Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Our Lady of a Happy Birth - October 11

In the Basilica of Sant'Agostino in Rome there stands near the entrance a towering statue of the mother of Jesus. This representation of Mary was long ago dubbed the Madonna of Childbirth. She is also sometimes referred to as Our Lady of Happy Delivery or Our Lady of Childbirth. It is flanked all around with handwritten notes, birth announcements, photographs of newborn babes, pink and blue ribbons, flowers, and candles. They are taped to the wall, tucked into crevices, laid at the base, and at her feet sits a large book filled with prayers requested along with lines and lines of gratitude for prayers answered. Other shrines exist, too. There is one in Paris, France dedicated to Our Lady of Good Delivery. There is also Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery in Saint Augustine, Florida. Traditionally, these roles of Mary were celebrated on October 11, the feast of the Divine Maternity of Mary. For centuries, couples have come to Mary under these or similar titles not only asking for the gift of a child but also asking for a healthy and happy birth. It is a stunning witness to the Church’s concern for birth.

In our marriages, we are asked to be open to life, to value life, to welcome children into our families with generosity. That openness to life by necessity opens us up to the possibility of birth - real physical, messy, bloody, beautiful birth. We can and should ask that those births be blessed by Him and recognize the potential for grace during them. The births of our babies are intimately connected to our marriages and womanhood. Whatever kind of birth we have, they involve all of us – body, mind, heart, and soul. Birth is not something we need just grit our teeth through and survive. We can pray that they be healthy, of course, but we’re also invited to pray that they be happy, joyful, a time where our experience of God and our feminine genius is deepened. 

There’s no “need” for this, of course. Just like there’s no need for most of the graces God longs to pour down upon us and invites us to ask for. Our God is a God of generosity and abundance and that doesn’t stop at the first contraction. I believe that God wants to be intimately involved in the births of our children. He was so at their conception and His love and concern carry us through pregnancy and through the intense and profound moments of birth. That doesn’t mean they are going to look a certain way or that they won’t be difficult, perhaps incredibly so. But these are moments that go beyond our natural understanding into something much deeper – a deeper experience of His passion, His love, His joy, His call for us as women to be life-bearers.

As we enter into our own births or pray for those we know who are pregnant, let’s not be afraid to ask that the birth be not only healthy but beautiful. Let’s recognize that the God who concerns Himself with the number of hairs on our heads and who knows when we sit and when we stand most certainly also wants to be a part of something so intimate and important to us as birth. Let's remember that He was the intentional designer behind it all and that He is not embarrassed or scandalized by its raw physicality. The God who designed that sex be sacramental is also the one who designed for it to culminate in birth, very real birth. Let’s ask Our Lady of Childbirth to intercede for us as we and the sisters around us do the incredible work of bringing new life into the world. Let’s remember that birth matters, not only to us, but to Him, too.

Our Lady of a Happy Birth, pray for us.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Guiding Parents Through Miscarriage (We Need to Do Better.)

I've heard the story dozens of times now.

The baby's heart is no longer beating...

I'm spotting and I don't know what to do... 

The numbers don't look good and they think the baby isn't going to make it... 

I didn't even know I could name the baby let alone have a funeral... 

I had no idea what to do...

They wouldn't let me take the body...

Husband and wife in marriage are asked to be open to life. That openness to life isn't just a yes to diapers, sleepless nights, teething toddlers, noisy houses, hormonal teenagers, and a life that's no longer our own. When we open ourselves to life, we also open ourselves to loss, to pain, to grief, to heartache, even to death. It's an incredibly brave act to choose to be vulnerable, to choose to take that risk, to open our hearts knowing that it might mean they will break. Too many of us know how real that risk is.

And yet, despite the fact that an estimated 10-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage (true miscarriage stats are pretty impossible to obtain), many of us have had zero guidance before or during as to what to do when it happens. Most couples that go through it have no idea what their options are and are left to figure it out on their own and do it in the midst of shock, grief, and a difficult physical process they've never gone through before. We're told that life begins at conception, that every life has dignity, that this baby had a very real soul and yet there is a huge vacuum of information and help when it comes to miscarriage. If we are a Church that values the life of every single unborn life, we have to do better. We have to provide couples with real, practical guidance through miscarriage and stillbirth. We have to give couples information on what might happen, what recourse they have, what spiritual support they might need and what is available to them and their baby. There are some beautiful ministries out there but they are spotty and still relatively unknown to the vast majority of parishes and pastors.

