Thursday, July 31, 2014

In Which I Continue This Mailbag Thing: Lightning Round-Style

All this week, I've been sharing my replies to reader emails and Facebook messages. Today is the Lightning Round! Seven questions, seven answers. These are questions I've chosen because they are seven of the topics about which I get asked most frequently.

Let's do this.

1. My Images

Question: Hi! My name is Rebecca and I am a Catholic teacher down in Texas. I wanted to let you know that I love the graphics on your blog (and your blog in general). I was wanting to make some prayer and quote posters myself. Do you have any tips on how to make them?

Answer: Thanks! I really enjoy making them.

I make my images for posts, and the quotes and memes I share on the Facebook page on Picmonkey. There is a free version that I used for a while, but you get more options for fonts and overlays if you pay for the Royale membership, so I have. As much as I use it, it seems appropriate to pay for it.
I also sometimes use the Rhonna App, if I'm using the iPad.

I get the images I use from my own photos, from Wikimedia Commons, and from Public Domain Pictures.

I am pretty much making it up as I go along, unless you count trying to copy Lauren's general style.

My personal image-style rules are:

1. Pick an image that goes with the quote, but hopefully in a clever, non-obvious way, like this:

See, get it? 'Cause sea glass? Gets tumbled from dangerous trash into something pretty?
And below, those are fire buckets. For extinguishing.

2. Make the text visible. That's the hardest and most important part. If people can't read it, then what's the point? So I use overlays like this:

Or I adjust the contrast on the photo or use I filters like these:

3. Use different but complimentary fonts. I keep clean edged fonts with clean edged fonts, like above, and messy edged fonts with messy edged fonts, like below:

And mostly, I just fiddle around with it until I think it looks good. Then I hit post and don't second guess myself, because Picmonkey doesn't let you come back and edit it. So when it's done, that's what it is.

2. Travel

Question: When you have traveled to Europe if I may be so nosy to ask - what type of accommodations do you stay in?  I have 5 kids and it can be a little hard in the states to find hotels for us, I cannot image in Europe how it would be.  Do you get 2 hotel rooms if you are staying in a hotel?  Or do they have apartments/houses for rent there as they do in the US?


Answer: We stay in apartments whenever possible. I think apartments are far superior to hotels becuase they give us access to laundry and the ability to cook for ourselves. Rental apartments are pretty widely available, the only thing is there's usually a minimum stay of 3 days or so. TripAdvisor and VRBO are good resources for apartments. When we are going from town to town, like we did on our most recent trip, we stay in bed and breakfasts or hotels. Most European hotels have triple and quad rooms. We do usually end up in two or three rooms (with my parents along too) and end up splitting grownups between rooms, whcih isn't ideal. So, I like B&Bs and apartments better, but hotels work!

3. The BIG Van

Question: I think you mentioned that you had a Nissan NV, is this true or am I mixing you up with someone else? If it is you, do you like it? We are going out this weekend to try out vans since we are out growing our mini-van. I like this one on paper, but Hubby prefers used vans so Chevy and Dodge are high on his list since you can't find very many used Nissans. I thought if I can say "well, Kendra said..." he will at least let me test drive one or he will just stare at me and say "who in the world is Kendra?"


Answer: Yes I do! And we really like it. I think I should do a follow up post now that we've had it for seven months, but my introduction to it is hidden at the bottom of this post.

We ARE happy with it. It is huge, obviously, but still feels like a family car. I don't remember what package we have, but it's leather seats (good in case of barfing, which, yes, has already happened), and the bigger engine (so it drives great, lots of pickup, but NOT fuel efficient). It has family type features like seat heat, a backup camera, a USB port so we can listen to music or books on the iPad, and cup holders that pull out under each row of seats.

The only thing that has been a little odd are the headrests. They are great for comfort and safety, but they go up so high and there are so many of them that you can't see out the back using the rear view mirror. We ended up taking two of them off from the back row, so now we can see out the back. The windows are low enough that the kids can see out, whether or not they are in a car seat. The door is light enough for my six year old to close it, but too heavy for the four year old. There are a total of five car seat latches, two in each of the front rows and one in the very back row. So, it would work even for the five-under-six clubbers.

