Every year on October 15 the nation quietly pauses to remember lost babies. It’s a day that most people don’t even know about. You won’t find it marked on any calendar when you buy it in a store, or find cards for the occasion in even a tiny corner of Hallmark, but it’s an important day for those of us who have lost babies. The day has existed since President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation in 1988 and serves to, among other things, “inform and educate the public about pregnancy and infant loss.”
A tradition on this day is that at 7:00 pm in each time zone a Wave of Light will move across the country, and the world. All families who have lost a baby either by pregnancy or infant death should light a candle and leave it burning for at least one hour. The wave of light will serve as a reminder that there are those of us who still remember – and those who have not suffered a loss pause to surround us in love. I will be lighting seven candles.
One of my favorite parts of being Catholic is that I don’t have to justify to anyone that my babies existed. I’ve told my story of their losses so I won’t repeat that today, but none of my Catholic friends have ever questioned their existence. I have friends of other faiths who have said “but it’s not like you were really pregnant, right? I mean, is it really a baby when you didn’t know that they were there?” But as a Catholic who believes that life begins at the moment of conception I don’t have to wonder who’s right.
Today a friend of mine posted this beautiful quote from the late Elizabeth Edwards, which I think is really fitting for the day:
“If you know someone who has lost a child, and you’re afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died–you’re not reminding them. They didn’t forget they died. What you’re reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and…that is a great gift.” ~Elizabeth Edwards
Today I pause to remember my angels in heaven: Peter John, Annette Abigail, Matthew Luke, Elizabeth Teresa, Faith Marie, Patrick Alexander, and Charles James. Love never dies. Your Mom & Dad still love you and think of you often. Watch over us and hold us close.
If you are struggling today and missing an angel know that I am praying for you, know that you’re surrounded with love today.
The other day as I was contemplating what to write about this month I read this line in the Catechism, and came up with the perfect topic.
The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man’s intellect and will. (Catechism of the Catholic Church341)
I live in a beautiful part of our country (yes, I’m probably a bit biased since I chose to move here to marry my husband). I live along the shores of Lake Superior and I’m continually in awe of the beauty that surrounds us. I am always amazed at the number of people who have lived here all their lives and seem to not realize the infinite beauty that surrounds them every day. However, even some of the most oblivious people will give you a “you know, it’s really pretty this time of year,” in the Fall.
I find God a lot of places: in the eyes of my husband, every time I contemplate the unconditional love of our dog, in friends and family, in our gorgeous church, in the words of our priest’s homilies… I could go on and make this post nothing more than where I find God, but I’ll spare you.
It seems like no matter what is going on in my life, my spiritual life takes an upswing in the Fall. I find God in the unending beauty that surrounds me everywhere I look this time of year.
I don’t know what Autumn is like where you live, but a trip to experience Autumn along the shores of the Great Lakes needs to be on your bucket list. If you can’t get here in the Fall you won’t be sorry if you come another time of year, but believe me when I say that God puts on a show each September/October. Trust me when I say that my photographs don’t do it justice – as spectacular as my (untouched) photos are.
Talk to nearly anyone and they’ll tell you that deciduous trees are green and they turn colors in the autumn, but they’d be wrong. [Did I ever mention that I’m a science geek?] Deciduous trees are green while they’re producing chlorophyll pigment and as the chlorophyll pigment decreases the tree’s other colors in the leaves emerges. In my region of the country we get bright, vibrant reds, oranges, golds, even purples and a rich brown. The landscape looks alive.
God has revealed to me a special gift about Fall, and I feel called to share it with our readers today. God uses Fall to teach us about his creation in a special way, and maybe not in a way that many of us think about. I think that’s fair to say because I don’t think about it often, but I have been lately.
Autumn is synonymous with the latter years of our lives, most of us know that.
But look deeper.
The colors are revealed when the pigment fades, when the other color in the leaf is allowed to come to the surface. What beauty is revealed when we look below the surface of people around us? What beauty is found when we peel back the layers? Is there someone in your world that you judge on the surface only? Someone whose beauty is hard to see?
If each life is precious in God’s sight (and as Catholics, we believe that it is), and if each life is created in God’s image (and as Catholics, we believe that it is) then there is beauty in every living thing.
