Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother's Day

Like thousands of other people, I posted a link to the blog post An open letter to pastors (A non-mom speaks about Mother's Day) on my Facebook page this week.  Most of my friends liked it, but with a couple of them, it created quite a stir.  Who is this woman, they asked, who wants to take away from mothers their special day to be celebrated?  Why should mothers, who give up food, sleep, and their own bodies for the sake of their children, who spend months and years covered in other people's bodily fluids, with no vacations, give up the one day when someone actually pauses to say, "Thank you," just because someone else is offended?

I have two answers: first, no one is asking you to give up your special day, and no one is suggesting that your kids shouldn't make you a card and say thanks for being a great Mom.

Second: it should not take away from your special day to acknowledge that for many, Motherhood is very complicated.  There women whose motherhood is not public--who have never told anyone about the children they miscarried, gave up for adoption, or aborted, or who are newly pregnant and haven't told anyone yet. There are women who abandoned their children, or abused them.  There are women who are uncertain about their own status: perhaps a new stepmother, an aunt who is raising her nieces and nephews, or a foster mother.

When a priest to asks all mothers to stand for a blessing, what should these women do?  They are mothers, and should receive the blessing, but standing to be acknowledged and applauded may not be what they want and might make them feel awkward.

Finally, Mother's Day can also be a painful reminder for those whose mothers have died, or, yes, for women who long to be mothers but cannot, because of infertility, or because they haven't found a husband to be their partner in parenthood.  I really don't think it takes anything away from the special day for mothers to take a moment for reflection on the suffering of others.

* * *

One of my friends recently got a little angry with me.  I complained about a priest who gave a homily in which he said that the purpose of marriage is the procreation and education of children, and didn't mention that there is another purpose of marriage (the sanctification of the spouses).  I said that emphasizing the rearing of children over the sanctification of the spouses is alienating to those of us who suffer infertility--like we're being told that our marriage is pointless.  My friend said, "Seriously?  He wasn't talking to you, he was talking to people who contracept and are not open to life, who are violating Church teaching.  This happens so often to me when I talk or blog about motherhood.  The infertility crowd come out of the woodwork and try to make it all about them.  It's so annoying."

I didn't have a good reply for her then, but I have one now.  The reason we try so hard to get everyone to look at us and talk to us, is because if we don't, no one ever addresses us.  Yes, I know the priest wasn't talking to us, and that's the problem--he never does!  Only once have I ever heard infertility mentioned in a homily, and the priest was saying, "I'm talking about couples who choose not to have children, not those who cannot because of infertility."  He mentioned us only to say that he really wasn't talking about us.  But I keep thinking, maybe if I complain long enough, and bring this up often enough, someday, someone outside the infertility community will acknowledge that we exist.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Theology and Infertility, Part 1

I've been thinking a lot, and reading what is available, about what it means for a Catholic to be a spouse but not a parent.  I admit to thinking most about myself, as a wife-not-mother, but most of this will also apply to men like my husband, who is a husband but not a father.

There is a possibility that we will become parents someday, either biologically or through adoption.  But right now, we have been married more than six years and have no offspring.  We do not know when, or if ever, we will have children.  So in the meantime, without giving up hope, we must deal with a reality we did not anticipate at the outset of our marriage, that of being married for a significant length of time without children.

Our vocation as spouses is lived differently in some ways from the way spouses who are also parents live.  We have a tremendous amount of free time, compared to most of our friends who have been married for a similar length of time (most of whom have 2-4 children), and we get a lot more sleep.  We can leave the house at a moment's notice.  This is great when, for instance, a friend calls and says her car has broken down and she needs to take her child somewhere immediately.  I can drop everything and go help.  We don't have more disposable income because we don't make very much money, but some childless couples might be able to donate more money to charity, as well as time.

To some harried parents, this may seem on the surface like a blessing, but living it is difficult.  For almost three years I was a housewife.  I was at home all day, with nothing to do but look up recipes on the internet.  There were no children to distract me from my own thoughts or keep me busy.  I was tremendously depressed.  Thankfully, I now have a job and plenty to do, and I'm much happier.

Speaking of my job, I've noticed something about all the staff at the Catholic school where I work.  Many of the staff are in their 20s or early 30s and single, and three are women over 40 who are single.  Of the married staff, there are six couples represented by one or both spouses on staff.  Three of those couples are childless, two have one child each and struggled with infertility before finally being blessed with that single child (one is young enough to possibly have more, but the other couple are in their 50s now), and the other has two children (now grown up).  So, basically, people with lots of kids either choose not to involve themselves in education, or the school just doesn't pay enough, so people move on when they have too many children to support on the school salary.  From this standpoint, keeping this wonderful school running to educate the next generation of Catholics is a calling for those who have not been able to aid in actually giving birth to the next generation.  Our schools used to be staffed by religious; in the absence of religious, the schools can be staffed by the single and the infertile.

