Shae O'Brien is an English teacher, writer, wife, and mother to three beautiful girls. She takes life with a grain of salt and two spoonfuls of sugar! Please be sure to follow her on www.facebook.com/catholicmamablog.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Let Me Be Mary

I should preface this post by saying that I was not born a cradle Catholic. I became a convert at the age of 21, so the following childhood story in no way reflects any CCD classes or Catholic beliefs. Just my own child-like understanding of faith and God. Now you may read on...

When I was 11 years old, I was a very passionate little Christian. I read the Bible often, and as this was around the time when the Left Behind series was popular, I focused on Revelation quite a bit. One thing I had learned for certain was that Jesus would be coming back. I was incredibly excited for this event--you know, since I'd missed Him the first time. 

The thing is, in my childlike mind, I assumed Jesus couldn't just...show up. I mean, none of us show up fully grown! I believed this must mean He would need to be born...again. (No pun intended!) This is when I got the idea. I prayed night and day. And when I wasn't praying, I was watching my every action, word, and even thought meticulously. You see, if Jesus needed to be born, then God would need another Mary. And I was determined that He would choose me. 

Don't ask me how this idea came to me, but I wanted the opportunity to serve God the way Mary did, to give birth to someone who could change the world, to be selfless and full of love. While other girls asked God for pierced ears or a new video game, I continued day after day to beg God to realize I could be that mother. 

At some point I grew up, and someone or other explained to me how the book of Revelation was really supposed to be interpreted. I hadn't really thought much of this little anecdote from my childhood until recently. A family member posted a beautiful video of the song "Mary Did You Know" and I found myself in tears in parking lot of my work. A certain line simply took my breath away: When you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God. 

I am now an adult, a wife, and a mother to three perfect daughters. I know without a shadow of a doubt that when I look into their eyes, I am seeing the perfection of God, and His image shines with pure love through them right back at me. 

As I sat in my car thanking God for such an incredible blessing to serve Him as a mother, it hit me--He had heard my childhood prayer and answered it. I had asked to be a mother, to be selfless and full of love, to give birth to someone who could change the world. And here I am, living out such an incredible opportunity, a miraculous blessing that so many women hope and pray for daily. My daughters can change the world. I pray I guide them with a selfless attitude and heart full of love as they grow to find ways to change it for the better. I asked God, "Let me be Mary" and God smiled upon me. 

I may not be Mary in the literal, impregnated by the Holy Spirit kind of sense. But God blessed me with the spirit of a mother and the ability to become one, and I now thank God for such a role model as Mary while I navigate the blessing of motherhood each and every day. Maybe this little revelation is a silly one, but it really warmed my heart, and I hope it did yours as well. 

God bless you. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Joyful Woman

I wrote the following letter in response to an Article that came across my newsfeed tonight. I think it's a reminder more women need to read, including the author of that article.

Dear "My Feet Still Hurt",

I read your letter to the Young Couple today. I felt the longing in your diction, the yearning in your syntax. In that moment, as you reflected on younger days of freedom and flirtatious glances, you somehow forgot to reflect on your nowadays. And that is truly sad, because there is so much more to your nowadays than the disappointment and embarrassment you showed in your letter. 

I am a fellow wife and mother, a woman with those wrinkled grape stretch marks you described, who prefers comfy shoes (I wear chucks) to stiletto heels. Yet I take such a different view of my nowadays. I come home everyday to three little girls who scream "Mama!" the moment they see my face. I giggle and blush when my husband comes home and sneaks up behind me for a quick nibble at my neck and sweet nothing whispered in my ear. Yes, we must remember to pay bills, and most of the time I carry a diaper bag rather than a coach purse, but I do not spend my days comparing my bliss to that of the Young Couple. 

They have their own kind of joy and excitement. And I am happy for them. I remember those days with fondness. But my joy and excitement has not vanished; it has simply transformed. It has grown to envelope three more people, a whole new side of family, a loyal dog we adopted in our "young" days, and countless memories that we continue to make daily. 

Please do not forget your joy, dear friend. Do not let muffin tops, tennis shoes, or twenty-something girls cause you to wish for days before your blessed children arrived, before your boyfriend became your partner for eternity, before you grew into the incredible woman you have become. Because your nowadays are something to be proud of and days to take joy in getting to experience. 

With love,

The Joyful Woman

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

So You Think You Can Judge? Understanding Mental Illness

During the show So You Think You Can Dance, Nigel Lythgoe (@dizzyfeet) discussed the death of two loved ones by suicide as an act of "stupidity". While I am a huge fan of both Nigel and the show, I am once again finding myself face to face with the ignorance of our society toward mental illness. Apparently, I am not the only one who was offended by his remarks.

First, I will be keeping Nigel in my prayers for his recently loss. I have no doubt that to him, someone who loved two people deeply and still lost them to a suffering he couldn't possibly understand, it did feel like stupidity that they didn't just come to him or appreciate the love surrounding them or choose life. I'm sure to the loved ones left mourning, the anger and confusion that comes with such tragedy connects to words like "stupidity". I do not blame him for his grief or words spoken out of that grief. 

I do, however, wish he hadn't expressed such ignorance (even out of grief) to a nationwide audience. Mental illness is a serious issue. People do not become depressed because they are not smart enough to be happy. They do not contemplate suicide because they are ignorant of their blessings or the support around them. Mental illness is a disease that attacks the rationale of the mind. As cancer slowly breaks down your body, so depression does with one's mental state. Without proper diagnosis, therapy, medication, and educated support (and sadly, sometimes even despite these forms of treatment), mental illness can continue to debilitate one's sanity until they can no longer rationalize their existence. 

