Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Womb and a Soul: An Open Letter to Benedict XVI

**Warning: Shit's about to get real. If you are easily offended, don't read on.

It must be nice to retire because you are tired. It must be nice for the exhaustion of your body to count for something.

I am 32 years old, mostly healthy. I was Catholic for the first 30 years of my life. I have two children, conceived under the auspices of Natural Family Planning. My husband and I do not have plans for a third.

I had extreme postpartum depression after my first baby. I rode it out, for 12 long months, and then slowly came back to life. Six months later we decided it was time for the second baby, and I became pregnant almost instantly (thanks, NFP!) with my beautiful daughter.  I thought the PPD might have just been a symptom of my son’s difficult birth – he was born two months early, and his first six months or so were very hard on me in every way: mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally. I had high hopes; I thought a second baby – a full-term baby – might head off the postpartum depression a second time around.

It turns out it didn’t.

While my symptoms were not quite as severe after my daughter was born, it turns out that something inside of me is a genetic bomb designed to go off three days after childbirth, and to pour out its fury for months afterwards. I stay in a dark, sludgy haze for the first year of my baby’s life – to this day, I have very limited memories of the first year of both of my children’s lives. That's two years out the past five, basically lost. Mothering infants for me is a matter of teeth-and-bone survival. It’s ugly. It isn’t graceful. It is not a Pampers commercial. It’s a prison camp that smells like baby powder.

And at about twelve months, the bell jar lifts. The sunlight comes back in; I can hear the birds singing again, and I begin the long, painful, years-long process of finding myself again. While losing 60+ pounds of baby weight, working, and raising young children. Twice.

Once, on a Catholic NFP forum, I posed my question -- can I delay conception of another baby indefinitely, because of my difficulties with postpartum depression? The answer: "You need to get on antidepressants immediately, so that you can be open to God's call to parenthood when it comes."

So... God made me one way, and I need to take a pill to change that nature, in order to... please God?

Sounds legit.

I left the Church two years ago, for many reasons. What made it easier to stay away is that other Christian faiths do not condemn me for saying that I am done – that I do not desire to go back into that dark, tar-sticky wormhole of postpartum depression. That I am okay with having two children – that I am even happy to have “only” two children. That my beautiful son and daughter are enough for me and my husband. Other denominations allow the fact that I might be more than just a womb and a soul.

It must be nice to be allowed to retire when your body and mind give out.

How much nicer it would be if your Church would extend such a pontifical privilege to the women it claims to cherish.

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