Finding your almost two-year-old standing on your kitchen counter digging in the cupboard for candy, completely naked. Calling your mother in tears to exclaim, “I’m running out of places to hide the knives!” or “They figured out the childproofing again!” Having your four-year-old charge head-first into your priest, nearly tackling him. These are all scenarios that I would likely have found somewhat unimaginable (albeit amusing) prior to becoming a parent. Now, they’re simply reality.
I was a nanny all through college for a family of four boys, a family of three boys, and a few other sets of high-energy hooligans. I truly (naively) thought I was prepared for motherhood. At least, as prepared as one can be. Boy, was I ever wrong! Motherhood is so much messier, literally and emotionally, than I ever could have imagined. While there have been many things that have helped keep me at least semi-sane during this crazy journey, one of the most important has been my friends. I have often heard that if you want to find out what kind of friends you have, move. True friends will help you move, an activity that is now in the top five of my “Please God, never again!” list. Our friends not only helped us physically move last fall, but during the five weeks prior brought us boxes, helped us pack, took our kids for hours (days!) to let us pack, brought us meals, baked cupcakes for our two-year-old’s birthday, and a whole host of other selflessly helpful things. To say we have excellent friends would be an understatement. Obviously, it goes without saying that I have never felt lacking in the friendship department, but rather abundantly blessed.
In particular, I have a women’s group I meet with monthly, comprised of my two college roommates and two other women who not only put up with our nonsense but actually seem to enjoy it. (And frankly, add their own level of laugh-until-you-cry hilarity.) When I graduated college, the mom of the family I had lived with for two years told me that I had no idea how lucky I was to have such good girlfriends and how important they would be to me in the years to come. She was right. I have appreciated those women more each year, as we got married over the course of four months and have since had 14 (soon to be 15) kids between us.
One of my other good friends is pregnant with her seventh child. My husband and I were married on her fifth anniversary, and our lives have taken oddly similar paths, with our third children being born exactly six years apart, our first four kids matching genders, and our oldest boys being crazy-high-energy. I have always felt so blessed by this woman’s friendship, in part because each time we’ve discerned a new child, I have thought, “Okay, it’ll be okay to have a (second, third, fourth, etc.) child because M has done it and her kids are thriving.” It has been a reassuring comfort to have someone walking the road ahead of me, someone to learn from, to bounce ideas of off, and send Facebook messages in hysterics.
As Aristotle noted:
Perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good, and alike in virtue; for these wish well alike to each other qua good, and they are good themselves. Now those who wish well to their friends for their sake are most truly friends; for they do this by reason of own nature and not incidentally; therefore their friendship lasts as long as they are good-and goodness is an enduring thing…But it is natural that such friendships should be infrequent; for such men are rare.
Being that such people are rare, I have always been extremely thankful for women who understand me and who are excellent friends in the truest sense of the word. I share all of this simply to note that I have never felt anything was “missing” in my life. On the contrary, I have always felt overly blessed with such fantastic friendships with incredible women.
Yet over the past year and a half, I have had the chance to get to know a woman from our homeschool co-op much better. She and her family have been an answer to a prayer I didn’t even know I had. Our eight kids are similar ages and have very similar temperaments, meaning neither one of us is phased when a two-year-old strips down in the middle of the living room. Not that we would know anything about that, of course! The kids all play remarkably well together, so little to no adult intervention is required when we get together. My kids are all fairly strong-willed, energetic handfuls — they keep me busy, to put it mildly, and while they are of course wonderful and amazing, as a unit they can be exhausting. Yet, this woman is the kind of friend with whom I am comfortable dropping my whole crew. She gets the chaos of four kids in five years because she is also living it currently. I could never have anticipated the blessings that would come from having a family that “matches” ours so well. Having someone walk through the craziness by our side, a “battle buddy,” has been so encouraging, more than I ever could have imagined.
One of my favorite bloggers, Jen Fulwiler, notes that we were never meant to “do” motherhood alone. In some respect, the way many of us are raising our kids, without close-knit neighborhoods and often far from extended family; makes motherhood even more overwhelming than the day-to-day grind does. It is easy to feel isolated and like our work is in vain. It is easy to get lost in the dishes and laundry and forget that this is the most important thing I will do with my life — raise my kids. To be able to observe a “mirror image,” mom and see the beauty of her busy kids and house is a direct reminder to me of just how blessed I am to be raising this crew. So to end, I’ll borrow a quote from Toy Story‘s Woody, where he is preparing the toys to move: “A moving buddy. You don’t have one…GET ONE!” Do everything possible to find a battle buddy, particularly if you are a stay at home mom of young kids. You will be blessed more than you could ever have imagined.
In 1899, Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “The White Man’s Burden” was first published. The poem was originally subtitled “The United States and the Philippine Islands”. Although the poem was likely written with the intent to inspire the wealthy people from industrialized nations to “save” the “backward” races with our “superior” ways of doing things (whether those backward peoples wanted them to or not), today the poem is largely looked upon as a piece of cultural imperialist propaganda. The ethnocentricity of the poem leaves a bad taste in our modern mouths that prefer cultural sensitivity and diversity. I wonder, however, if we are as enlightened and respectful of cultural differences as we pretend to be. In Kipling’s day imperialists wanted to introduce democracy and Western dress and ideals. Today’s imperialists want to ensure that all the developing (and therefore backward) countries view children as burdens like we do and therefore we must impose our beliefs on the necessity of birth control and abortion on them whether this is offensive to them or not.
