I received a gracious note from a reader who considers my column a small way to “commune with a female.” It made me smile because sometimes I’m uneasy writing about myself, but what I learn is filtered through personal experience so to know I am communing—communicating—with a sister is the best kind of compliment. She wondered about the essay that describes a woman testing faith in the laboratory of her life, particularly the test of reproduction. Yes, that test has a personal story.
My assent to Church teaching was not intellectual. It was first an act of love. I was seeking love, and I found it in the Catholic Church. When I read the Catechism, I thought the language was beautiful, but I understood little of it. One particular line shook my perspective on motherhood. “A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The ‘supreme gift of marriage’ is a human person.” (§2378) This primal connection between child and marriage conflicted with my secular views and Baptist upbringing, which taught me that using contraception was acceptable, even good. Still, the idea that a child is a “supreme gift of marriage” resonated deep in my heart.
So at age 35, I opened myself to life, as Catholics say, and God gave us four daughters in five years. When I was pregnant with the fourth, I was hospitalized for mental illness because the toll was great and I was still despairing over past sins. I was urged to abort that child, but I clung to that radical Catechism one-liner. She was born healthy. Our faith bore a stronger marriage, but it also bore more testing. I’ve been pregnant six more times and only one child, a son, survived to birth. I learned that being open to life means being open to life beyond death. Today, I can easily conceive and love a child, but I cannot bear a child to birth. I’ve never been more tempted to use contraception.
But I won’t. Just as I trust the laws of chemistry and won’t mix ammonia and bleach when I clean bathrooms because I know toxic vapors will result, I trust that rejecting God’s moral laws would hurt God and hurt me, my family, my marriage, and our love. Believe me, without the guidance of faith I’ve choked on enough toxic immorality. I can now list the doctrinal reasons for the Church’s teaching on contraception—that it is a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, an objectively contradictory language to the expression of total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife—and I can list statistics that indicate women and societies suffer when conjugal love is absent, but such knowledge is not the heart of my conversion. I trusted the Church before understanding. Understanding came later. Understanding is still coming. I desire to discover more fruits of faith, which are not fruits of this world, because the fruits already granted are beyond all I ever expected. And that hope? It applies to everything, not just reproduction.