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To the Mom Terrified of Having Irish Twins

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You’ve just given birth. You are so in love with this tiny person who consumes every second of your time and attention. The sleep deprivation you are facing makes the late-night college studying look like a week in Cancun. You are happy, but your days (and nights) are so FULL. You are trying to figure out how to balance being both a good wife and a good mother. Your body is just starting to recover from childbirth, and you are trying to make peace with your new shape. You may have had severe morning sickness or a traumatic delivery – something that makes you glad you are on the “other side” of the past 9 months. You hope to have more babies someday, but it’s not really on the radar right now – you just had one! And you are tapped. out.

The thought of being pregnant a month or two after having a baby sends most women into a panic. Nurses and midwives will warn you that “Your body needs a year to heal after giving birth and BREASTFEEDING DOES NOT PREVENT PREGNANCY!!!!” as they shove a birth control prescription in your hand. (And they’re not exactly wrong about breastfeeding – sometimes it doesn’t.) Plenty of faithful Catholics have been tempted into using contraception temporarily just to ensure a little bit of spacing. I recall a friend revealing to me that she believed that contraception was wrong, but used it anyway because she was so scared to get pregnant again “too soon.”

pregtestWhat are most of our concerns based on? Fear. Fear of physical damage; fear of being even more overwhelmed. Fear of losing what is left of our free time. Fear of scarring our children because they didn’t have enough time to “be the baby.” Fear of what people will think of us. (Ooh, this is a big one. “You know what causes that, right?” is people’s attempt to be humorous while implying that you are too dumb to control your reproduction. And pregnancies less than 3 months apart? That means you’re riding the crazy train. To most of the world, it screams pretty loudly “WE DON’T USE BIRTH CONTROL!” But even to non-contracepting, NFP-loving folks, the idea of Irish twins is pretty foreign. Some NFP advocates insist that a certain arbitrary spacing is ideal, or even necessary, in order to keep your marriage healthy, parent properly/attachment parent, keep your body healthy.)

And do you know what? Those fears are legitimate. If we had a glimpse of the Eternal Plan, we would see that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28), but in our very narrow view of our life, we don’t always know what the future holds. We know our own weaknesses. And so we are afraid we can’t handle it.

If you find yourself expecting again soon after giving birth, some of the random thoughts that might cross your mind are not limited to the following:

How can I handle 2 babies at once? Won’t my older child feel neglected? He’s still a baby himself! How can I carry two kids around? Can my body handle two pregnancies so close together? Will I have to wean my older baby now that I’m pregnant? Am I going to have a baby every year for the rest of my life? Some of your concerns may be even more serious – I was hoping for a VBAC; am I going to need another C-section? Am I going to experience the same pregnancy complications the second time around?

motherteresaBut first – take a deep breath. Know that God has destined you to be the mother of THIS child. He knows your weaknesses and your faults, your concerns and your fears. But still, He has chosen you. Rest for a moment knowing that in His plan of Divine Providence, He knows what is best for your soul and another baby is it. He knows who will be the best mother for this baby, and she is you.

(I often dislike when people say “But look at all your blessings!” when things are hard, because they still don’t mitigate the sting of our crosses, and sometimes our blessings come with crosses attached. But it has been helpful to me to remember to offer up any of my pregnancy-related woes for women struggling with infertility or recurring miscarriages, who so long for another baby to hold. Why have God given these children to me while allowing another woman to continuously feel the sting of empty arms? Just dwelling on that for a little bit has really helped me to appreciate my little crosses-in-the-midst-of-blessings. Sometimes, the best way to realize how fortunate we are is to will ourselves to be grateful, even during trials. And sometimes we need a gentle reminder of that.)

To the specific questions: You may have to switch to formula. You might have 2 babies who need to be carried everywhere for a while. Your chance of pre-term labor goes up slightly, and your body may be achier with your second pregnancy. You may have some crazy nights; you may have two babies not sleeping through the night at once (I had 3 blissful weeks of my older baby STTN before my younger one was born.) You may experience more pregnancy complications the second time around (I was very blessed that the pre-eclampsia I had with my first did not present itself with my second.) It may be a harder pregnancy. All legitimate concerns, absolutely.

