I’m going to preface this by saying that infertility is devastating. It has always been. If we look back through human history, through literature and the Scriptures, we can see the heartbreak that infertility has wrought. I am not going to suggest that anything about our modern world causes the pain of infertility. Being unable to have the children you so desperately want is a tragedy in and of itself.
What I do want to consider, however, is whether all the means the world offers women to “control” pregnancy and childbirth contribute to an unhealthy obsession with perfection…and result in a greater sense of disappointment when things don’t work out like we had hoped.
As we know, the Church teaches us the beautiful truths about NFP and family planning, but the world offers women many different options. We are presented with birth control to avoid pregnancy until we feel ready, and then there are fertility treatments when we are not able to conceive like we planned. When it comes to childbirth, pregnant moms are inundated with information about homebirths, birth centers, midwives, and doctors. We can read blog after blog, complete with professional Instagram-worthy birth photography, describing seemingly magical birth experiences.
All these things taken into account, in the eyes of the world, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for women today to plan their perfect family. In fact, we are expected to. Young women are told, over and over again, to take their pill and avoid pregnancy until they have competed school and established their career.
Women who experience an unplanned pregnancy are often ridiculed. “Don’t you know what causes that?”
Moms with little ones close in age are asked, “Why didn’t you plan better?”
Older moms are challenged with, “Was this one planned?”
And the list goes on.
Any foray into a moms group, both in “real-life” or those on social media, reveals the dissatisfaction of motherhood not going as expected. We see moms devastated that their planned homebirth ended in a C-section. We see gender disappointment when a mom is only planning on two children and both end up being girls. Moms seek advice for marital problems stemming from one spouse wanting to deviate from the agreed upon family size.
The truth is, despite having more power over reproduction than any other time in history, these worldly options still don’t give women complete control. Birth control fails. Fertility treatments don’t always work. Adoptions fall through. Childbirth can go haywire in the blink of an eye. And suddenly, it can feel like all our hopes and dreams are coming crashing down. What we have been raised to expect does not meet the reality of our experience.
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Enemy of the Good
Is it wrong to be disappointed? No, of course not. When unexpected things happen that make our life more difficult, it is natural to feel upset. And when we are not able to grow our family like we deeply desire to, it can be truly devastating. But we do need to keep in mind that perfection is oftentimes the enemy of the good…and causes us to overlook the truly tragic.
We need to evaluate our perspective and ask ourselves… Am I setting myself up for unhappiness? Is my expectation of control contributing to my frustration when things look different than I had planned? Is my quest for perfection causing me to lose sight of the good in my life? Am I unable to give the needed support to my sisters struggling with infertility because I am overly-focusing on the less-than-perfect aspects of my own family?
Just like there is nothing wrong in feelings of sadness, it is ok to work and plan for the future. It is normal and healthy to have dreams for our families. We just can’t let our modern obsession with controlling our bodies paint an unrealistic picture of the reality of fertility. We can’t ignore what Mother Church teaches us about the beauty of our fertility. And the reality is this: biology is profoundly and heartbreakingly unfair. Sometimes, we can exhaust all our possibilities, and there is simply nothing we can do to change that.
A Catholic Perspective on Fertility and Childbirth
It can be tempting to think that we, as Catholic women, are immune. But that is not the case for even those who choose NFP over birth control, or adoption over certain fertility treatments that are detrimental to the dignity of the human person.
The pressure and prevailing mentality of our modern society can be all-encompassing. We are often bombarded on a daily basis on social media with images of perfection. It can be incredibly hard not to internalize it.
Yet, at the heart of the Catholic Church’s teaching on reproduction we find this: respect life. We must respect life in its imperfection and unpredictability, cherish it in its many forms.
Will our family look exactly like we always hoped it would? Maybe, maybe not. One thing is for certain though: it will never be perfect. There is no “perfect family” here on earth. Accepting the beauty in what we cannot control and opening ourselves up to the gifts of God that we could never plan for or imagine is the only antidote, allowing us to be truly open to life in all its unforeseeable possibilities.
Have you ever struggled with perfectionism when it comes to family size, timing, and birthing? What has helped you refocus on God’s will and goodness?Fertility and Childbirth: Does More Control Mean More Disappointment? #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Cheryl Witty-Castillo is a mother, freelance writer, and director of the Writing and Language Center at St. Mary’s Seminary.