I personally believe that should start in marriage preparation. It needs to be a topic addressed before a couple is going through it. Not only that but it should be taught to every seminarian and every employee of the Church that might answer the phone call from a grieving parent. In my experience, most priests have no idea how to help or even what they have the responsibility to offer. Most priests don't realize how common it is and that there are dozens of couples in their pews that have lost a child without any help or guidance from the Church during the death. Most priest don't even know that they can and should offer a funeral Mass for the unborn child or, at the very least, a memorial Mass for him or her. Most priests don't offer couples the Blessing for Parents After a Miscarriage. Some don't even know how to appropriately answer questions regarding baptism or the possibility of heaven for the unborn child.

I don't mean to place this all at the feet of priests, of course. They quite simply don't know. And how could they if they've never been taught about it or if couples aren't sharing with them when it does happen? And I certainly don't claim to have all the answers. But I do know that parents need to learn about it before it happens and I know that seminaries and parishes need to do a better job about fostering awareness for the appropriate Christian response to miscarriage and stillbirth. Every obstetrician and midwife, Catholic or not, should be well aware that Catholics (and all Christians) treat miscarriage differently and know what options to offer. Catholic hospitals need to be training every single employee who may come in contact with miscarriage in how to lovingly and appropriately respond to it (or the threat of it), from the E.R. receptionist to the med student to the pathology technicians. They should facilitate contact between the parents and a Catholic priest or parish that can help them. They should ensure that any remains in their care receive the most dignified treatment and burial possible and that parents are given the option to easily claim the remains if desired. (Don't even get me started on the fact that in our state a woman can have an abortion for any reason up to 26 weeks - and then for notoriously fuzzy "health" reasons at ANY time right up until birth - and YET a mother suffering a miscarriage in the hospital at ANY gestational age cannot have the remains without intervention from a licensed funeral director because they're...wait for it...human remains.) 

A mother in shock and grief who calls the parish should receive immediate compassion and real, concrete help regarding funeral plans, how to save and treat any remains of the baby, if possible, and information regarding burial. Even better, she should receive meals and support from any bereavement ministry present in the parish. This should happen no matter what the parent's status is within the parish. A mother or father should realize that they even can make that call and that the Church of course cares deeply about the life of their little one. The death of the unborn needs to be treated with the same amount of concern with which we treat any other death in the family. In a culture where the unborn are deemed disposable, their bodies as medical waste, the Church should be shouting from the steeples the opposite, that each of the lives of these little ones matter and the loss of any of them is a tragedy to which we will respond.

Like I said, I don't have all the answers and I hesitate to post this, unsure if it comes off as to blame-y. But there's a very real problem when parents are met with blank responses to phone calls and most parents and priests alike have little to no idea how to practically and spiritually respond to miscarriage. It's because of this I've written so much about pregnancy loss and why I've included an entire chapter in a book about birth to miscarriage and loss from a practical and spiritual perspective. It's important and it's needed. I hope and pray that the more awareness we grow for this cross and the ways that we can respond as a Church, the better we will be at recognizing the dignity of every person and can better work toward an authentic culture of life.

Some other posts that might be helpful:

Friday, September 1, 2017

7 quick takes for the first of september

Ah, she's alive! I am. And it's September?! What? I shall squelch all of my perfectionist tendencies and need to be completely blog-consistent and just jump back in with some quick takes...

I had the beautiful opportunity to attend my first ever blogging conference down in Virginia. Ana Hahn graciously hosted us and it was such a wonderful weekend. From the trip down with as many bathroom stops and as much adult conversation as we wanted to the chance to finally meet in person so many of the women I've now known online for years, it was really life-giving. Each one of them was exactly how I pictured them in real life and it was so neat to solidify and grow those friendships in the flesh as well as meet some new lovely and beautiful women. The talks were challenging and encouraging and gave me so much to think and pray on as to the direction and purpose of my writing. I'm so grateful my husband pushed me to go!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Saint Ignatius May Have Eaten Churros

