Tag: children

Same-Sex Marriage Wasn’t Decided Today

It was decided decades ago, perhaps even almost 100 years ago. The United States population did not wake up a few years ago and say, “Hey, we want to redefine…

water-drop-384649_640 It was decided decades ago, perhaps even almost 100 years ago. The United States population did not wake up a few years ago and say, “Hey, we want to redefine marriage.” We have been living the redefinition of marriage for much longer.

Some will point to the 7th Lambeth Conference in 1930, whereby the Anglican Church allowed for the use of birth control by married couples. Soon after, many other Christian denominations followed suit.

Fast forward to 1968. One year before the summer of love, Pope Paul VI published his encyclical Humanae Vitae, which set forth the Catholic Church’s unchanged teaching – contraception had been and was still inconsistent with the married vocation. However, many people, lay and clerical alike, had expected a different response from Rome. Regardless of the content of the encyclical, they started to live as if the Church had in fact approved the use of contraception, for everyone, not just married couples.

Christians of all types had chosen to ignore Church teaching of almost 2,000 years.

1968 also gave us the SCOTUS decision Griswold v. Connecticut, which ruled that married couples had a right to have access to contraception. For all practical purposes – in law, religion, and practice –  sex had been separated from marriage and procreation. Marriage had been separated from procreation and maybe even sex. The fundamental definition of marriage had changed. Even though the very word “matrimony” derives from the Latin word “mater” [“mother”], marriage was being lived as if it wasn’t about a creating a safe space for children and their mothers and fathers.

In her book Call the MidwifeJennifer Worth, observed the effects of the pill in the London neighborhood where she worked:

The Pill was introduced in the early 1960s and modern woman was born. Women were no longer going to be tied to the cycle of endless babies; they were going to be themselves. With the Pill came what we now call the sexual revolution. Women could, for the first time in history, be like men, and enjoy sex for its own sake. In the late 1950s we had eighty to a hundred deliveries a month in our books. In 1963 the number had dropped to four or five a month. Now that is some social change!

That is some change, indeed. Perhaps it accounts for the logical separation of children from sex and marriage. After all, our personal experiences do shape our thinking.

Recall, it wasn’t so long before the widespread acceptance of contraception that many states had laws about common-law marriages. For example, some states considered an unmarried couple who checked into a hotel room together to be common law wedded…because sex had something to do with children and society thought that the children who might be born of a sexual union had a right to the stability of the marital union of their parents. Such a thought looks archaic now when more than 40% of births are to single moms and parenthood outside of marriage has become a celebrity factor.

I’m not convinced of the efficacy of laws governing common law marriages, but I do think they point to an underlying reality about sex…

Common-law marriages  were countered by the increasing availability of no-fault divorce throughout the 20th century. It also facilitated the sexual revolution. As a common practice it gained traction in 1969 (the year of the summer of love) and mowed down thousands if not millions of families in the 70s and 80s, and well beyond.

We have had decades of living marriage as if children were not an essential part of it. This has nothing to do with infertility; this is about people consciously impeding sexual intercourse from it’s not infrequent end. The end of sex became the orgasm, not the child or even the union.

The Catholic Church proposes a context for sex in which the orgasm was not just something experienced on the physical level, but also on the spiritual, emotional, and psychological levels. It was supposed to be a physical experience indicative of a procreative love that would increase not only the love of the spouses for each other, but the numbers of people who would be part of the communion of love.

Think about it. From a Christian perspective, sex is not about replacing the population and hoping there’s someone to pay your social security or wipe your bottom when you’re old and incapacitated. Woman and man existed as sexually differentiated beings from the beginning, before original sin. They were told to go forth and multiply before death, the consequence of sin, existed.

Made in the image and likeness of God, the original husband and wife were invited to be cooperators with God. They were invited to spread and increase love. In fact, Aquinas argues that the physical pleasures of sex (e.g. orgasm) would have been greater before original sin. The difficulties and sufferings associated with marriage and children were not part of the original plan for humanity.

Additionally, for millennia, differing cultures and religions have recognized a distinction between procreative sex and non-procreative sex. The former deserved social and political protection because of the potential of a child. The latter, while certainly not unknown, was never seen to require that kind of protection; in and of its nature, it could not produce a child even if deeply desired.