I would like to let that sink in for a moment. What if you literally could not think of a single reason why it would be important for you to exist? How easy would it be to live, believing those you love only suffer by the burden of your existence? If you have never suffered from mental illness then this may sound like an exaggeration. I wish I could say it was. Suicide does not occur because someone is too stupid to choose life or too selfish to stick around for their loved ones or not strong enough in their faith to recognize God's blessings. It happens because disease has taken one's rationality and left them completely alone. 

Nigel chose to respond to the backlash on twitter with the following statement:

I am so disheartened by his choice to further endorse such ignorant stigmas about mental illness, and I hope others will speak up about what mental illness really is and combat attitudes like this far and wide. We have ice bucket challenges for those suffering from ALS, an entire month of NFL wearing pink for those dying from breast cancer, yet mental illness is still receiving no more than an eye roll and a "stop being stupid and selfish". This needs to end, or suicide will continue to seem like the only option--after all, who wants someone so stupid and selfish to stick around anyway?

Please be careful how you choose your words. Those who suffer from mental illness need you--they need you educated, willing to help, and ready to empathize. Your support works best when the judgment is left behind. 

If you are suffering from depression or contemplating suicide, please know that you are not alone, you are loved, and there is support for you. Call the national suicide prevention hotline and talk to someone now: 1-800-273-8255

God bless. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Why Walsh is Wrong about Robin Williams and Depression

I am still in a state of shock and grief over the loss of Robin Williams. As depression is a disease that runs in my family, hearing of someone choosing death while suffering from mental illness strikes a sorrowful chord within me. 

I have appreciated the heartfelt goodbyes from others who share in this loss. It helps ease the pain to know I am not alone. There was one post though that caught me off guard by a man named Matt Walsh (you may read it here), and I feel it needs to be addressed. So, below are some quotes from his post and my responses to them.

"Your suicide doesn’t happen to you; it doesn’t attack you like cancer or descend upon you like a tornado. It is a decision made by an individual. A bad decision. Always a bad decision."

Mr. Walsh simplifies the concepts of suicide and depression early on in his post. By simply calling suicide "a bad decision" that "doesn't happen to you", it negates the understanding of depression and other psychological illnesses and their effects on the human condition. Suicide is never a decision we would want a loved one to make. It is important though to understand that the rationality of a diseased mind is unlike a healthy one. It is not a decision made clearly or in a sane state of mind. It is a decision made while one is under attack by depression.

"Can we tell our friend to step away from the ledge after we just spoke so glowingly of Robin Williams’ newfound “peace” and “freedom”? This is too important a subject to be careless about. We want to say nice things, I realize, but it isn’t nice to lie about suicide."


Mr. Walsh may have meant that question rhetorically, but I will answer it now. Yes! We can tell our friend to step off the ledge after (even moments after) posting on Facebook that we hope or believe Robin Williams has found peace and freedom.

This is because the disease of depression (and other psychological conditions) prevents a human being from being completely free. The disease attacks one's rational ability to think thoughts or make decisions of free will as God intended. It is a lie to suggest suicide is simply a "bad decision", instead of an action made by a disease-ridden mind that has lost control of rationality. 

So it is not careless to admit someone is now free from the disease that plagued him or her for a lifetime. It also does not take away our right (and duty) to reach out to our loved ones and remind them that our lives would be diminished by the loss of their light. Acknowledging the struggle that causes suicide and begging loved ones to choose life are not mutually exclusive. 

"Depression is a mental affliction, yes, but also spiritual. That isn’t to say that a depressed person is evil or weak, just that his depression is deeper and more profound than a simple matter of disproportioned brain chemicals."

This statement seemed to receive the most backlash, and I understand why. Mr. Walsh assumes, even though he speaks of his own past with depression, that a psychological disease of "disproportioned brain chemicals" is viewed as "a simple matter" by our society. The fact that he feels the need to add to the definition of this medical condition in order to make it "deeper and more profound" only shows a lack of truly understanding this disease on his part. 

Stating that this condition comes from a chemical imbalance isn't simplifying anything--it's just saying what creates the condition. Does this condition cause mental affliction? Yes. Does it cause spiritual affliction? Often it can. But IS the disease a mental or spiritual affliction? No. Those afflictions are symptoms of the disease, not the definition of it. 

"We tend to look for the easiest answers. It makes us feel better to say that depression is only a disease and that there is no will and choice in suicide, as if a person who kills themselves is as much a victim as someone who succumbs to leukemia."

At this point I would like to mention that I recently found out that Matt Walsh is a Catholic. I say this because I would like to address this belief from a Catholic perspective, as I worry that such a well known Catholic could influence the public's view of our Church in a negative way if it is not clarified. 

No one, not even the Catholic Church, says that depression is a disease because it "makes us feel better". We say that depression is a disease because--and I want to be very clear on this--depression IS a disease. 

Many people wrongly assume that the Catholic Church believes that anyone who commits suicide automatically goes to hell. This is untrue. While the Church does recognize that the act of suicide is "contrary to the love of the living God" (Catechism 2281), it also recognizes the following:

Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. (Catechism 2282, paragraph 2)

This brings attention to the fact that psychological conditions prevent a person from acting in a completely rational or sane mindset. The Church doesn't include this statement to make anyone feel better, but to recognize the severity of psychological disturbances and how they can affect an otherwise rational person's state of mind.