Because I'm crazy? impulsive? inspired? (we should go with that last one) I decided the other morning after Mass on the feast of Saint Ignatius that we needed something Spanish for dessert. He was a Spanish soldier who had a huge conversion to the Catholic Faith while recovering from a battle injury, and later went on to form the Society of Jesus, i.e. the renowned Jesuit order, in part to help fight heresy spreading in the Church. He's one of the great and most influential saints of Church history. I was partly educated at a Jesuit college where I intellectually reverted to the Church helped along by a Jesuit priest. Despite that I ended up leaving because as a whole it wasn't being very faithful to the Church, I still have a soft spot for their founder and purpose. I am pretty ignorant in Spanish food and culture (though I did take 6 years of the language in school and do remember some if that gives me any credibility?! #no) so I needed to look up the common desserts of Spain.  I settled on homemade churros. Simple ingredients all on hand, no turning on the oven in an 82 degree/no air conditioning kitchen, and basically FRIED DOUGH so...yes. Do I have any idea if Saint Ignatius ate churros? Not a bit. But I'm pretty sure he would have given the chance. I'm not sure historical accuracy is relevant here. It's the intention, right? We're celebrating a great saint, his homeland, and my kids are learning that feast days = delicious.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Breastfeeding Support that Made a Difference

It's World Breastfeeding Week so in recognition of that, I'm sharing at Elizabeth Ministry about my experience with breastfeeding support. 

...It’s been over a decade of nursing that I’ve now put in. Five babies to raise with a few months of breaks here and there means I’ve spent the better part of the last thirteen years with a breastfeeding child. I am so grateful for the ability to have successfully nursed all of them and the support that’s made it so much more possible to do...

Thursday, July 27, 2017

N.F.P. is Good for Men, Too.

It's Natural Family Planning week! Cue the parades and trumpets! (Can we insert a slight pause for amusing and/or hysterical images of what would constitute NFP related parade floats? *snicker* Okay, unpause.)

A lot is said about how good fertility awareness and NFP methods are for women. And it's true. Fertility awareness respects our dignity and intelligence. It treats us as whole women and honors the natural design of our bodies. It helps us diagnose and treat any underlying medical conditions like endometriosis, PCOS, infertility, hormone imbalances, and more. It can literally help prevent a miscarriage and save a baby's life. It can help us have more informed and healthier births. The effectiveness rates are virtually on par with any chemical and unlike those, it can actually helps us get pregnant. It doesn't make the womb a hostile environment for pregnancy so that any baby that does get conceived has a chance of being passively aborted. It doesn't come with that pesky first class carcinogen tag, the risk of stroke, blood clots, depression, weight gain, infertility, death, or that annoying chance of ripping a hole in your uterus. 

But NFP is profoundly good for men, too.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Cake for Saint Benedict's Day

Since having our own Benedict, I've been trying to think up some ideas for celebrating the great saint's feast day in our home with some special food. Eggs Benedict was obvious, of course, but I'm 99% certain my kids wouldn't actually enjoy that or consider it a treat! I ended up making a simple cookie cake and decorating it a la the Saint Benedict medal using some leftover frosting sitting handily in the fridge. (Frosting lasts forever, you guys. I think it was from Ben's birthday like two months ago?) I used this recipe. (Note to self: next time cook for just 2 minutes less.) It wasn't my best piping job by far but the feast day boy loved it. We spent some time before eating it going over the symbolism that covers both front and back of the actual medal. It's so powerful! I used to have a St. Benedict crucifix that I wore every day around my neck but it broke several years ago and I replaced it with the JPII papal crucifix. I think I might need to add a simple Saint Benedict medal to the chain, though. One of these days I'll have to get to reading The Rule of Saint Benedict as well!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Smithy-Style Birthday for a Junior Blacksmith

Our oldest turned thirteen this past week! The kid kind of amazes me. His latest obsession is blacksmithing. After learning how to build a backyard mini forge, he got all the materials and we let him set it up on our property. He'd love to apprentice somewhere and learn traditional smithing so we'll have to see if the opportunity opens up somewhere for him. He spends hours a day making his own charcoal in the way back yard to use in the forge. So far, his wares are mostly arrowheads but he also made me a rustic little hook for the house! I love it. He so proudly presented it to me one day in the kitchen and promised me some more. He was in his glory when we had people over for his birthday and he could share this little passion with them. After explaining how he does it all (to a very patient audience), he then demonstrated how he forges an arrowhead. 

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