by Melanie Bettinelli on January 09, 2013
Today Lucia had her follow up visit with the pediatrician. She’s back up to her birth weight and the heart murmur they were keeping an eye on has closed. She is a perfectly healthy little girl and a very happy calm baby.
The visit was the first time all five kids have left the house together, a test for my mom and me in herding children and managing logistics. There were a couple of sticky moments but on the whole it went rather smoothly. Ben, now firmly settling into his role as middle child, did not want my mom to help him get ready. I had to do his coat and walk him to the car. But once I’d conceded and walked him through the process of getting into his car seat, he was amiable enough. We managed to squeeze everyone in, with my mom doing all the lifting because I’m not supposed to wrangle anything over ten pounds right now.
When we got to the doctor we managed to get everyone out and herded into the office. Ben and Sophie accompanied Lucia and I into the checkup while Bella and Anthony stayed with my mom in the waiting room. As usual the receptionist remarked on how well behaved they are, making me wonder who these poor parents are whose kids jump off of the furniture at the doctor’s office. The visit was quick and Anthony was not ready to leave the fun toys. I had to resort to bribery, promising him some chocolate when we got home. That was enough to get his coat on and get him out the door. When we got down to the lobby, though, he plopped himself on the floor in front of the door and began to howl. I had my mom herd everyone else out to the car while I tried to coax him. After a minute I resorted to a reminder about the chocolate bribe and he again became a cooperative toddler, taking my hand to walk to the car. He fell asleep in the car on the way home, it being well past his nap time. Unfortunately the pediatrician sees newborns after lunch, which works well for avoiding germy kids but not so well for toddlers who need naps.
So that was our big excitement, hopefully for the week. Now back to my regular schedule of staying in bed most of the day with a pile of books and my laptop and the baby. And getting up to refill my water bottle, get a snack, and make lunch for the kids. I am so grateful to my mother for cooking meals, doing laundry, changing diapers, reading books, wrangling toddlers, getting kids dressed, going to the store, and all the other bits and pieces of our busy life that I can’t manage right now. On the one hand this is rather a nice little vacation from reality—except when it’s about time to take my next dose of painkillers. On the other hand, one reason I’m hiding in my room is so that I don’t crumple under the load of guilt for all the things I think I should be doing. It’s really hard to sit back, put my feet up, and hand over the reigns to someone else. I am so very grateful that I do have help and so very frustrated that I need it. However, I do think I’m managing a bit more gracefully this time. It’s hard not to feel lazy when I’m spending the day in bed and not feeling particularly bad. But I know I need to rest and recuperate.
So now back to resting, cuddling with my sweet little Lucia, reading books with the bigger kids—and trying to keep them from jumping on us.
Today Bella came in with a pile of books for me to read. We’ve been neglecting her read alouds for the past few weeks. She put the books down on my bed and then headed for the door. I was perplexed and asked where she was going. “I need to get the bounces out,” she explained. So she jumped around in the other room until her bounces were gone. Then she came in for her story time. If only I could get Anthony to follow suit. But he can be very sweet about giving Lucia kisses and hugs.
So far all the kids love to sing to their baby sister. Silent Night seems to be the Official Baby Calming Song. Even Anthony sings his own version, a recognizable little snippet of tune and words that can be made out to be,
all is bright.” I’m not sure about all being calm but all is certainly very full of love.
by Melanie Bettinelli on December 05, 2012
Often it happens that when I’m pondering a problem or working out an idea several different pieces of writing will arrive on my doorstep from diverse sources that all seem to speak to different aspects of the topic. Then I feel a need to try to bring them together in dialogue with each other so that I may then respond to them in some sort of coherent manner. But I’m never quite sure where to begin and how to organize my thoughts. Fortunately this is a blog and there is no need for a formal essay structure. Instead of going for polish, I’m going to just dive in and see what comes out. (As usual the excerpts I pull are the bits that seem most relevant to me and my argument; but you really should click through to read each piece in its entirety because I don’t think they really do the authors justice. Reading bits without context can always distort the author’s original intent.)
I’ve been thinking about what a parish community is and what it should be and in particular what the role of my local parish should be in meeting my sense of isolation and my feeling of not having an adequate community to support me in my current vocation as a mother to many young children.
A Ministry to Young Mothers?
Elizabeth Scalia’s response to Calah’s lament about the difficult of obedience in regard to NFP is one piece of the puzzle I’m putting together as she echoes my feeling that there isn’t enough community support for young mothers with larger families and that the Church is in a sense failing to help us live out our particular calling. Scalia proposes that there is a need for a specific ministry to young mothers: Open Hand, Open Heart: Ministry to Young Mothers:
There is freedom in obedience but it can sometimes seem very hard to find when life is a blur of small, unruly people who are in constant states of screaming need and one’s post-partum chemistry is all afoul; a sincere attempt at religious obedience can feel like oncoming death or madness, especially if one is not getting some sound spiritual direction, and a little help. People who have no idea what it’s like to not even be alone while in the bathroom — to have no spare minute in which to collect oneself or re-tether oneself to heaven — cannot possibly imagine the strain.
Reading Calah’s piece, I couldn’t help but wonder why parishes do not have a “young mother’s ministry”. We have Consolation/Funeral Ministry, Divorced Men’s Ministry, Teen-group Ministry, Bereavement Ministry; why not a Ministry of Succor meant to help young mothers who have passed that “new baby” moment when everyone wants to help and are now in the thick of the everyday demands of motherhood — just her and the brood and hours of unrelieved, lonely coping.
I’m envisioning a ministry whereby older moms — perhaps women confronting an empty nest, or those facing retirement with some time on their hands — can simply visit with a young mom for an hour or so, a couple times a week — at home or in a park — and be present to her in a reassuring, and most importantly, confidential way.
I am not talking about babysitting, about some woman coming in while the young mother flees for the hour — and I’m not talking about someone who helps with the housework — I’m thinking about something more in line with a woman able to come in and take one kid into her lap, and maybe rock it to sleep, while the young mother deals with another kid but also has a chance to talk, spill, vent, cry; a woman who might be a prayer companion in those moments; a woman who can identify — who understands that the young mother is neither nuts nor incompetent, just overwhelmed; a woman who can reassure her that things get better — that the job of motherhood never becomes “easy” but it gets more manageable.
I can’t tell you what comfort and balm it was to read Elizabeth’s words, to see someone who is not currently in my shoes acknowledge the need and ache of my heart and the hearts of so many of the moms of young children I have come to know here at my blog and other blogs and Facebook and all the online places that make up a virtual world. While we can to some extent comfort each other here in this virtual space, at the same time, we do need to have someone acknowledge that it isn’t enough. We need real, face-to-face community. We long to find it in our parishes and find that parish life is somehow inadequate and leaves us yearning for a missing community, for deeper communion.
What Does Help for Moms Look Like?
My initial response to Scalia’s proposal is a resounding “Yes!” but I find that Elizabeth Duffy has some reservations. She argues that perhaps there doesn’t need to be a ministry or formal program to meet every need, Instead, there needs to be a community, friendships.
There have been many comments on both posts expressing a need for some kind of mother’s ministry, and yet little consensus on the particulars of what such a ministry might do. Some have suggested a mother’s group that meets at church to commiserate. Some have suggested a committee that brings meals to families with new babies. Others have suggested recruiting the grannies in the Parish to make home visits and offer respite care or companionship to young mothers. All are worthy suggestions, and I’ve seen all of them done, in different communities at different times, with varying degrees of success.
But when it comes to naming a one-size-fits-all nationwide ministry within the Catholic Church to meet the needs of all mothers of young children, I think we’re grasping at straws. Here’s why:
Mothers come in all shapes and sizes, and at different times in their lives, they need different things.
[. . .]
It’s probably reasonable to look to the Church for help for young mothers, and yet in hindsight, the best help the Church could have provided me, and did provide me, was Sacramental support and a teaching authority that, while challenging on the whole, has led to a richer life than I would have designed for myself. I’m glad I followed it, even at the times I was most tempted to stray.