I should admit that we ended up keeping our minivan as well. The husband crunched the numbers and the cost of insuring it was offset by the savings in gas for only using the big van when we are traveling as a whole family. I really don't mind driving the Nissan, but it's almost impossible to park at Trader Joe's in that thing, and the Peppermint Jojos aren't going to walk here themselves.
My favorite thing about it is how much like a regular (if giant) car it is. The Chevy and Dodge made me feel a little industrial. The NV feels like a family car, even though it's got twelve good-sized seats, plus a small storage area in the back there that fits our folding chairs and the stroller.

And we're loving the usb port. Besides the, it fits all of my children in it thing, the usb port is my favorite part of the car. I can finally play our homeschool audio stuff on the iPad in the car!

4. Sex

Question: Dear Kendra,
My sister turned me on to your blog a few days ago. Two words: Thank you! Thank you for being a sign of God's presence and love in the world, and especially for being an advocate for children and families! You are doing important work. May God bless you abundantly!!!

I feel somewhat silly doing this, but here I am doing it; I saw on your blog that I could write you at this address. The reason I feel somewhat silly is b/c I feel like I already know the answer to the question I'm about to ask you, but that doubting part of me wants affirmation from another Catholic. Question: If I know that I'm pregnant, is it a sin/selfish to continue to have sex/make love with my husband?

Now here I go answering the question: Silly, right?! Of course it's not! It's ok to feel good and enjoy our bodies and praise God through the act and to share love with each other! Right?!!!!!

I'm interested to know your thoughts on this "Is it a sin to have sex even though I know I'm already pregnant" question. Thanks for reading. I think I'll go consult my catechism now. :)

In the Love and Peace of Christ Jesus,


Answer:Thanks Jennifer,

You are absolutely right to think that the Church supports intimacy between spouses even if you are already pregnant. Being open to life doesn't mean that the sole goal of each marital act is pregnancy. The Catholic Church has always taught that sex between spouses is for the begetting of children AND for bonding and for pleasure. Spouses who are already pregnant or who are knowingly infertile can still enjoy the other aspects of marital love, even if a new pregnancy won't result. 

God made sex enjoyable and good for spouses. The Catholic Church fully supports that!

From the Catechism: 
2362 "The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude." Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure:
The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation.
So, your gut was right! Congratulations to you on your baby!

5. Birth Control

1.       Question: Hi Kendra,
I left the most recent comment on your post addressing the comments on Blythe Fike's YouTube video. Thanks for replying and I would love to hear your thoughts on the church's  widespread stance against contraceptives. I really do understand the appeal of a big family raising, NFP practicing lifestyle, but I can also see how that is not the best practice for everyone. I can't help but feel grateful that people who want birth control can access it.

I have to admit, I feel like a total fool trying to talk about this. It's not a subject I discuss with my family or friends, but I'd love to have a more developed opinion on it.

I am a new reader of your blog and I'm so glad to have discovered it. I really admire your bravery in tackling these kinds of issues so openly.

Answer: Laura,

I'm home and wanted to finally respond to your question. I know that the Catholic teaching on contraception can seem crazy. It seemed crazy to me when I heard about it (for the FIRST TIME, even though I was raised Catholic!) as my husband and I were doing our marriage prep.

We listened to a talk called "Contraception, Why Not?" by Janet Smith, and I just became convinced that I needed to take a leap of faith on this one and trust the church. I now point to that one moment as a decisive one in my life. I believe that much of my deep faith and happy home life can be traced to that decision my now husband and I made.

But I think your question is more, why do I think women not in my position as a happily married, educated, financially well off, healthy, happy person should also not contracept? And the answer, is that I think that the story contraception sells to women is a lie.

I bought the story that I should "be comfortable" with my sexuality. I was put on the pill in high school for irregular periods, but really because all the adults in my life seemed to think that being sexually active was a forgone conclusion, but all that mattered was not getting pregnant.

I can tell you that, having lived our culture's view of female sexuality and the Catholic church's view of female sexuality . . . I was devastated by the first and empowered by the second. I think contraception is damaging to women. It's bad for their bodies and it's bad for their relationships and it's bad for their self-esteem. Even if there were no God and no religion, I would be against contraception. I think it hurts everything about us to try to separate our fertility from our sexuality.

I think the Catholic Church sees that. I think she's just about the only organization that does.

I'd be very happy to discuss this or other points with you. Especially if I've missed your point on this question. I really do appreciate how crazy this must seem. I just keep coming back to the fact that the people I know who don't contracept, seem so much happier and more fulfilled than the general population.