But how many things do we walk by every day without seeing the beauty in God’s creation?
And just like the deciduous trees shed their leaves each Autumn and remain at rest for the winter before their outward life cycle begins again, we must (sometimes) shed things from our lives. At times we must enter periods of dormancy before action begins again. The Church does that… we enter Advent to prepare for the Feast of Christmas & we enter Lent before the Easter Season. God doesn’t ask us to live at the same pace every day, we are allowed to be seasonal.
No matter where you live in the country, God’s amazing handiwork surrounds you. I don’t know what you’re going through in your life this weekend. I don’t know what burdens are weighing you down. I don’t know what your relationship with God is like. I do know, however, that you can find Him in the beauty of His creation.
If you know me in real life, you know that there are many things that I’m passionate about. There are also many things that I take a “you’re entitled to your own opinion, and we’ll have to agree to disagree” stance about. Then there are other things that I just get flat out fired up and “preachy” about. I guess in that regard I’m not that different from anyone else.
I felt called to write this post because lately I’ve been having one conversation with people more & more, and I finally decided that the Holy Spirit was calling me to write about this very topic. Before I begin, let me set the stage. I’ve shared with you my Infertility history, and the fact that my husband and I are currently living childless. We’ve been in the starting gate for adoption several times over the past year and something always seems to happen to derail our efforts and we’re currently discerning whether or not we’ll adopt at all, but that’s not what this post is about.
Lately I find myself engaged in the conversation about Assistive Reproductive Technology more & more. I wrote about In-Vitro Fertilization during Respect Life month last October, so I won’t recreate that post. I have several friends who have used IVF and have beautiful miracles as a result. Some of them I have encouraged them to think the process through a little more, but often I have taken the stance that they are allowed to make their own determinations about whether their decision is moral and just. I don’t like to interfere in my friends’ lives. I just don’t. If they come to me and ask for advice I will give it to them, but I don’t give it in an unsolicited manner.
But I digress….
What people will often say to me (or other people who say that they don’t agree with the morality behind IVF) is “but what about ____” and then they proceed to tell a story designed to tug at the heart strings and to try to get me to tell them “well, in that case, IVF is perfectly reasonable.”
But the thing is that the Catholic Church teaches us that it’s not.
There is no situation where IVF is considered to be a moral treatment for infertility.
“But what about someone who’s born with a condition in which she has ovaries and no uterus? Isn’t it moral for she & her husband to do IVF and use a gestational surrogate so that they can have their own child?”
Let me tell you that this next part was exceptionally hard for me to wrap my head around, and this is the part that’s going to ruffle some feathers. I first read this part of the Catechism four years ago and I was angry when I read it. Ironically I was sitting at church, waiting for a meeting to start, and I was so angered by the “arrogant, pompous and condemning words” behind the statement (my opinion at the time) that I almost got up and walked out using an excuse that I was about to be sick. (Hey, if I can’t be honest here about my faith journey where can I be honest?)
Every child is a gift, not a piece of property. He/she is not owed to anyone. No one has “a right to a child.” Only the child has genuine rights. The child must be “the fruit of a specific act of the conjugal love of his parents” and to “be respected as a person from the first moment of conception” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2378)
The last four years I’ve reflected on the statement many times, and last year I finally came to understand what it meant. (What can I say? I’m a slow learner.)
Children are not a right. Children are a gift from God above, entrusted to families to raise and help grow in faith until He calls them home.
People will tell you “but it’s not fair that a couple can’t have biological children.”
You’re right. It’s not fair. It’s painful, and it hurts worse than just about any pain I would ever wish on anyone. But (as I said a year ago) God never promised us that our life would be easy. God never promised that life would be fair. He never promised that our road wouldn’t be filled with rocks and detours when other people seemingly get a smooth highway where they can coast and not worry.
My mom said it back when I was four, “Life isn’t fair. Get used to it.”
The fact of the matter is that some couples cannot have biological children, and that’s an awful realization to wrap your head around, but there are two moral choices for those couples: adoption or to live life as a childless couple and assist the children who are around them (nieces, nephews, god children, neighbors, friends) at growing in faith.