Although the post is titled the “New” White Man’s Burden, to be accurate, the West imposing population control on others is not new. Indeed, the then top-secret government report that first highlighted the “necessity” of telling other people how many kids they can have was written 40 years ago already, having been written in 1974. This report, called The Kissinger Report outlines the increasing need for minerals and fuel from developing nations and categorizes their increasing populations as a threat to US interests. It proposes population control as the means in which we will have continued access to their resources that we want. Thirteen counties were considered of particular threat to US interests: Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, and Turkey. Since the initial report, many agencies have contributed and fought for the cause of population control. Though many agencies claim they want women to have “access” to birth control, time and again, abuses occur that shows that they don’t want women to have mere access; they want the vulnerable poor to do as we tell them and stop having children.
Women in poor countries across the globe have been coerced into taking birth control and having abortions against their wishes. With support and funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), many countries have developed population reduction programs, and have had US food and monetary aid linked to the success of reaching their population goals. For example, in Indonesia, women who volunteered for IUD insertion, would not only enjoy the village’s food bonus, but she would also earn her neighbors’ gratitude for their increased share. Conversely, women who refused IUD insertion would not get the food bonus for her family, and she would be depriving her neighbors as well. 1 Likewise, in the 1960s, the South Korean government, with US support, began a program of population control which included payments to poor people consenting to sterilization. 2 Bangladesh, one of the countries deemed particularly dangerous to US interests, also began a vigorous population control program. Because tons of foreign contraceptives were piling up and expiring in storage due to women’s dislike of their side effects, AID encouraged integration of the birth control program with Bangladesh’s oral rehydration treatment of children with diarrhea.3 In other words, mothers who were desperately worried about their ill child had to consent to the birth control in order for him or her to get life-saving treatment. China’s well-known one-child policy, and its program of forced abortions and sterilizations has received support from many population controllers. Jacqueline Kasun, author of The War against Population writes:
The Agency for International Development disclaimed direct involvement in [China's] program, although it was a major contributor to the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the UN Fund for Population Activities, both of which supplied funds to the Chinese program. [...]The Chinese affiliate of International Planned Parenthood is a main player in the one-child program. IPPF has reported that its affiliate “organizes…the family planning group which will formulate the birth plans”, and its “volunteers sometimes collect the occasional fine when a couple breaks the birth plan rules.” The IPPF affiliate itself, the China Family Planning Association, proudly reported at the Cairo [population] convention that its local activists “monitored the formation and implementation of local population projects, participated and supervised that the awarding and punishing policies relating to family planning were properly executed.”4
It seems that rather than having the aim of empowering couples to choose for themselves their family size, many were instead concerned with giving themselves the ability to choose for everyone else their family size.
Unfortunately, women being coerced into contracepting or sterilizing is not something from a decade or two ago. It is still happening today in India, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. Though recently the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sought to raise $4 billion for its contraceptive program, aiming to get 120 million poor women access to contraception, many groups were concerned at the abuse of women’s reproductive autonomy that frequently occurs when Western donors seek to influence the birth practices of other countries. Many have seen the Gates’ birth control initiatives as a step backward, mirroring the coercive population control practices of recent decades rather than a step forward for women’s rights. Although many studies have shown that birth rates naturally fall when women have education, quality health care, and more economic stability, many continue to ignore the broader needs of women and focus solely on controlling their reproduction, despite the fact that in Indonesia and elsewhere, falling birthrates failed to be accompanied by economic advances,5 as the birth controllers had formerly predicted (and still cling to).
Coercion is not limited to women in developing countries, however. Even today, in the US, women also face coercion. We likely do not receive outright forcible sterilization; the coercion here is more subtle. The coercion comes in the form of medical schools that do not educate their students in Fertility Awareness methods, and so we now have an entire medical community that still believes that Natural Family Planning is the rhythm method. Coercion comes in the form of eye-rolls, dismissive comments, or even outright hostility from medical personnel when women tell them they use Natural Family Planning. Maybe it comes in the form of so-called feminists who are disdainful of those who have children. Maybe it comes in the form of family members who think they know how many children their relatives should have. It comes in the form of parents and boyfriends who coerce vulnerable women to abort. It comes in the surprisingly few student insurance plans that cover prenatal care, or colleges that don’t have housing for pregnant students.
The Guiding Star Project is committed to the empowerment of women, not their coercion. Couples who are educated in Natural Family Planning don’t need to go to a doctor to have anything removed when they choose to have a child. They don’t have to convince or beg medical personnel to remove something unnatural from her body when she doesn’t like the side-effects. Women won’t be at increased risk of infertility from years of artificial contraceptive-use. The woman will have invaluable information about her overall health, and whether the couple plans to try to achieve pregnancy or avoid it, they can do so with autonomy and dignity.
“If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”
1. Jacqueline Kasun, “The War Against Population: The economics and Ideology of World Population Control.” (Ignatius: San Francisco, 1999), 110.
2. Ibid. 112.
3. James F. Phillips et al., “Integrating Health Service Components into a Comprehensive Family Planning and Basic MCH Programme: Lessons from the MATLAB Family Planning Health Services Project”, presented at the National Council for International Health and Family Planning, Washington, D.C., June 10-13, 1984. quoted in Jacqueline Kasun, “The War Against Population: The Economics and Ideology of World Population Control.” (Ignatius: San Francisco, 1999), 113.
4. See Jacqueline Kasun. 121-2.
5. See Jacqueline Kasun. 110.
I learned recently that former talk show hostess Rick Lake has begun work on another documentary concerning women’s health. This one, called Sweetening the Pill, has me really excited because it supposedly is going to be focused on shedding light on the facts about how dangerous hormonal contraceptives are to women’s bodies and will explore alternatives to the suppression of women’s natural fertility.