6. Etiquette

 Question: Hi Kendra,
I love your new mailbag series! Here's a question for you!
My family has been invited to a celebration of a same sex union. Our not attending really isn't the issue. Due to travel expenses, we wouldn't be attending even if it was a traditional marriage in a Catholic church. I guess I'm just not sure how to respond. If it were a traditional marriage, I would send a present. I don't want to do that but feel like it needs to be acknowledged in some way (because to ignore it would be rude.) I'd maybe like to send a card or letter or at least an email that doesn't express any type of "congratulations" but also stays away from any "you're going to Hell" type of message. (Hallmark makes those, right?) There has to be something in between the two. But what would that be? Do I say I'm sorry I can't attend? Should I mention that I pray for them? Trying really hard to hate the sin, love the sinner, and practice good etiquette here! (but mostly love the sinner.) I'd really appreciate any ideas you have!

personalize it here!
Answer: It seems to me that you have just the right perspective on it. There isn't an official teaching of the Catholic Church on this issue, but since it would be so likely to cause confusion and scandal, our family wouldn't attend a same sex wedding either.

We have, however, chosen to attend a wedding that I thought probably wasn't valid, but I couldn't know for sure and wanted to keep a relationship with the people involved. It's always a hard call, but I think that if we are honestly, prayerfully trying to choose rightly, God will forgive us if we chose wrong.

As for how to acknowledge it, yes, also hard. I always feel like I want to err on the side of truth on broad philosophical matters, but err on the side of compassion when dealing with individuals, if that makes any sense. I think I wouldn't send a wedding gift, since there's no question of this being able to be a valid marriage. But I would send a carefully worded very short note. I'd send my sincere wishes for a happy and fulfilled life and (unless I thought it would offend them) tell them they will be in my prayers. I *would* say I'm sorry I can't attend, because it would be true. I'd be so sad that wasn't possible. I just wouldn't mention WHY it wasn't possible.

I hope this helps a little. It's a tough situation!

7. Gift Ideas

Question: Hi!  I’m a new reader of your blog – and have loved every bit of it – thank you!  We have a 1st communion coming up in the next  few weeks and I was just looking on your blog for gift ideas.  I didn't have any luck, so I’m wondering if you can share some ideas if you have any.  I did find a couple trips to Rome for 1st Communions – is that a tradition for your family?  It’s amazing (and scary – you have set the standard for the younger ones)!  At first glance I thought maybe it was a special trip for the kid and parents, but you took everyone!

Any advice you have on less grand 1st communion gifts would be appreciated. I don’t know about 1st communions other places and if everyone in the country does them around the same time – so maybe other people would be interested in the info too?

Answer: Thanks! Yes, with the blessing of our pastor, we have done destination First Communions. It's been possible for our first four kids, thanks to the generosity of my parents. If it stops being possible, we'll just stop doing it. No biggie.

As for gift ideas . . . well, I'm partial to the confession book I wrote.

Hopefully anyone receiving his First Communion plans to go to confession regularly!

We also like to give a You Are Special Today Plate to kids for Baptism or First Communion, along with the story of how we use it to help our kids celebrate three times per year.

If you're crafty, you could also make one yourself.

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.

Linking up my never ever quick Quick Takes with back-from-Edel Jen at Conversion Diary.


My Top Ten Books for Teaching Kids

Continuing my mailbag week, another thing I get asked about sometimes is: Books. I didn't want to say "Homeschooling Books" specifically, because even though WE use them for homeschooling, I think any or all of these books could be used by all types of families, either as primary or supplementary educational resources.

These are the books that, even if I wasn't able to be their primary educator, I would want to share with my kids.

Note: Book titles are links, mostly Amazon Affiliate links. Clicking and shopping through the links will help support this blog. Thanks! A good resource for used Catholic homeschoolish books is Cathswap, a Yahoo Group dedicated to pairing buyers with sellers and vice versa.

When my oldest started showing an interest in learning to read as a preschooler, I tried just sounding things out with him in picture books we had around the house. But it was SO frustrating for both of us. Why did "g" sometimes say "guh" and sometimes say "juh"? I didn't know.

But now I do. (It's because g says "juh" before e, i, or y.)

I have had success with all of my kids using this book. It not only tells you what to do, it tells you exactly what to say. If you can read, you can teach from this book.