But things change, don’t they? Everyone who woke up this morning to the news that SCOTUS declared same-sex marriage a right, had already been immersed, if not an actual participant, in societal practices which separated children and permanent commitment from marriage.

The redefinition of marriage as formalized today in Obergefell v. Hodges was only a logical – even a “natural” conclusion  – of how marriage has been lived already.

So what’s next? Well, if you want to restore marriage to its original meaning, start with living it and helping others to live it. Married people haven’t done the best example of witnessing that this kind of love is even possible. And those who try, frequently don’t receive the support they need.

Obergefell is the new Roe. There will be more legislative and court battles. But the most effective tool will be to live and support marriage and family according to our state in life. That witness, if lived by enough people, will become the new-new-normal. Christianity itself evidences the impact of personal witness.

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How To Make A Baby

Let me share with you two articles that I never would have put together except for the very, very different ways in which they approach human procreation. The New York…

Let me share with you two articles that I never would have put together except for the very, very different ways in which they approach human procreation.

The New York Times had one of those #FirstWorld, first person narratives by the spouse of a lesbian couple desperate to get pregnant. As it turns out, a friend and her husband decide that they will donate his sperm to this woman and her spouse. The author flies out to collect the sperm and inseminate herself. Here’s how she describes the process of making a baby:

I had packed some corn-griddle cakes with black beans for Wilson [her sperm donor], thinking it could be funny but also seem like a sweet barter exchange. My friend kept the car purring at the curb as I paced outside Wilson’s stoop until he emerged, handed over the jar with its precious contents and gave me a quick hug. Then off we went, my friend peeling out as I pushed the jar under my shirt for warmth.

Back at her place, with my hips hoisted on pillows, I used an oral syringe to inseminate myself. Devoid of any sexual act, I felt like an amoeba trying to reproduce itself, or a teenager experimenting with a bizarre science project. I didn’t feel like an adult or mother. I certainly didn’t feel like this could ever result in a gorgeous, sweet baby. [Emphasis mine.]

Anyone who’s even the least familiar with my thoughts and views knows that I’m not a fan of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) and that I thoroughly agree with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

But this description was not written by me. It’s written by someone on board with the idea of separating procreation from sex.

The second article was in the National Catholic Reporter, written by Melinda Henneberger. The article investigates allegations that throughout the 1970s and into the 1990s children in Chile were stolen from the poor to be given to the rich, often with the help of Catholic institutions.

Can I believe it? Yep. The Catholic Church does not always execute her plans perfectly. She’s made up of fallible human beings who are also influenced by the surrounding culture. History is replete with examples of institutions, religious and governmental, deciding that they know better than the individuals in question.

Is it true? Possibly. We’ll see what comes out as the investigation proceeds.

But here’s what struck me about the article: the articulation of how new life is brought into the world.

One of the couples interviewed are Hernán and Rosa, a farm hand and a seasonal worker respectively, whose healthy twins supposedly died soon after birth. However, they were given no documentation and never saw the infants’ bodies, etc. They still hope that their sons are alive and that they might meet them despite potentially significant disparities in their socioeconomic status. Here’s the beautiful part, when their father describes how they came to be:

“They were created by love,” Hernán added softly.

I’m not saying that the lesbian couple does not experience love or that they do not love their son. However, the stories of how each family came to “make” their children is vastly different when you listen to their own words. These are their stories told in their own words, not mine.

I searched for the word “love” in the NYT story. Couldn’t find it. If you find that I’ve missed it let me know.

While hopefully motivated by love, I can’t get over the sort of mechanistic approach that the first couple engages in. In fact, the other spouse is not even present for the do-it-yourself insemination and a little of the tension that she might be feeling as the non-biological parent of her son comes out in the article.

Now, to be fair, there are plenty of heterosexual couples who go about making a baby in the same way. Those who struggle with infertility might seem pretty mechanical about the whole process of love making/sex even if they aren’t using ART. There are also those who create babies without even thinking about it or without being intentional in their expression of love for each other or for the children they might create.