Lake’s famous documentary, The Business of Being Born, which came out in 2008, and the subsequent film More Business of Being Born (2011) focused an investigative eye on the current birth practices in our country. The theme of these films is that women’s bodies and births are being commoditized by pushing expensive measures and procedures that increase risks of complications in birth. She uses her own natural home birthing experience and interviews with midwives and mothers to advance the natural birth movement’s belief that women’s bodies know what to do in giving birth. Others need to just get out of the way and support them to do it.
The focus of her newest documentary makes perfect sense to me if she is to follow the logic she used in The Business of Being Born. If women’s bodies know how to birth and women are capable of giving birth without expensive medical intervention, then why would managing our fertility be any different? The suppression of our natural cycles of ovulation and menstruation is big business to pharmaceutical companies and depends on women buying into the notion that they are not capable of understanding their bodies’ natural rhythms. Like childbirth, fertility awareness and family planning can be done all naturally, and the evidence is out there to prove that it is safer and healthier for everyone involved in both cases.
As I was writing this post I was reading more about Ricki Lake’s work on women’s health. I was going to say that logically following the progression of her work we should expect to see a film about breastfeeding next from her. As lactation is the last of the three physical Feminine Abilities of ovulation, gestation, and lactation, it would make perfect sense for her to tell the story about how formula companies have made millions of dollars by convincing mothers over the past 100 years that their own breastmilk was inferior to a manufactured product. That would follow the theme of suppressing a natural ability of the female body for the profit of some corporation or entity, which she shows in her films is being done with childbirth and fertility. I guess Ms. Lake is further along on the path to adopting New Feminist principles than I previously thought as her documentary called Breastmilk was released last year!
I am so excited that a voice in Hollywood is boldly proclaiming that women’s bodies are not broken and that we do not need to suppress and destroy what is unique about them to achieve equality. New Feminists know that being paid the same wage as men and having all the same rights as them is worthless if it requires we give up our Feminine Abilities. We must work to change the culture to meet our needs as women, not change ourselves to fit into a cultural expectation that is based upon childless, working men.
I would be remiss if I didn’t end this with a short acknowledgement that there IS a proper place in women’s healthcare for supplementation to all of the three Feminine Abilities of fertility care, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Of course there are instances where lives are saved through the use of pharmaceutical therapies, childbirth interventions, and formula supplementation. However, these instances of needing intervention are not as common as we currently see them occurring in our culture. The bottom line is that many women have not received proper education about their bodies and thus still feel too intimidated and overwhelmed by the negative cultural influences to believe they are capable of naturally managing any of the abilities of their bodies. Society has convinced us that to be women fully and naturally is not only impossible but irresponsible. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I am hopeful this documentary will address some of these things and I suspect Ms. Lake may one day call herself a New Feminist.
Cecilia Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, made waves again this week when she suggested that what women need for Valentine’s Day is abortion, more abortion, and more birth control. So, on this day of love forget romance, chocolate, and whispering sweet nothings, Richards says all women need is more mutilation of their femininity.
There was quite a response – women everywhere were giving their own take on what women need. It was beautiful. There were all kinds of answers to the question “What do women need?” Here are a few: “reclaim the power and beauty of true femininity” “real, committed love” “more help folding laundry, nothing says ‘I love you’ like tackling the basket cheerfully” “God’s love” “A Body all her own, Green – Love – Natural!” “better maternity care and better access to jobs without being seen as a risk” “an abortion-free future” “to be treated with respect and to respect all life” “to hear that babies are blessings, not punishments” “to be alive!” “a culture that calls fathers to a high standard” “true love that is not disposable nor casual” “to not be objectified” “respect for their bodies and hearts” “loving support from the men in their lives” “to speak up for our freedom, faith, and families” “education and support for how their body naturally works”
To the astonishment of the everyday woman, some of these “old” feminists really still believe that suppressing a woman’s fertility, and surgically terminating and removing any life that is “accidentally” created when the suppression fails is the end all and be all of a woman’s existence. This is the idea that sexual freedom equals true freedom. As we have seen before on this blog this false notion of sexual freedom and unlimited sexual expression actually results in sexual addictions, depression, and turning women into objects to be used rather than persons to be loved.
What women really need for Valentine’s Day and beyond is a New Feminism. They need a Feminism that elevates and respects the dignity of their femininity not one that looks to eliminate it. They need a New Feminism that understands how a woman’s body works and gives her quality healthcare that works with her natural cycles. They need a New Feminism that does not seek to eliminate the “pregnancy” in Crisis Pregnancy but eliminates the “crisis” as Jess Schneider most beautifully explained.
They need a New Feminism that celebrates woman! They need a New Feminism that rejoices in a woman’s choices in her career, family, and life no matter what they are! Women are complicated and complex. It takes effort to care for all the intricacies of a woman. It is easier to flatline those hormones and rid her of the pregnancy rather than seek to understand her and help her be strong as a woman and in her motherhood. It’s even easier when you can make a buck (or millions) on simplifying her and making her less messy to deal with. New Feminism encourages society to accept and give dignity to woman as a woman, to embrace her in all her complexity, and to give women places like Guiding Star centers to truly support women!
Richards didn’t anticipate though, that her statement brought (and is still bringing) women who embrace a New Feminism together! In the last few days, I have been contacted through social media by more women calling themselves “new feminists” than ever before. We are much stronger than we realize. So, Happy Valentine’s Day! Share your thoughts on #WhatWomenNeed (in every social network) and see the thousands share theirs, and rejoice in knowing that you will soon get what you are asking for – because a New Feminism is rising!