One thing that anyone dealing with a long-term battle with infertility must face is the question of how far to go in the quest of having a child.  Leaving aside the options which are immoral, we are left with various medical treatments aimed at treating infertility (medications, possibly surgery depending on the problem), and adoption.  We said, at our wedding, that we were willing to accept children from God.  This makes it sound like God is just going to hand you kids--and for most couples, He pretty much does.  But some of us have to work a little, or a lot, harder to make a family.  How far are we obliged to go?  Does welcoming children mean that we must seek medical treatment or adoption as far as health, finances, and other circumstances allow?

I submit that it does not, but that many Catholics don't understand that, and may even be repulsed by the idea that we wouldn't do absolutely everything possible in order to become parents. it possible that God does not call all married couples to be parents?  Is it possible that it's not some violation of our vocation if we throw in the towel and say, "Enough! I have done enough, and if God wants to send us a child then he will send us a child, and we will not go out and seek any longer."

This means that there will be some couples who never have children.  Yet, the Church has always taught that procreation is the main purpose of marriage--marriage has other functions, but this is the primary one.  As Gaudium et spes puts it:

"While not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of the family life which results from it, have this aim: that the couple be ready with stout hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Savior. . . .Married Christians glorify the Creator and strive toward fulfillment in Christ when with a generous human and Christian sense of responsibility they acquit themselves of the duty to procreate."

Where does this leave the childless?  Have we, through a fluke of biology not discovered until after marriage, somehow failed in living out our vocation?  No, of course not.  I will give a fuller answer to this question next time.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

It's Been a Year...

...since my last post.  I'm a little disappointed in myself in terms of blogging.  I didn't initially intend for this to be an "infertility blog," and I was annoyed that I found myself mostly writing about that.  Part of the reason I didn't want this to be an infertility blog is that I didn't really expect to be here, a year later, still childless.  But here I am.  I intend to start posting a little more regularly, if only because I feel a need to write and discuss these issues in a somewhat neutral forum, not because the internet is ever neutral, but because the few people who might read this blog are not my real-life friends that I have to not annoy by talking only about this all the time.

I suspected for a long time that I had PCOS, but for some reason I didn't feel very motivated to seek a diagnosis, change my habits, or really do anything at all about it.  I sort of took the attitude that if God wanted to send us children, he would.  I also wasn't too worried because I've always had fairly regular cycles.  Things couldn't be too bad, right?

Well, my body started behaving weirdly (I'll spare you the details) late last summer and continued for several weeks, so I finally went to the doctor.  After hearing my sad story, she immediately told me that she suspected PCOS, and confirmed her diagnosis with ultrasound and blood work.  The regular cycles are in some ways not as hopeful a sign as I thought, but the good news is that it does lesson my uterine cancer risk relative to women with PCOS who do not have periods.

We haven't investigated my husband's fertility.  There are morally acceptable ways of doing that, but frankly, it's yucky and at this point we'd rather not.

Please don't ask about the NaPro Technology center.  Yes, I know all about the Pope Paul VI Institute.  Yes, they could probably help.  Unfortunately, it costs money.  I live in Alaska, which is a very long way away from Nebraska, and we don't have the funds for even one trip there, let alone the money to pursue treatment that our insurance wouldn't cover.

Please don't ask about adoption right now.  We would love to, but we couldn't afford a normal adoption.  We could afford to foster-adopt, but my heart couldn't handle it.  The thought that I could have a child in my home, calling me Mommy, and that the child could be so easily taken away to live somewhere else, with someone else he would learn to call Mommy too, is too much to bear.  I have friends who are foster parents and I commend them for providing this much-needed service, but I'm too emotionally fragile for that.

Where does that leave us?  Treating PCOS with the normal means that conventional medicine offers--diet, exercise, and possibly medications like Metformin and Clomid.  I'm going to try diet and exercise first, even though it's super difficult for me.  I am the laziest person on the planet and I have no self-control.  Modern American food is literally made to be addictive, and I am totally addicted to sugar, grains, and all the things someone with my hormonal problems shouldn't be consuming.  I teach at a school where parents leave donuts and brownies and freshly-baked bread in the teacher's lounge right next to the copy machine all the time, and that's a little bit like putting a big plate of crack in front of a drug addict and saying, "you shouldn't touch that, it's not good for you."  Even though a little corner of my brain is saying, "Don't you want a baby a lot more than you want those brownies?" the rest of my brain is screaming, "EAT ALL THE SUGAR!"

My other mission right now is trying to learn to be ok with the fact that I don't have children.  God could still bless us--I'm 29, and theoretically have at least 10 more years to work on this.  But barring actual miracles, we will never have the big family we dreamed of (we're already an average of three kids behind, based on friends married at the same time +/- 1 year), and there's a possibility that we will never have any children at all.  I need to learn to be content with God's will, and to examine what it means to live out a vocation as a wife who is not a mother.  I've always equated wifehood with motherhood, but now I find that they are quite different things, and one does not always lead to the other.  My next post will be about my evolving understanding of theology and the vocation of wife-not-mother.