Now that I’ve had a chance to catch my breath as a mother and volunteer at my Parish as a catechist, I can see just how much our Parish does with very limited resources. The ministries that are already in place are performed by the same handful of volunteers who make everything in our Parish happen. The Parish council is composed of the same people who do Faith formation. Saint Ann’s altar society also does funeral meals. Knights of columbus IS the Buildings and Grounds committee. Who can do more for the Parish than they’re already doing? We’re all doing the best we can.
[. . .]
I think we fall into the same trap when we make demands of the Church, holding that wherever I have a vested interest, the Church must meet my needs. I’m being chaste, therefore the Church must be my matchmaker. I’m not using birth control, so the Church must be my nanny. I’m fighting a culture war, so the Church must provide me with beautiful liturgy, better music, and fine art.
The Church is Christ’s body on earth, and as such, it doesn’t really owe any of us anything.
On the contrary, we owe Christ and his body on earth good marriages strengthened over time by our individual and gradual perfection in virtue; we owe him fidelity even at the times when being faithful causes us suffering; we owe him the best music, art and liturgy we can provide because it’s balm for a suffering body, not necessarily because bad art is an affront to me, personally.
And we all owe the Church our open eyes, and whatever able bodies our family can provide to meet the needs of our Parish community.
I agree with Duffy to an extent. Perhaps she is right that there can no single ministry that will serve the needs of mothers. And yet, I think her response, thoughtful and loving as it is, doesn’t adequately address the root questions that Calah’s post evokes and to which Scalia is responding: Why it is that the young mothers feel the Church community is failing to support them? If everyone in the parish is really doing all they can, why do young moms feel so isolated and cut off? Is this really the best the Church can do? I’m sorry but Duffy’s post, much as it seemed to speak to others, left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s true but it isn’t enough to say that a ministry to young moms won’t be a universal bandaid or that we all need to do a bit more to keep our eyes open to opportunities to reach out to others. I want to dig deeper. But before I do so, there was one more piece that fell into my lap.
A Softness that Ends in Bitterness?
I don’t know of Heather King even read Scalia’s or Duffy’s posts; but her post, A Softness that Ends in Bitterness seemed to dovetail so perfectly with the conversation that it seemed like a voice joining in. King writes:
This is the kind of thing that if you’re looking for a Church that’s a social club, a fellowship, or an “experience” can seem very thin. But membership in the Mystical Body of Christ does not depend on our feelings; it depends on our orientation of heart; on where we bring and put our bodies. To be a Catholic is to enter into a relationship with Christ that is at once intimate beyond imagining and entirely anonymous, hidden, and private. Flannery O’Connor once observed: “I went to St. Mary’s as it was right around the corner and I could get there practically every morning. I went there three years and never knew a soul in that congregation or any of the priests, but it was not necessary. As soon as I went in the door I was at home.”
“To expect too much,” she wrote elsewhere, “is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.” For my own part, if I trudged alone to Confession and a distracted, lackluster priest (not that my priest was) looked up from his smart phone, barely listened, and gave me two Our Fathers every time I went for the rest of my days, that would be fine. That would be brilliant. That would be the gift of my life.
[. . .]
We do not come to Mass to have a social, an aesthetic, or even a spiritual experience (though sometimes we do, and that’s beautiful); we come to beg for mercy. We come to stand in back of the church, beat our breasts, and realize it is a complete and utter miracle that we are allowed even to be in the same room with the Alpha and the Omega, the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings; the Great Physician, the Great Priest, the Savior of the World, our One, our Only, Friend. That is why it doesn’t matter whether we have any friends at church, whether we know the priest’s name, whether he even speaks our language.
On the one hand, King is right that our participation in the Mass is not primarily “a social, aesthetic or even a spiritual experience”. She is right that our attention during the liturgy should be directed upward toward God and not toward socializing with our fellow men. However, I think the picture she paints here is inadequate representation of the reality that we gather to worship not as a group of individuals but as a community, in fact, the Body of Christ. Even when I am traveling in a foreign country and go to Mass where I don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language, that Mass will still be an opportunity for me to stand before God to plead for mercy not as an individual in singular intimate relationship with Christ but as a member of a community of brothers in relationship with each other in Christ. Moreover, the image Flannery offers up (though taken out of context and thus perhaps not adequately representing Flannery’s intent) of the lone wolf parishioner attending Mass for years on years without knowing anyone at all at their local parish strikes me as an entirely inadequate image of the ideal parish life. True, some individuals are more hermit-like than others, but the reality is that Christian life is a life of brotherhood in Christ and the kind of radical individualism in which every individual at Mass is an anonymous participant, unknown to any other, means to me a failure of community.
The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood
I’ve been reading a slim little book, The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, written by Joseph Ratzinger in 1960, which makes a different argument about the nature of liturgy:
The recognition that ekklesia (Church) and adelphotes (brotherhood) re the same thing, that the Church that fulfills herself in the celebration of the Eucharist is essentially a community of brothers, compels us to celebrate the Eucharist as a rite of brotherhood in a responsory dialogue—and not to have a lonely hierarchy facing a group of laymen each one of whom is shut off in his own missal or devotional book. The Eucharist must again become visibly the sacrament of brotherhood in order to be able to achieve its full, community-creating power. This does not imply a social dogmatism: the vocation of the individual Christian can often be fulfilled quietly in a life of retirement. But even a vocation like this is a form of brotherly service and, therefore, far from invalidating the brotherly nature of the community rite of the Church, further confirms it.
It seems to me that King is most definitely one of those” individual Christians” whose vocation is “fulfilled quietly in the life of retirement.” As was Flannery. And I respect her point of view on not needing a lot of socialization to feel connected to the parish community. The brief recognition of a friend at confession, while it may appear thin to others, lifts up her heart and confirms her experience of brotherhood. However, I don’t think that it is an adequate representation of what the life of a parish community should strive for.
Ratzinger continues the previous passage with some thoughts on what a parish’s life should be outside of the liturgy:
Consideration of the Eucharist takes us a step farther, too. Its celebration originally comprised, of course, both the liturgical meal and an ordinary, “physical” meal shared by Christians meeting together in one large unit. The liturgy and ordinary living had not yet become separated. This situation cannot be reconstructed under present circumstances, but Schurmann rightly points out that the need still remains for parishes to develop appropriate forms of community life outside the liturgy in order to supplement the liturgical gathering and make possible direct brotherly contact. The forms will vary according to circumstances, but we may make one general point: inasmuch as brotherhood in the parish is, as it were, divided up among different societies or organizations, it is necessary to keep bringing people together in larger groups in order to emphasize their relationship to the greater unity of the parish. The individual organization is justified only insofar as it serves the brotherhood of the whole community. This aim of making the parish community a true brotherhood ought to be taken very seriously. Today a trade union or a party can exist as a live and fraternal community, and so the actual experience of brotherhood for all the Christian members of a parish community can and, therefore, should become a primary goal. It would be a universal experience which transcended all barriers, of course, for in every parish there are men of different professions and often of different languages and nationalities. It is this universality which gives the parish a superior position to an organization based on any other community of interests. And the parishes ought to come to see one another as sisters, according to the words of John’s second Epistle (5:13)—sisters who, in the fellowship of their faith and love, build up together the great unity of the Mother Church, the body of the Lord
Here Ratzinger says that attendance at the liturgy by itself is not sufficient for supporting Christian brotherhood. Contra King, he suggests that there needs to be a regular coming together of large groups of the parish community outside of the liturgy in order to create an actual experience of brotherhood. Ok, I’m probably misreading King, but the implication of her post does seem to be that it’s perfectly fine for everyone at a parish to exist in anonymity, to not know another soul. And Ratzinger says, not so.