The lessons are short and gentle. (I don't usually use the writing component, which makes them even shorter.) My kids like the stories and illustrations. They are proficient enough to move on to phonics readers by about lesson 70, so we don't usually do the end of the book. The stories get really long back there.

But overall, I think it's a great program. I start my kids as they show an interest in reading, which has been between 4 and six years old. As long as I wait until they are ready, things go quite smoothly. I've had kids master reading before kindergarten and kids who didn't read well until 2nd grade. But they've all learned. (Except for the ones who haven't yet.)

This is my favorite book in our homeschool curriculum. And it was written in 1911, so that'll probably tell you a bit about my schooling preferences. It's intended for use by 7-9 year olds. (There is an Intermediate version as well for 9-12 year olds.)

It contains lessons in grammar, capitalization, punctuation, composition, poetry and reading comprehension, fables, fine art appreciation, letter-writing, copy-work, and conversation practice. Yep, the art of conversation. We get a topic, and we practice conversing on that topic. I have had the cutest conversations with third graders using this book.

There's a more expensive color version out now that I've got my eye on for next year when I'll have another third grader.

Story of the World is a history program that I "let" my kids listen to in the car if they've been good. (Winning!)

There is a text book and an activity book that I have on the shelf, but we really just use the CDs to listen to in the car. We use a different history program too, this one is supplementary for us. There are four volumes that cover world history from nomads through the fall of the USSR, using a storytelling format that highlights, especially in the early volumes, traditional folktales from various cultures.

Each volume is intended for a slightly older audience, but we have listened to them all with the entire family. I'm not sure how much the toddler is getting out of them, but they keep him quiet.

There is controversy in some circles about Volume II, which covers the Middle Ages and the Protestant revolt and Volume III which pretty much trashes Charles V and Philip II and unequivocally celebrates Elizabeth I. This is not a Catholic text, and the stories are not told from a Catholic perspective. That's not a problem for me. When the narrator gets finished explaining how very miserable it must have been to be a monk copying Bibles by hand, I stop the CD and we discuss how terrific it must have been to be a monk copying Bibles by hand. And at the part about how being Catholic is like being over at your snooty aunt's house and she won't let you sit on the couch or have any juice (it's been a couple years, but it was something like that), I stop the CD and we discuss how, um, it's not like that. At all. Correcting the slanted take in Volume III did require some research on my part so that my kids would know about the sending-agents-to-murder-pregnant-St. Margaret Clitherow part of the Elizabeth I story. But now they do. And we pray that one day we will all be one. But really, it's not a problem for us. We just talk about it. The stories are great.

I like everything about the Mother of Divine Grace recommended curriculum except the spelling book. The Writing Road to Reading was The One Way Ticket to Confusingland for us. Then I found All About Spelling. And it is everything I'd been wanted a spelling program to be. It is scripted, and divided into daily lessons, like 100 Easy Lessons, so my kids think I know what I'm talking about.

The lessons are short and engaging and interactive and work with multiple grade levels.

It's just so. much. better. than what we were doing before.

We do Abeka consumable math books until 4th grade, then we do Saxon Math after that. But over the summer, and just for fun, the kids also do Life of Fred math.

The books present math (and other science) concepts in a chapter book format, while telling the story of Fred, a five year old university math professor. My kids think they are hilarious.

I'm not quite loosey goosey enough to do Life of Fred as our only math curriculum, but we've really enjoyed it as a supplementary program. Jack has done all of the books through pre-Algebra and thinks they are brilliant.

I like this Bible because it doesn't try to cram each story to fit on one page. It just takes as much time as it needs for each one.

The language is accessible without being completely dumbed down. My kids like the illustrations.

We say prayers and read a Bible story all together first thing, before the kids go off to do their own assignments. It's an excellent way to start the day.

This book, compiled by Laura Berquist, who also developed the MODG curriculum, is a great resource for any home. It's full of excellent, timeless poems for all age groups, as well as other literary and dramatic selections for memorization and dictation.

We start our kids on memorizing well before they start school. They always want to participate in the big kids' poetry recitals. (I'm sure it doesn't have anything to do with the fact that they get jelly beans for each poem properly recited.) There are adorable little short poems and long complex epics and everything in between.

This is the old "Who made you? God made me." Baltimore Catechism. Along with volumes 1 and 2 for older kids, it really gives a complete explanation of our Catholic faith.