"But I don’t understand how theists, who acknowledge the existence of the soul, think they can draw some clear line of distinction between the body and the soul, and declare unequivocally that depression is rooted in one but not the other. This is a radically materialist view now shared by millions of spiritualist people."

This statement is frustrating because it assumes quite a bit about one's faith. I'm not sure where Mr. Walsh believes our soul resides in the body, but I don't think that having a wholistic view of body and soul--that the two are completely intertwined instead of one residing in the other--makes one "materialistic" in their faith. It is simply a different perspective of how God formed us in our creation. 

"To act like death by suicide is exactly analogous to death by malaria or heart failure is to steal hope from the suicidal person. We think we are comforting him, but in fact we are convincing him that he is powerless."

I found this quote particularly interesting because I happen to come from a family that suffers from addiction. If you have ever gone to an AA/NA/Al-Anon meeting, then you know that the first step of the infamous 12 Steps is this: 
  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. 
This is said specifically to address the fact that unlike any other "choice" an addict makes in his or her life, a "choice" regarding the addiction is fueled by the disease. It does not mean someone did not make a choice to drink, it simply means that the choice to drink was inhibited by one's diseased mind. It brings understanding to the rationality of the mind behind the action. This actually gives hope rather than stealing it. There is a relief in finally being enlightened to the fact that you don't have these thoughts or make these choices because you are a bad person, but because you suffer from a disease that debilitates your mental state of health. If an addict overdoses, the report states exactly that--but the fact that the addict overdosed because of his addiction shines a light on the addict's mental health at the time. 

"Second, we can debate medication dosages and psychotherapy treatments, but, in the end, joy is the only thing that defeats depression."

As someone who has suffered from depression, and whose loved ones also have suffered from various mental conditions, I can only sigh at such an incredibly ignorant statement. I wonder if this is what Mr. Walsh meant by "there are important truths we can take from the suicide of a rich and powerful man..." Perhaps that money and power may be able to buy the best medicine and treatments, but it can't buy joy? So this must mean that medicine and treatments can't fix depression--only joy can?

Mr. Walsh suggested that those who didn't have a spiritual mindset oversimplified the disease of depression. Sadly, this statement shows that the person simplifying the condition is him. His statement of joy being the only remedy or hero would by default mean that Robin Williams (and any other person who suffers from depression) just didn't have enough joy in his life. It takes an incredible amount of judgment to assume that a person did not have enough joy to save him. This implies that Robin's wife and children were not enough. This implies that there was more they could have done or been to provide a right amount of joy to defeat his disease. This must be the case since he stated "The two [joy and depression] cannot coexist."

This places a weight of blame on loved ones of the depressed. This also places a burden of finding joy on the depressed themselves. A disease is something out of our control. Therefore, we cannot simply force ourselves to feel joy. And what is scarrier is the thought that some people suffering from this disease may try to fake joy in order to defeat depression, feeling like failures (or making their loved ones feel like failures) if they ever admit they cannot overcome the weight of depression on their lives. 

In the end, there is one thing I do agree with Mr. Walsh on, so I'll end with one last quote:

"If you are thinking about suicide, don’t keep it inside. Tell someone.
Never give up the fight.
There is always hope."

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

NFP for the Disbelieving Spouse

Natural Family Planning (NFP) is an effective way to avoid pregnancy. It is also a choice that promotes spiritual, emotional, and physical health by learning about and working with the body God created for you. But what do you do if you don't believe in the need for NFP?

The story usually goes something like this: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. The word soulmate is often used. Vows are made to love one another completely as they are. Then it's happily ever after until...sometimes it is a conversion to Catholicism, sometimes simply a deepening of spiritual faith, but something changed in the story and now you are being asked to support something you don't think is necessary to prevent a sin you don't believe exists.

The truth is that many Catholics don't practice NFP. (I'm sure at this point you are wishing you were one of them.) Yet that doesn't make the Catholic Teaching suddenly disappear or become less important.  The Catholic Church is very clear on the "why" of NFP, which you have probably heard of as being "open to life". NFP allows for that by not creating barriers in the form of hormonal manipulation of the body or artificial blocks that prevent the sperm from entering the vagina. Oh, and of course not purposefully letting those sperm get loose via any act other than vaginal intercourse.

Have I already ruined any and all interest you had in sex? Believe me, I get it.

Perhaps you feel like this teaching is ancient and the Church needs to modernize its views. Perhaps you are offended that God would judge you for enjoying marriage, when you've been a faithful spouse and upheld your marital duties. Perhaps you've had a chance to watch NFP in action--via your wife's stress and worry--and don't think this is worth it. 

My guess is you are reading this because you haven't been able to convince your spouse to just give up Natural Family Planning or you're trying to figure out how to live in this world of NFP. The fact that you are reading this actually shows a level of character, commitment, and care for your marriage that any woman should be grateful to find in her husband. So, what can you do to support your wife, even if you don't necessarily agree with this method? Here are a few ideas...

1) Take a class with your spouse.

There are Natural Family Planning classes for every method out there. Most of them are taught in person, but if that doesn't suit your schedule then online classes are also readily available. There are many benefits of taking a class with your spouse. 
  • You will actually know what she is talking about. 
  • You will learn to understand the scientific aspects of NFP, not just the religious conviction behind it. 
  • You will be able to initiate sex again (because you'll finally be able to read a chart). 
  • You will show your wife that you love her completely--even the beliefs of hers that you may not agree with. 
There are some forms of intimacy that don't require being naked, and standing by your spouse with an open mind is one of them.