When I read this passage from Ratzinger it was an “aha!” moment that seemed very much to answer Duffy’s piece. While it’s true as Duffy says that the most important thing our parishes give us is the sacramental life, Ratzinger says that the parish also has a serious mission to provide more than just the liturgical meal. It needs to create those bonds of brotherhood. And at least in my neck of the woods the parish is seriously failing in that mission. It’s one thing for an individual to decide to be hermit-like, eschew larger gatherings and only seek out the sacramental life of the parish; but when everyone is doing it, when all a parish is is a collection of individuals showing up for Mass and a few small groups and organizations meeting separately, and when opportunities for everyone to come together to socialize either don’t exist or are few and far between, then there begins to be a lack in that direct brotherly contact and a deficit in the experience of brotherhood for all the members.
This is one reason why young mothers feel so alone. This is why our parish is failing us. I argue that it has failed to “develop appropriate forms of community life outside the liturgy in order to supplement the liturgical gathering and make possible direct brotherly contact.”’
Additionally, while Ratzinger says that smaller organizations and societies are insufficient, he also seems to assumes a plethora of them at work in the parish. I’d say that the experience of the parish community in the 60s was a different world than mine in the 21st century. Although from conversations with people who live in other parts of the country, I know my experience may not be representative of praish life in other places—Jen at Conversion Diary, for example, has written and chatted with me about her very active parish with many organizations and ministries—still, all I can write about is my own experience. In my parish and many other parishes in the Boston area even those smaller groups and organizations that Ratzinger mentions are sparse on the ground. And the ones that do exist… well, much of the time they don’t even advertise themselves in the parish bulletin. How is anyone—much less someone new to the parish—supposed to know about meetings and be able to join? I suppose it’s word of mouth?
What Should a Parish Do to Promote Brotherhood?
I’m not trying to throw myself a pity party; but I am trying to look at my own experiences and extrapolate a bit. I’ve been a newcomer in two different parishes since I moved to Massachusetts and both times I’ve found that it has taken years and years of going to Mass and trying to find organizations to join before I finally started to feel like a member of the community, before I felt that brotherhood. King says it’s not all about feelings and quoting Flannery seems to suggest that to expect the parish to fill this need, this longing for community is to expect too much and therefore is mere sentimentality that will end in bitterness. Well, I can attest to some of the bitterness; but Ratzinger’s piece seems to argue against the idea that my yearning for the experience of brotherhood is too much or that it is mere sentiment; but instead a need that the parish should make a primary goal to fulfill.
When we first moved to our current town I’d grab a copy of the bulletin every week and scour it for something that I could do, a group I could join… something to help me feel connected, to get to know people and begin to be a part of the community. Granted, my ability to join in was very limited by having an infant and a toddler and, within weeks of moving, a new pregnancy. But there has been only one activity offered at all in the last four years that was scheduled for weekday mornings and was geared toward stay-at-home moms. Sure, some of the fault can be placed at my own door. I’m very shy, an introvert. I have a hard time meeting new people and feel very anxious in new social situations. But I think that’s precisely why some parishes have newcomers ministries, to help individuals overcome those barriers to finding their footing in a new parish.
For all that ministries can’t meet every need for every individual, I do think there needs to be some formal attempts on the part of the parish community to meet some of those needs. In today’s busy, disconnected world it isn’t enough to expect individual friendships to cover all the needs of individuals.
Now to be fair, things in my parish have improved a bit in the past few months. A while back they started experimenting with reviving the practice of having coffee and donuts after Mass. At first it was an occasional thing. Then once a month or so. Finally, we’ve got to every other week. Even that little gesture has meant a great deal for my sense of belonging to a community of brothers. Lingering after Mass to have a snack and chat a it with other people in the parish has opened the door to longer conversations with the people who used to just stop and say hi and compliment our kids and to meeting new people. One family has taken to bringing a simple activity for all the kids: a pile of coloring pages and a big bin of cross stickers and a box of crayons and markers. Now a handful of children gather to color and the mothers stand around and talk to each other.
This past Sunday an older mother said she was so glad to get to meet me. She’s seen me at Mass with my kids and wanted to do so. She made a point of asking me to come to the cookie swap for moms they are having next Sunday and said her daughter would be there to help watch any kids who showed up so the moms could really have the freedom to socialize. She said she thought it was so important for moms to be able to get together to support one another. Later in the conversation we were chatting about taking the kids to the beach and I said that I seldom do because I can’t keep track of them all enough to make sure everyone is safe. She said her daughter loves kids and is a great mother’s helper and could perhaps accompany us to the beach or on other outings. (I started to wonder if she’d read Elizabeth Scalia’s article.)
No conclusion here, just more questions. Do you think your parish does enough to create an experience of brotherhood? Do parishes need to work harder than they used to considering how fragmented modern life is, how mobile people are, how many people move far from family and friends and traditional community, how many people live far from where they work, how working mothers mean that neighborhoods tend to be empty during the day leaving stay at home moms isolated and working moms too busy to connect? how do we achieve a sense of close-knit community? Should the burden of this task be on the pastor, the parish council, the individual members? Is the answer more about individuals adjusting their priorities as Duffy suggests and can the parish help them to make that transition?
by Melanie Bettinelli on November 10, 2012
Calah’s guest post this week really struck a chord with me and pulled on one string of this ball that I’ve been trying to untangle for a while. And an exchange in the comments tugged at another one. I’ve been trying to process exactly what it is about that exchange that has left me in tears. It pulls together a bunch of threads including a couple of other blog posts that I’ve been meaning to try to write about. I’m going to try to untangle it a bit here; but it’s probably going to be a bit messy and with this topic, I can guarantee you that I’m not going to clean it up. So consider this a first attempt at trying to write my way into some sort of clarity.
First, a disclaimer: I don’t have PPD. I don’t really think I’m all that depressed. Ok, maybe I’m a little depressed; but I think almost all of is really not a state of messed up internal chemistry so much as a perfectly healthy reaction to living day after day in what is what I’ve become convinced is an essentially unnatural situation, to wit: I don’t think mothers are meant to raise their children in suburban isolation.
Most days Dom goes off to work and unless I drag the kids to the library, the grocery store, to Target or on some other errand I won’t see another adult until he comes home just in time to begin the whirlwind of sitting down to dinner, getting the kids to bed, and then perhaps catching an hour or two of relaxation before going to bed. Once or twice a month we might actually meet up with other people for some activity or other; but no more than that. Arranging for playdates and other outings is exhausting and actually going to them while the socializing is wonderful int he moment and is absolutely necessary for both me and the kids because i’m an introvert it also leaves me drained and in need of recharging, and because I’m with the kids all day is finding time to recharge my depleted batteries is essentially impossible unless I spend the day trying to ignore them while losing myself in a book or I stay up far too late chasing that elusive quiet time.
Which brings us to
To be an introvert can mean any variety of solitude-seeking qualities, but in current pop-psychology (and perhaps real psychology) terms, it has most of all to do with your source of mental and emotional energy. An extrovert’s energy comes from being around and interacting with others. An introvert gets recharged by being alone. I put it this way, at least for myself: if I’m around other people all day, with no chance for solitude – even a few minutes – I don’t feel fully alive, fully myself. I don’t run from others, and I enjoy interaction with others, but it’s draining, and at the end of a day like that I can be left feeling almost as if I’m floating above myself, and I ache to touch the ground again. It’s part of the reason I’m a night owl, especially when the kids are out of school.
[. . .]
When I write, I really have to be alone, which means without a lurking fear of distraction. That is to say, I can write better in the coffee shop at Barnes and Noble surrounded by 20 people than I can at home surrounded by 4. Why? Because I know, with certainty, that those 20 other customers at B & N or the Urban Standard or Trattoria Centrale aren’t going to hit me up for a snack, a band-aid nor are they going to start fighting over Legos. That suspicion, that waiting for the next explosion at home, keeps me on edge, prevents me from fully concentrating.