The abortion debate is divisive, at best. To survive it, I have to believe that those on either side of the fence mostly want the same thing: to help women. This means that we differ when it comes to approach. So here we go: another post about abortion. Let me tell you first what this piece is NOT about.
We have been debating this issue for over forty years, and technology has advanced a great deal in the time since Roe V. Wade. This post is not about fetal development or when a human becomes human.
This post is not about dissecting terminology. For the sake of simplicity, I will use the term Legal for those in favor of keeping abortion legal, and Illegal for those in favor of making abortion illegal.
This post is also not about shaming women that have had abortions, or shaming people that, for whatever reason, have found themselves working at an abortion clinic.
Now that you know what I am not writing about, let me tell you what I am writing about.
This post is about eradicating the reasons an abortion becomes not only an option, but the option: rape, incest, violence, poverty, health concerns, mental health concerns, and less than ideal situations. This post is about the message abortion sends to women — they are not good enough.
Whether on the Legal or Illegal side of things, the goal should be to help provide support to women facing a “crisis” pregnancy. The goal should be to eliminate all the reasons a pregnancy, a life, would become a crisis. We can do this by:
Showing support for a woman that is unexpectedly pregnant is more than financially providing, or an “Atta girl!” It means decreasing the stigma of pregnancy. It means affordable child care. It means supporting mothers in their educational and career goals. It means building women up and telling them they are capable of being a parent instead of allowing them to believe they are not.
Showing support is moving away from workplace expectations that assume one-income for a two parent home when that is no longer the standard of living that is expected or attainable. It means workplace flexibility, and changing how we view productivity and employee commitments. This is not just about women and children, but single parent and two parent homes. It is about supporting the family unit and remembering that children are a part of life.
Changing the environment.
The crisis pregnancies that come from violence, rape, and incest are often the most emotional, and they have become a pawn in the Legal/Illegal war. No matter what happens with the legality of abortion, both sides of the fence must become staunch enemies of rape culture. Victim blaming must cease: women are not responsible for being raped, and rapists do not get parental rights. Women are not responsible when their intimate partner becomes abusive, and abusive parents do not deserve parental rights. To eradicate abortion in these scenarios, we must create an environment that focuses on the criminal and not the victim.
To create a safe environment means removing the so-called burdens of parenthood from squarely on a woman’s shoulders to including a father’s responsibility to his child as well. It means remembering that sex is how babies are made, and that it is impossible to separate sex from procreation. It means a father is more than a pay check, and a woman is not a whore because she had sex and ended up pregnant. A safe environment means that a child is not the worst thing that can happen to a woman. It means we acknowledge the learning curve of parenting, remind mothers (and fathers) that they are capable of raising children, and remember that parenthood does not have to interfere with career and education goals.
Some women are suffering through emotional or mental struggles. Being pregnant in these situations can be crushing in a world where women are expected to have it all together. A safe environment means chipping away at the stigma that surrounds the world of mental health. It means stripping the standards of what “normal” is, and building instead on the differences that make us individuals, and how we can best meet the needs of those struggling.
Supporting true healthcare reform.
Research has shown that many women seeking an abortion do so because of contraceptive failure. We are largely uninformed about not only the female reproductive/fertility system, but also the ways hormonal contraception can fail and harm women. To eradicate this “need” for abortion, women and their physicians must have more information. Women can learn about their bodies and their own personal “normal”. It is unacceptable to allow subpar medical care or half-truths when it comes to women’s health. True health care reform would help to eliminate the control the pharmaceutical industry has over physicians. True health care reform would support holistic care that does not damage women to make money.
Other women find abortion to be a solution to being pregnant with multiples, or with children with health concerns. If a human life has value, all human life has value, perfectly healthy or not. True health care reform would stop telling women (and families) multiples or special needs children are too much of a challenge to bear, and that reduction or abortion would be the best solution. We must fight instead for these families to be offered support and offered real solutions to life in these scenarios.
The abortion debate should not be about keeping it legal or illegal. It should be about eradicating abortion. If true support existed for women experiencing crisis pregnancies, abortion would not be needed. Women would have the emotional/ financial/medical/parenting support that they required to bring a child into the world. That is what will bring an end to abortion.
For Immediate Release
February 3, 2014
College Station, TX – Abby Johnson, Founder of And Then There Were None and former Planned Parenthood Director, and the Guiding Star Project, a pro-woman organization committed to giving women Life-Affirming health care, are set to announce that the Brazos Valley Guiding Star Affiliate will begin serving the women of the Brazos Valley in early 2014. “I left Planned Parenthood because I realized that I wasn’t helping women there. I wasn’t empowering them. I became pro-life but I have never stopped being pro-woman. The Guiding Star Project, with their vision for community based Guiding Star centers, has finally given me the opportunity to do what I have wanted all along – to help and serve women, while respecting their dignity and the dignity of the unborn as well,” says Johnson, President of the newly formed Board of Directors for the Brazos Valley Guiding Star Center. “Everyone knows the Planned Parenthood here in Bryan/College Station has closed, but this doesn’t mean that our work here is finished,” she said, speaking to the strong prolife community there, “ this means our work is just beginning. Women in the Brazos Valley were concerned that without the Planned Parenthood they wouldn’t have access to women’s health care. We are here to meet their need – in a life affirming and truly ‘Pro-woman’ way.”