2) Jump in completely and follow the rules 100%.

I understand the feeling of disagreement with some (or all) of Church teaching. It can be incredibly frustrating to initiate intimacy, complete it in a way that is against Catholic teaching (but left you, and maybe even wife, fulfilled), only to see the look of guilt linger in your spouse's eyes until her next visit to confession. I strongly urge you to try a different route then. Instead of getting angry at the Church for creating rules that you may feel are "unnatural" to follow, try offering yourself fully to the convictions of your wife. Even try to be MORE convicted than her! When she begins to act frustrated during a time when it's not advisable to be intimate, write her a love letter reminding her that you love her for all that she is and that she is worth waiting for. If you know you're in for a long bout of abstinence, come up with activities that encourage other forms of intimacy (trying something new together, taking a class, attending church, etc.). Remember that the more you show support, the more you can see what NFP is like at its best--its best being when spouses commit to it TOGETHER.

3) Talk to someone about your struggles with NFP (WHO IS NOT YOUR SPOUSE).

I know, I know. I just spent the last two ideas talking about the importance of communication with your wife. Here's the thing though: When your wife is facing the anxiety of deciphering charts and symptoms and your respond with frustration and resentment, it serves no one. If NFP a struggle sometimes? Yes. Does it mean we have to place our struggle on the shoulders of the person we love most? No. Talk to a priest (and argue with one if you need to...they went to school for that.) Talk to your NFP instructor. Join an online support group for those who practice NFP. Make friends at church or through your NFP classes who can hold you accountable or share in your trying times. It is ok not to like NFP at all times, as most couples struggle together at some point. It is just important that NFP doesn't become husband vs. wife, but instead is a daily journey of husband and wife walking together.

If you've made it this far, then I applaud you. Choosing to be there for your spouse takes unconditional love. Remember that the intimacy of marriage doesn't begin or end in the bedroom, but it can be found there--whether or not sex is involved at the end of any given day. 

God bless you.

**NOTE: It is not always the husband who finds himself in a position of disagreement with NFP. These ideas could also work for a wife trying to support her husband's convictions toward NFP. This post is in no way trying to suggest that this is a problem only men face, and any spouse who is willing to try NFP to support his or her spouse's beliefs is a wonderful one.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The First 24 Hours of Breastfeeding

A friend of mine sent me a message asking about breastfeeding this morning. She is less than 24 hours into her breastfeeding journey, and I am so proud of her already! (By the way, congratulations on your beautiful baby girl!) I started my breastfeeding journey on August 4th, 2011, and my friend's message suddenly got me thinking back to my first experiences as a new mother and milk maker. I was so excited, nervous, and downright naive about what breastfeeding entailed and how to be successful at it. Truth be told, those first 24 hours were a huge wake up call to me! So, to assist my friend in this new and beautiful part of motherhood, and to help any moms-to-be or brand new mommies out there, I decided to make a list of things to know for those first glorious (sleepless) hours of breastfeeding...

Learning to breastfeed is NOT the most natural thing in the world. 

Oh yes, breastfeeding is natural. You hear all the pro-BFing advocates out there talking about "breast is best" and "it's the most natural thing in the world since the beginning of time!" I get that. But LEARNING to breastfeed is a process. If it comes naturally to you, it is a miracle of God. If it doesn't, please don't freak out! You are in the majority here. It is important to remember that while your body was made for this, you've still never done it before. Also, it is the first thing (EVER!) that your baby will learn how to do. That's kind of a big deal. So, take a deep breath. It is ok if it takes time, help, and practice. Don't feel like a failure if your first thought is more "Oh God, this hurts like heck!" than "Thank you God for this miracle of life." It's a learning process.

Get the Latch right! 

This is a great follow up to number one because, frankly, nobody mentions the technical term "latch" until the baby is already rooting for food. Once you do learn what it is, you realize that in order to correct said infant, you'd have to somehow UNlatch him or her and RElatch. And if you are anything like I was, then you truly believe it would be better for baby to stay on there sucking incorrectly than to go through the pain of latching ever again. Trust me when I say, you want to get the latch right. I did not get the latch right. I pretended it didn't hurt. I was afraid of each feeding because of the pain. And because I didn't fix the latch, my nipples bruised and bled, and my breastfeeding experience was something I feared and resented for the first two days. You want to get that latch right, and if you don't know how then request a Lactation Consultant immediately. (Yes, I do mean the moment you realize you need one.) But once you do have the latch right, please know...

Yes, it is supposed to hurt. 

I know people have told you that if you do it right it will feel right...Well, they're wrong. It is normal for it to hurt at first, and by "at first" I mean the first month or so (maybe longer). Your nipples were created for this, but just like any part of your body, it takes time for them to get used to this kind of work. So, the most important thing you can do is care for your nipples. My hospital gave me lanolin cream, which worked great for me. I simply covered my nipples in it after each feeding and let them air dry. Ask your nurse or lactation consultant for some nipple care products. Keep your hospital robe unbuttoned, and don't be afraid to fan your nipples or ask your helper to blow on them a little if it helps the pain. If you plan to have a lot of visitors in the hospital, you may either let your freak flag fly or ask them to come back after you've had a chance to air them out. It does indeed make a huge difference between tender nipples and dry, cracked, bleeding ones.