This also means – and this is the part that the extroverts are going to decide is really insane – is this: say I’m in the house and everyone is occupied. Everyone’s quiet. Let’s say that the little boys aren’t even around – they’re at school – and it’s just me and the other two, and the other two are in their rooms. No one’s talking to me, there’s no music, maybe just some laughter or a bathroom door closing every once in a while.
If both of them leave – I feel different. If I’ve got work I need to be focusing on, I feel relieved.
Now! I can finally concentrate.
What Amy says about that lurking fear of distraction, that’s what makes sleepless infants and toddlers so absolutely draining. There is never a time when you are assured that they won’t interrupt you mid thought with hours-long screamfests. And for the past six years I’ve lived on the edge almost constantly.
Adrift, Seeking an Anchor
No one I think identifies the dilemma of the modern mother quite so well as Jennifer Fulwiler. So many of her pieces on the topic resonate with me and have become lenses through which I can see this world more clearly. One of her more recent pieces, especially, spoke to my current situation: The Problem of Self-Discipline and the Modern Mom:
Especially when staying with a routine involves a great amount of effort (for example, getting multiple kids to transition from one activity to the next), it requires an almost inhuman amount of willpower for one person to make it happen over and over again, day after day, with no external pressure for her to do so. When the consequences for veering from the schedule are confined to your house and won’t impact anyone else, it’s all too easy to decide to forgo the pain of keeping it up with it all, and ride a wave of inertia for a while.
This realization has made me see the importance of anchoring our family schedule to a community schedule. I look out for opportunities to get involved with regularly recurring events at the parish or with other families, in ways that aren’t too stressful for us, but will have consequences if we veer from the plan (for example, next summer, when Mother’s Day Out is out of session, we might make standing plans with another family to meet for daily Mass on a certain day of the week).
However, it must be said that arranging this kind of thing is rarely easy, and sometimes it’s not even possible. We live in a highly disconnected society
where geographically-based communities have been shattered, and there are not often obvious opportunities to connect our daily lives with others’. Especially for families with multiple babies and toddlers, the seemingly simple prospect of getting everyone in the car and driving 10 minutes to the parish church can be an endeavor of epic proportions. In my own life, I’ve been through plenty of periods when it was too difficult to break out of our suburban isolation, and I’m sure those occasions will arise again. But the realization about the role of community connectedness in my quest for self-discipline has at least helped me go easy on myself during such times. Instead of beating myself up for my failures at sticking to a clear routine, I congratulate myself for whatever successes I have in that department, acknowledging that the battle I’m fighting is a difficult one, because it’s tremendously hard to achieve high levels of discipline when you’re doing it in isolation.
I’ve read this article so many times and every time I get to this last paragraph, and especially that sentence where she says, “sometimes it’s not even possible” I burst into tears. That is exactly where I am right now: isolated and finding it absolutely impossible to break out of it. So often when I pause to take my mental temperature these days the word that comes to mind to express my emotional state is “trapped”. I feel like I’m circling the same few square feet of a cage, going over the same ground over and over and over again, hoping to find some way out and feeling so helpless and yet the bars of my cage are invisible and when I try to express my sense of being trapped to someone else all I see is befuddlement as they wonder what cage I’m talking about. Just seeing someone else expressing it as a reality: the disconnectedness I feel isn’t just in my head, is so reassuring. At least I’m not the only one. At least I’m not completely crazy.
Recreation vs. “Me Time”
In the past few years I keep struggling with this desperation for quiet, solitude, time to read and think and just be. I find myself staying up far too late at night in a desperate attempt to grasp that elusive peace that comes when I know that I’m not likely to be interrupted. But I find I can spend my entire day trying to catch that phantom something.
Do you read Abigail’s Alcove? You should. She’s a secular Carmelite in training, a homeschooling mom to five, I always find her inspiring. Hers is the next piece of the puzzle. Abigail helps me to figure out a little bit of another reason why I can never quite capture that elusive thing that I’m always chasing when she distinguishes “me time” from “our need for holy recreation:
I figured out a clear difference between “Me Time” and “Recreation.”
Me Time is selfish. It was NOT working. Me Time was when I either threw the tense, crying baby at my husband the second he came into the door after work and announced “I’m off duty now!”—or when my husband found me sobbing after another failed breastfeeding session would say “Why don’t you go to the coffee shop for a break…”
That sounds great in theory, but it didn’t work out in practice. I’d go to our only local coffee shop—which does NOT sell good coffee (only burnt) and overpriced stale baked goods, and spend money we didn’t have, eat stuff that tastes worse than I could make at home, I’d read bad Nora Roberts romance books for an hour and then come home still a mess. I’d walk in, the baby would see me and start crying for milk, my insides would get into a ball of acid and I’d think “When can I get another break from my life again…”
In my head, Me Time is something I grab as my “right” when I’m feeling overwhelmed and ungrateful about my life.
Contrast that with “recreation.”
Recreation demands foresight. Recreation is intensely individual. Recreation is a gift of play given to us by God.
Recreation demands sacrifice from the whole family. It feels uncomfortable on the front end. For example, I often grab a $3 Nice Chocolate Bar while shopping at Target without thinking about it because “It’s been a hard day and I deserve a treat.” That was a totally different experience from my husband saying I think you should spend $125 (which is a week’s worth of groceries for my family) to go to fencing lessons.” It felt really hard and weird to quote “take” that money from my family for my lessons—and the only reason I could do it was because I’d urged my husband to buy a fishing license and new pole two weeks before. (Not to mention the fear I had getting into a car leaving a young baby who won’t take a bottle yet, while I spent an hour in a gym in another town).
Yet my individual fencing lessons blessed my family beyond measure. My husband and I now have plans to fence competitively when we’re 70! (Can you imagine a sport that starts out at age 9 and yet also has an over age 70 division?) Similarly, his early morning fishing trips make him so relaxed and happy. He’s taken our family out on picnics to beautiful local fishing spots and caught fish with our kids.
Recreation is holy. It is time alone that restores you. It blesses your family. It sets up a good role model to your children and your spouse. Recreation is a fancy name for “recess”. It makes you feel like a kid again.
When you feel like a kid, you can pray better. When you pray better, you love better.
What are your holy recreation choices?
This piece spoke to me and felt like a missing piece in a jigsaw puzzle that I’d been hunting for.
Unfortunately while I see the theoretical difference between “me time” and “holy recreation,” I haven’t yet figured out how to find what my version of “holy recreation” might be. I find Abigail’s post provocative and it feels like a personal challenge to me. Yet it also feels like a conundrum to which I can’t find the answer.
I had already come to the conclusion that my constant search for enough “me time” wasn’t working. There is this hunger in me for… something and when I read this post a bell chimed deep within me and I thought: yes, that’s that I want, what she has.
Yet despite that realization I still feel stuck because I still don’t know what could possibly fill the space for “holy recreation” that Abigail finds in fencing and her husband finds in fishing.
Ever since reading this I’ve been praying about it, asking God to help me find the answer. So far all I’m getting is silence. Maybe it is still the wrong question for me and I’ve got to keep looking for the right one. Or maybe I just keep asking and the answer will come in due time.
Cri de Coeur
When we came back from Texas I was hollowed out. While it was wonderful to visit my family and to see my brother get married—I won’t soon forget the look on his face when his beautiful wife walked down the aisle to him—it was also ten days of sleep deprivation as Anthony and Ben struggled with sleeping in an unfamiliar place. And it took a week after we got back home before they were back on schedule and sleeping (mostly) through the night. Also, the last weekend we were completely awhirl in wedding and activity with family and extended family. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing everyone but all the visiting and socializing stretched me well beyond my usual hectic life and drained my batteries beyond dry.
In the week after we got back in the midst of my exhausted, depleted, overwhelmed state, I sat and wrote the following, but never published it:
You know the pre-recorded spiel that you hear before your plane takes off, the one that instructs parents to secure their own oxygen masks first before taking care of their kids? It makes perfect sense, you can’t save your child’s life if you pass out before you get their mask on. Both of you die of smoke inhalation. But if you get your own mask on first then you can be sure of being able to secure your child’s mask. Having a parent who can judge risks and meet their own needs first is actually the child’s best hope of surviving a disaster.
