Saturday, March 24, 2007

Open to life: mothers are heroes

We’ve had many comments in the past couple of months about married couples being open to procreation. The following are two comments from bloggers as well as excerpts from a reflection I gave at another parish two years ago.

Anon: “It is not easy to always be open to life! I have several children and can not imagine life without them. My husband is open to having an even larger family. Of course I would cherish a new life, a new baby, but I get nervous. My husband used to be more cautious now he has thrown caution to the wind. I am glad that I can remain anonymous on this site. Are there any saints who might help me to be less afraid? Are there prayers? Is it a sin to worry about it so much?”

Mindy: “When I was pregnant with my most recent baby a woman actually walked over to me at school pick-up and, in front of others, said, 'I heard you were pregnant again, but I had to see it to believe it.' She went on to say, 'I never know what to say to women like you.' I responded, 'Congratulations is the usual.' She actually told me she thought that wouldn't have been appropriate…I too cannot imagine the world without each one of my shiny children. Each of them is proof to me that not only does God has a plan for me, but that he loves me very much.”

Years ago, I had a T-shirt with a list of celebrities’ names on the front of it– rock stars, athletes, politicians. Across the front were the words, 'Who is your hero?' Then, on the back of the shirt were the words 'Would he die for you?' with a big Cross. The point is that Jesus Christ is the greatest hero the world has ever seen. That, to live a heroic life is to live heroic love. Jesus says that heroic love is the greatest love: “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Jesus freely accepted laying down his own life for each one of us, his friends.

If I were to make a shirt today with a list of my heroes, certainly all mothers would be on it. Every mother makes great sacrifices, as many of you here today can attest. Through pregnancy, labor, nurturing, and raising a child, every mother lives sacrificial love. There is a very short list of mothers, though, who have made the greatest sacrifice and laid down their lives for their child.

One of these women lived in Europe last century. Gianna Beretta Molla was a mother of four children. When she was pregnant with her fourth child, doctors discovered cancer in her body. They advised her to abort the child in order to save her own life. She discussed it with her husband, thought and prayed about it, and freely made the heroic choice for the life of her child.

Within a year of giving birth to her beautiful fourth child, Gianna lost her battle with cancer. A few years ago, Pope John Paul II canonized her a saint for the heroic choice she made to lay down her life for her child.


At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My best friend desperately wanted to have a baby. We were really great friends who met the first day in kindergarten when, on the walk home from the bus stop, I saved her from a "vicious" toy poodle named Sugar. We always talked about getting married, buying our homes and raising our kids together. I had my first few children, and my friend and her husband were still trying to conceive. She wasn't Catholic, but my mom and I installed a little prayer station in her home, and she prayed to the Madonna each night. After years of trying, surgery and a few miscarriages, they turned to in vitro fertilization. They became pregnant with several babies. The pregnancy went well and her kids were born.

After a period of time, it became clear that something was different with one child. Sadly, he would require a lifetime of significant care. Do not misunderstand, my friend and her husband love this child to pieces, but the diagnosis was quite a blow. Having a mentally retarded sister, I very much understood what she was facing.

Several years later, the doctor who performed the in vitro procedure called to ask about their plan for the remaining frozen embryos. The doctor cautioned them that this "batch" was from the same embryo group as her child with special needs. My friend called to discuss her dilema.

She didn't know what to do, as the doctor couldn't "guarantee" that any of these children wouldn't also be "damaged". In addition, having a child with special needs changed the vision she now had for her family. My friend wanted my advice. I decided to be completely open with her, something I failed to do when we initially discussed in vitro. When she originally had considering this path, I had many thoughts I didn't share. This person was like a sister to me, and I owed her my honestly, but I caved. I wanted to say-
there are so many children already in the world who need homes, and her plan may not be God's. I should have asked if she was prepared for all the outcomes, but I knew she wanted children so badly, and I wanted her to have them. This time around, I wasn't going to fail my friend.

She told me she had three options- donate them, implant them or destroy them. She said she wouldn't donate them b/c it she didn't want someone else to be implanted with and raise her kids, and I understood. Then we talked about implanting. I told her that these embryos were already her children, just very young ones. I explained that none of us are given guarantees in regard to our children. I also said what I knew my mother didn't like hearing either, that her child may not have the life she envisioned, but he was perfect in God's vision. God made him specially and uniquely, as he does each of us, and none of know what greatness he will achive in his lifetime, but he will acheive greatness. Maybe his greatness will be in the smile and direct eye contact that would heal her heart.

At this, my friend became angry- how dare I?!!! I let her go on and say all the things she wanted to say- that I didn't have any right to judge her, I didn't know what each day was like for her, and it isn't fair that I have healthy children. Ultimately, she decided to dispose of the embryos and she didn't speak to me for almost two years.

