On Family Planning

I no longer have any idea how (probably a family member posted on facebook), but I recently stumbled upon a post titled “When Generosity Looks Like Selfishness” that brought up one of the problems I have with Catholicism.

To preface, the post is written by a Catholic mother for a Catholic audience. (Also, I am not familiar with the pope’s remarks, nor do I care.) In that context, I think it is a timely and well-written piece, giving a message I think should be spread far more widely in the traditional community. I actually agree with the main message of the post, and I think most of my readers will, which is that sometimes it is better for a family to wait to have another child. Sometimes it just isn’t the most prudent idea to make a baby that you don’t have the financial or emotional resources to care for properly.

I could go on about how, if there were a loving, powerful god who wanted humans to breed as much as possible, the world would probably be different. Women wouldn’t die in childbirth, or struggle with infertility, or experience miscarriages, or normally only have one child at a time, etc.

But I don’t want to focus on that today. That’s just another twist on the Problem of Evil, anyway.

Instead, I want to focus on the following paragraph of that post, the one that, frankly, pisses me off:

When I was struggling with the cross of sub-fertility, I often felt the world’s hostility and the Church’s indifference. The world doesn’t understand why we don’t “just do IVF” and people in the Church make assumptions about our level of holiness based on how well our reproductive organs work (or in this case, don’t work). There is no safe space.

This actually pisses me off in multiple ways.

First, I have more respect for people who actually follow their religion than those who try to convince people to stop following their religion while still believing it. Asking a Catholic, “Why don’t you just do IVF?” is akin to asking a Muslim “Why don’t you just draw a cartoon of Mohammed?” Both are against the rules of that person’s religion, and I would expect most people to know that. If Catholicism is true, IVF is morally wrong. I don’t think IVF is morally wrong because I no longer believe Catholicism, so I am willing to use that method if I have fertility problems and wish to become pregnant. That is consistent with my worldview. For a Catholic, using IVF is inconsistent with their worldview.

Second, I see the people who use how many children a couple has as a measure of holiness as another problem with Catholicism. Why should be blatantly obvious, but I’ll wax on about it anyway.

The thinking that some Catholics, and in particular traditional Catholics, and even more in particular members of my family, have is that only God can cause a conception of a human being. (I don’t know if there’s similar thinking for the “lower” animals.) In other words, every pregnancy, even those that end in miscarriage, is a blessing from God.

I would not have much problem with this, if it weren’t a) an unnecessary, superfluous explanation for a natural process we understand quite well, thank you, and b) just one short step from thinking that lack of children is a curse from God, a sign of wrongdoing. I also would have less problem with this way of thinking if it stopped at just “babies are a blessing”.

I don’t think I need to explain how well we understand the fertilization process. IVF, after all, involves replicating that process in the lab. I also don’t think I need to explain Occam’s Razor to my readers.

But it isn’t just the “lack of fertility must mean you’re less holy” thinking that bothers me. It’s also the fact that any relationship can be legitimized by the birth of a child.

You see, my mother has refused to attend weddings when someone she knows who has been baptized in the Catholic Church gets married outside of the Catholic Church. However, when there is a baby shower, she will go even if there was no wedding.

You might think that having a child out of wedlock would be the ultimate sign of committing adultery, a thing that would cause super-conservative Catholics to accuse the mother of evil. Not so, in my experience; there is a life, and only God can create life, so the relationship is now legitimate.

I have witnessed parents who were fighting with their daughter reconcile not because there was apology and forgiveness, but because the daughter was pregnant.

I have seen a woman undergo multiple miscarriages, one after another, because she wanted desperately to fulfill the Catholic command to have as many children as possible. I have seen the pain it causes for a woman who wants a child to undergo a miscarriage up close and personal, to say nothing of the pain it causes the husband and other family members. I have seen the fear of committing a grave sin from having sex with one’s husband when the woman does not want to become pregnant that month.

It sickens me.

In my own personal life, living with a man to whom I am not married, the only two ways I can be sure of having my parents accept my relationship are to get married in the Catholic Church or to have a baby. It does not matter how committed to each other we are. It does not matter how long we are together or how much we love each other. We have to get married as Catholics or have a baby for my family to accept him.

That sickens me, too.

I refuse, absolutely, to marry in a Catholic Church. I refuse to ask my boyfriend to get baptized in the Catholic Church so we can get married. I refuse to lie or ask him to lie. I refuse to publicize our life together, to declare our commitment to each other, with a lie. I refuse to make a vow to a god that I no longer believe even could exist, and I especially refuse to do so publicly in front of my family and friends, especially after telling them I’m an atheist. For me to marry in a Catholic Church at this point would be immoral.

I honestly see having a child at this point in my life to be immoral, too, but I feel much less strongly about it. A major difference is that I actually want to have a baby. However, I recognize all too clearly that this is a poor time of my life for such a decision. For one thing, I am still paying off college; financially, I am not in a place where I can afford a baby. For another, my living situation would not support a baby – this apartment is too small with the amount of stuff I have, and we have pet rodents taking up the spare room. I don’t think pet rats or gerbils or hamsters or mice would hurt a baby, but I still wouldn’t want them to sleep in the same room. If nothing else, the sound of the rodents running on their wheels would probably wake the baby. I could theoretically get rid of a lot of my stuff, but I’m not willing to get rid of our pets. Finally, I’m the sole income earner, and I simply don’t want to have a baby when I cannot be his or her primary caretaker. Sure, my boyfriend could stay home with the infant, and I’d have three months maternity leave, but I know I would find it nearly impossible to go back to work if I had to leave my baby. Some days, I can barely stand having to leave my boyfriend and gerbils for the day. And that’s just my personal situation – I could also point out how irresponsible it is to make another human when there are something like 10 million orphans in need of care and we are facing overpopulation issues.

There’s not a good resolution.

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