I’m not going to sit here and say that the decision to live childless (for now) has been an easy one for my husband and me. I cry at every baptism at church, and I still endure the sideways glances from people who wonder why we don’t have children. I pray every day for God to reveal our path to us. I’ll be turning 40 this fall, and if God is going to give us biological children I’d like it to be soon. If He’s calling us to adoption I’d like it to be soon. If he’s calling us to live the rest of our lives childless I’d like Him to remove the ache from my heart.
But you see? That’s just it. It’s not about my wants and likes and needs. It’s about God’s plan for my life.God is bigger than infertility. He is bigger than any problem, any challenge placed before Him. God has worked miracles and there’s nothing that says that He can’t again. If God is calling me to motherhood He will guide me towards that opportunity (biological or adoption).
A friend at my former parish once told me “God never tells us no. He tells us yes, not right now, or I’ve got a better idea.”
There have been days that I’ve clung to that notion with everything that I’ve had.
For you see, accepting the path that God has chosen for me has not been easy. I don’t know why God has chosen me to have seven angels in heaven and none on earth. But I do know that my life has taken twists & turns that I never could have imagined it would when we started this journey. My life is not lacking in gifts because I don’t have children. I have a very rich and fulfilling life. I just happen to have an empty bedroom in my house.
But through the Divine Mercy of Christ I have learned to say “Jesus, I trust in you.”
In case you haven’t heard, the subject of birth control has been in the news lately. Before I get in to this post, I’m going to add a clarifier that I am not a doctor or a pharmacist and the advice contained in this post should not be used to replace medical advice. But this is about really learning about what it is that you, our readers, put into your bodies.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I want to tell you something that gets under my skin like nothing else does. I bet that you’ve probably heard at least ten people in your life say it (or some variation) this last month.
“But birth control isn’t all bad. I know someone who’s taking birth control for medical reasons and it cured her.”
Show of hands? Who here has heard someone say that? Who has said it themselves?
Let me tell you what’s wrong with that statement. I’ll start with the easy part.
Birth control doesn’t CURE anything!
In consulting with Dictionary.com you find that the following definition of the word “cure” exists: Cure [kyoor] noun, verb, cured, cur·ing.
1. a means of healing or restoring to health; remedy.
2. a method or course of remedial treatment, as for disease.
3. successful remedial treatment; restoration to health.
4. a means of correcting or relieving anything that is troublesome or detrimental: to seek a cure for inflation.
5. the act or a method of preserving meat, fish, etc., by smoking, salting, or the like.
The one place where this definition falls short (in my opinion) is that it doesn’t state that the “means of healing or restoring to health” should be specified as permanent means of healing or restoring to health.
Someone whose cancer has been cured has been healed or restored to health – permanently. Someone whose endometriosis has been cured has been restored to health – permanently. Someone who is still battling cancer (or endometriosis) has not been fully restored to health and therefore cannot be considered cured.
It is very discouraging to me that a woman with any or all of those symptoms would walk in to a doctor’s office and the doctor would just throw medication at the problem without taking the time to diagnose what’s wrong. Yet that’s what happens! That doesn’t happen with other medical conditions, why “female problems”?
For the last year I have been struggling with some incredibly awful heartburn, nausea, gas, bloating, and what I later learned was a swollen esophagus. The doctor wouldn’t prescribe anything for me until she’d run a battery of tests. She needed to figure out what the problem was (particularly making sure that I wasn’t having any cardiac issues) before she started to treat me. Yet if I were to go to her and say “my cramps are so awful that I can hardly sit up at my desk at work, and then when I do get my period I can’t go anywhere or be away from a bathroom because I go through tampons so quickly,” what usually happens (in most doctor’s offices)? I walk out with a prescription for birth control pills without having run a single test to determine what the problem is.