Gradually, at first very superficially, we began speaking again. Our kids have started playing with one another again, and even though our relationship is still a little measured sometimes, we are in a good place. Even if she hasn't said it, I know she believes life is precious- I see it when she looks at this perfectly "damaged" child, who is making great strides (and eye contact!). She and her husband are now considering becoming foster parents and maybe adopting. I guess we'll be lighting up the candles in front of the Madonna again.

Strangely, very strangely, I had a dream about her the other night. I had a dream that she went to confession (remember, she's not Catholic) where Fr. Greg turned her into a nun- like, poof!!! I told him she wasn't Catholic and she couldn't go to confession. I also told him he couldn't just change someone into a nun. In my dream, Fr. G told me he had a special dispensation from the pope to offer her confession and allow an immediate vocation. I guess all Fr G's talk about confession and vocations is now invaded my dreams to the point that my non-Catholic friends are receiving the sacraments and religious vocations. Or, maybe it's a reminder that I need to go to confession!!! It's at 4:00 today, right?

At 2:05 PM, Anonymous Kelly H. said...

Hi, anon, thanks for sharing your story. My brother and sister-in-law also had great difficulty having a child! It was heartbreaking. When my sister became pregnant with their first baby, they considered it a miracle - defied all of the doctors' predictions. They refused amnio testing even though my she was in her upper thirties. They do not believe in abortion and would never want to risk harming the unborn baby. Their precious son was born. Timothy has Downs Syndrome. It came as a complete shock to them and all of the extended family. We all knew very little about Downs Syndrome! Timothy just turned six. He is the joy of their lives - to use their words exactly! They quote abortion stats of unborn babies with DS and my brother says "all of those little babies - babies like our Timothy don't even get a chance at life."

They describe the experience of raising a child with
disability - to try to help people who have not shared the unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this . . .

When you are going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip to Italy. You get a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans - the Coliseum, Michaelangelo's David, the gondolas in Venice. It's all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland!"

"Holland?" you say. "What do you mean, Holland? I signed up for Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."

"But there's been a change in the flight plan. We've landed in Holland and there you must stay."

The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilance and disease. It's just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guidebooks, and you must learn a new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It's just a different place. It's slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there a while and you catch your breath, you look around you and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills, Holland has tulips, Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going to Italy, and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life you will say, "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."

The pain of that will never, ever go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss. But if you spend the rest of your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland."

by Emily Perl Kingsley
a founder of the USA Downs Syndrome Association

At 8:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your beautifully written piece. Some of my earliest, and definately formulative memories regard my sister. I clearly remember, as early as age 3, reprimanding playground mothers who told their daughters to stay away from my sister. I so clearly remember believing that she was different but no less.

Quick, funny story to share-
I got engaged and showed my sister my ring, which, at that time, had yet to be sized. I got in the shower and removed my too-big-ring to keep it from washing down the drain. After, I went to put back on my ring, but it was gone. PANIC!! I told my mom, who thought- my sister was there earlier. We raced to her group home (less than a mile away) to ask her if she did anything with my ring. She told us that she was going to get a husband and get married too. Surely enough, my ring was in her jewelry box. She was very upset that I wanted it back, for now- how could there be a wedding for her? I was immediately inspired. I told her that my wedding would be for both of us. I convinced her to let me have the ring and I'd get a better one for her. I changed my color scheme for my wedding to all white. All my bridesmaids would wear big, white, poofy dresses. My sister was so happy that, at my rehearsal dinner, ahe actually suprised me by singing me "You Light Up My Life". At the reception, the band made a special announcement about one member of the wedding party celebrating the wedding in a special way. My sister entered the room, in her big white drees, sporting her head light-sized ring and thouroughly enjoyed our night. To date my rehersal dinner serenade and my sis entering my wedding reception are huge on my lifetime hightlight reel.

At 10:35 PM, Blogger Christine said...

Thank you for mentioning one of my favorite saints, Saint Gianna Beretta Molla! I am so inspired by the legacy of her life. She was "super mom", as a mother of 4 children, a wife, and a full-time doctor! I feel that I can relate to her more than other saints, even though I am a college student, because she is a saint of the modern day, dying in 1962. I feel she would understand the struggles of people today, trying to be a good Catholic, raise a family, have a happy marriage, and be a smart careerwoman, everything I hope to be some day. There are also many books written by her and her family, and modern-looking photos. The life of sacrifice and love that she had is so very inspiring, and I encourage anyone who hasn't heard of her to look her up!

At 8:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Several years ago, some high school friends and I attended a classmate's wedding in Venezuela. The wedding made a huge impression on each of us. The catherdal was beautiful and the reception included more than 1000 guests. The thing, however, that made the biggest impression on us was something else entirely.

My friend had been engaged for 3 yrs, they had a civil service and a church service, and a big reception. By our accounts- the couple were officially married and we would all go home. So, we were suprised by what happened next.

As close friends of the bride, we were invited to join the women of the bride's family to the couple's hotel room. Having no idea why we would go there, we accepted.