I feel like I’m on that plane going down and my gas mask has just dropped and my children are scared and clawing at me, screaming desperately, looking at me to make it all better. And me, I’m struggling with my own mask and yet not quite able to get it secured. I’m in a panic because I know if I fail then we all lose. And yet I also know that if I stop focusing on my own mask and try to take care of theirs then I will also fail them.
And yet…. I’m not really on a plane that’s going down. I just feel like it. And I worry that the metaphor is the wrong one. There are these two little voices whispering in my ears like the cliched cartoon of the angel and the devil. One is whispering: “Take care of your own mask,” while the other is whispering, “But doesn’t Scripture say, Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me?” The mask image is a red herring. You aren’t saving your own life, you’re being selfish and refusing the cross you’ve been given.
So if I’m not on an airplane what is the crisis? If I’m not struggling with an oxygen mask, why is it I feel like I’m suffocating? What is it that I feel like I will die if I can’t get it flowing properly?
The answer is the title of the book I finished reading on vacation, Quiet. The book didn’t create the problem, didn’t really help me see it in a new light for the problem was already there and I already saw it just as I did now. No the book just made me even more aware of the problem in the way a flashing light and loud siren make you even more aware of the flames in a burning building.
Quiet. That’s what I’m craving like a drowning man craves oxygen. Solitude.
It’s the same prickly pear bush I’ve been circling round and round and round and round. I’m an introvert. I crave solitude and quiet. I want time alone. Time to read and write and reflect. Time to pray and to get bored. Time to stare out the window and to wander down the street and to walk in the woods and just be me. Solitary me.
Before I was married I was lonely. There was a huge hole in my life. Then Dom came and suddenly that gap was plugged. And then Bella came and then Sophie and Ben and Anthony and I find my life more full that I could have ever dreamed. And oh they bring me such joy. And they give my life a shape and a purpose. I have a reason to get up and a reason to keep going. They need me and I enjoy being needed. They love me and I love them and it is very, very good indeed.
And yet… these images keep haunting me. The long walks I used to take by myself. The hours I used to spend holed up in my room hardly seeing or speaking to anyone for days at a time. Oh what bliss, what joy!
I find that the more I try to cling to little bits of precious quiet and solitude, the more cranky I become. I jealously hoard them like a dragon with a pile of gold. I resent the child who will not sleep at night, the cranky child who won’t go down at bedtime, because I see them as thieves of my precious, precious time. If there were only some guarantee that I could get some quiet somewhere else then I might be more patient. But as it is all I can see is that the one chance I have is being stolen from me. I want to generously cradle my cranky toddlers in my arms for as long as they need me but at some point I feel like I’m trying to give them water from a dry well. I just don’t have any more reserves to draw from. I’m empty and running on fumes.
And my poor husband. His love language is physical touch and I know this and I try and I try to generously respond to his need. And yet by the time he comes home I feel completely touched out. I want to scream at the kids: Don’t Touch Me! Go Away! Leave Me Alone! I know I’m neglecting his needs and that they should theoretically take precedence over the kids and myself. And yet…. I feel empty and dry as a bone. How can I give generously of myself to the ones I love, when I can’t get my own oxygen mask on first?
And so many well meaning people are so ready to give advice; but every solution so far seems to ask more of me in order to get there. I need to make friends, find someone in the neighborhood or at church or in the homeschooling group or somewhere who can help out. I need to ask for help. And yet those solutions ask of me the very things I am already too short on. How can I ask for help if I can’t breathe? I don’t have the breath to ask the question. Again, I’m an introvert. Being alone recharges me, dealing with people—especially strangers—exhausts me. I can’t find enough energy for my nearest and dearest inner circle of immediate family. Where on earth would I come up with the energy needed to call complete strangers? To make friends, to find contacts, to look for support would require So Much Energy.
So here I am caught in the loop. Anthony won’t sleep at night. I get him down and then a short time later he’s up again. The other kids wake up too. We’re all jet lagged and exhausted after a week in Texas. It was lovely and exhilarating at the time to be at my brother’s wedding, to see all the friends and family. I loved being with aunts and uncles, catching up with a cousin I haven’t seen since I was a kid and meeting his lovely wife and children. But now my batteries are even lower than before. It was nice having my parents come to visit this summer. It was lovely to have Dom on vacation and to visit the beach and the zoo and the museum and all the other things we did. But each of those takes energy and I have had nothing to replace that energy. Nowhere to refuel with the exception of that one glorious day Dom gave me for my birthday. But one day can’t fuel a month or two months. The charge I got from my birthday was spent in dealing with the needy kids the next day as they recovered from missing me while I was gone. As much as I enjoyed it, In some ways it felt like the net gain was still zero.
This time of life is hard. Very hard. I respect the fact that I won’t always have four children under seven. But I don’t think it should be quite so crushing. And I can’t help thinking that soon it’s going to be five kids. And newborns are very, very needy. They need to be held and nursed. Carried and snuggled. And of course I love that. But it’s still another person. Another person attached to me almost 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Another drain on my resources. Where, oh where am I going to find the energy to deal with one more hungry mouth that needs to be fed when I am already starving?
I want to be generous, to give and give and give and not count the cost; but I feel like I’m reaching into my pockets and coming out empty handed. I beg God for help and all I hear is silence. I drove my sister away with my constant need for her to be more, to give more, to help more. And now even that small prop is gone and I am more lonely and bereft than ever. Where is my help? Where is my hope? I hear marvelous stories of God answering prayers and sending help but I can’t help feeling it is always someone else’s prayers. So far the only answer I seem to be getting is a firm: Not Now.
I am tired of being the adult, tired of trying to secure my own mask. I want to be the little child. I want to be able to turn to the adult next to me and to have them put on my mask and to adjust the straps. I keep looking for someone else to be the responsible one. I want to be the baby, to be cared for and cherished and fed. And now and then I do feel it; but not often enough. I don’t feel that it’s reliable. If God is a parent, then lately it seems he’s too much in my own image, inconsistent, unreliable, fickle and unfathomable.
And Then This Too
When my sister moved in with us four years ago it was such a blessing in so many ways. She’s my best friend and I love her so. It was wonderful to have another woman nearby, to have someone to talk with, long discussions about literature and theology and life, the universe, and everything. And yet she is chronically sick and, well, I think the position she was in here was massively unfair to her. All my need for structure and support and community I kept putting on her poor, sick shoulders and she couldn’t bear it. We had fights, mostly my fault, as time and time again I found myself still overwhelmed and disappointed and I tried to blame her for not being able to fill the role for which she was so profoundly miscast. Not for any lack in her but because I don’t think any single person could fill the multifarious needs I have that are going unfilled.
And so after she lost her job her own depression took over and her health got even worse and instead of tending her needs, I only got more frustrated at her dependency and lashed out. Finally, she got a great offer from a friend back in Texas and moved back there. For her own good and probably mine as well.
I can see that it was a good thing for her. And yet I miss her so terribly, terribly much. When she left the bottom fell out of my world. i was devastated and I continue to grieve for her going. I’ve been in a downward spiral ever since. And of course pregnancy hasn’t made things any easier. I am so lonely. I miss her dreadfully. My best friend. We never have time to talk any more and I feel like our relationship is in stasis, frozen on ice until some future date when I have the time and energy to invest in it. Phone calls are brief and chatty and we never have those long conversations about theology and literature and life any more. I just can’t do it over the phone. Not now. And there are no words for how much that hurts.
Depression or Simply Isolated and Overwhelmed and Lacking in Support Structures?