Yes, when you have endometriosis all you want is relief. If someone would have told me that when you take birth control pills to treat the symptoms of endometriosis, the symptoms usually return and are usually worse, I maybe would not have gone down that road. In other words, when I was ready to finally have a child with my husband, there were more than a few months where I wondered if I could live with the cramps while we were trying to conceive. (I ended up having a laparoscopy four years ago, and probably need to have another one but don’t want to deal with the recovery that I had last time)
The other condition that a lot of the symptoms listed above (acne, irregular and heavy periods, too much hair) are symptomatic of is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). If you’re not someone who’s been around the Infertility community, or if you don’t have a family member who has PCOS, you’ve probably never heard of it before. As many as 1 in 15 women have it, and it’s one of the number one causes of Infertility. I have five good friends who have PCOS and I know several other women who suffer with the disorder. It’s a frustrating thing to deal with.
PCOS is largely the result of Insulin Resistance (IR). Because the body can’t process insulin correctly, the female reproductive system doesn’t work quite right and instead of releasing an egg on a routine cycle (every 28 days for “average” women), the ovaries produce cysts and an egg is released on an unpredictable schedule. Often times reproductive endocrinologists talk about patients with PCOS having a “string of pearls” row of cysts in their ovaries.
Women fall victim to thinking that birth control pills cure PCOS because they (generally) go to see their doctor about the fact that they never know when they’re going to get their period. The doctor gives them a prescription for birth control pills, which they take, and they get a period every 28 days. It’s almost like a miracle for them – they have predictable cycles, their acne starts to clear up, their cramps aren’t as bad, they’re not nearly as moody, they can walk past the ice cream case in the grocery store without filling their cart… Life is almost normal.
But then when they want to have a baby? They go off of birth control and their problem is back and even worse.
God willing, they get someone who talks to them about the benefit of diet and exercise. There is a great deal of evidence that women with PCOS benefit from a diet like the PCOS diet or the Glycemic Index diet or being gluten free. They learn that just dropping 5% of their body weight has a profound effect on their fertility. Amazingly, when your body isn’t working so hard to combat the roller coaster of Insulin Resistance, it can do a better job at fertility.
But the medical community doesn’t tell you that the only way to really cure PCOS is through diet and exercise (and not just “eat less than 1,800 calories a day” – but eat the right things) because there are drugs they can throw at the problem. If you don’t want to get pregnant you can take birth control pills. If you do want to get pregnant they can give you Clomid to force your body to ovulate.
I hate to say it, but we’ve allowed ourselves (and I count myself in this group) to be tricked in to believing that birth control pills are the answer to all of our problems.
In many cases, however, they complicate the problem further. I firmly believe (but can’t find a doctor who will agree with me) that the five years I spent taking birth control pills caused my infertility. Those gastrointestinal issues that I referred to above? Turns out that they’re caused by Insulin Resistance (IR). I don’t have PCOS, but I have something very similar to it, so I’m learning how to eat right for my body. If someone had talked to me when I was in my 20’s about IR I could have saved myself a lot of heartache (and chest pains). My body has lost the ability (also complicated by age since I’m closing in on 40) to correctly produce progesterone, something that I believe was always there, but has been complicated by using birth control pills to regulate my hormone swings. My hormones don’t know how to “swing” without help – like the 6-year-old who sits on a swing and doesn’t know how to pump her legs because someone has always pushed her.
So what’s the answer? If you know a woman of child-bearing age who complains about painful periods, irregular periods, heavy bleeding, acne, or excessive hair on her face, urge her (beg her) to ask her doctor what other options are available to her other than the birth control pill. If you yourself are on the birth control pill for “medical reasons”, please do your own research. Is continuing to push hormones in your body that just simply mask the symptoms rather than treat the problem worth it?
In the interest of full disclosure I will say that I have not yet read the complete published version of The Rule. I have a goal of doing that some day, but I decided as someone looking to learn more at this point I’d read a book written by someone who’s immersed herself in living The Rule. Joan Chittister is a nun in the Order of St. Benedict, and has written 81 books about spirituality and the monastic life, so I decided that her book Wisdom Distilled From the Dailywould be a good place to start learning. I will continue to read and learn, because if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from this process it’s that I’ve just seem the tippy tip of the iceberg. I’m going to attempt to describe the importance of The Rule and why I felt so called to learn about it – and to do it the justice it deserves.
