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Caesareans and responsible parenthood

kidsAs most of the Catholic world was reeling from the now infamous rabbit comments of Pope Francis my heart was breaking for an unnamed woman who had publicly been shamed for her personal situation.

As I read the text of the Holy Father’s interview I took a deep breath in.

The mother was pregnant with her eighth child after seven caesareans sections.  She could be me.

Then, the heartbreaking realisation that Pope Francis would also reproach us for being irresponsible parents.   I felt chastised and discouraged.

It is true that in order to be good Catholics we do not have to bring children into the world one after the other, without thought or consideration for our life circumstances.

It is also true that God has given us the gift of being able to read our fertility through the various methods of Natural Family Planning.  But Natural Family Planning is not contraception.  It is to be used only for grave reasons while still remaining open to the possibility of new life.

Is it not also true that faithfulness and trust in God are essential elements in the Christian life?

My thoughts turned to this courageous mother and her situation.  As more deeper details are not given of her life I wondered first if maybe her doctor had okayed a further pregnancy at the birth of her last child. But given the strong words Pope Francis used, I suspect that most likely was not the case.

Did she have all of her children in quick succession as I have? Had she made the decision with her husband that their situation was grave enough to warrant the use of Natural Family Planning, but found that God continued to bless them with children over and over?

I wonder if this mother has had to repeatedly speak up in defense of her faith after being reprimanded by medical professionals on multiple occasions for being “irresponsible” for refusing to be sterilised.  Maybe, like me, she had been yelled at for this decision.  Maybe, her heart had sunk in disbelief when the doctor told her a dispensation for her sterilisation could be obtained from the local bishop, and that this was commonplace.

Has she had to defend her husband’s integrity as it was brought into question because instead of attending medical appointments he stayed home with the other children?

Maybe like me, she fought illness during her pregnancies… gestational diabetes, obstetric cholestasis, or other conditions, which cause suffering not only for her but for her loved ones.

Or maybe she was told her life, and that of her unborn child, hung in the balance this time.  A serious complication may have developed such as placenta previa, or accreta, or percreta.  Maybe the doctors were concerned that she would have a catastrophic hemorrhage either before birth or at the time of delivery.

If so, I know her pain.  I know how much she suffers.  I also know that she does not want to leave her children without a mother;  her husband without a wife.

How do I know?  These have been my experiences while trying to faithfully live out my vocation as a wife and mother.  There is nothing else one can do in this situation but trust in God.

I know of a mother who died a week after the birth of her fourth child.  The baby had been born by caesarean section and the mother had contracted septic peritonitis. Earlier in the pregnancy, at just two months, the same mother had been diagnosed with a fibroid on her womb which needed to be removed for the sake of her life and that of her unborn child.  The doctors gave her three options: an abortion, hysterectomy or removal of the fibroid.  Her choice was removal of the fibroid, insisting that everything be done to ensure the life of her unborn child be preserved.

She is quoted as saying

Love and sacrifice are closely linked, like the sun and the light. We cannot love without suffering and we cannot suffer without love.

In all she did, this mother trusted in God – in His providence. I am sure she did not want to leave her children – her joy – without a mother.  But she also knew that her children’s life must come before hers.  She also knew that what ever it took, she would remain faithful to the will of God.

That mother has been canonised by the Church.  She is St Gianna Beretta Molla.

In my greatest hour of need, as I almost died at the delivery of my seventh child, St Gianna interceded on my behalf before the throne of God.

Let every mother look to St Gianna for inspiration, for encouragement, for how to truly love.

There are so many faithful Catholic families in this world, trying to remain faithful to God and to their marriage vows.  I know of many heroic families who inspire and encourage as they lead by courageous example. Christ has asked us to take up our cross and follow him daily.  These families know sacrifice – whether there are many children, no children or some children.  They understand that the fruit of sacrifice and true trust in God is great joy and peace.

They also understand these words that St John Paul II spoke to the youth of New Zealand in 1986:

Since the Cross of Christ is the sign of love and salvation, we should not be surprised that all true love requires sacrifice.  Do not be afraid, then, when love makes demands.  Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice.  Do not be afraid of the Cross of Christ.  The Cross is the Tree of Life.  It is the source of all joy and peace.  It was the only way for Jesus to reach resurrection and triumph.  It is the only way for us to share in His life, now and for ever.