Now I want to come back to the original topic of depression. I said I wasn’t really depressed, that I think this black cloud is mainly situational and not chemical—though the brain being the complex organ that it is I’m aware that is a radical oversimplification. I suppose I should say that, yes, I am aware that depression can be rooted in hormonal fluctuations and chemical imbalances. But I wonder how many external influences exacerbate or compound those problems. I’ve often wondered how much of PPD is rooted in simple exhaustion—all mothers of infants suffer from sleep deprivation—and in not having enough support, enough companionship and enough help. We are all trying to do too much and trying to go it too much on our own and is it any wonder we feel like we’re failing?
We aren’t meant to raise our children alone. We are meant to have community. And far too many of us lack that. Mothers of young children need a lot of support. We need extended families and friends to help out and we are so scattered and so “busy” that even the best-intentioned friends and family fail to meet our basic needs.
In the comments on Calah’s guest post someone wrote: “somebody should be staying with you and helping you out,” and someone else chimed in, “Somebody should be coming in to relieve you at certain times.” While I know both of these commenters meant well and I recognized that they were in fact identifying a key component of the problem, both comments made me want to pull my hair out. How many times have I received some such well-meaning “advice”. I was so grateful when another commenter chimed in:
I also wanted to say a word of caution to the good-intentioned people who have suggested that she needs a break. I realize that these sentiments come from a caring place, but I remember that hearing people say that to me when I was struggling through postpartum made me nuts, especially and particularly if it didn’t come with a “...and I’ll be over to your house tomorrow morning,” which it unfortunately rarely did. I guarantee that Calah already knows that she needs a break, so telling her she does isn’t providing any information she doesn’t already know. In addition, hearing something like that when you are already severely depressed adds in the potential anxiety and feelings of total overwhelmingness that come with knowing you must take a break and then trying to make that happen yourself. Quite honestly, the thought of calling a babysitter, asking a friend to come over or even asking for help from your family or husband seems overwhelming. So, then you feel guilty for not being able to pull even that together, and the cycle gets worse and deeper.
Like I said, I know it comes from a caring place. But if you find that those words are about to pass your lips and travel into the post-partum ear of a mother, make sure you follow them up with a specific plan for how you yourself will help. Don’t suggest, don’t offer. Just say you’re coming over and tell her when and with what.
Exactly. What I want most right now is not sympathy and platitudes and advice about diet and exercise and prayer and spiritual practices. What I want, what I think I need, is for someone to just show up. I know it’s totally unrealistic to expect help when I don’t ask for it, but the commenter is right. I am so under the cloud that I can’t bring myself to make phone calls, send emails, coordinate schedules, and beg for help. I just want someone to tell me “this is what I will do for you” and I want them to do it. And I need it to be regular, reliable, dependable, not just one or two token gestures, but real relief.
Well, at least, that’s what I want and what I think I need. What I really need… I don’t know. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m admitting defeat. I don’t know what I really need, I don’t know what will drive away this cloud, what will be enough to close the gaps and relieve the trapped, overwhelmed feeing. I can’t ask for help because I don’t even know what to ask for. All I can do now is put it all in God’s hands—the whole messy mess of it—and wait. Try to wait patiently and slog through each day as best I can, trusting that it will get better someday, somehow.
I don’t have a tidy conclusion and I seriously doubt the wisdom of publishing this. I know there will be comments that will drive me crazy because they miss the point. Actually, I’m not sure what the point is. The pieces of this puzzle still don’t form a picture. There are gaps, holes. And I can’t even see where they are. And yet… I think I will anyway, come what may. Maybe there is a conversation to be had. Maybe.
I cried for hours as I wrote this last night, pounding away long after everyone else was in bed, and afterwards too in the shower, in bed. I cried until I was out of tears, dry and empty and feeling like a pile of bones. I stayed up far too late. And today my eyes hurt and I feel sick. But there is this evening maybe a little space of peace. Here’s whatI finally realized: maybe right now this loneliness and lack of support is my cross to carry. Maybe these tears and this feeling of desertion are the only thing I can offer to God. So offer them I will. For now I’m going to try to ignore all the voices that say this is unbearable and I’m just going to beg Him to let me bear it one day at a time. Yes, I’m overwhelmed and isolated and yes this is not ideal and maybe not the way it’s meant to be. But today, it is what it is. I have to find a way to make today work. And tomorrow I’ll figure out tomorrow. I’ve got to stop looking at the big picture because it’s overwhelming. Today I got a letter from my OB’s office setting a date for my c-section, which I guess I’ll confirm at my appointment on Monday. And Dom found a notice about my postponed jury duty being this Thursday, when he has to be at a press conference. So many things to worry about and never enough time. But nothing I can do about any of them tonight. I’m going to go read my book and then… sleep.
by Melanie Bettinelli on October 25, 2012
To celebrate the launch of her new book,A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism, Sarah Reinhard invites all of us to spend her blog book tour praying the rosary together. Today, she shares this reflection on the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth:
Time and three babies have softened me and continue to work on me. So does my relationship with Mary. I’m glad for this, and it’s made me realize that yes, people can—and do—change. Thank God!
Now, mind you, I don’t hear Mary talking to me any more than I hear God in anything other than a thought that comes out of nowhere. The voices in my head are, sadly, all me. But over the years that I’ve been Catholic, I have been drawn, over and over, to Mary. I’ve read about her and have prayed quite a few Rosaries.
As I feel myself growing closer to her, I find that Mary’s coronation makes more sense. Jesus loved his mom so much that he gave her a crown. In my house of princesses and sparkly accessories, this is almost intuitive. A crown is almost a permanent bouquet to some people, though I think Mary likes her flowers fresh as much as the next mom.
My children do many things to show their love for me, and bringing me treasures is one of the most popular. These treasures might be drawings, favorite toys, or freshly picked dandelions. As I smile at them and enjoy their delight in sharing with me, I have an image of Jesus presenting his mother with a glorious crown, and I can imagine her pleasure. I think she accepts our little offerings with equal delight: we each bring her what we can with where we are in life. Her job is to help us grow closer to her son, who can equip us to give her even greater honor.
As we pray this decade of the rosary, let’s hold all those brave women who have said yes to difficult and challenging motherhood in our intentions in a special way. Don’t forget, too, that we are praying for an increase in all respect life intentions as part of our rosary together this month. (If you’re not familiar with how to pray the rosary, you can find great resources at Rosary Army.)
Our Father . . .
10 - Hail Mary . . .
Glory Be . . .
O My Jesus . . .
You can find a complete listing of the tour stops over at Ave Maria Press.
I wrote a review of Sarah’s beautiful book last week. I wanted to share a couple of excerpts that didn’t make it into my review. These are the passages that when I read them confirmed for me that this was a book I had to read cover to cover.
This is from Chapter Five: Fetal Age 7 Weeks.
Those little hands, flexed inside your uterus, are more than a mere developmental milestone for you and your baby. They are a reminder of the adventure about to begin. These very hands will beg for your embrace and resist your attempts to keep them clean. Those same little fingers will find their way into every mess imaginable one day. Her palms will bear the markings of finger paints as she creates your most treasured work of art. At some point, she will pick up a pencil and write you a letter or a poem. She may even help you clean the house or do the dishes with these hands that are fully formed inside of you.
God willing, you will some day see these fingers laced together in prayer to Jesus. And before you know it, these same hands that are currently smaller than a nickel will be turning the keys in the gnition of a car and leading you to places beyond your reach. Ultimately, the development of your baby’s hands is the perfect reminder to turn your gaze heavenward as you reflect on what’s happening inside of you because these are the same hands that will hold the strings of your heart.
This reflection on the sacrament of reconciliation is from Chapter 8: Fetal Age 10 Weeks:
Right now nothing is between you and your baby. This is the only time you will have this intimacy with your little one, and someday, she may run far away from you. Imagine reaching after her as she runs away from you, pursuing her own interests and getting herself hurt and bruised in the process. Wouldn’t you do anything to take away the pain, the sorrow, and the hurt?
God pursues you in the same way. You are his beloved child, and ou exist for him as though you are the only person in the world. In a world where we’re told that “nothing is personal,” here’s something that so personal that it’s made just for you.