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I found out I was pregnant when my oldest was 12 weeks old. My newborn didn’t sleep well at night. (do they ever?) I spent every afternoon on the couch with nausea and exhaustion while he napped in the baby swing next to me. I kept crackers by my bed to eat in the middle of the night when I got up 8 times feed him. Sometimes it was 10 times. Some of the earlier days with a baby and a young toddler were a blur.

Now, my Irish twins are 5 and 4. The older is studious and loves numbers and words, telling time, calendars, calculators, writing. He is not the biggest conversationalist; he likes to be on a schedule and doesn’t enjoy spontaneity or getting dirty. The younger loves to talk, to tell stories and ask questions, to draw pictures, to be read to, make up stories, to help cook. He wears costumes and hats, and his creativity knows no bounds. These boys are total opposites, but they are the best of friends. They push each other out of their comfort zones. They learn about the virtues of patience and kindness through each other. I can honestly say that they are the best thing that ever happened to each other.

If you are struggling through a pregnancy right now, planned or unexpected, long-awaited or a complete shock, God will give you the grace you need to persevere. In the words of St. Gianna Molla, “Our task is to live holy in the present moment.” And as our beloved Papa Benedict said, “You were not made for comfort; you were made for greatness.” Allow these two thoughts to inspire you and to give you hope. You’ve got this, mama. I’m cheering you on.

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{This post is not intended in any way to shame anyone or to make light of serious medical reasons for postponing pregnancy. All pregnancies and all situations are different. I’m not here to convince you that you need very-closely-spaced babies. I simply want to reassure you that if you do end up having babies in rapid succession, you are not dumb or irresponsible. You are not bad at NFP. You are not crazy. You should not feel ashamed of your openness to life. Do not obsess about the future – focus on the NOW, the baby in your arms and in your belly, not the future you who might possibly have 18 children spaced 11 months apart (but probably not.)}

 

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Domestic Church Ink Slingers Michelle Respect Life Spiritual Growth

The Fountain of Youth

The Fountain of Youth is a spring that is rumored to bring everlasting youth and/or life to those who bathe in or drink from its waters.  From Herodotus to famed explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, the Fountain has been hunted for thousands of years.   But why do so many seek it?  Why would someone want to be forever young and does the Fountain truly exist?

I suppose that there are many reasons one may search out the Fountain of Youth.  Some may want to drink from it for vain reasons, while some may just want to cling to a time in their lives where they felt truly alive. For many the best time of their lives was when they had little responsibility; where they didn’t worry about what bills to pay, what to make for supper, or whether or not the tires on the car would last another six months.  They long for a simpler time when they played outside until the sun set, laughed and had sleep overs, and just hung out with friends.  They look to hold on to those great experiences that they had a child or teen- those things that “young people” do but that as adults often are no longer done.

Where is the Fountain of Youth? Does it really exist? I believe it does.  I’m also pretty certain I have found it.  You see I found the Fountain of Youth in a very surprising place…. it was in me this entire time!

Are you scratching your head right about now asking what in the world is she talking about?  If so I beg of you for just a minute more to explain myself.  You see, I can look in the mirror and see the tell-tale signs of getting older.  I see the gray hair that is springing up in between my blond tresses.  I see the tiny wrinkles forming in the corners of my eyes.  My back gets sore and my feet ache a little sooner than they used to.  My memory isn’t as sharp as it was and I find myself feeling like time is beginning to just pass by too quickly.  But even with these little signs telling me I’m getting older I also know that because I made life changing decision many years ago that the Fountain flows freely in and through me.  Are you curious as to what my secret may be?

Many years ago my husband and I decided to be open to life.  It has been one of the best decisions we have ever made.  Not only has it been an honor to be a part of bringing life into the world, it has also been instrumental in keeping us young!  We first became parents 20 years ago and yet just 3 months ago we had our 11th child.  That is 20 years of child-bearing and rearing! Most people our age or those who started having children about the same time as us are about to have an empty house as their children move up and out.  Not so with us.  Even if we were to have no more children we are still looking at 18 more years of having children in our home.  If our youngest child moves at that time we’ll have had children in our home for almost 40 years straight!  I know to some that sounds exhausting but for me it is rejuvenating!

