nutrients (particularly in the past several weeks–think of the importance of folate etc. preconception), or that my husband has not (months ago) been able to consume the nutrients that we know are necessary for preventing miscarriage, then I would consider myself obligated to abstain from sex if it were at all likely to result in conception.

Because of my understanding of responsibility, and justice, it is difficult for me to see how others can think of engaging in conjugal intercourse as nothing more than an issue of generosity. It is certainly an issue of generosity, but for those of us who believe that sexual intercourse must irrevocably be tied to procreation, it is about so very much more than simply having sex when we like and generously accepting whatever God happens to throw our way.

I know that for many of us simply having a child is the best way for us to mature to the point of loving self-sacrificially. But I do not think that that means that we need to ignore the reality of the ideals of justice and responsibility and hold up thoughtless sexual activity as the standard of generosity.

So, while I can appreciate the idea of not expecting a perfect moment for a baby (and certainly letting go of the idea that one needs to have the next 18+ years paid for!), I do not find the counsel to ignore finances to be universally sound advice.

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Babies: Generosity and Selfishness

Since I talk about children a lot it seems as if no more than a week can go by without someone emailing/tweeting/DMing/whatevering me to kindly suggest that perhaps it is time for me to acquire a child and that I should “stop waiting for the perfect time.” I know that I bring this on myself, and I really appreciate the care that some people put into their messages. I know that they are parents who love their children and are concerned that I might miss out on one of life’s greatest blessings.

But sometimes I want to throw up my hands in amazement at how differently others see things.

Two months ago I tweeted the link to Kathleen Basi’s great post Should we Have A Fourth Child in which she explains why “the answer is yes.” I did not bother to put the question in quotes since it was written as the title of Kathleen’s post.

That meant that I got several responses from people who thought that I was asking the Twitter-world for advice on whether to have a fourth child.1

One of the responders urged me to “be generous” in making this decision.

Be generous? Are you kidding?!

I know that if I were in Kathleen’s position I might be quite happy with three young children and the thought of changing fewer diapers. It might indeed take a generous heart to overcome my natural desire to have a little more sleep at night and silence during the day.

But I am not a mother of three young children.

I am a childless 25-year-old who drools more over drooling babies than the babies themselves ever could.

When it comes to me and children, the term “greed” is far more apt than “generosity.” I want a child, and I want a child today!

To make things even worse, I not only desire children, I would love to be pregnant. I would love to have the experience of giving birth. I know that it is perfectly natural for women to dread pregnancy/birth/breastfeeding, but somehow I do not. My mother worked very hard to insure that her daughters would see pregnancy and childbirth as appealing. As a child I was not allowed to see anything that depicted labor as painful. Instead my mother would show us pictures of peaceful pregnant women, pre-borns at various stages of development, and cute newborns.

I am not wholly ignorant of the negative aspects of pregnancy and childbirth in reality, but living with endometriosis makes me feel as if the trade-offs are well worth it. My sister with endo told me that giving birth is not any worse than the worst months of cramps, and I am inclined to believe her. So while I know something of the trials of pregnancy and childbirth they simply do not add up to a negative in my mind.

And then we get to the part about what exactly it would take in order to get everything I want. You mean I have to give myself completely to the man with whom I am passionately in love at a time when my body is saying “ohhhh, sex sounds really good right about now!?”

Somehow “generosity” sounds rather tempting. And yet there is a problem. I will call it… “Josh.”

I have tried to explain this all to my husband, but he doubts the nobility of my intentions!

Me: Josh, we really need to stop this. You know, we’re married, so it is only right for us to have children. We must renounce our contraceptive mentality and become open to life. We must generously accept children from God. We must learn to really love.

It does not matter that it is a Friday and having sex would be one of the highest denials of both of our individual and shared spiritual needs and religious ideals.

It does not matter that we do not have health insurance.

It does not matter that I have been really stressed recently.

It does not matter that a few months ago we were both eating very low quality food and thus most likely both have low levels of selenium, zinc etc. so there would be a double-spontaneous abortion risk.

