Seven pregnancies in ten years. Is that okay as far as a woman’s mental, physical and psychological health is concerned? Or is it too much?
I entered into all seven of those pregnancies with an open heart and felt grateful for the caring man I chose to share my life with and to be the father of my children. However, that still does not answer the question about the effect of seven pregnancies in ten years. The question was a struggle for my generation. It is less of a struggle for younger women. When I was a child, we were taught to obey. Women of today are taught to ask questions.
Most women in contemporary American culture choose birth control to plan the number and space between their pregnancies. Studies show that Catholic women make this decision at a higher percentage than the average American woman. Therefore, the question is not “Do Catholic women use birth control?” the question is why has the hierarchy of the American Catholic Church made our questions, concerns and general health, Invisible?
Why Invisible? Because that’s the best word to use when someone looks at you and does not ask: How are you? Who are you? Where are you? And when all the questions are being asked only by men, who have no idea what it is like to be a woman, how can there be any understanding or sensitivity. If there is no input from women on issues that concern women, then how valuable is the input?
When I was three weeks pregnant and contracted German Measles, which is known to cause birth defects at a high rate when the virus settles on the developing eyes, ears and heart, I was offered a legal abortion. I said “No.”
After three pregnancies with Gestational Diabetes, I was told by my Catholic doctor, “No more pregnancies.” I talked to a priest, an old one at that, and he said the Church has no problem with an individual woman who should no longer have children because of her situation, choosing sterilization. He said the church was opposed to sterilization in general. There are some in the Church who would say that he should have never said that, but he did. I’m not sure why I went to talk to the priest but I do know that had he said, “No, you can’t do this,” I would have done it anyway. And yes, I had already used the pill but stopped after our three year old daughter died. This was the pregnancy I could have aborted, but didn’t. I didn’t stop the pill because I wanted to replace my daughter but because I was no longer closed to another pregnancy. Two years later, I had two more children and per the advice of my doctor and my priest, had my tubes tied.
This story is important because I am one example of how the conscience of a Catholic woman works. Every woman’s story is unique. In my case I believe every decision I made came from a moral conscience developed by me because of my faith, my church and the circumstances of my life. As a young woman, however, I think I was very influenced by my childhood teaching to obey the rules of the church. However, as I matured, I realized that I had to make my own decisions based on my life and not out of fear of going to hell. Through each segment of my life, I went to Church, stayed faithful to my husband, taught my children right from wrong and in that way I believe I was visible to everyone who watched me. I have always tried to treat others the way I think Jesus would treat them. As far as I know about Jesus’ behavior, everyone was visible to Him. He noticed the woman at the well, the tax collector, the boy with the loaves and fishes.
When I came to the point in my life that I could no longer continue to have children, I had to take into account such realities as my health, the responsibility of caring for the children I already had, the fact that financially we couldn’t continue to support an even larger family. There comes a point where common sense has to be a part of a couple’s decision making process. All my life I believed that respect for myself and others was a guiding light in determining decisions that were healthy and those that were not. The dignity of each human person is spoken in the Church but then it picks and chooses whose dignity to protect. I have been guided by this belief in individual dignity as I’ve made all my decisions concerning my fertility.
The church seems to be so adamant concerning the life of the unborn and that the spirituality of marriage carries with it an absolute openness to life which includes contraception as a moral evil. Yet it spends very little time on such atrocities as ethnic cleansing, war and corporate greed.
I know the reality of my life and if the Church’s stand completely ignores that reality because it goes against one of its strong moral laws, then it has once again deemed me, my life, my conscience, my situation as Invisible to its life, its laws, its existence.
How long will the hierarchy of the Church look right through women as if we are invisible? As if we do not have our unique stories, as if we have not formed our conscience in a moral way, as if Jesus would not notice us?
Our stories are real. They are powerful and they deserve to be visible. – G