Missing moms and the cult of fertility

Buckle up: this is probably going to be long because it’s about mental health, fertility cult mindsets within the Catholic Church, and abortion and contraception.

So I found out yesterday that a woman I had met a couple times at various Catholic events when I lived in Michigan has gone missing. We’ll call her Mary, even though that’s not her real name, just because I don’t want this to be findable.

Mary just up and took off at 3 a.m. the night before last. Nobody can find her or reach her. There are now literally over a thousand people joining the search. Her cell phone was left at home and she disabled the OnStar feature in her car. She left a note. Wherever she went, it appears that she left voluntarily and really doesn’t want to be found. I guess I will have to wait and see when and where she turns up.

I met Mary through Stephanie, the woman who stepped in to be my kids’ godparent when we joined the Catholic church. We couldn’t find anyone else that we knew to do it, so a stranger volunteered.

Right away, Stephanie started introducing me to her other Catholic friends–including Mary. I’ve often said that it was the behavior of other Catholics online which led to my fairly quick disillusionment with the Church. But if I’m really honest, it was Stephanie and the friends she introduced me to, because I was not at all like them and had no desire to be.

They were all following the official teachings of the church to the letter, with a lot of their own conservative views thrown in. All were practicing NFP, a form of family planning that usually results in having lots of babies spaced closely together. Very Old School Catholic. They were also politically very conservative, very anti-abortion in every circumstance, homeschooled their kids, and felt that God ordained a woman’s true purpose to be staying home with her kids. Stephanie’s FB profile actually lists her employer as God.

I had a part-time job in a library and Stephanie asked me very early on when (not if) I was planning on quitting the job to stay home with the kids. I had to defend why I only had 3 kids, the youngest of whom was 7 years old at the time. The fact that my husband had a vasectomy (actually two, because the first one failed and that’s how we ended up with baby #3) sort of got a pass because it was a decision we made long before joining the Catholic Church. (More on that later.)

So back to Mary. She has 8 kids now, the youngest of whom is an older infant. She’s homeschooling. Her husband is reputed to be “a little controlling.” Anything else I can say about her is speculation and I’m trying to avoid that.

What I will say is that I think it’s very hard to defend having 8 kids in this day and age. Stephanie herself recently had #6, all of which were by C-section. There isn’t an exact number of C-sections that’s the safe upper limit but experts say that the health risks of repeated C-sections increase with each subsequent surgical birth. It seems irresponsible to put your own safety at risk (and potentially depriving your kids of a mother) just so you can have as many kids as you think God wants you to have.

The truth is that if Mary did indeed intentionally go missing, which it currently looks like she did, I understand it. Some women–maybe even most women–cannot take care of that many children alone without it taking a toll on their mental and physical health.

The other truth which my husband and I have discussed is that even if he hadn’t had that second vasectomy, I don’t think we would have wanted to go the NFP route after converting to the religion anyway. Poverty seems to go hand in hand with having a lot of kids in most cases that I’ve seen. We struggled enough to support the kids we did have, let alone doubling their number. It wasn’t a matter of being wealthy or not; it was that we could barely afford to support even three kids.

I do have health concerns about the pill and some non-religious sources support me on that. At the same time, I think that having 6-8 children or more is irresponsible for many reasons, from the development of each individual child to the health of the planet.

Even if I couldn’t personally tolerate the side effects of taking the pill, I don’t think it or contraception are evil. I’m sometimes conflicted about abortion but I still think it should be legal. I used to be quite the pro-choice crusader and I think that at heart I still am.

I think that the stance of the Catholic Church on this issue is detrimental to everyone. Quite honestly, I think it amounts to a fertility cult.

But even if I think it hurts men and children too, I think it’s most detrimental to women by far. Having 3 babies in 5 years left me with very fragile mental health for a good number of years. I know for sure that I would not have been able to handle having even more and I would have snapped in some form or another.

Regardless of what happened to Mary, I think that promoting an ideal of having a bunch of kids, staying home with them, and homeschooling them is a lifestyle not everyone is cut out to handle. I think more women doing so are more unhappy with it than they want to admit. But if you feel that doing so is ordained by God, how can you admit that it makes you miserable?