It does not matter that no one wants to hire a pregnant woman or that I would not be eligible for maternity leave for a year once hired.

It does not matter that I am in serious need of dental work.

It does not matter that we would not so much as have a safe place for the baby to sleep.

All that matters it that we need to do the right thing. We must defeat the contraceptive mentality and be generous and open to life.

Josh: You need to stop reading Catholic blogs.

Me: It wasn’t a blog, it was someone on Twitter!

See the problem? The man does not respond to the logic of faith!

Ehem. Anyway.

It doesn’t help matters that there is a rule that good Christian couples must have babies ASAP. I have one married friend who has no children and is not pregnant. She just visited a fertility doctor because she has been “trying” unsuccessfully for six months. It does not matter that she does not have health insurance, that her husband is still in college, that neither of them has a full time job, or that it is too much trouble for either of them to bother to take a daily vitamin. What matters is that she is married and ready for a baby. Now.

And honestly, I do not judge her at all (though I did give her a pretty firm lecture on the folic acid thing since she isn’t much of a vegetable eater and itistoolateifyouwaituntilyouknowyouarepregnantahhhhhhowcouldyoutakesucharisk?). There is a reason that we are friends. I understand the baby-lust that cannot see anything beyond having a baby ASAP.

Even in the online world it is really, really hard to find passionately Catholic married women who do not have have children. Just about the only place to find them is in the infertility blog world, and that does not “count” for rather obvious reasons.

Which is only to say that not only do I want a child due to every internal reason, just about all of the social pressure from friends is pushing toward having children.

And so the gap between me and those providing me with well-meaning advice is nothing less than utterly immense. I am supposed to “be generous” in “accepting” children? Maybe someday, but for now “generous” sounds a whole lot like “self-indulgent.” Which, of course, sounds pretty good. Now if only I could convince Josh that Catholic bloggers are right and we are obliged to “seek” children “naturally” within all the rights of marriage.

Self-denial = sin, self-indulgence = virtue. I could get used to this reasoning!

Pretty sure that in reality there is no need to ask my Twitter-world such a question since I know that I should not have a fourth until I can remember where the first three are!

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Felix Culpa Babies

I live in a world that devalues children. One of the many sad results of this is that followers of Christ devote their energy to emphasizing the great value of children to the point where other truths are obscured.

This is particularly true among “faithful Catholics” who greatly desire to answer John Paul II’s call to promote a culture of life. Often, instead of promoting life with all of the careful nuances of Church teaching, we simply assert that everyone should always “welcome children” and suggest that the bigger the family, the better.

I have seen oh-so-many articles and blog posts in which a parent of a “large” family will write about the rude comments that people make. Invariably someone will reply to the post with the suggestion that the person say “and which one of my children do you think should not be here?!” and the large family mutual admiration society all delights in their superiority.

The thing is, this is a dreadful approach for Catholics. And we suffer from our own medicine.

We say “IVF is wrong” and suddenly someone holds up her baby and says “you think my child should not be here?!”

Children are good. Children are always good. Even if a child is born as the result of rape, that child is good, and it is wonderful that that child is alive.

But the choices of adults which result in the birth of a child are not always good. Sometimes parents are evil, sometimes they are blinded by their desire for children, and sometimes they are simply selfish or lazy.

When a parent selfishly gives in to the desire for sex, despite knowing that it is likely to result in the conception of a child who will take emotional resources away from the older children who are already under-parented, it is a mistake. It is a mistake which may be smaller than IVF, and utterly incomparable to rape, but it is still wrong.

Married couples are called to procreation in the fullest sense. This requires the greatest of self-denial in sacrificing oneself for one’s children. And sometimes justice demands that parents deny themselves the pleasure of sexual intercourse in order to insure that their procreation is not mere reproduction.

And it is wrong for us to perpetuate the idea that selfishness is to be commended when it results in the great good of a child. This is why I will always think “how wonderful!” when I hear about a pregnancy, but I will not join in with those who call self-indulgence “heroic.” Perseverance while suffering the consequences of sin may be heroic. But sin is never heroic, no matter how small the sin, and how great the joy of the felix culpa.

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