Day 132: Whole Life Catholicism

First, just to quickly follow up after yesterday, because I’m not interested in being one of those people who pretends my life is a series of perfect snapshots, I want to say that not every day is like yesterday, and in fact, most days are more like today, which is to say that convincing my children to do anything they don’t immediately want to do is like trying to knock over a brick wall by tickling it with a feather.  Having children spread out the way ours are sometimes presents interesting challenges – our elementary-aged children bring home new vocabulary words and attitude they learn at school, the younger kids find it amusing and imitate, and when our two year old has tantrums and is defiant, the older kids find it amusing and imitate.  Still, even on days like today, which can really feel like a slog, I love our children, and I am so thankful to be able to push the rock up the hill.

On a completely different note, early this morning I read an article in the Millennial Journal labeling Pope Francis, “The Whole Life Pope,” and after reading it three times and thinking it over, I reposted it on my personal Facebook page with the following introduction:

I hesitated a long time before sharing this post.  Liberal friends will accuse me of hating women (for the millionth time), conservatives will accuse me of having loose morals (something they’ve long expected anyway), or not loving babies.  It also seems unlikely that this article will change minds.  Still, I think it’s worth reading.

I know, defensive much?  To be fair, although I try to keep my Facebook circle relatively small, I have connections who vary greatly in political beliefs and life experiences, and many of them are more than willing to share their opinions in a rather aggressive way.  I once shared an article, mostly scientific in content, analyzing the difference between breastmilk directly from the breast and breastmilk that is pumped first.  The conclusion was basically, “We don’t know, but we should do more research.”  It honestly never crossed my mind that the post would be considered controversial, but it became a huge fight, and in the end, one of my friends from law school chose to end our Facebook “friendship” because she felt one of my other friends was insensitive to her breastfeeding struggles.

Since then, I have tried to be very aware and sensitive to possible reactions to what I post, and really, maybe too aware and too sensitive – some might even say that exchange left a chill in the air.

Several friends posted about the Tucson traffic stop yesterday, and I almost commented, but then I realized I’m a white girl from the Midwest, and that might not be the most appropriate topic to get involved in.  I felt good about that decision, and I think it made sense.

When I read the Millennial article this morning, I had thoughts, but I wasn’t sure it was worth posting, for the reasons explained above.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized it’s important for me to be able to share posts if I think they are worth sharing.  I am not the kind of person who holds it all inside, even when I probably should, and while there have to be limits and boundaries, everything is a balance, and this time, letting it out won over.

Pope Francis

One interesting note about the article.  The author uses the term “culture war,” and a lot of other people use it too, sometimes to describe the conflict between “pro-life” and “pro-choice” groups, but not many people know the background of that word.

I read this article and I thought, “Hey, there’s something for everybody here, surely we can all agree on this,” but I know that’s not the case.

The first person to comment, someone who became a good friend last year, seemed to agree with the general sentiment, but argued that she has “never met a pro-life person who judged a woman for terminating.”  She is one of the more conservative people in my Facebook circle, and she has been extremely active in the pro-life movement for years, probably since I was still in grade school, and she is, in many ways, truly pro-life.  She loves babies, she believes in helping, and she does a lot to help.  Her kids are older and more independent now, so she spends her days volunteering for lunch duty at school, organizing trips, driving other people’s kids all over the suburbs, and praying for anyone in need.  Our baby ended up in the hospital last year, and even though HW and I both had family nearby, she was the only person, other than my mother, who helped, and what’s more, helped in a way that was unassuming and completely natural.  “I will pick your daughter up from school and she can stay with me as long as you want.  If it makes sense for her to sleep over, we have plenty of beds and extra school uniforms.  I can take the younger kids too, just let me know what you need.”  All of that is to say that she is a genuinely good person who truly cares about other people.  She doesn’t care about some idea about what people could be or should be, she cares about real, flawed, normal people.  Perfect example – later in the day I emailed to tell her about my rosary project (not the blog) and she responded immediately offering to join me, asking if there was anything in particular I needed.

We agree on a great many things, and I don’t think she has a dishonest bone in her body, but I find her statement incredible.  Could it possibly be true that she has never met a judgmental pro-lifer?  Surely not.  In fact, I know she knows several of them, because they are mutual acquaintances.  The disconnect must be either in how we use the term “judgmental” or how we perceive people.

I wish I could say I’ve never met a “pro-life” person who judges a mother for terminating.  I have.  I’ve met “pro-life” people who judge a mother for terminating and who judge a single mother for not terminating.  To be fair, I’ve also met “pro-choice” people who judge people for the same (two abortions are fine, but three are too many; if you can’t afford three kids, don’t have three kids).