Also, breastfeeding in the first few days or weeks will cause contractions or cramping in your uterus. This is normal, so don't worry, but do prepared to deal with that extra little experience as well. 

It takes days for your milk to come in. 

Many women immediately succumb to the idea of supplementing (giving baby formula) during the first 24 hours because of a fear of "lack of production". I am here to assure you, most women's milk takes days to come in. When your baby is born, your breasts immediately begin to produce colostrum, which is a super drink packed with newborn nutrients. It doesn't seem like you make a lot, and the reason for this is that your baby has an itty, bitty, newborn stomach that doesn't require quantity but quality. Don't be frustrated if it takes a few days for your milk to arrive. If baby sucks it, milk will come.

Even if baby can't latch, you can still feed. 

There are a variety of reasons baby may be unable to feed directly from you. You may have gone into labor prematurely, and your little one may need to stay in NICU. Your baby may be like mine was and have jaundice, requiring him or her to stay under UV rays all day. Your milk may take longer to come in than expected. Your baby may also be tongue tied (yes, that's an actual term) and have difficulty latching. This does not mean you cannot breastfeed. It does mean that you may need to become best friends with your breast pump. Don't have one, you say? No worries! Hospitals have them and can bring one to your room for you to pump milk and feed it to baby via tube or curved syringe if needed. (Ask your nurse or pediatrician how it would be best to go about feeding little one.) Breast pumps are not the real thing, so you may feel like you produce less when pumping, which is ok. Just pump as much as baby would eat (about every couple hours), and ask your hospital for assistance in refrigerating or freezing your supply. 

Sleep will from now on be replaced by many many naps. 

This is true for all mothers, but even more so for breastfeeding mothers. This is because if a baby is formula feeding, then a helper could feed him or her while you get a somewhat normal stretch of sleep. But as a breastfeeding mama, your milk can only be offered by you. So, you will feel exhausted and barely sane. It is important that if you have a helper (spouse, family member, friend), you let them take on as much of the other stuff as you can. If baby needs a diaper change, let them do it. If visitors need hosting, let them do it. Your job is to recover from delivering an entire human being and to learn how to feed said human being. Period. (And snuggle and adore said human being, too, of course.)

There is more than one position to feed in.

This one really blew my mind the first day. I assumed Hollywood had really taught me everything I need to know about breastfeeding. Cradle baby in arms, slip out breast gracefully and without nip showing, and baby will magically begin to eat. Hollywood was wrong. 

As it turns out, there are many positions, and your baby may latch better and eat longer in one over the other. Take the time to try different positions out and see what works best for your comfort and theirs. In most cases it will make breastfeeding easier and more successful for you and baby.

Pillows! Pillows! Pillows!

When you first hold that precious little bundle of joy, you stare in awe at how tiny your baby is! But after a good 30 minute feeding, you begin to feel just how heavy six pounds and 11 ounces can really be. If you do not already have a Boppy or Breast Friend pillow, you can have your helper pick one up for you to have when you get home. Until then, do not be afraid to ask for a plethora of pillows to stack up around you to make breastfeeding more comfortable. Note that in the picture above, every mother has a pillow. I used two! This takes the pressure (both literally and figuratively) off of you holding the baby, and refocuses it where it belongs--on learning to feed your little one.

So, after learning all of this, you may wonder why you weren't told about the hardship and horror of breastfeeding before you started. The truth is, most mothers don't remember this part. Yes, it hurt at first. Yes, it caused tears and stress and doubt. But the part that matters, the part that mothers do remember, is that it was worth it. I am currently breastfeeding my third daughter, and because I work this requires the added stress of pumping, but I never thought about not doing it. (Ok, maybe once at 3am when I'd been up for 24 hours straight I thought about it once.) There is something so incredible about the miracle of breastfeeding. Not all mothers get the opportunity to do it. If you can, be grateful. And if this is what you want, stick with it. There is nothing in the world quite like it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Friendly Fire: When NFP is Questioned Within the Church

On my first post in celebration of National Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week (Why We Use NFP) I received a comment from a fellow Catholic woman stating that the Church is actually against the use of NFP (except in very rare circumstances). My heart dropped as I read the words and judgment (not without good intentions, mind you) of a fellow sister in my own faith. Yet it reminded me of the irony that tends to come with NFP--most often the opposition comes from within.

While most of America is boasting of the "war against women" being the Catholic Church vs. Contraception, there is an inner battle that is still being fought among the members of the Church itself. Natural Family Planning is the only form of "family planning" or "child spacing" allowed by the Catholic Church. That being said, there are many who believe it should not be used at all, unless in a rare circumstance of life or death. Much of this comes from a translation of an encyclical letter written by Pope Paul VII called Humanae Vitae, which discusses human life as it relates to married life and the conjugal act (sex).

The Mistranslation of Humanae Vitae

If you haven't read the entirety of Humanae Vitae yet, I highly suggest you do. It takes time and focus, but it is beautifully written and reflects the love and beauty of God, the Church, and marriage. It also serves as the main reference point for Catholics seeking an understanding of the Church's stance on intimacy and procreation in the eyes of God. Because of this, it is very important that we understand something that often goes unnoticed: there are two different translations of Humanae Vitae in use by the Church in America. One translations comes from Pauline Books and Media and the other comes from the Vatican itself. As an English teacher, I find it integral to recognize what the differences are in this text and how it affects the various attitudes of the body of our Church.

