My Thirty-Something Story of Reproductive Health

I’m a heterosexual thirty-something female1 who grew up middle-class in the United States, without much knowledge of what it meant to be mixed-heritage, since I look white. And, above all, even before I was conceived, I was Catholic.

I discharged for ten years on getting married—five years before meeting my partner and five years after meeting him. In retrospect, I should also have been discharging on whether or not to become a parent, but that didn’t occur to me.

I had no idea how quickly, once I got married, the pressure would hit to become a mother. I got pressure from colleagues, relatives, friends, and my partner. I knew I was not ready to be a mother, but my Catholic upbringing, and fears about talking freely about sex and sharing openly what seemed “sacred” and “private,” made it difficult to create space for discharge, be open about my struggles, and think clearly about sex, birth control, and contemplating parenthood.

All of that changed at a women leaders’ workshop, when in the midst of a group of women joking about sex on Saturday night I told my working-class Jewish leader what was really going on2: that although I was afraid of getting pregnant, I was also afraid of disappointing my husband, so we were dabbling with having unprotected sex. Her response was hard to hear but truly changed my life.

She explained that I was choosing my fears over my integrity, that my fear of losing my partner was outweighing my commitment to doing the right thing and making hard choices, and that this lack of integrity made it hard for her to trust me as a leader.

I cried hard and felt ashamed, but I also felt relieved and freed. She had named the thing I hadn’t been able to put my finger on, and she loved me enough to take the risk to tell me. Her direction for me was “I promise to take full responsibility for not getting pregnant, and I will not get pregnant until I’m ready.” She said, “This is not just a direction for sessions. This is a promise you have to make—to me and to yourself. If you want my support, you have to do this.” I knew getting pregnant would be devastating. But getting pregnant without her backing3? Unbearable. I told her I would sleep on it.

The next morning she gave me time4 in front of the group, and I knew I had to make the promise fully. I’ve kept it ever since.

When I say that being challenged in this way changed my life, I’m not exaggerating. For one thing, it has made me step up and take leadership in my relationship with my husband—something I had done only inconsistently until then. This has required discharging steadily on sexism and internalized sexism, but now I know that he’s not going anywhere. He may have a fit,5 feel disappointed, disagree, and pout, but he’s not going to leave. He may withdraw emotionally when he’s upset, something that is hard on me because of my early material,6 but that has more to do with his response to men’s oppression than with a lack of love for me. I also know now that even if he decided to leave, I’d be okay.

I have been working on my feelings about parenthood and have begun leading a monthly support group for people discharging on whether or not to become a parent. I’ve been able to consider the possibility of not having children, and my partner is now able to consider that as well (something he wasn’t willing to consider before). At this point we’re leaning toward not having children.

Working on my feelings connected to birth control has helped me move a huge chunk of terror, and it keeps me focused on where I might compromise my integrity (for example, by having unprotected sex without making a decision about becoming a parent).

I use the directions “I’ve made a decision,” or “It sometimes happens that a Catholic woman makes a decision,” or “I’m trying something different.” They contradict how heavy I feel about all this and have helped me separate the old stuff from reality. For working on patriarchy and terror, I take the direction “Patriarchy sucks!7” I’ve been working on the sexism in the medical system and the unstated assumption that the responsibility for birth control should fall primarily on women’s shoulders. I also try to remember that my partner is not the enemy, that he’s on my side, and that we’re in this together.

Working on using birth control and on considering not being a mother has opened up a big space to work on my early fears of going to hell. It’s been helpful to work in light ways and with counselors who don’t share these fears (Jewish counselors, in particular). I still haven’t gotten to Joanne’s8 assertion of “no heaven, no hell,” but I’m on my way.

I’ve worked on my fears about the witch trials in the United States and Europe. I’ve worked on how “mental health” oppression, sexism, and parents’ oppression hit both of my grandmothers. I’ve worked on all kinds of feelings related to abortion. I’ve used directions such as “It sometimes happens that a Catholic woman chooses not to be a mother,” occasionally adding “and she doesn’t get killed for it.” Sometimes I throw in “and she has a great life.”

I’ve used directions that contradict shame and allow me to work on pride in myself, my mind, and my decisions: “I’m so in love with my husband—and I love having sex with him!” and “I am choosing not to be a mother right now” (chest out, head held high). Given my strong Catholic roots, it’s helped to draw on “the sacred.” I imagine that I am surrounded by Mary, the angels, and all the saints and that they’re all cheering me on. (One counselor told me, “Jesus called and told me to tell you you’re to have lots of great sex tonight.”) I’ve also had light sessions on the Immaculate Conception and imagining Mary applauding me for deciding not to be a mother.

Working on not having children brings up big feelings that something is wrong with me, my partner, and our partnership. I’m pulled to look to my partner for reassurance against these feelings, which he can’t convincingly provide, so I just keep taking them into sessions. It continues to surprise me how deep the recordings9 are. I know there’s an early piece of this that’s specific to my being Catholic, and I look forward to moving through it!

Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of Catholics

1 Thirty-something female means female in her thirties.
2 Going on means happening.
3 Backing means support.
4 Gave me time means gave me a counseling session.
5 Have a fit means get very upset.
6 Material means distress.
7 Sucks means is awful.
8 Joanne Bray, the International Liberation Reference Person for Catholics
9 Distress recordings

Last modified: 2014-09-22 02:24:42+00