As I was thinking about what to write I made a list of all the things I am still doing today that I did 20 years ago with my first daughter. When I first began the list I wondered how many things I would have written down.  Before long I had nearly 50 activities!  I looked at the list and wondered how many others my age are still playing with playdoh, singing John Jacob Jingleheimerschmidt, swinging on the swings at the park, having a dance or singing contest, dressing up their pets, having campfires in the backyard complete with tents and s’mores, dressing up as superheroes, playing doctor, wearing moustaches just because it’s Monday, dying Easter eggs, carving pumpkins at Halloween, and waiting on pins and needles for Santa to get here.  I imagine that many of those my age have put away the slip-n-slide, haven’t read a bedtime story in a long time, played hide and seek, nor made a snow angel in years.  And yet here I am 20 years later still getting to play every single day!  It’s no wonder I feel so much younger than my years!

This isn’t to say that being open to life is all fun and games.  It’s not.  With a large number of children comes worries about finances, how we will feed them all, more medical problems, less time to myself, lots of noise, and many other stressors.  Still, in the end God always provides for us, the love we have in our homes is staggering, and we get to play every day.  The benefits clearly speak for themselves!

Many people chase down remedies to help their aging bodies not look so “old”.  What these people do not understand is that we all are going to age and that is a good thing.  To be honest it would just be weird to be ten years old forever.  However, just because our bodies age doesn’t mean that our hearts and souls have to as well. I have found that immersing myself in my children’s lives and surrounding myself with youth itself has helped me stay youthful.  I know that eventually my children will be grown and gone.  I won’t be surrounded, at home, by youth forever.  But I also know that when that time comes I will look for ways to make sure I can still be involved with children.  I will volunteer with the youth at church.  I will look to the youth in my community and I will look to my grandchildren.  I see others who do this as well as their own children grow up and move one.  I hope to follow their lead.  Surrounding myself with the innocence and youth that radiates from children will indeed help me stay young.

The Fountain of Youth is real.  We can tap into it anytime we wish.  We only have to open ourselves up to God’s gift of children… whether it is by bringing a child into our family through birth, adoption, or some other means or if it is by working closely with children in our communities.   As Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” In Heaven we will be youthful and restored.  Why not begin that process here on Earth by accepting the little children just as Christ did?  Your body will still age but your heart and soul will surely stay young!

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Fireweed Children and NFP

Children are flowers for mothers to tend. My sweet garden grows astringent yarrow, cheerful fuschia, ubiquitous dandelion, delicate baby’s breath, thorny rose ~ and fireweed. A tall, strong wildflower with multiple neon blooms, it is the first to appear after fire (or any earthen upheaval, natural or man-made). Its roots are deep and its growth begins anew the circle of life in the devastated area. We have two “fireweed children” that were born with Cystic Fibrosis– a genetic upheaval due to two mutated proteins on the seventh chromosomes.

Does fireweed look gorgeous because it grows upon troubled spots, or is fireweed so gorgeous that the trouble is less noticeable? Either way, the world is blessed by its beauty and use, for it can be also be eaten and used medicinally.

We choose not to avoid more babies, even with a 1:4 chance of cystic fibrosis (CF) every time. During this National NFP Awareness Week we are grateful to know that our Holy Mother Church points us to a method we may use if we deem a serious reason (it is also used to achieve babies!). Why? Because there are hundreds of genetic issues that children can be born with; there are hundreds more conditions that children can develop or catch once born. A 1:4 chance pales in comparison. Knowing God, making Him known, and getting to heaven are not dependent on physical perfection; after all, plenty of people with high IQs and great health are criminals.

We are all called to live a vocational, considered life based on sacraments and living Love; not an entitled, fast-food life based on my feelings, my way.

According to the Baltimore Catechism, God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven. Fireweed can do this just as well as the lovely rose. Those of us with fireweed children might even say better than the rose. Although there is painful sorrow and difficult work and the “everlasting happiness” part comes in heaven, there is certainly love, wisdom, and peace. So we live with this:

Marriage is ordained,
Sex is good,
Children are blessings,
Heaven is real.

We’ll take our flowers as they come and tend them well, for we never know when one may wilt and return to the Creator. Don’t be frightened of caring for fireweed. Its brightness brings smiles; its beauty shines in trouble; it may become the favorite flower in your garden.

Notice how the flowers grow…not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them (Luke 12:27)

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A Holy Family – Thoughts on Procreation and Christian Marriage

Pray for us, O Holy Family.

The Catholic Church’s stance against birth control has catapulted to the forefront of today’s news, as it is utterly shocking to modern day folk that anyone could be against birth control.  The contraceptive mentality is held in high esteem, as it is considered wholly responsible and good across all walks of life.