I was raised Catholic, but didn't learn any of this stuff as a kid, so it's been really good for me to learn all of this alongside my kids. And it's amazing to me that all of those things I wondered about the Catholic faith, that I was told there just really aren't any good answers for? There are answers. They're all in the Baltimore Catechism.

We are told to "always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." (1 Peter 3:15) These books help us do that.

Like The Harp and Laurel Wreath, this book is a compendium of stories and poetry, but it focuses on a different virtue in each of its sections.

The stories and poems have been great jumping off points for family discussions.

I want my kids to have a basic understanding of Latin. But I do NOT, myself, have any kind of an understanding whatsoever of Latin. So, I really appreciate these DVDs. The teacher and her cute Southern accent keeps my kids engaged. And their Latin is way better than mine.

So, how did I do? Do you have any favorites I left out?

More book-related posts . . . 

My favorite Catholic-type books:


My favorite pregnancy and childbirth and new sibling-type books:



My favorite picture books:


Thank you for asking . . . 


Monday, July 28, 2014

Mailbag: What Could I Have Done to Help My Miscarried Babies Get to Heaven?

It's mailbag time again . . . 

Hi Kendra, 

I love your blog and have especially enjoyed your posts on NFP this week. I have a question I was hoping you may be able to help me answer. I haven't been able to find an answer in the Catechism and keep meaning to just meet with my priest...but life gets in the way, etc. Anyway, 3 years ago, I miscarried twins. It was absolutely the hardest thing I've gone through... Just devastating. It's really weighed on me since if there is anything I need to do/should have done to ensure my babies ' entrance into heaven. My 3 other children are healthy and happy and baptized, but my twins have worried me. Coincidentally, right after losing the twins, we had girls 12 months and 4 days apart-shocking but so loved and so welcome almost-Irish "twins." Anyway, I'd love any guidance you can offer. Thank you and happy name day to you and Anita!!

Thanks! PEACE and comfort be with you. The Catholic Church's position is that you have every reason to expect that your babies are in Heaven waiting for you. 

The Catechism, no. 1257, states: “Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.” That wouldn't apply to your babies. 

We have the example in the Bible of St. John the Baptist, who was baptized with a baptism of desire before his birth. You desired baptism for your babies and would have baptized them if you had had the opportunity. God knows your desire. And just like Jesus said that a man had committed adultery in his heart just by looking at a woman with lust, well, flip side of that: The Church teaches that a person who is prevented from Baptism, but who desires to be Baptized, either explicitly or implicitly, receives the effects of Baptism, i.e., salvation (Code of Canon Law, Canon 849). 

There's nothing you could have done that you haven't already done for your babies. You participated in their creation, you desired baptism and a relationship with God for them, and now you've done all you could do to succeed where all mothers hope to succeed. I truly believe your babies are in Heaven waiting for you. 

And as for your new babies, that sounds more like providence than coincidence. Congratulations!

This was the answer I gave after a Google search to back up what I already thought the answer was and to find the relevant Catechism and Canon Law numbers (I have revised it a bit here). But it's a complicated issue, and one upon which good Catholics have strongly held yet conflicting opinions. It's an issue upon which various Popes and various Saints have held conflicting opinions.

I didn't go into this when I first answered the question, since she didn't ask about it specifically, but maybe some of you are wondering: why am I not talking about Limbo? 

And now maybe some of you are wondering, why would I talk about Limbo? 

And NOW some of you are probably wondering what the deal is with that party. Where is everyone? I just don't know.

Limbo, or more specifically the Limbo of Infants (Latin limbus infantium) is a hypothesis constructed to solve the problem of babies who die without baptism. Limbo is understood to be a place of perfect natural happiness, where the souls of those babies who died with original sin would spend eternity in comfort, but apart from the beatific vision enjoyed by the souls in Heaven.

This theory was posited as early as the Church Fathers and continued to have adherents through the middle ages and into the modern era, although it was not, and has never been an official teaching of the Church. It has never been more than one proposed solution to a problem, and there have always been holy men and women on both sides of the issue.

Begun at the request of Pope St. John Paul II in 2005, and then released under the authorization of Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, the Vatican International Theological Commission conducted a study entitled: 

The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness, even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in Revelation. However, none of the considerations proposed in this text to motivate a new approach to the question may be used to negate the necessity of baptism, nor to delay the conferral of the sacrament. Rather, there are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible to do for them that what would have been most desirable— to baptize them in the faith of the Church and incorporate them visibly into the Body of Christ.
I've read some of this study (it's reeeeeeally looooooong) as well as quotes from church fathers and blog posts from modern Catholic thinkers.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and set my little ol' self at odds with Doctor of Philosophy Taylor Marshall and Doctor of the Church St. Augustine of Hippo. I think they are wrong on this one. I'm not sure how Dr. Marshall is going to take it, but I named a kid after St. Augustine, so I'm pretty sure he and I are cool.