I also understand that sometimes people just have bad days.  I know I’ve certainly said things, after a long, frustrating day, that I don’t really mean.  I’ve lashed out in the middle of a Facebook back-and-forth and said things, for the sake of argument, that are outside the lines of what I really believe.  I get it.  Even so, words have meaning, and when we say something judgmental, it comes from somewhere, and perhaps more importantly, those words have the ability to deeply wound another person.

The “liberal” view is literally and spiritually violent, but the “conservative” view is also spiritually violent – separating the child from its humanity, from its mother, and from its community, and by separating the mother from her child and her own place. Promoting birth without dignity is not being pro-life.

I feel strongly about this (obviously), and even if that article doesn’t change any minds, maybe it will offer another perspective, something new to think about.

As I typed that last sentence it occurred to me that it might help to explain that this issue is one I take personally.

When I found myself pregnant with my oldest daughter, at the end of my second year of law school, I felt a deep sense of panic.  I had spent basically my whole life trying to get to law school, and really, fighting to make that happen, and there I was, almost finished, and facing a hard choice.  There was no way, I was sure at the time, I would be able to be a single mother and finish law school.  There was also no way I could quit after two years, work to support my child, and pay back my loans.  There was no way I was going to have an abortion, and there was no way I was going to give that child up for adoption.  I would have rather died.  Literally.

I got married.  I made a choice, the best one, I thought, at the time (turns out, maybe not so much).  I thought that was my best chance, and maybe only chance, to provide a good life for my daughter, and to be fair, maybe it was.  It was a bumpy road, but I can’t really complain about how things worked out, and it’s hard to imagine God had some alternative plan in mind.

I was acutely aware at the time of the fact that, no matter what I did, I would be judged.  And really, for what?  For having unprotected sex?  That was really the act that started the ball rolling, an act that apparently, many people do, on a regular basis.  Was it smart?  No.  Would I recommend it to others?  No.  Would I want my daughters to do it?  Certainly not, and I wouldn’t want my sons to do it either, thank you very much.

My point is that most people have, at some point, unprotected sex before marriage.  We seem to basically accept that without making much of a fuss, even when things are more extreme (there was a girl in our law school class who allegedly had a book of the names of every guy in our graduating class, and her goal was to put a check mark next to each one).  It’s only when there is a baby involved do people start to form strong opinions.

Ok.  So there was unprotected sex that was had, and now there is a baby.  Now what?

Become a single parent?  How could you do that to your child?! Deprive him/her of the joy of having two parents? Be ready to have that conversation for the next fifty years.

Put the baby up for adoption?  How could you do that to your child?!  Don’t you love him/her at all? And be ready to have that conversation for nine months, or as soon as you start showing, and until the baby weight is gone, so probably more like a full year or eighteen months.

Have an abortion?  How could you do that to your child?! Don’t you love him/her at all? Don’t you love God?  Don’t you love yourself?  Don’t you have a conscience?!  On the plus side, that may not be a conversation you need to have with anyone, other than maybe the people screaming outside of the door of the clinic.

Marry the father?  Well, it was really bad that you had sex before you were married, and that can’t be condoned, but at least you’re making the effort.  Now you just have to stay married to him for the rest of your life, no matter how terrible he is, and we will keep our dirty looks to ourselves, unless you try to breastfeed in public (disgusting).

I know, I’m being a bit dramatic, but you get my point.  It’s not ideal.  And I know some people will argue that premarital sex is a sin, and sins should never be “rewarded.”  For one thing, I can count on one hand the number of people I have ever heard of, not known, heard of, who truly waited to have sex until they were married (“pulling out,” blowjobs, and anal sex all count, folks, sorry to break it to you).  Well, trust me, anyone who has experienced morning sickness, or any of the other many humiliations that come with pregnancy, knows it is no picnic.  If we are worried about rewarding someone, maybe we should shift the focus from women to men for a few thousand years.  See, I am a feminist.

Maybe there is some left-wing conspiracy led by mainstream media to portray conservatives and especially Catholics as judgmental lunatics, but we also have to take responsibility for our message, and if we don’t like what’s being put out there, we can change it.  It starts with looking at what we are doing now, and being honest about what we are doing well and what we are not.

  1.  All new mothers need more support. Married, single, rich, poor, every new mother needs it, in some form or other.  I don’t trust the federal government to provide it.  We can do it in our communities, with our friends, our neighbors, our fellow parishioners, our family members, our coworkers, and our employees.
  2. The focus needs to be on the whole person, the “whole life,” and providing opportunities for mothers to support their children should be the primary focus.
  3. The Church needs to welcome and love children, even when they are loud.
  4. No more protests.  Host baby showers, food drives, infant CPR classes, prenatal yoga, whatever.
  5. Hold open doors, carry packages, offer up seats in crowded areas.
  6. Just be kind, friends.
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