Joining Abby Johnson in this endeavor are the following board members: Lauren Gulde, Kristy LeJeune, Weslei Rice, Toni Eubanks and Selina Lo.
According to Leah Jacobson, Founder of The Guiding Star Project, “The Guiding Star Project is about bringing together organizations in a community under a shared philosophy and vision to provide women with real alternatives – real health care, real support, in every stage of their child bearing years. Whether they find themselves facing an unexpected pregnancy and needing support or a home, or whether they struggle with infertility and need help, whether they need a lactation consultant or want to learn how to work with their body’s natural cycles to avoid a future pregnancy, Guiding Star is there to meet their needs in a way that affirms their feminine dignity and empowers them to live their femininity fearlessly.”
“Guiding Star Brazos Valley, which will be the first of its kind, is expected to open in 2014 and will go through three phases of development,” explains Laura Ricketts, Executive Director of the Guiding Star Project who works closely with the Guiding Star Project’s Affiliates in Development, “Phase One will see the Guiding Star Brazos Valley offering a host of Pregnancy Care and Resource services and will focus on the renovating and readying of the Guiding Star Brazos Valley Maternity Home. Phase Two will include the opening of the Maternity Home. Phase Three will be an expansion to coordinate services beyond pregnancy support to include lactation consultation, child care classes, fertility care and instruction, birth support and comprehensive women’s health care. Guiding Star Brazos Valley is designed to be places where women can come and have their needs met in a concrete, pro-active, empowering atmosphere. We don’t make empty promises. We offer substance; something every woman can appreciate.”
Guiding Star Brazos Valley is a non-profit organization and will be hosting its first fundraiser on February 16, 2014 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The event, “Just the Beginning” Launch Party is set to share the vision of the project and raise funds for the ministry. “It’s going to be a party!” says Johnson, “we want to celebrate with the community of College Station. Not only is the community responsible for pressuring the Planned Parenthood to close, but now the community, through the Guiding Star Affiliate, is providing for the women of the Brazos Valley the shelter, care, and choices they deserve. It’s very exciting!” she continued, “We expect a large show of support and we are confident that our amazing pro-life community here will embrace this as the next step in bringing a culture of Life to the Brazos Valley.”
More information on the Guiding Star Project and Guiding Star Brazos Valley and the upcoming fundraising event can be found at www.guidingstarbrazosvalley.com.
# # #
Abby Johnson, GSBV President
979-219-8777 · email@example.com
This post was written by Jewels Green, Pro-life advocate, writer, convert. Reprinted with permission. The original post can be found at http://jewelsgreen.com/strangers-on-a-train-an-accidental-tale-of-the-beauty-and-selfless-love-that-is-adoption/
“Adoption is real – and it’s forever.”
- Dr. Bill Platypus, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: Season 16, Episode 4: “Families”
I’ll talk to anyone. No, really. I chat up the other shoppers in line at the grocery store, then carry on a conversation with the cashier and the fella bagging the groceries. I’m Facebook friends with a couple I met on the four-hour bus ride home from last year’s March for Life. So it was this year.
I’ve only taken the train a couple of times, so I must have been visibly befuddled at the Amtrak kiosk, holding my eTicket printout and staring at the screen waiting for it to tell me what to do. (Insert joke about me being over 40 here.) A pretty young woman offered to help me. She showed me how to scan my paper and voila! my boarding passes printed out. I thanked her and glanced at her boarding pass and noticed she was also headed to Washington, DC. This was my chance! I’ve done this in line at the bus terminal many times when traveling alone. I start a conversation with a woman and then ask her if we can sit together “so neither of us has to sit next to a big sweaty man” for the trip. It works every time. (THANK GOODNESS.)
“Oh, I see you’re going to DC, too!”
“Yes, I am.”
“Would you like to sit together so neither of us has to sit next to a big sweaty man?” (cue: laughter)
“Great! My name’s Jewels.”
That’s how it started.
This lovely young lady (I’ll call her Angela) was 19 years old and going to DC to visit with a friend she hadn’t seen since summer. I told her I was bound for the March for Life and some of the attendant conferences, as well as meeting up with friends I hadn’t seen in some time. Her friend had participated in LIFE Runners last year. Smiles, nods, and we both went back to checking our phones and arranging our coats and handbags.
The silence between us didn’t last very long. She looked out the window and beaming said, “I just love snow!” ME TOO! This instantly kicked off a delightful conversation about how everyone else seems to be complaining about the cold and the snow and how much we both just love it. There wasn’t any silence after that (I hope we weren’t in the Quiet Car!)
She is the middle of a year off from college to work as an adoption advocate. She told me that she was adopted and wanted to help others as a way of expressing gratitude for her own life. How cool is that?! She told me about her parents, and how just a couple of years ago she and her mom went together to meet her birthmother, half-siblings, and assorted extended family. She told me about her favorite success story from her work in a private adoption firm, and shared a bit of the downsides, too. Clearly proud, she clicked on her phone and brandished a photo of a smiling happy family she had helped through the adoption process. She was planning to continue working through college because she disliked the idea of piling up debt. I was so impressed by her realistic attitude and how far-sighted her goals were. She was sensible and determined, with a level of self-possession and insight rarely found in people her age (indeed, rarely found in people my age!) I admired her.
She clicked her phone again and I asked if the picture of a brand new baby girl (pink hat, it was a girl) was another of her “success stories” from work. She smiled and shook her head but said nothing at first.
“I don’t tell people this, I haven’t even told my Grandpa yet, but I’m also a birthmom.”