Allow me to step back in time (and even out of time) to explain why I agree with the Church’s teaching against contraception within Christian marriage.  Before the creation of the Earth, God created heavenly beings, the angels – bodiless souls with free will like our own human souls.  As we read in the book of Genesis, then the Lord created the Earth, and created the first human, Adam, and from him, God created his helpmate, Eve.  Adam and Eve were different from the angels in that they were souls bound in time and space to bodies on Earth.

The most common way God allows for the creation of new souls is through a male and female choosing to come together.  There are other ways as well, like the devastation of forcible rape, or electively through advancements in modern technology (surrogacy, IUI, IVF, etc). But no matter which of these ways, God has chosen to restrict the creation of new souls to deliberate human acts.  Even Christ Himself was not made incarnate without the deliberate consent of the Virgin Mary.  Being God, the Lord doesn’t need to involve us humans in the soul creation process; yet, He does, and in effect He demands our participation.  Enter, the institution of marriage.

Have you ever noticed the number of commandments that relate to marriage?  Let’s review.  Quickly, we think to “Thou shall not commit adultery” and “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife”, so that’s two.  And, I make the assumption that in the commandment “Obey your mother and father”, God’s most perfect plan is that those two be married.  Three of the Ten Commandments are explicitly related to marriage – the same number of commandments as God reserved about our relationship with Him.  Marriage must be pretty important.

I believe that the importance God places on marriage also shows us the importance of soul creation, and this concept has been shunned by our world today.  It is perceived as barbaric to expect that marriage be both unitive AND procreative.  As the U.S. battles about the HHS mandate, and whether or not contraceptives and sterilization should be covered, we are ultimately debating whether or not infertility should be a basic human right (ask any infertile couple to comment about the wisdom of that one).  Today’s climate is terribly hostile to procreation – the creation of souls.  The Catholic Church’s stance against birth control is wildly counter-cultural… as it should be.

It is in marriage, open-to-life loving marriage, that God prefers to use Christians to create new souls for Heaven.  When two Christians obey God’s calling to marriage, it should be with the deliberate act of offering God their bodies for the creation of as many or few souls as He sees fit.  And the two also offer Him their family to raise any souls entrusted to their care for His Glory in Heaven.  Marriage is a lifelong vocation, and God already built into each couple a way to cease soul production when He sees fit… not though man-made contraception or surgical sterilization, but through menopause.  Crazy, I know, to suggest trusting the Lord with fertility for so long.  He might go nuts and create too many souls (is that really possible?)  I jest, but ultimately, we should consider it a privilege if God desires to create many souls from our own personal marriages.

I am convinced that God uses even miscarriages to populate Heaven, and I have a theory that with how many miscarriages there seem to be these days, that God  is working to quickly populate Heaven with even more souls to pray for our fallen world.  I am utterly thankful to the couples who continue to be open to life (and heartache) in the face of miscarriage because they are bearing such a cross in helping God create new souls.

There are indeed grave exceptions where some couples perhaps for or while or no longer can safely help the Lord create new souls, and this is understandable.  But I pray that Christians will resist what the world has planned for their marriage, and instead focus on what God has planned for their marriage, especially with procreation.  I pray that married Christians remember it is through their vows to each other and to Him that God hopes to find his greatest support in the creation of his new souls for Heaven.  If married Christians turn their back on God when it comes to the creation of new souls, then what does it say to the world?

From Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer in the Gospel of John (17:14-21)

“I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.  I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.  And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth. I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”

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20 Children Is Not “Too Many.”

“Selfish, irresponsible, insane, stupid.” “I hope she dies.” “She should have been aborted.” “I hope her child is a vegetable that will fill them with regret.”

Horrible, hateful words spewed about a woman who has likely never wished anything but kindness on others. Words spoken by people who have never met this woman. What heinous crime has she committed that deserves this antagonism?

She and her husband announced that they will be having a baby. Which is not a terribly astonishing announcement for most married couples to make, except…

Courtesy of www.duggarfamily.com

This will be the couple’s 20th child. The mother, Michelle Duggar, is 45 years old. Her pregnancy with #19 involved complications that resulted in her child being born nearly 15 weeks early. These 3 factors (number of children, mother’s age, complications during last pregnancy) have turned this once again newly-pregnant mother into the butt of crude and cruel jokes and downright hateful taunts.**

The mantra of our modern culture: “my body, my choice, don’t judge me”, apparently only extends to women who wish to end their pregnancies by abortion; a woman who wishes to GIVE life to children is mocked and derided by the very people who believe that “I need to do what’s best for me.” In the words of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the father of a large family himself:

“Why are people impressed that Jay Leno owns 20 motorcycles, but disgusted that some religious families choose to have 10 children?