I think this is what is missing from Pope Francis’ comments about responsible parenthood: sacrifice.

Sacrifice and openness to life lead us to a greater trust in God.  It teaches our children what real love looks like.  It shows the world that human life, made in the image and likeness of God, has inherent dignity and as such should be cared for, protected and loved from the very first moment of its existence.  It says that parenthood is selfless.

Was the mother who Pope Francis referred to irresponsible?  Only she and God can answer that, for only they know the circumstances of her life.

Were my husband and I irresponsible for having seven children by caesarean section?  For putting our children in a situation where they may have had no mother?

Many will say yes.

I believe that each of them were known and loved by God, willed by Him into existence with a task that only they can do.  My mother often says when we are challenged “Well, which ones should never have been born?”

We have opened ourselves up in love to receive whatever gifts God had for us.  We trusted that He knows best.  Maybe our sacrifices and willingness to be open to life will count for something when we stand before Him on Judgement Day.

Value far beyond pearls

Today’s first reading is a great one for wives…

When one finds a worthy wife,
her value is far beyond pearls.
Her husband, entrusting his heart to her,
has an unfailing prize.
She brings him good, and not evil,
all the days of her life.
She obtains wool and flax
and works with loving hands.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her fingers ply the spindle.
She reaches out her hands to the poor,
and extends her arms to the needy.
Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting;
the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her a reward for her labors,
and let her works praise her at the city gates.

~ Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31

The Road Towards Humility

he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a crossI never used to think that I was proud. That was until a good friend pointed out to me that in actual fact, I was very proud indeed. I was perplexed by this observation, and could not see how I had let pride get the better of me. I am forever thankful though for this good counsel, as in the years since I have been more readily able to see myself “puffing up”.

Pride is a very dangerous sin. One that none of us is immune to. Pride is ugly.

On the other hand to be humble is to be like Our Lord Himself. He said “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)  Jesus who was so humble, so humiliated teaches us much.  St Paul writes “In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus:  His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

Where pride divides, humility unites.  Where pride hurts others, humility heals.  Where pride holds grudges, humility forgives.

Becoming humble is a daily struggle.  With every new interaction with another, every new situation, every thought that passes through the mind, pride must be stamped out quickly.

Humility and obedience are the two virtues that I see in the saints.  They are the two virtues Jesus shows us in His ultimate sacrifice for our transgressions.   They are the two main virtues that the Saints seem to always have in abundance.

These 40 days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are a great time to stamp out pride in our lives and to learn obedience, forgiveness and just how “little” we are.  For it is only through God that we have life.  It is only through God that we have the ability to do anything at all.

To help us all on our Road towards Humility here are some great pearls of wisdom from the Saints.

“If I love Jesus, I ought to resemble Him.  If I love Jesus, I ought to love what He loves, what He prefers to all else:  humility.”  St Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868)

“You aspire to great things?  Begin with little ones.  You desire to erect a very high building?  Think first of the foundation of humility.  The higher one intends it, the deeper must the foundations be laid.”  St Augustine (354-430)

“If we possessed every virtue, but lacked humility, those virtues would be without root and would not last.”  St Vincent de Paul (1580-1660)

“Believe that others are better than you in the depths of their souls, although outwardly you may appear better than they.”  St Augustine (354-430)

“We must never glance at what is good in ourselves, much less ponder over it, but we should search out what is wrong and what is lacking.  This is an excellent way of remaining humble.”  St Vincent de Paul (1580-1660)

“That man is truly humble who converts humiliation into humility.” St Bernard (1090-1153)

“Be careful to give no credit to yourself for anything; if you do, you are stealing from God, to whom alone every good thing is due.” St Vincent de Paul (1580-1660)

Learning to Trust God

We are currently trying to sell our house.  We live in a small rural town north of Auckland, on the main highway of New Zealand.  Needless to say, we get quite a bit of traffic, and plenty of stock and logging trucks rumbling past our front door every day! 