She showed me photo after photo of this gorgeous little baby girl (just born in December!) then a shot of her hugging the adoptive parents while she was hugely pregnant, all smiling in the sunlight. I cried.
For the final months of her pregnancy, she’d moved to the state where the adoptive parents live, and invited them into the delivery room for the birth of their daughter. She didn’t want pain medication right away, because she said “wanted to remember what it was like to go through this,” she explained, so she wouldn’t put herself in that position again until she was married. Moments after this precious baby took her first breath she was placed into the arms of her adoptive mother, skin-to-skin.
(I’m still crying. )
We arrived. The train came to a stop and I nearly fell over myself hugging her. We walked into the station together and her friend spotted her right away–her friend who hadn’t seen her since she’d moved away, pregnant–and they hugged each other fiercely.
What a gift life is! What a gift that pretty young woman gave that baby girl and her parents. What a gift she gave me by sharing it all.
I walked away and realized Angela wasn’t pretty, she was beautiful.
My husband and I just shared the news publicly that we are expecting baby number eight. We’ve lost two so the ones who are left with us would be the five littles, age 9 and under, whom I chase around the house all day, and the one growing safely in my womb. Six kids! We shared the news sparingly in the beginning, with the bulk of our friends and family finding out just this past week. There are many reasons for being secretive but the list wasn’t topped this time even by our fear of miscarriage that usually rears its head when I find out I’m pregnant. It was topped by the fact that through the years, as we excitedly yet fearfully welcomed baby after amazing baby, we have been met with some not-so-positive comments. Unfortunately, these have come from not only strangers but friends and family members as well. Neither of us was really ready for all that yet.
The fact that I’m only just one of probably thousands of women who receive this type of response seems to beg the question — Why are people so negative about children?
I think this issue resides not only within stable family units, but especially throughout the line of women who do not have a husband or a stable family life, or even a stable life at all in which it would be the “ideal” situation to welcome and raise a child (and yes, I was that woman at one point). Different circumstances and varying degrees of awareness of the value of a child culminate to this one issue that comes up so much in today’s society. Children are seen as a burden and something to be cast off or avoided if “unwanted.” Yet it doesn’t seem to ever come to light why exactly this is.
I can remember after we had our second or third child, someone in our family offered to pay for a vasectomy. At another point we were told by someone else that we ‘need’ to stop having kids, put them in daycare and I should go to work so we can afford whatever we want. Well-meaning friends made comments about how overwhelming and difficult children are and asked if I’m sure I want more (me already pregnant at the time). I think one of the most memorable comments a friend made to me was simply, “Ew.” Strangers have stared at my swollen belly with four or [now] five children in tow, whispering to themselves just loud enough for me to hear, “Wow, look at all those kids. I can’t believe her.” I can remember being out in public during my last pregnancy. We were getting the kids ice cream and we walked in and passed by a table at which sat a lady and her two young children. She glared at me, eyeing me up and down, her lips moving as she counted each of my children. Later, as we were seated across the room from her, I noticed her children were pretty out of control. Mine sat, quietly eating their ice cream. As we got up to leave, I gave her a smile. Not a pious, ‘look at my MANY behaved children and look at your few crazy ones.’ But a warm, knowing smile. I’ve been there, too. It was a smile I’d give any mom, whether of one kid or ten, who looked like she could use some encouragement when her kids acted (gasp!) like kids.
Although this is about my personal experience with the negativity we have battled in regards to our openness to life, I think that it could be any one woman’s story, married or not, in the “perfect” situation or not. Because there is definitely something amiss in our culture when we take the value and beauty of children —the future of our human existence — and reduce them to nothing more than a choice. What I hope to create from my expression of this plight is a dialogue, an awareness, and an understanding. What is it about our loved ones (or even strangers) that gives them the mindset — and the courage to express — that it’s actually not okay to be open to life?
I often try to put myself in others’ shoes. I want to understand their thought process that leads them to such a negative outlook on children, not just so that their hurtful words or dirty looks have less sting, but because I think it’s important for the good of humanity. Are they broken in some way? Did they have a terrible childhood? Do they come from a large family who lived in poverty growing up? Are they not able to have their own children? What is important to them?Is it having a lot of money over having a bigger family? Why do they feel this way? Is it just a matter of being fearful? Is my situation with my many children a frightening concept they apply to their own life so they project that fear onto me? This last one, I think, is one of the main culprits I have come across in my dealings with people. The thing is, it’s not that I’m NOT fearful. I never thought I’d have a big family. Having children in general scared me! I mean, being responsible for another little soul, someone who would be dependent upon me for so much for so long is a daunting reality, and what about what I want to do with my life? I have been, and still am at times, fearful of the idea of more children. Heck, I am fearful of raising the ones I already have!
What I don’t understand is the idea that people get so offended, as if maybe I’m saying, “Well I have six so YOU should have six!” Never would I ever say that. Of course I’m all for encouraging others to have children if they want more and I’m excited when they announce another pregnancy. Perhaps I also secretly wish there would be more families that are as big as mine to commiserate with. However it’s not a personal thing against anyone if I decide to have six, seven, or ten babies. It’s not like I get pregnant just to spite people. (Ha-ha, that would be something!) I’m not trying to show off or make myself look stronger, more patient, more holy, more… anything… than anyone else. I think it says a lot about us as a society when we can’t just be happy for someone and their family when they allow another life to grace it.