"Grave Motives" vs. "Serious Reasons"

The argument over whether or not Catholics should practice NFP is due to two very different understandings of Humanae Vitae. There is a catch phrase within Humanae Vitae that has promoted a large amount of judgment within the Catholic Church regarding NFP: "grave motives". It suggests that couples may only practice NFP when they have "grave motives" to do so. Except when I tried to find this phrase in the English translation of Humanae Vitae on the official Vatican website, it was not there. As it turns out, this is because the phrase comes from the translation of Humanae Vitae by Pauline Books and Media. In the official Vatican translation, the term used instead is "serious reasons". Is this really that big of a deal?

Well, let's take a look at some definitions.

adjective: grave; comparative adjective: graver; superlative adjective: gravest
  1. 1.
    giving cause for alarm; serious.
    "a matter of grave concern"

adjective: serious
  1. 1.
    (of a person) solemn or thoughtful in character or manner.
    "her face grew serious"
    • (of thought or discussion) careful or profound.
      "we give serious consideration to safety recommendations"

As you can see from these two definitions, we get two completely different feelings and understandings. With "grave", it offers an understanding of only being able to practice NFP if something is wrong or "gives cause for alarm". With "serious", we get a very different feeling of being able to practice NFP if we do so with "solemn", "thoughtful", or "careful" consideration as to our reasons. The main difference here is that the first word speaks to the reason itself while the second word speaks to the attitude of the couple considering practicing NFP.

Large Families vs. and Small Families

A difference in translations also lends to a difference in belief over what family size the Church promotes and supports. As many Catholics can attest, we are often expected by other Catholics and non-Catholics alike to have a large family. This can sadly become a bar to which any Catholic couple who is struggling to conceive may feel inadequate in their faith for not being able to reach. Let us go back to our two translations to see where the confusion sets in...

In relation to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised, either by the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family, or by the decision, made for grave motives and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period, a new birth. 

This translation by Pauline Books and Media suggests that if a couple doesn't have a "grave motive" to avoid more children, then their other option is the "deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family". This particular translation makes me cringe when I think of the guilt and stress a Catholic couple may feel, whether constantly second guessing if their motives are grave enough or not using NFP out of fear of committing sin when they may actually need it.

With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time. 

In the Vatican's translation, suddenly this is changed from an "either/or" choice, to one of constant and careful thought throughout a marriage, which may transition from being ready to have more children to feeling the need to consider avoiding more children and back, as circumstances change and develop. Most important to point out is that in this translation, "prudently" replaces "deliberately" as to the manner in which a couple should move forward in the growth of their family, meaning that it shouldn't be assumed that one must purposefully have a large family but instead consider a large family by "showing care and thought for the future" in their discernment.

"Responsible Parenting"

The beautiful focus, regardless of translation, is the idea of "responsible parenting". This phrase demands of all of us, whether trying to conceive or avoid, to do so with serious consideration, prayer, and communication with one's spouse. It demands that we make the choice of procreation "with regard to physical, economic, psychological, and social conditions". It reminds us that marriage isn't meant to be careless or thoughtless, but instead a woven tapestry of reflection, prayer, discussion, and intimacy between two spouses to become one again and again. Finally, it also places consideration on the most important people in this equation, not ourselves but the children God has waiting for us.

How to use NFP in accordance with God's will

What does this mean for NFP, and for those who feel strongly about their translation or interpretation of Humanae Vitae? It means that we all have a duty to prudently and generously consider where God is leading us in our marriages. It means that some of us may determine that our family is meant to be small and others that ours are meant to continue to grow. It also means that some of us will avoid for a time, or indefinitely, with serious reason even though we may long for more children desperately, while others will intentionally try to conceive cycle after cycle to no avail. It means that because it takes work and communication and reflection of our moral precepts, we will need each other to remind us of the purpose, beauty, and calling of NFP and how we should regard it with respect to God's will in our lives.

Natural Family Planning is about the prudence and generosity of a married couple, and requires constant reflection on the focus and reasoning for that focus toward the future of their family. If you feel that now may be a good time to reflect on your own use of NFP, here are some questions that can assist you and your spouse in beginning that integral communication and prayer (and you are also welcome to check out My TTA Prayer of Discernment), so you may discern what God is calling you to do:

  • Have we adequately prepared our marriage and our circumstances to be able to care for any future children God may see fit to give us? 
  • How is our communication as a couple, in regards to our needs and desires, concerns and questions? Are we able to listen for understanding and support each other by finding answers together in accordance with God's will for our lives?
  • What health issues or concerns (physical or mental) do we have and would they best be addressed before considering another pregnancy?
  • Do either of us have a "serious reason", "grave motive", or "just cause" that we feel merits avoiding pregnancy at this time or indefinitely? What would need to change in this circumstance to allow for our family to grow again, if ever?
  • Is there a possible reason or motive that we are unsure merits avoiding pregnancy that would be better discerned by talking with our priest?
  • Is there a "serious reason" or "grave motive" that we feel may require us to avoid pregnancy, but we feel the desire to pursue pregnancy anyway? Would it help to clarify or discern further course of action by discussing this reason with our priest?

In regards to how we view, judge, or confront other Catholics' choice to use NFP, I hope we can focus our thoughts and contemplation on our own morals and actions instead. As I like to think of it, The point is, it is not our job to create bars where the Church has offered curves, to place judgment where the Church has offered allowance. That in no way serves God, the Church, each other, or ourselves. 