But it’s lovely here.  Our house was built in the 1960s for the Secretary of the Dairy Board.  Many people around here remember it being built.  It’s a lovely big house, grand in its own way.  Just perfect for all the children.  And I’ll be sad to let it go.  I’ll also miss the cows that hang out at our back fence.

However, it’s time to move on.  My husband works in Auckland now and it takes him 1 3/4 hours to get there and the same back again.  He has taken to staying one or two nights at a time and then coming home for a night.  This is hard for everyone, but particularly for the children who miss him so much when he is gone.

There’s been a fair amount of interest in the house – considering it can take anywhere up to a year for most houses to sell around here.  (In fact, some have been on the market for 3+ years).  Because we feel confident that this move is what God is asking of our family right now, we are hoping (praying) that the house will sell quicker than the average.

There is always the hope every day that someone will want to come and have a look.  So every day I get up and do the same round of housework, making everything tidy and clean (better than usual and boy do I like it)!

Every day I have an endless litany of “please send a buyer today Lord, please send a buyer today Lord”.  I know I sound just like a child with the thought that if I keep pestering enough then God will eventually give in, send someone along who is going to pay exactly what we want and all will be well!

And you know what, he does send people.  Just enough to keep us going and know that somebody is interested enough to come and have a look.  Just enough for us to know that yes, He is listening, He does know our need, but that He knows best and it will happen in His own good time.

Meanwhile, I need to learn to trust.  To have patience (when will I learn that virtue?)  To accept that there may be a reason why we must wait just a little bit longer.

I am reminded of the Scripture

“Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well.”  Matthew 6:33

The house, I keep telling myself, is just a temporal thing.  Yes, it’s necessary for us, we need a roof over our heads, (and I confess, I do like a nice house), but it is not as important as keeping focused on God.  The whole point of this move is to serve Him better through working more fully in the pro-life movement.  It would be a shame to loose sight of that now and get too caught up in the trivial side of things.

In fact, Jesus promises us that all that we need (not want) will be given to us if we just keep our hearts united with His.

And you know, in the moments I manage to trust God entirely, everything else fades away and there is a peace.  A quiet, accepting peace.

Remembering Familiaris Consortio

As this blog’s name is inspired by the words of Blessed John Paul II in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, I thought I would share here a blog post I recently wrote for Family Life International NZ.

Thirty years ago, Blessed John Paul II wrote a letter exhorting the Christian family.  That apostolic exhortation was “Familiaris Consortio”or “The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World”.

Three decades have passed since its writing, and the wisdom contained within its pages is just as relevant, if not even more so.  This exhortation is a great reflection on marriage, the family, the Church and society.

For today’s parents who have not yet read this document, I encourage you to do so.  There is a whole generation of families who could now benefit from reflecting on the words that Blessed John Paul II gave to us regarding the family…  (continue reading here)

The Value of Books

We have just put our house on the market and I have been a very busy beaver tidying, cleaning and clearing away clutter. One of the hardest jobs has been going through the book shelves and culling my (as I have discovered) wonderful collection of books.

In this day and age when it is so easy to access information on the internet, it is not often that I need to turn to my books.  So dusting the covers was a real joy as I discovered titles that I once enjoyed (and many whose words I have yet to read)!

I have a very old copy of “Emma” given to me by my Godmother on the occasion of my Confirmation.  Not a first edition, but it was hers as a youngster, and I will treasure it always.  There are quite a number of parenting books – some which I have read cover to cover, and others which I must read.  Books on Blessed John Paul II and others written by him, Lives of the Saints and a real treasure trove of pro-life titles.

These books will be around for as long as I wish to keep them in my possession.  The wisdom contained within those covers – new and old – is there for the taking.  While searching on Google is great for getting instant information and enjoyment, books hold secrets that can only be unlocked by opening the cover.

While, books are available to download, I am certain there will always be a place for the humble hand-held, page-turning book.  I hope in our new home, we will be able to make a space just for our great collection of books, so that we can all make the most of this awesome treasure!

Life, Faith and Family

I have been busy blogging over at You can view my bogging posts by following this link.  The postings are on pro-life topics, including euthanasia which is being debated in the media again right now.  I hope you can join me over there, and I will try and find the time to write something for my own blog shortly.


“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” ~Blessed John Paul II~

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