The point is that children are a gift. There’s something about the innocence and wonder of a new little human being. Their dependence upon us (though often difficult) forces us to grow and change and stretch ourselves, not just physically for those 40 weeks of pregnancy, but mentally and emotionally too. It is not a decision that is easily come by, especially if one doesn’t already have a moral conviction to be open to life, or if one is in a less-than-ideal situation. It is, nonetheless, a decision that needs to be respected and such women need encouragement. All life is precious and valuable. Our children are the future of this world. If Suzy Smith” feels she wants to contribute to the future with two kids, great. I support her. I, however, want to contribute with as many as will come. Despite my fears, my failings, my misgivings, and my anxieties, I still understand the value of investing in the future of our world with these little persons, and that trumps anything negative anyone has said to me about being open to more.
Last October, our family moved basically into the middle of nowhere to a beautiful house on 12 acres of woods. Shortly after we moved in, our parish priest came over to “scout out the land” with my husband and put up a few deer stands. After they finished, he noticed a collage picture propped up against a wall, waiting to be hung. It contains four blown-up pictures of my husband and I, taken in a photo booth long before photo booths became so popular. The pictures were taken a few months after we began dating, and still crack me up when I look at them. My husband has a full head of hair, and we both look like we’re about 12 and don’t have a care in the world. Our priest chuckled and asked our daughter about it. She replied, “That’s Mom and Dad when they were little.” I laughed and added, “AKA, the time of zero responsibilities.”
Looking at the pictures, I can remember posing for them like it was yesterday rather than ten years ago. I distinctly remember thinking I could not possibly love that man any more than I did at that moment. We had only been dating a few months, but I knew he was the one I would end up marrying (something I had told him on our second date, I believe it was…much to his horror). I had already had wise mentors in my life tell me, “Oh, you think you love him now, just wait a few years. It just keeps getting better.” Intellectually, I knew they were right, but at the time, I remember thinking I couldn’t possibly have more fun than I was having at that moment. We’ve only been married seven years, so I know we’re really only beginning, but I have been floored over and over by the greatness of this man.
From the way he held me tightly as I shook, sobbing with grief over miscarrying our first son, to the support he has given me through pregnancies, labors, and postpartum craziness, (a few of which took place while he attained his Master’s degree), his generosity and selflessness for our family continue to amaze me. As I mentioned, we recently moved to our new house with our four children — a feat done in about five weeks with close to 200 apple boxes. Insanity doesn’t quite begin to do the event justice, particularly when one considers that it took place during a seasonal change (read: summer and fall clothing EVERYWHERE). Yet through it all, he has been the steady voice of reason helping me see the trees from the forest of chaos.
I have been thinking about that photo booth collage and the chaos our move brought a lot in the last few months, thanking God for providing such a generous husband. While I know that I certainly am not alone in having married a “keeper,” I also know that our society truly has a shortage of “real men.” Just under two years ago, William Bennett wrote an article full of startling facts, including women surpassing men in college degrees almost three to two and 27% of children living apart from their father, over twice as many as in 1960. Bennett notes that :
Movies are filled with stories of men who refuse to grow up and refuse to take responsibility in relationships. Men, some obsessed with sex, treat women as toys to be discarded when things get complicated. Through all these different and conflicting signals, our boys must decipher what it means to be a man, and for many of them it is harder to figure out.
A few years ago, I read an article that posed the question, “If men would be men, would women let them?” The main point was that our society has gotten caught up in women “having it all,” pushing an agenda that women can “do anything they want to” including being a man. We have reached a point where many women are offended if a man does anything even remotely chivalrous, feeling that it implies that they are not capable of doing things for themselves, etc. As a result of this incorrect understanding of “feminism,” many men have in essence taken a back seat and settled for mediocrity rather than excellence. Rather than embracing their natural role as protector and leader of the family, many men have become passive and less driven than generations of men before them. Our society has adopted a very skewed view of both masculinity and femininity, even going so far as to suggest that gender does not matter at all. We now have entire generations of men growing up not knowing what it means to be a man. This is one of many reasons why we need Guiding Star centers, to celebrate what is good in both sexes.
Society is desperately in need of real men who will sacrifice for their families, who will fight for their marriages, and who will raise their sons to truly respect women. This obviously does not mean that we ladies get a free pass, lounging and eating bon-bons while our real men wait on us hand and foot. Society needs real women who embrace their femininity and their amazing bodies just as much as it needs real men. Society needs Guiding Star Centers.
This post has been reprinted with minor edits with permission. The original post can be found at http://www.myfemininemind.com/2011/05/when-i-became-pregnant.html
When I became pregnant I wasn’t exactly the model of mental health. I had just begun actually dealing with trauma from my childhood rather than just pushing it inside and pretending it never happened. Dealing with it was a good thing, of course, but I was deep in the throws of nightmares and flashbacks and I was putting forth a great deal of energy to finally confront my dragon. I was suffering the symptoms of PTSD pretty badly and cutting was the way that I typically dealt with strong emotions.
I was engaged to the wonderful man that is now my husband. Intellectually I knew some pretty good reasons to wait until marriage to have sex, and interestingly, my agnostic fiancée also wanted to wait. When it came right down to it, though, I honestly didn’t believe that I was worth the wait. I didn’t believe that someone could love me just for me or that I was worth the sacrifice it took for someone to achieve self-mastery over something so powerful as his sexual drive. Having no belief in my worth as a person, like many women in this culture, I believed that I needed to “trick” my fiancée into staying with me by tantalizing his senses with my body. He actually resisted for some time, but eventually we had sex. Four months before our wedding, I became pregnant. I wish I had respected myself and Chris’s gift more, but this realization did not come until later.