To me, it comes down to this: our God is a God of justice AND a God of mercy. I can't see how a merciful God would condemn to eternal separation from himself people who not only had had no opportunity to be baptized, but who also had committed no personal sins. The Limbo advocates seem to be arguing from a place of justice, but I also can't see how a just God could do that.

But, unless and until the Church makes a doctrinal statement on this matter, it's an issue upon which good Catholics can disagree. Let's remember though, that for some families the discussion is more than theoretical, it's very personal.

Update, from a comment by Amanda on the Catholic All Year Facebook page:

I love the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and others may find it helpful. He wrote to a couple that had a miscarriage. In response to their question, “What is going to happen to my child? The child didn’t get baptized,” St. Bernard said, “Your faith spoke for this child. Baptism for this child was only delayed by time. Your faith suffices. The waters of your womb — were they not the waters of life for this child? Look at your tears. Are they not like the waters of baptism? Do not fear this. God’s ability to love is greater than our fears. Surrender everything to God.”

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.


Mailbag: Do I Still Have to do NFP if My Life is at Risk?

I get a lot of emails from you swell readers. I answer them. I thought perhaps some of you might be interested in those answers. So I've decided to start a mailbag series featuring your questions and my answers. I'm going to do a few in a row here, then it will become an occasional series.

So here goes . . .


Hi Kendra,

I have seen your write about the joys of large families, and the trials of NFP. Fertility has not been a super simple journey for myself and as you wrote the other day it is not for many women. There is an issue that I have a lot of difficulty finding the Catholic response to. I have had repeat cesareans. I am - God willing- in a few months going to have my third cesarean (fourth baby). At a certain point repeat cesarean becomes not recommended. There can be issues with the placenta, early birth, ruptures etc. Of course all of these issues can happen without repeat cesareans, but the likelihood is much higher. So what is the Catholic thought on this? I have searched online for months now racking my brain as to what to do and how to proceed. I have considered talking with our priest as well, but wanted to ask a woman who seems to know stuff (like yourself). If I practice NFP I will end up with many babies, and many cesareans, putting myself and said babies at risk. I know this through trial and error as I do not have regular cycles at all. Some of the women I know have continued to have cesareans, one woman has even had 8, many of the other woman I know have stopped at three. I am so torn about this. I want to follow church teaching, but cannot seem to find it anywhere. 




This is a good question, and you're right, it's not something that gets talked about much in Catholic circles.

There are a couple of angles to consider:

1. There isn't a "mother's life is at risk" exception to the Church's teaching on using artificial contraception. Our options as faithful Catholics are NFP or, if necessary, abstinence. As I've written about before, we had trouble figuring out NFP because of my long cycles and confusing symptoms. But, by being extra cautious and widening our window of abstinence days, we were able to successfully practice NFP for over a year, until we decided we were ready to be open to another baby.

If I were in a position of needing to practice NFP again, I would consider consulting a naPro doctor. I listened to a great talk at the Behold conference by a naPro doctor and I understand better now that we are not necessarily stuck with things like weird cycles and confusing symptoms. Sometimes those things can be successfully treated.

Simcha Fisher wrote a post about her success with topical progesterone for regulating her cycle:
Progesterone cream (prescription and OTC) improved my Creighton NFP charting of cycles and now NFP is tolerable instead of intolerable

So, don't give up on NFP for yourself. I think it could still be something you could practice successfully, even long term.

But . . .

2. It might not be as necessary as you've been told. The three c-section limit is the standard line of OBs these days. But, as with everything, that's just an assessment of the risks and not a guarantee of safety or danger.