It reminds me of something teachers say often: "I am looking for your best, and your grade will reflect anything less than your best." In all reality, it is a way to promote purposeful reflection and effort from the student, but is not meant for students to start judging each other's work against their own idea of "best". Only the Teacher can, and should, determine that. The rest of us should be focused on helping our peers turn out the best work they can, which requires a spirit of love, acceptance, and understanding. NFP can only work properly if we do it with a heart of service...to God, our spouses, our family, and each other. 

May God truly bless you all in this holy endeavor.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My TTA Prayer of Discernment

Today, as my charting suggested, I started my period. Each time this happens, I find myself in awe of the way God designed the female body, with a pattern, a cycle of life that I can learn and decipher. I have such an appreciation and respect for my body through all of my knowledge and practice of Natural Family Planning. It really is an incredible and miraculous experience. 

To some people, a period is a burden. It's gross. It's annoying. Birth control is an easy way to get rid of it. (All of these things are true.) But I am grateful for it. I am grateful that it shows me my body is working correctly. I am grateful that it reminds me of the power of my body as a woman. And right now, I am grateful that it shows me that I am not pregnant. 

Yes, I am one of those women currently using NFP to TTA (try to avoid) pregnancy. And this is another thing I love about NFP. Each month I have the opportunity to talk to my husband, pray with him, and discern if we want to continue to avoid pregnancy or if we feel we are ready to open our lives to another child. 

This morning, when I realized my new cycle had begun, I said a prayer in my heart to God:

Holy Father,

It is with gratitude that I accept the beginning of a new cycle. Thank You for Your continued guidance for our family. I pray that You keep my heart and mind open to life, that You keep my focus on Your plan for our family, and that You continue to bless us though we are unworthy. May I always remember to begin each cycle in contemplation and discernment of Your will and continue to recognize the beauty and wonder in the body you have created for me. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Do you have your own way of seeking God out and discerning your family's needs each cycle? If so, I'd love to hear about it below! If not, you are more than welcome to use my prayer. God bless. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Top Myths About NFP

So, you're curious about Natural Family Planning but don't know where to start. I understand the feeling. When I decided to finally dive in to the world of NFP, I was overwhelmed with information, assumptions, misunderstandings, and straight up lies. It took a lot of research on my part to determine what I needed to know and what I needed to know was incorrect. But should you have to deal with the same confusion I suffered through? Nah! To help you out, I've listed the top NFP myths below, and what you need to know...

1) Natural Family Planning is for Catholics.

If you've read the news lately (or even glanced at social media) then you've read about the debate between women's rights and religious liberty. Many Catholic Bishops have been speaking out about how we should be free NOT to pay for other people's contraception since it goes against Catholic beliefs. (If you want to take a gander at my views on this topic, you're welcome to read Birth Control, Hobby Lobby, and this Catholic Mama.) 

However, religious beliefs aren't the only reason people are choosing to use NFP. There are other factors enticing people to take the plunge these days, and most of it has nothing to do with your feelings on the Pope. Learning about our bodies and choosing a healthier form of pregnancy prevention is for EVERYONE. 

(Feel free to read Why We Use Natural Family Planning to read more.)

2) NFP is just leaving it up to God.

From personal experience, I can definitely say that if practicing NFP was just "leaving it up to God" then I would be perpetually pregnant FOREVER! I am like the poster child of Fertility. So, we practice NFP because we want to be responsible, financially stable parents to our children, and that means we simply can't be the baby making factory of Texas right now. 

The truth is, some people believe God made our bodies, and some people believe that God doesn't exist. This post is in no way meant to be a debate about that. But my point is, regardless of your religious beliefs, we can all recognize that science can explain our cycles, our fertility, and the process of making a baby. So why not use that knowledge to our advantage? NFP isn't about throwing up your hands to a higher power. It is about using our knowledge of how our bodies work to achieve or prevent pregnancy month to month as we see fit.

3) NFP = the Rhythm Method

So, you've heard of the rhythm method, eh? Then you know a tinsy bit about the history of NFP. HOWEVER, Natural Family Planning is NOT the Rhythm Method. The Rhythm Method was created in the early 1900's and is based on the idea that ovulation must happen the same day every cycle. So, simply calculate how long your cycle is to estimate when ovulation occurred. The problem with that concept is that women's cycles are rarely that predictable, as a variety of health and stress factors can fluctuate one's cycle from month to month. 

Natural Family Planning takes a scientific approach of recognizing biological signs that one is either fertile or infertile throughout the month. NFP has even gotten so advanced that some methods use fertility monitors that can predict fertility using saliva, cervical mucus, or urine! It's actually pretty awesome.

4) NFP is basically abstinence!

Let me tell you right now, if NFP was abstinence, I'm not sure I could be on board with that! After all, I chose marriage over the convent for a reason. 

I will be honest and say that it takes time to learn your body, and during that learning time you will probably want to be more conservative with your times of intimacy. However, ask any couple practicing NFP and they will let you know that they didn't have to give up their sex lives to do it.

5) NFP doesn't actually work

This one is rather disheartening. When practiced correctly, NFP methods are between 94-99% effective. Those numbers are right on course with any artificial birth control. So why do people keep spreading rumors that NFP doesn't work?