Pregnancy was a really difficult time for me. The all-day nausea, the lack of control over my body, the million and one little aches and inconveniences were all overwhelming at times. I felt vulnerable, emotionally and physically, especially as my belly grew and I realized I couldn’t even run or in any way fight off an attacker if I had needed to. We were poor too. I made $900 a month working at a group home for people with developmental disabilities. Chris was a full time student and made $200 through work study. That left us a combined income of $1100 a month. When I was six months pregnant my husband had to have an emergency appendectomy, and upon discovering he had a heart condition, a cardiologist inserted a pace maker four days after the first surgery. That added thousands of dollars in medical bills to those we already had from my prenatal care.
When I was eight months pregnant I was placed on modified bedrest and could no longer work. I hadn’t worked at my job for a year and so I did not qualify for the family medical leave act and I lost my job and our insurance. That’s when we got on foodstamps and medicaid.
Chris and I fought about money. I would lay awake at night worried about how we would provide for a child. About once every other week I would cry and cry and end up cutting myself to calm down. My husband made a little extra money designing websites for people and I edited a book for a local author (who happened to be Chris’s aunt). Family also helped us out. When my stress-level was at one of its peaks, and I had spent the day home alone crying, I went to my doctor appointment and she wanted to induce me. I was four days overdue and she was going on vacation and felt bad about leaving me undelivered for a colleague to take care of. At about 4:00pm, with my husband as my coach, I was induced. Despite being on pitocin, I somehow miraculously managed to handle the pain without too much pain relief. When I was five centimeters dilated, I received one dose of some narcotic to take the edge off things. Having no idea how we would provide for our child and without any sort of substantial income coming in, I birthed my daughter at 12:50 am on a Friday morning. My husband, with genuine awe and pride in his voice, looked at me and said, “You did it!” And for the first time since I got pregnant I felt empowered. I had done it.
I am a small, not-very-shapely woman and I had wondered throughout my pregnancy if I would be able to vaginally give birth. Could my body really do that? For the first time, perhaps in my life, I felt awe and surprise at what I could do. I didn’t know I was capable of doing something so marvelous. The immensity of the love that I felt for my newborn completely surprised me as well.
Now I have never been one of those “mother-women.” You know, those women who love to hold babies and smile at them and are really great with children. With the exception of my nephews, I typically preferred that children keep their distance. Of course everyone said that it would be different with my own children, and intellectually I figured that would be true. But I was taken aback by the fierce love and protectiveness I felt for this helpless infant. If her life were to be threatened at that moment, it would not have been difficult—I would not even have hesitated—to give my life for hers. It proved true, as others have said, that when I held my baby, the sacrifices of the previous months became worth it. Although I had known that I was growing a life inside me, it all had felt kind of unreal until I held that precious life in my arms and I could see the fruit of my efforts.
Having some knowledge of the benefits of breastmilk, I was committed to breastfeeding my daughter. Luckily, she took to nursing right away and we didn’t have any struggles with the technical side of breastfeeding. I did, however, struggle to adjust to the amount of time and effort it took to feed a newborn. I honestly felt like the whole thing was unfair. I had to go through all the physical suffering of pregnancy and childbirth, and now, while I spent hours and hours nursing our child, my husband had hours and hours of time for himself. I also struggled with the mere idea of breastfeeding. Having an infant suck on a sexual organ felt kind of wrong to me. But as I persisted for her health, slowly a paradigm shift began to occur in how I viewed my body. I began to realize that the culture in which I lived had it all backwards. Breasts are for feeding children first, and it just so happens that many men find them attractive. It’s not the other way around.
It’s truly amazing how this simple reordering in my mind of the purpose of my body wasn’t simple at all. It changed how I thought of myself and how I defined my place in the world. Having been sexually abused for seven years in my childhood, it was so profound to me that the very parts of my body that were associated with so much shame and pain had brought forth, and then sustained this precious child. The parts of my body were no longer designed for men’s sexual pleasure. I began to finally and truly know that I wasn’t a thing. In fact, I was created to give life! Not just physical life, but metaphorical life as well. I’m called to bring life to others, to bring hope, and to nurture the goodness already present in other people. I finally knew that I had dignity. Having been so utterly convinced of my pervading “badness” throughout my life, the discovery of my goodness profoundly moved me. I knew I couldn’t be bad if I had brought forth something so good.
Also moving, was the fact that my infant thrived on the nourishment I gave her. She was exclusively breastfed for the first six months and I was shocked when, at her first month check up, she was in the 90th percentile for her weight. She had grown several rolls and while other babies had frequent colds, ear infections, and the like, the first year of my daughter’s life she experienced a minor cold that lasted for one day. As I reflected on pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding, it seemed as though God was saying to me, “This society may act like you are an object. But that is not how I see you and that is not how I created you.” I had doubted my ability to carry to term, to give birth, and to breastfeed, but I had done them all. I stopped feeling resentful about how my body worked and began feeling grateful for how awesome a gift it is to be female. I wondered what other amazing things I was capable of doing that I had never considered before. I wondered what other gifts and talents lay inside of me still unknown even to me.
Although we struggled financially at first, we didn’t stay poor forever. Motherhood really was the greatest thing to ever happen to me. My child was absolutely helpless, but her mere presence taught me so powerfully about my worth. Likewise, I had done such powerful things, not so much by my active doing, but by just allowing my body to do what it was already doing on its own. I understood that my value didn’t lie so much in the things I did, but in just being who I am.
So it was, that the most amazing gift that I have ever received, surprisingly came when I myself gave life to another.