Let’s not finesse the response. We all know why. A world that has lost its innocence has trouble appreciating beings who are innocent. A world that has become selfish has soured to the idea of leading a life of selflessness. A world that has become grossly materialistic is turned off to the idea of more dependents who consume resources. And a world that mistakenly believes that freedom means a lack of responsibility is opposed to the idea of needy creatures who ‘tie you down.’”

Sadly, many people who condemn this family for opening up their hearts to another child consider themselves Christians, or even Catholic. So, what is the Bible’s opinion on Mrs. Duggar’s elusive #20?

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In Genesis 1:28, God commands Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Not only was this a directive to have children, but it also makes it clear that humans have eminence over animals. (Yes, children > environment. We are called to be good stewards of the earth, not to intentionally dissipate our species for the sake of the polar bears.)

Biblically, children are ALWAYS considered a blessing. God frequently bestowed upon people the blessings of children when they have been faithful to him in something particular. “I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you.” (Leviticus 26:9). “If you obey the Lord your God… the fruit of your womb will be blessed.” (Deuteronomy 28:4).

Ink-Slinger Michelle's beautiful blessings

Psalm 127 states that, “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” So not only are children a blessing, but having MANY children is a blessing! In the New Testament, Christ Himself speaks only highly of and with great tenderness towards children. “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:14)

On the contrary, nowhere in the Bible is barrenness considered a blessing. While there are many Biblical women who suffer from infertility, whether temporarily or permanently (Sarah, Michal, Hannah, Elizabeth), they express nothing but sorrow over this trial they bear. In fact, carrying his Cross on the road to Calvary, Christ speaks directly to the women of Jerusalem, saying, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’” (Luke 23:28-29). Christ says we should WEEP for this day! – the day in which childbearing is considered a curse rather than a blessing, and in which material possessions are more important than the gift of new life. But instead of weeping, women today shove themselves full of artificial hormones, plastic and metal devices, and surgically alter their reproductive organs in order to cause sterility. What was once considered a terrible burden to bear is now considered “being responsible.”

The Catholic Church, in Her Divine Wisdom, also continuously emphasizes the preciousness and infinite value of each human soul. Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, echoes the Second Vatican Council when he writes “Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents’ welfare.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that a child is “the supreme gift of marriage.” (CCC 2378)

The moral theologian Frank Sheed, writing about married life and the decision whether to forego  having more children, speaks plainly: “Indeed for one who has grasped what a human being is— made in God’s image, immortal, redeemed by Christ—only the most serious reason would be strong enough to support such a decision.”

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None of these passages, whether in Scripture or in the teachings of the Church, seek to quantify; there is never a point where suddenly children are no longer a blessing. If each soul is created in the image and likeness of God, and has infinite value, then there can never be a point where we can say “there are too many children.” The first child in a family is no more precious or important than the twentieth; ALL are infinitely cherished by God. If each human being is “made in God’s image, immortal, redeemed by Christ,” how can we EVER express sorrow or disdain over the creation of that new little life inside a mother’s womb?

Most women are not called to have 20 children, or even 10 children. Some women may not be called to bear children at all. What we are all called to do, however, is to be open to the blessings of God in our lives. Children ARE a blessing. And since God is directly involved in the creation of each human life, how can we question His judgment in bringing a new soul into the world? It is clear – God will never send any more children to a family than the number He wishes for them to have. And God cannot be outdone in generosity – if we unite ourselves to His Will for our family, He will certainly bless us abundantly!

 

**This is not in any way intended to be a discussion about the Duggars religious views or child-rearing philosophies. I simply use them as an example of a family who has come under attack lately for the sole fact that they are adding another child to their family. The world does not condemn a woman with health problems who desires to get pregnant with her first child, nor a woman of advanced maternal age desiring a pregnancy but who does not yet have children. Therefore, it is only logical to assume that the widespread negativity towards her pregnancy stems not from her health problems or her age, but merely from the NUMBER of children she has.