This rumor most often seems based on the lack of belief in one's ability to practice self-control. Natural Family Planning does not offer the convenience of having sex whenever, and for that reason some people scoff at the idea of it actually working. However, it is effective in pregnancy prevention, and it has the added awesomeness of making us more knowledgeable in the how's and why's of our workings of our bodies. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Why We Use Natural Family Planning: Women Speak Up About an Alternativeto Birth Control

     If you have spent anytime on the internet in the last month, then the words BIRTH CONTROL have come across your screen at least a dozen times. On a list of hot topics, women's rights are definitely skyrocketing to the top of the list! As a woman, I am proud and excited to be a part of a generation that is speaking up about equality and rights in a society where we have struggled to be seen as equals for centuries. That being said, there is a large group of women that practices an alternative form of birth control that is rarely mentioned in these discussions. (In the U.S., this pregnancy prevention method is often NOT covered by insurance and is not advocated for under the new Contraception Mandate.)

     This week, July 20th-26th, is National Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week. This alternative, completely natural form of birth control is used by women of all faiths, races, health struggles, and relationship statuses. However, it is still mentioned at a whisper in the world of contraceptive rights. So, I asked women across the world to take a picture of themselves giving their reasons for using NFP. Here are some of the responses I received...

1) Because it is all natural!

2) Because femininity is not a condition to be treated.

3) Because it helps women understand their bodies and how they can work to prevent or achieve pregnancy as their needs and desires change.

4) Because it can help women and their doctors determine medical issues and work to solve them.

5) Because birth control didn't work for them.

6) Because it is one of the only forms of birth control that is considered the man's responsibility too. (Safe sex is not just a woman's responsibility!)

7) Because it aligns with their morals or religious beliefs.

8) Because it allows couples to plan for the family they want, whether big or small.

9) Because it is inexpensive and user friendly.

Wanna know more about NFP? Comment below with any questions and I will try to answer them as a part of National NFP Awareness Week. Thank you to all the incredible women (and men) who participated in this post! God bless you.

Friday, July 11, 2014

5 Things Toddlers do that Lead to a Better Life

As a mother of three, I have experienced a lot of those unbelievably funny, gross, frustrating and overwhelming moments in life. I've had those days when I wonder what I was thinking. But I have begun to realize that my children have a LOT to teach me. The thing is, since having children my life has been filled with more joy, laughter, and love than ever before. (Don't worry, this is NOT a post about how people with kids have fuller lives than those who don't.) It just got me thinking, how has acting more like my children changed my life for the better? Well, here are five of the things that have changed my life--and maybe they could do the same for you!

1) Laugh when they fall down. This is one of my daughters' favorite games. Yes, I said game. They fall down, laugh hysterically, and get back up again--only to fall down in laughter! This is the complete opposite of an adult's normal reaction to a fall. We adults tend to react to our trips and stumbles with tears and self-loathing and maybe even a ton of binging on wine and chocolate (not that I would know anything about it).  Yet as a parent, I have found that the bigger of a deal I make a fall, the harder my daughters will take it. If I laugh it off, so do they! And you know what? Most falls in life really aren't as bad as we adults make them out to be. Laughing more and self-loathing less....the affect is instant and priceless!

2)  Announce when they poop. Oh, I don't mean calmly  and privately letting me know so I can assist them with wiping. I mean running into the living room, undies in hands, and screaming with pride, "I made a big poopy!" Oh yes. This happens. And why not? We all poop. And to be honest, I can't tell you the number of times I've had a particularly wonderful #2 experience and felt weird wishing I had someone to tell. The truth is, we have been taught to feel shame for a bodily function we ALL experience. By letting go of shame over a ridiculously normal act, we can learn to let go of shame for other things too...think periods, farts, snorting laughs, love of Lady Gaga--whatever happens to be on your blushing list.

3) Applaud everything! And I do mean everything. Every song, every twirl, every pouring of a cup of tea or pretending to be a horse. They applaud themselves. They applaud me. It may be something I have done a million times, but to them it is a task I should be proud of--even if it is loading the dishwasher or mooing like a cow. So why don't we adults applaud ourselves--and each other--more? Could you imagine the change in your attitude if you received cheers every time you turned in a report or folded a load of laundry? What if we said a (sincere, excited, high energy) thank you and congratulations every time someone we love did something positive?  How quickly would we change the course of our lives, and the lives of those around us?

4) Cheer and give hugs every time they see me. This is may favorite part of every day. I open the front door, peek around the corner, and witness the pure joy of my daughters running to greet me, screaming "Mama!" with arms wide open.  I know there will come a day when this does not happen. Every time it does, I hug them tightly and promise God not to forget this feeling ever. Yet, when we see those we love, we often take for granted their presence. We may see them everyday. We may have known they were on their way. Yet, I have known far too many people who had plans to see someone...that never arrived. Let's not take our loved ones for granted. Let's exclaim how much we missed them, how incredible they are, how much they mean to us. Don't leave any words unspoken or hugs left in empty arms.

5)  Say no. Ok, so I admit that this one is not often something I enjoy my daughters doing. When they don't want to, when they don't like it, when they think it's not fair or ok, the no's start coming out loud and clear! And while this isn't always the best thing for me (believe me, nap time was a struggle today), I have learned how easy--and important--it is to say no. How often do you say no to something you don't want to do? How often do you say no to something that feels wrong or not for you? Society teaches us to be agreeable, pleasing to others, appropriate in situations. Does that mean we should disregard our own feelings for everyone else's? Maybe it's time for us to admit when we need to say no, and stand up for our needs by stepping away when we need to.

There you go! Just five things my daughters have taught me to make my life a better one. I hope my sharing their little toddler wisdom can help you make your life a little better also. After all, who has time to live a life that doesn't make them happy? God bless.