Tammra McCauley via Flickr
Pope Francis has been quoted all over the news this week regarding birth control, cesareans and breeding like bunnies! I know that a lot of his comments were taken out of context, blown out of proportion and then sensationalized.
But still, from my Facebook and twitter feeds it seems that a lot of women were heartbroken by the remarks.
I was simply annoyed. Especially by this part:
The pope cited the case of a woman he met who was pregnant with her eighth child after seven Cesarean sections. "That is an irresponsibility!" he said. The woman might argue that she should trust in God. "But God gives you methods to be responsible," he said.
This from NCR OnlineTelling the story of a woman he met in a parish in Rome several months ago who had given birth to seven children via Cesarean section and was pregnant with an eighth, Francis asked: "Does she want to leave the seven orphans?"
"This is to tempt God," he said, adding later: "That is an irresponsibility." Catholics, the pope said, should speak of "responsible parenthood."
The topic of birth control and the regulation of births has been a huge topic in my life since high school when my very busy family practitioner gave me a prescription for the pill as if he was giving me some multi-vitamins. When I was engaged, Mr. Pete and I took NFP courses and as a young married couple we practiced the technique with very little understanding of the spirituality and the theology behind it. With the birth of my first child and the re-conversion back to the Catholic faith, that natural longing to have children - to love them, hold them and care for them - just naturally came out. At age 30, I asked the Lord to restore the years that the locusts had eaten, and give me the children I was now very open to receiving.
But the big problem was that my first child had been born by Cesarean section.
Because of this trusting, naive attitude I was admitted to the hospital WAY too early in my labor, particularly for a first baby. I was forced to lay down on a hospital bed strapped to a monitor for "insurance reasons." My husband who had been touted throughout the pregnancy and childbirth classes as my birth partner, had to time my contractions so he could sneak off to pee or even grab a candy bar from the closest vending machine. One of the worst moments for me was when the OB in charge decided to break my water. There was no discussion of the risks, benefits or options. I certainly didn't give anything that could have been considered informed consent. He put his hand in my vagina to break the bag of waters and I remember telling him how painful it was. Then he griped that his wrist was hurting because he could not reach the cervix. I will never forget this. The two med students on either side forced my thighs apart so that he could reach my cervix despite my screams of pain and discomfort. When they were done they simply left. I felt that as if I had been raped. My husband felt as if he had watched his wife be sexually assaulted. We were stunned.
The pains increased with the next contraction and I was totally unprepared for it. I was in agony. Mr. Pete tried to tell me it would be alright, but it occurred to me that he knew even less about childbirth than I did and I told him to just shut up and leave me alone, while I begged him to stay. That went on for hours until they finally said I was complete an could push.
I didn't realize that the doctor who saw me for all my prenatal visits would not be there during the pushing. A nurse was with me. I would push and the baby would come down, but then his head would go back up (I later learned that was perfectly NORMAL). The nurse acted discouraged. I felt as if I was taking every body's time.
I should also mention that I grew up in a household with my uncle who had had some sort of a birth injury from a botched birth. That had been impressed upon me since I was a kid.
So with no progress, and the baby starting to show distress, when they suggested a C-section, I felt as if I had no choice to go through with it.
For a while after that birth I was shattered, I remember sitting stunned in the hospital bed listening to Mr. Pete on the phone telling friend and family that we had had the baby and that I "was fine."
I wasn't fine. I was numb. I was sad. I was in a lot of pain. And it's hard to admit it now but for a while, as I looked at my baby, I blamed him for what had happened to me. I don't think our bonding took off the way it should have because of the emotional junk I was going through. It wasn't a beautiful birth. And as I was wheeled out to the car to go home a few days later I kept wondering what the hell had just happened to me.
Afterwards I told myself that my C-section was necessary, that it had saved my life and my baby's (with Apgars of 9 and 9) life and that I should put the trauma of that day behind me. But one day, as I was walking my baby through the grocery store, I came upon the book, A Good Birth, A Safe Birth, and was shocked to see my birth story unfold almost word for word on the pages.
As it turns out, mine wasn't such an unusual birth after all, AND it could have gone another way - a better way - a much less traumatic way for me and my baby.
Before my next pregnancy (which was four years later because of sexual dysfunction and emotional distress brought on by the birth trauma), I did my homework. I read everything I could get my hands on. I attended ICAN meetings. Eventually I had a successful hospital VBAC, and more children.
Along the way, I met women who were so traumatized by their first birth experience that they did not have any more children. I also met women who loved their children so much that despite the trauma of their first births, they went on to have Cesareans seven or eight more times.
So I kind of resent it when I hear reports that the Pope said this was an irresponsibility - although it is. But it's not the irresponsibility of the parents but of our over medical systems with eyes to the bottom line and fears of litigation, that do not thoroughly educate or inform women and then coerces and even misleads them into having surgeries that could have and should have been avoided.
Please note that I'm not saying all Cesareans are bad. My daughter was a cord -prolapse and delivering her abdominally was a medical necessity - but that's the exception not the rule.
I wrote about this a few years ago. The practices surrounding birth in Western countries are sadly not the best. There are Catholic women who overcome them to continue to have children, even if it means multiple surgeries.
The catechism is clear about the gift of children in marriage:
1652 "By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory."
Children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to the good of the parents themselves. God himself said: "It is not good that man should be alone," and "from the beginning [he] made them male and female"; wishing to associate them in a special way in his own creative work, God blessed man and woman with the words: "Be fruitful and multiply." Hence, true married love and the whole structure of family life which results from it, without diminishment of the other ends of marriage, are directed to disposing the spouses to cooperate valiantly with the love of the Creator and Savior, who through them will increase and enrich his family from day to day.
2366 Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful.
The terms "naturally" or "fruitful" are not used accidentally. It is natural for children to be conceived and born. Just like a rich field, a woman's body can be fruitful when it is carefully cared for. A field that utilizes too much of the wrong modern technology quickly burns itself out and fails to produce a rich harvest. In the same way I believe that the overuse and abuse of modern technology has significantly caused women to protect themselves by bearing fewer children. Having a typical hospital birth experience is expensive and even threatening. Is it any wonder then that most Catholic families, even using NFP, opt for smaller family sizes? Who can blame a woman for not wanting to suffer those types of birth experiences every time she has a baby?
Rather than admonishing the woman for bravely facing her 8th major surgical procedure to deliver her precious baby, how about proactively encouraging Catholic doctors and midwives to help women to honor the design of their bodies to bring forth babies the old fashioned way! But if Cesareans truly are necessary (not arbitrary or to cover up iatrogenically produced problems) then perhaps we can make them more woman and family friendly and encourage women to VBAC with subsequent pregnancies.
As for this comment:Well, God gives the means, but sometimes He overrides it. That's how I once had two babies 15 months apart. But you know, every child we had after our third one was in some ways an irresponsibility. There were times we had no money, there were times we had no health insurance. There were times we were completely over our heads. But I think because we did trust in God, that we were blessed, and we got through it, just like our parents and grandparents.
That woman might say 'no, I trust in God.’ But, look, God gives you means to be responsible. Some think that -- excuse the language -- that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood.
And frankly it's not too bad being like rabbits - they are pretty good for caring for their babies! I'm glad I had every one of my little bunnies!
Other posts on the topic of birth:
Overcoming a Difficult Childbirth