The first thing that people think when they hear that Benedictine monastic communities are living according to The Rule of St. Benedict, which was written around the year 525, is that they’re living in the dark ages. The reality is that every one of us has something to learn from The Rule that applies to our lives. The Rule is much more involved than I can get in to here, but if you’re interested in learning more about it I’d encourage you to either read Joan’s book (I do not know her and I am receiving nothing from plugging her book) or stay tuned because there’s a very real possibility that I will continue to write posts on how I’m trying to live my life more according to The Rule.
The Rule is a guide to living life in a Spiritual manner and living life as a member of a community. The Rule was written for monastics, but there is so much that pertains to living life regardless of your vocation that it deserves to be studied.
As I said in my previous post, I was educated at a Benedictine college so the concept of Balance was introduced to me early in my adulthood, but it’s been within the last ten years that I’ve come to realize that Balance is a concept that I need to live by. I am a person who holds myself to very high standards and has a strong work ethic, neither of which is a bad thing, but it’s very easy for me to let my days become consumed with one aspect of my life – usually work. I recognize that for my own physical health as well as my mental and spiritual health I need to live life more in balance than out of balance.
Joan refers to Prayer, Work & Holy Leisure (reading and spiritual renewal) as three spiritual foundations of Benedictine life, but unlike a stool with three equal legs, like this
it’s more like a pie chart that’s unevenly distributed.
Some days our time might be more consumed by Work, but others by Leisure. The idea is not that for every 8 hours of work we’re entitled to 8 hours of leisure and 8 hours of prayer, but rather that it’s important for each of us to learn to incorporate Work, Prayer and Leisure in to our day, week, month and year. It’s important to recognize when we’re working too much (or not enough), Praying too much (or not enough), and when we’re getting too much (or not enough) Leisure.
This concept, that life has multiple foundations is not a concept new to Benedict (and I suspect that he’d tell us that if he could). Doesn’t Ecclesiastes 3:1 tell us “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens”?
One concept that really stuck out to me was that Benedict taught that work is a gift to be given, a Christian duty to the community, a part of holiness. Work is co-creative because it allows us to assist God in building community.
When you’re working do you feel that you’re called to holiness?
Many jobs that I’ve had in my life I would have said no, it’s just a job, but I’m very fortunate to be able to say, for the first time in my life, that I truly feel that I’m called to holiness through my job. I am living my Christian duty and giving gifts to the community as a whole. I often pray that God will use me to reach people, and I love the feeling that I get when He does.
But God doesn’t want us to be all about work; He expects us to rest and revive ourselves as well. Joan pointed out that many scripture experts teach us that God is so committed to us including Leisure in our lives that he rested on the seventh day of creation. God didn’t rest because He needed to; He rested because he expects us to take a break after work and rest.
When was the last time that you truly took the time to Rest?
But Benedict doesn’t speak of Leisure as sloth. He speaks of Leisure as something that would benefit our soul. He speaks of it as Holy Leisure. He speaks of it as something that will engage our heart and broaden our vision, and something that will deepen our insight and strengthen our soul.
Holy Leisure is the reflective reading of scripture, the practice that allows us to move from merely reciting formulas (memorized prayer that can become almost a mindless chant if we allow it to be) to a real experience.
When was the last time that you took the time for Holy Leisure? What do you need to do to make the time for Holy Leisure?
Prayer allows us the opportunity to be in real relationship with God. It really resonated with me when Joan said that her spiritual adviser told her long ago that there will never be time for prayer. If we wait to pray until we have time to pray we will never pray, we must make the time for prayer. If you think about it, that makes sense. I must make time for my relationship with God, just as I do for my relationship with my husband, or my parents, or my staff. If a relationship is worth nurturing it’s worth taking time for.
I am not sure if anything that I’ve said has made a bit of difference for you, my friends. I am on fire with the ideas contained in this book, the ideas that St. Benedict taught nearly 1,500 years ago, but I worry that I’m not doing a good job of communicating those ideas and conveying them to all of you.
Perhaps rather than trying to continue to do these ideas justice I should leave you with the words of St. Benedict himself, taken from Rule 4:
“Take care of everything, revere one another, eat and drink moderately, pray where you work, think deeply about life every day, read, sleep well, don’t demand the best of everything, pray daily, and live as community.”
Seems like a pretty good guide for life, doesn’t it?