Elena and her first child in 1989
Back in 1989, I went to a La Leche League meeting to make some new friends and to get some support for my breastfeeding adventure. Within an hour or so I had made friends with another new mom of a baby boy. As we chatted I discovered that her birth experience was almost identical to mine. She had entered the hospital, had her membranes ruptured, pitocin started, and an epidural. The baby was shortly thereafter in fetal distress and an “emergency” C-section (that took an hour before they could get her into an operating room) ensued with delivery of a robust and healthy infant with great APGARs. It was wonderful to find someone else who would speak openly about her experience. She confirmed for me that I was not a terrible, crazy person for not being “just grateful” that I had a healthy baby, and that wishing for a better atraumatic birth experience experience didn’t make me neurotic! This mom felt everything that I felt and soon we were both in tears recalling our birth traumas.
Then my new-found friend said something that I will never forget. She stood there with her teeth and fists clenched and said, “They will never do that to me again. I will never EVER have another baby.”
I never saw her again after that. I have often thought about her though. I wonder if she ever decided to have more children, or if the trauma of her first experience kept her away from her original dream of having a large family.
Over the years I have participated in many discussions and forums about Catholics being open to new life. The discussions have pretty much centered around NFP vs. artificial birth control, or what was a grave or serious reason to be using NFP. But I have never read or been in a discussion where the trauma of a previous birth was a reason for not having or postponing another pregnancy.
Kimberly Hahn, author, speaker, homeschooler and wife of Professor Scott Hahn, had six Cesareans. She talked a lot about her birth experiences on some of her taped talks to Catholic audiences. On one tape in particular she talked about the fear, dread and sorrow she experienced the night before one of her scheduled C-section and how alone she felt. The rest of her family was so excited about the new baby that would be coming the next day, but she knew the physical and medical hardships she alone was going to face to bring that new baby into the world. She knew what was coming, because she had done it before.
In her book, Life Giving Love, Mrs. Hahn also wrote about a mother who was brought into the hospital with an infant in extreme fetal distress and her emergency Cesarean was performed before her anesthetic could take effect. Her husband held her body down while she was being cut open.
I personally know a few Catholic homeschool moms who had all of their children by Cesarean. All of these women had husbands in jobs with great health insurance. I wonder if more VBACs would have been encouraged if all of the medical expenses would have been out of pocket.
I mention these examples, because while the practices surrounding birth in this country are sadly not the best, there are Catholic women who overcome them to continue to have children, even if it means multiple surgeries. But what of women like my La Leche League friend who are so traumatized by what they experienced in childbirth that they cannot or will not bring themselves to ever go through childbirth again? Is part of what today’s moms face in a standard hospital birth partly to blame for why Catholic women practice strict NFP or even artificial birth control?
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.
The catechism also says:
2366 Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful.
I don’t think this “natural” term of “fruitful” is an accident. 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 perhaps subtly and significantly caused women to protect themselves by bearing fewer children. Having a typical hospital birth experience (the only kind that is available to most women in this country) is expensive and even threatening. Is it any wonder then that most Catholic families even with NFP opt for smaller family sizes? And who can blame a woman for not wanting to suffer those type of birth experiences every time she has a baby.
While I can find all types of comments and birth experiences related to this on VBAC and childbirth boards, I have never read anything about this from a Catholic perspective. I did once correspond with Kimberly Hahn about this. She was upset that some of the Catholic moms she knew were touting homebirth as “THE CATHOLIC WAY” to give birth. While I would never go that far, shouldn’t Catholics be concerned about medical practices and procedures that discourage women from having children? Shouldn’t dignity and respect during birth be as much a Social Justice issue as any other that looks out for the dignity of the person?
I think it’s the big elephant in the room that never gets acknowledgement. Until we can look at the way women are forced to birth in this country and put out some alternatives to assembly line prenatal care and births, talking up “openness to new life” may be a hard sell.
Copyright 2014 Elena LaVictoire