But I remain struck by the articulation of the couple in Chile, the husband’s words, “They were created by love.” It’s pure St. John Paul II. He said that children deserved to be created as a result of love. [If you know the exact reference for this, do let me know!]

And, again, to be fair, the first couple would probably make a very compelling argument that their child was created by love, including the generosity of the donor couple. However, the author never uses the word “love” herself.

Two narratives about making a baby, set apart by decades, culture, socioeconomic status, and many other differences. But one rings truer to me because the creation of those children was a direct consequence of the marital expression of love between a husband and wife.

“They were created by love.”

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Pope Francis on the Middle East Conflicts – Children “Who Cannot Smile Anymore.”

The Boston Globe’s Inés San Martín has a summary piece of Pope Francis’ involvement in the various Middle East conflicts. She quotes Pope Francis: “I think especially about the kids,…

The Boston Globe’s Inés San Martín has a summary piece of Pope Francis’ involvement in the various Middle East conflicts. She quotes Pope Francis:

“I think especially about the kids, who have been robbed of a hope for a better life, a future: kids being killed, wounded, mutilated and orphaned. Kids who as toys have the debris of war, who cannot smile anymore.”

Reminds me of my brother’s description of the average 5-year-old he would see in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2008. He said that you wouldn’t recognize it as a child’s face because of all the suffering the child had endured. The faces reminded him of a 40-year-old who’s had a really, really tough life. Only for these children that intense suffering has been crammed into a short five years, half of which probably wasn’t able to be remembered. But that suffering has left it’s mark.

We need to get back to that space in June when he and Presidents of Israel and Palestine gathered to pray for peace, not physically. But spiritually.


Olive tree from the Pope’s prayer gathering with the President’s of Israel and Palestine. I took this picture in mid June while at the Vatican for a conference.

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How Much Money Do You Have In Your Bank Account?

A recent HuffPo article by Sylvia Bass, “To the Lady Ashamed of Being Pregnant With Her Fourth,” reminded me of a piece I wrote a few years ago. Bass writes:…

A recent HuffPo article by Sylvia Bass, “To the Lady Ashamed of Being Pregnant With Her Fourth,” reminded me of a piece I wrote a few years ago.

Bass writes:

Countless strangers in grocery stores have seen me with my three little ones and impertinently asked me how many children I am planning on having. I don’t know, person I have never met before. Tell you what: How about next week, I will bring my husband here and all three of us will discuss our family planning and come up with a number you find suitable. Or figure out which ones to eliminate if you feel I have too many already. But honestly, the only answer for the impertinent question of how many children I am going to have is all of them.

I wrote:

Before I was married, the seemingly unceasing question was: “When are you going to get married?” Mind you, I wasn’t in a prolonged, serious relationship. I was asked simply because I did not have a ring on my finger.

Yet since my husband and I got married, the constant question has changed to: “When are you going to have a baby?” To be honest, until recently, I didn’t have much of a polite answer. In fact, I saved my choice response for a friend of the family whom I don’t know well, when he made that inquiry a few months ago at a party. To his question, I smiled and responded, “How much money do you have in your bank account?” Flummoxed, he looked at me and sputtered through a few utterances until he said something along the lines that it was a strange question for me to be asking since that’s a personal matter. I took the opportunity to explain calmly that I felt similarly about his question of me.

As I mention in the article, I can’t claim credit for the response. I got it from the father of a large family, but it works well for many situations.

Granted, there are some people who would reply, “Bank account? Naaah, I just hide my money in my mattress.” “And how much money have you got in your mattress/suitcase/safe/or other hiding spot?”

And the best answer I’ve heard to the question of when are you going to stop having children?:

When we decide to stop having hot sex.

A friend of mine told me that his sister was in the store with three of her children and a woman came up to her, pointed to the children, and said, “Does your mother know about this?” Imagine her reaction when she learned there were four more at home… That’s when you wish the store cameras had audio. And that you had access to them.

Bass’s piece is worth a read and it confirms my thinking that it’s not such a bad thing to find a subtle and/or humorous way to remind perfect strangers and others who really don’t have a right to ask that it’s…none of their business...whether we’re talking about families with lots of children, some children, or no children.

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