God made you, and he longs to hold you close. Accept his hand this week and take advantage of the gift of the sacraments he’s left for you. Don’t waste a minute; do it now, before you can talk yourself out of it.
Finally, I wanted to add that one of the things I most longed for in my first pregnancy was some sort of advice on how to prepare spiritually to face the ordeal of labor. I wanted to know how to pray during labor. Were there any special prayers that women said? I wanted my labor to be a spiritual as well as a physical exercise. (As it turned out, my ordeal of a c-section was different though no less difficult than labor and it was an occasion of great grace.) One of the things I love most about this book is the section about preparing for labor and the suggestions of spiritual strategies for birth. The book also does have a short section, written by Dorian Speed, about the birth that doesn’t go as expected. I am so glad to have a book to recommend to mothers who are scared about the upcoming birth of their child that addresses these concerns so beautifully.
One last thing. I have an extra copy of A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy that I would love to put in the hands of one of my blog readers. If you are interested in winning a copy of the book, leave a comment below by next Thursday, Nov 1, and I will draw a name on Friday Nov 2.
Book Review: A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism
by Melanie Bettinelli on October 16, 2012
Next week I’ll be hosting a stop on Sarah’s blog tour for the book; but I have so much to say about this book and I couldn’t wait until next week to post my initial review of Sarah Reinhard’s A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism
Now in the sixth month of my sixth pregnancy, I’ve long since stopped looking at pregnancy books. I began leafing through my advance copy of my friend’s book as much from a sense of duty and less because I expected to find anything new and helpful. I should have known better. After a few dips here and there, I began to read the entire book cover to cover, not wanting to miss a thing.
Pregnancy is a uniquely challenging experience, not only physically, but also spiritually. Yet it is precisely this spiritual dimension that is so often neglected in books on the subject. Even the few Catholic books I’ve found, however, fail to fully address my spiritual hunger. Sarah Reinhard’s Catholic Companion to Pregnancy is the book I wanted and never found when I was throwing up daily with my first pregnancy, when I lost Francis, my second, to miscarriage, when my third pregnancy found me too tired to chase after my active toddler. It’s the book I kept hunting for with every positive test. The book I’d given up on ever finding.
The reflections on the mysteries of the rosary are themselves worth the cover price. Sarah, who I think of as Mary’s biggest fan girl, had the brilliant insight that if you pray two full rosaries (the traditional, joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries as well as the new luminous mysteries) the number of mysteries equals the 40 weeks of an average pregnancy. Beneath the “What to Expect” structure stands a second scaffolding of walking with Jesus through Mary. Additional treasures are the practical exhortations on living the Christian life, drawing on the vast wealth of traditional Catholic devotions. “Faith Focus” sections are sprinkled with quotes from the Catechism and Church documents, suggesting litanies, prayers, devotions to saints, and other pious customs. These are wonderful introductions to the depth and breadth of the Catholic tradition and help to guide the reader through the spiritual journey of pregnancy. They strike a nice balance: perfect for a convert or seeker who knows nothing about the Catholic Church, yet meaty enough for a woman deeply rooted in her faith. They extend an invitation to go deeper no matter where you are.
Also included are special focus sections on eating disorders, unexpected pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, and many more. The book concludes with sections on labor—with wonderful, concrete spiritual tips for that unique spiritual and physical challenge (Oh I wanted those as I was preparing for Bella’s birth!)—and on baptism, bringing the journey of pregnancy and childbirth to the fullest conclusion as the newborn child formally enters the Church community.
The short chapters could be read at a single sitting or you could also read a section a day and stretch a chapter over the course of the week. As I’ve found, even if you begin this book later in your pregnancy, there are not-to-be-missed gems in every chapter. If you’re like me, you won’t want to skip ahead to your current week but will happily linger on every page. This is now the book I will suggest for all expecting moms, whether on their first pregnancy or their tenth., whether deeply religious or tentatively searching.
Please check back next week for more, more, more about A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy, including excerpts from the book, exciting giveaways, and a special reflection by Sarah on the fifth glorious mystery, the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth. Also, be sure to check out all the other stops on the blog tour. The featured reflections are a perfect way to pray the rosary for the October, the Month of the Rosary and Respect Life Month.
by Melanie Bettinelli on August 18, 2012
Anthony is a new experience for us. Sure all of our kids went through that testing-boundaries toddler phase. But Anthony somehow takes it to a whole new level. He is very, very curious. Very physically able—he’s quite adept at climbing and manipulating objects. And he just seems to have a nose for mischief. We can’t seem to keep up with him. I feel bad because I get so frustrated and angry and he really doesn’t intend ill at all. He’s just a little boy who is trying to figure out the world. And sometimes he is just so adorable we have to laugh. But today took the cake.
Dom was about to get into the shower. I was brushing my hair in my room, having just finished a Facetime chat with my sister and my mom—lots of clowning from the kids, not much real conversation; but then that’s life with little ones. I looked up and saw Anthony coming toward me down the hall with very white hands and a white foot. I jumped up, groaning, and suppressing some choice cuss words as I hollered to Dom in the bathroom: “Anthony got into the Desitin. It’s all over his hands and feet. I need to get him in the tub.” So Dom came hurrying out and I rushed Anthony into the tub and began to scrub. And I was just beginning to be bewildered at how dry the substance on his hands was when Dom yelled to me from Anthony’s bedroom: “It’s not Desitin. It’s the paint!” I don’t know how I kept down the swearing at that point. I left Anthony standing in the tub and went to the bedroom to help my bewildered husband. There on the carpet was the overturned gallon can of paint that my dad had bought, planning to paint Anthony’s room for us on Monday, spreading in a big pool under the changing table and lapping at one of Ben’s favorite puzzles.
When you see a disaster your mind just stops processing. It took a minute and then I told Dom to pick up the paint can which was still leaking paint. We didn’t even know where to start cleaning all that paint off of carpet. I went back to cleaning the paint off the toddler while Dom tried to do some damage control. I suggested getting out the painting tarp and putting all the paint covered objects onto it. Then once Anthony was cleaned up I locked him in the other bedroom with Bella, Sophie and Ben and went to help with the clean up. We sopped up the puddle of paint with shop rags and then wiped down the furniture. We decided to just focus on getting the carpet dry, not trying to get the paint out of it. I think that with that volume of paint the carpet is just a loss. Anthony took his nap on our bed while we had a fan pointed at the carpet, trying to get it dry on a very wet and rainy Saturday.
by Melanie Bettinelli on July 14, 2012
Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.
from Ash Wednesday by T.S. Eliot
Reading Betty Duffy’s latest piece over at Patheos, “Things are . . . O.K.,” but I’m Ready to Care, Again, I definitely recognized myself. I all too often struggle with acedia, that not-caring feeling. I spend too much time clicking on the computer, too little time doing the boring tasks that must be done. And yet here’s my current struggle: I know from experience of four previous pregnancies that during the first trimester I feel wretched pretty much most of the time. I’m exhausted and queasy and find it hard to function normally. So I have learned that it is necessary to give myself permission to be less than the best. But there’s the danger: I give myself permission not to care too much and somehow I start to lose the ability to care at all.
It’s a terrible tightrope act, trying to achieve some semblance of balance. How do I tell the difference between acedia and real pregnancy-induced exhaustion? Am I spending the afternoon on the couch because I am genuinely tired or have I just given in, given up? I do need to recognize my limitations and accept them, accept this season of life when I move more slowly than I like and accomplish in a day only a fraction of what I would like to accomplish. I do need to accept the mess of an untidy house and gritty floors and eating off a table messy with yesterday’s crumbs and kids who eat only plain pasta for dinner because yet again I failed at planning a nutritious, balanced meal with something that everyone will like to eat. And yet I also need to strive each day to do my best, to discern motivations, to be honest about whether I am being lazy or really am tired. Except, that discernment seems like a lot of work right now. I’m not sure I care why I’m on the couch, I don’t want to get up and move. I just want to sit here and click the afternoon away, hoping the nausea and exhaustion will pass and dinner will miraculously appear. And maybe I also need to accept that that’s a part of this season too? That sometimes I’m going to err on the side of lazy? Maybe I need to stop reading blogs that tell me about the virtues of caring and of clean baseboards and of doing creative projects with my kids? Maybe I need to focus on my children, my house, my situation and keep my eye on my own work?