We went to their hotel suite, lit candles, scattered rose petals, etc. It seemed a nice gesture to make their room pretty and expected to then leave. But no- apparently, we were going to await the couple's arrival. What made things even weirder was the arrival of the bride and groom's parents. The women were all smiling and giggling as the couple entered. It felt oddly inrutusive. Each women hugged the couple and reassured them that this would be their most special night. The father of the bride hugged his new son in law and, with tears in his eyes, kissed his daughter. My friends and I were kind of embarrassed, and I guess it showed. Later, the sister of the bride explained to us that it is their custom to save yourself for marriage. Not only was it part of their faith, it was part of their culture. Both bride and groom were virgins and all new.

She explained that the consummation, too, was a blessed event and should be acknowledged as such. It was important to acknowledged that two become one in both spirit and body. The family's expression of love and support was palpable, and although still a bit embarrassed, we were rather touched.

I was, however, relieved to enter an empty hotel room on my wedding nite. I can't imagine my mom, grandma, aunts and cousins giving me that kind of send off. And my DAD being there- I think NOT!

At 11:43 AM, Anonymous Marion (Mael Muire) said...

From Fr. Greg's original post, the story from Mindy: “When I was pregnant with my most recent baby a woman actually walked over to me at school pick-up and, in front of others, said, 'I heard you were pregnant again, but I had to see it to believe it.' She went on to say, 'I never know what to say to women like you.' I responded, 'Congratulations is the usual.' She actually told me she thought that wouldn't have been appropriate."

What a shame. I suppose we have all heard of similar episodes happening to other mothers of good-sized families. Although I have never been a mother myself, I always feel for mothers who are the targets of these insulting and impertinent remarks. I have sometimes wondered whether the following response might not be called for:

When someone comments unkindly about the number of your children, to say, "Yes? Would you like to be considered for membership on the board of consultants who are helping my husband and me decide the number of children we should have? I'll be glad to submit your name for consideration. We would need your name and address, your husband's name, what you both do for a living, and copies of last year's Federal income tax returns, plus the W-2 and any other statement of income. Once we review all this information, we'll be glad to consider putting you in position to give your input."

If the other person responds, "well that information is really none of your business. . .", you've got the perfect opening to respond, "Well, guess what . . .?

At 9:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember all the time growing up, my mother would get comments from strangers about her 4 children, which isn't even that many for a Catholic mother, some have 6 or 7! All the time at the grocery store, the post office, she would get "...but are they ALL yours?!!", to which she would respond, "yes, I have 4 blessings." I always loved this amswer she gave. I myself want to have 6 children someday!

At 9:34 PM, Blogger fran said...

Best quote, from a T-shirt found on a wonderful Catholic goods website:

"You should enjoy our large family; our kids will be paying your social security." (ha!) offers beautiful framed religious artwork, posters and clothing with religious slogans. Check it out!

At 12:39 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

There are several moms at our school who continue to inspire me, not b/c of the size of their families, but because of their demeanor. I am always so amazed with the calm manner in which they do everything. I have two moms in common classes with my son, and I've had the opportunity to watch them over the years. No matter the chaos, they are always calm, centered, and often smiling (and their homes are clean too!!!). I know what the schedules stuck to their fridges look like, understand the # of loads of laundry they have yet to do, appreciate the amount of food they prepare each day, am fully aware of how many papers need to be reviewed and signed in each of those orange folders- and yet, they are always calm.

Now, I'm no slacker- I can get a lot done, but sometimes (often) I can be like a cross between a rabid pit bull and human tornado, in order to get it all done. When I listen to these two women talk, especially to each other (they are friends) I often stand in awe. They make it seem so effortless. They speak with phrases like (serously, they use them regularly)-
"in God's time"
"if it's God's will"
"God is good"
as well as many others most of us believe but do not employ and would not regularly share.

Their natures- peaceful, strong, centered and focused, and this is, by no means, limited to only the large family moms I know (they are just with whom I most relate) are the examples that inspires to be a better mom.

This morning I drew extra inspiration in trying to get to school on time for testing. I pictured one of you driving in your supersized vans arriving the same time as I- only you aren't three shades redder from the increase in your blood pressure! Testing ALL week-ugh!!!
Thanks, ladies!

At 1:42 PM, Anonymous Kat said...

"but sometimes (often) I can be like a cross between a rabid pit bull and human tornado,"


I don't have children to get ready for school and all that... but I know the feeling of being the cross between a rabid pit bull and a human tornado...

At 7:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Don't be so hard on your self! YOU sound like a great mom. who cares about the laundry - "MOUNTAIN O LAUNDRY" if everyone has clean clothes for school that day - you have done your job!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

At 7:51 AM, Anonymous admiring blogger said...

To all the moms out there I really have great admiration for you. Its not an easy job and yet you all do it with such ease! How do you do it? I think large families are awesome! My dad came from a large family-10 kids! Each sibling, spouse and children are just awesome! We have and are having such fun together. All the wonderful memories. With large families there is so much more love, support etc. Its really too bad people are having small families. They are missing out on a lot.


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