For everything there is a season? Is there a season for giving up, giving in, accepting less than what I think is the least I can do? Is there a season for letting go of the goal of spiritual improvement and just accepting spiritual sloth (or what closely resembles it) as a byproduct of producing a new life? For not worrying too much about how long it’s been since my last confession and how shabby and pitiful my prayer life is? Where does this voice keep coming from that tells me I need to care more? Is it guilt or God? At some point I stop caring, pick up a novel and skip Evening Prayer, skip Compline. I ease into the less uncomfortable world of literary escape and put off the business of caring to another day, knowing that God cherishes me even in the midst of my muddle, that either way the sticks fall I will have another chance and another and another.
And I turn finally, to my beloved Eliot, to poetry where I find echoes of my soul and it’s struggles, where I find the courage to stop struggling, to accept the quiet life of the dry bone:
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
[. . .]
Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us
[. . .]
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
[. . .]
Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated
And let my cry come unto Thee.
by Melanie Bettinelli on June 12, 2012
Things have been sadly quiet round here. I know you all know why. I have been feeling the effects of the first trimester: the “morning” sickness that has me gagging all day at the least provocation (Seriously, the air conditioner blowing on me? Why is that a nausea trigger?) But mainly the crushing exhaustion, which has been exacerbated by my morning lark, Anthony, who regularly crawls out of his bed between 4 and 5:30 and crawls into mine where he usually is not content to go back to sleep but instead bothers and badgers me out of my sleep. Even on the rare days when he does sleep in, he’s got my nervous system trained so that I wake up at 4 or 5 anyway and lie in bed unable to get back to sleep, waiting for the shoe to drop.
Dom has heroically been getting up with the little beggar; but usually only after I’m well and thoroughly awake and then I struggle to get back to sleep and to stay asleep with all the morning noises of the children around me. Couple this with Ben, my night owl, who regularly is still up at 9pm and with my own introvert soul, which grabs onto the quiet time after the kids are in bed and demands “just a little more time” to read and write and think before giving into the exhaustion and going to bed. All of these things mean that I have been regularly getting about 6 or 7 hours of sleep at night and very often only a 10 minute nap sitting up in the rocking chair. I am seriously sleep deprived.
And with that has come anxiety and a bad temper. A snappish tongue that lashes out at the children for being children, especially poor Anthony, who is into everything. He doesn’t try to make mischief; but he’s fifteen months old and insatiably curious and testing boundaries like mad.
My house is a messy messy mess and it’s driving me crazy. I don’t mean this to be a complaining post but I do value keeping it real and the fact is that my reality right now is rather messy. While I know for some early pregnancy is a time of joyful hope, for me it has always been a way of the cross as I lay down my own will and follow Christ in carrying a burden that some days feels like too much.
Still, even on the way of the cross there are moments of grace, there are encounters with Simon and with the various women who ease the burden. Dom has been my pillar of strength. It is hard to surrender and admit I can’t do it all, to let (or beg) him to step in and cover some of those tasks. Then there was the day when Anthony took a long nap in the morning before we went out and then fell asleep again on the way home and then woke just as I got Ben down for his nap. I was exhausted and cranky and simply could not see the way to survive until dinner. I was desperate for sleep and yet Anthony had already had his two naps for the day. I threw up my hands and begged God for the grace to get through it somehow. And wouldn’t you know it but Anthony went down for an unheard of third nap! I crept away to the office and fell asleep myself and the girls entertained themselves. And when Ben and Anthony did wake up they entertained them as well. It was nothing short of miraculous.
On one hand this pregnancy has brought about a great deal of surrender as I laid down burdens I wasn’t able to admit I couldn’t carry. On the other hand I still have a very long way to go in daily accepting that my weakness and inability to do all I think I should do are somehow God’s will for me. I have been reading He Leadeth Me by Walter Ciszek, SJ and that has been the perfect book for me right now. Yes, maybe it is a bit melodramatic to compare my experience with the first trimester to the experience of a priest in the work camps of Siberia; but I think the lessons about finding God’s will in the present moment are extremely apt.
I have so much I want to write about. So many stories and photos I long to share. But I’m too tired. They’ll have to wait.
by Melanie Bettinelli on February 05, 2012
Karen Edmisten’s new book is shipping early! I got my copy
yesterday on Tuesday (but then on Wednesday Anthony spiked a fever and I’ve been holding him almost non-stop while battling his ear infection ever since and so I was unable to finish this post.) I am honored that Karen chose to include a short poem I wrote. Although I didn’t write it directly about my own miscarriage, that experience obviously informs the piece. I wrote it when I was asked to pray for a mother who had recently lost a child to SIDS. But at the time I felt funny about publishing it. It seemed too raw as a response to a stranger’s grief. Then I remembered it almost a year later when a dear friend had a miscarriage. I went back and re-read it and found that it was good. And true. So I published it. I have been told by many women that my little poem has brought them comfort. Now, nestled inside Karen’s gem of a book, I have hopes that it will reach many more than it could tucked away here in my blog’s archives.
But oh I was going to write about Karen’s book. Did I mention what a treasure it is? I thought I was done grieving our baby Francis but as I’ve perused these pages I have found my tears flowing again. In just three weeks the anniversary is coming—five years since that terrible day. And yet that date, February 25, lies just between two wonderful anniversaries that have since joined our family’s calendar of celebrations: February 20, Anthony’s birthday, and March 4, Sophie’s birthday. I think God knew what he was doing when Sophie was due almost a year to the day from the day I lost Baby Francis. This is the way the world is, death and life so intertwined you can’t pull them apart. Had Francis not died, I’d not have my Sophie. It is a grief and a joy both. And now Anthony. It is a miracle when you consider that after the miscarriage I was told I had cancer and was going to have a hysterectomy. I went through such a dark week, thinking Bella would be the only baby I’d get to hold. And then there was Sophie… and Ben… and Anthony.
Life after miscarriage. Sometimes I feel like I don’t belong in that sisterhood of grieving mothers because mine has been such an easy cross when I know so many mothers who struggle so under such a heavy weight. But I do know that whenever I hear of a mother—or father, let’s not forget the fathers—who has lost a baby, I know my heart now reaches out in a way I don’t think it could have before.
And then there were these words, that Colleen penned recently after losing yet another of her babies:
But I hold in my heart the greatest of all consolations, the hope of heaven. For I realize, that even when my body is well past the age of bearing babies, even if I should live until I am 100, always, I will be an expectant mother, until the day I hold my babies for eternity.
I love that. I will always be an expectant mother. There is still that eagerly awaited little one, the one my arms ache to hold and that hope of a longed for meeting in heaven.
I hope that After Miscarriage finds its way into many hands, many homes, many hearts. The stories, poems, prayers and memories Karen shares are a beautiful balm for grieving parents because they are full of the healing love of Christ.
by Melanie Bettinelli on May 03, 2010
[I wrote this last year and hesitated to post it at the time. But on re-reading it I’ve decided to go ahead and put it out there. ]
God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living….
For God formed man to be imperishable;
the image of his own nature he made him.
But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world,
and they who are in his possession experience it.
Wisdom 1:13; 2:23-24.
No one scorns the haiku for being shorter than War and Peace
Nor scolds the daffodil for being briefer than a redwood
But this little life cut off so young
We mourn and cry “too soon too soon”.
Surely the Author knows when to end each tale
So should we all
For in the beginning death was not
And though there is a plan perhaps for even this little sparrow’s fall
Still we cry
For we know that a sparrow was meant to fly.