One OB says on her blog: *
What jumps out at me is just how low the risks really are. The death rate for a non-emergent primary C-section is 8/100,000 as compared to a death rate for vaginal delivery of 6/100,000, for a difference of only 2/100,000. And that difference is likely to be a dramatic overestimate in the case of a truly elective (vs. non-emergent) C-section.
It is true that the risk rises with every subsequent C-section. For the 4th C-section, the death rate is 39/100,000 as compared to 12/100,000 for a 4th vaginal delivery, for a difference of 27/100,000. Once again this is likely to be a vast overestimate.
. . . . The bottom line is that even multiple C-sections may have modest risks.
So, a 4th c-section is 0.031% more dangerous than a first c-section, and 0.024% more dangerous than a third c-section. The "modest risk" part is just just one OB's opinion, of course, but, as you mentioned, most of us know someone who has had more than the acceptable number of c-sections, and it's been fine.

Update: Reader Mary has indicated on Facebook that I'm not interpreting this correctly. She says there is a difference between percentage and percentage points, and that, according to these statistics, the risk of maternal death in a 4th c-section vs. 1st c-section is 4.8 times greater.

She points out that having four children at all, let alone four children by c-section, is rare, so there are not many studies. Here are a couple more:

A 2006 study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, entitled Maternal Morbidity Associated With Multiple Repeat Cesarean Deliveries looked at 378,063 births during the study period, including 83,754 cesarean deliveries.
Although repeat cesarean delivery was associated with increased maternal morbidity, outcomes were good in most women undergoing these procedures. Maternal death was rare, and in only 2 cases (in women having their second cesarean delivery) could it potentially be attributable to cesarean delivery morbidity. Thus, there does not appear to be an absolute threshold number of cesarean deliveries beyond which patients should be unequivocally counseled to forgo future pregnancies. Others also have not definitively delineated a threshold for number of cesarean deliveries.11,12 On the other hand, our study did not have enough power to adequately evaluate whether rare but serious events such as death were increased with increasing number of cesarean deliveries. Indeed, the rates for rare complications are estimates, especially in women with 4 or more cesarean deliveries. Nonetheless, there was a substantial increase in the risk for several morbidities, including placenta accreta, cystotomy, and need for hysterectomy or intensive care unit admission with the fourth or greater cesarean delivery. Women should be counseled regarding the progressive increase in the risk for meaningful morbidity with repeat cesarean deliveries.
Here is another study, reference in the study above, abstract found here:
Maternal morbidity after elective repeat caesarean section after two or more previous procedures.

OBJECTIVES: To determine the incidence of maternal morbidity following elective caesarean section in women with a history of at least two previous caesarean sections, and to determine if the incidence of morbidity correlates with the number of previous sections.
STUDY DESIGN: We conducted an individual chart review of all women who had an elective caesarean section because of a history of two previous sections from 1990 to 1999.
RESULTS: There were 67,097 deliveries of babies weighing 500 g or more. The total number of cases eligible for the study was 250. There were 12 cases (4.8%) of placenta praevia of which four required a transfusion and two a hysterectomy. The incidence of wound infection was 6.3% and urinary tract infection was 11.2%. There were no cases of thromboembolism recorded.
CONCLUSIONS: Maternal morbidity with elective repeat caesarean section is low. The major morbidity is associated with placenta praevia. We found no correlation between the incidence of maternal morbidity and the number of previous sections.
I'm not a doctor, nor am I a statistician, all I want to point out is that the facts don't SEEM to back up the blanket discouragement of c-sections after a certain number.

Even though it can be scary, I honestly believe that this is an opportunity to surrender a bit, and to trust. If your gut tells you that you should seek to avoid another pregnancy, pray and trust and get good advice from a good supportive doctor and practice NFP. If you have really serious extenuating circumstances, you may need to prayerfully consider prayerful abstinence.

But if you have a desire in your heart for more children, pray and trust and get good advice from a good supportive doctor and be open to another baby.

This really is one of those situations where you need to inform your conscience and follow it.

St. Gianna Molla, pray for us.

And congratulations and good luck on baby number four! Please keep me posted!


* So, people in the comments on Facebook have pointed out that the first study I linked to is from an OB blogger who is very unsupportive of homebirth. Isn't a site/person I was familiar with, I was just looking for someone willing to discuss the statistics of maternal deaths associated with multiple c-section. Because of the (good, important, and well-intentioned) focus on discouraging elective/unnecessary c-sections, there are very VERY few people out there willing to discuss the numbers. Her opinions on homebirth don't change the statistics on repeat c-section, and that's all I wanted to reference. If you prefer to see the c-section study firsthand, it's available for free here.

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Answer Me This . . . and all the recent feasting!

It's been a Week of Feasts at Casa Tierney. 

Wednesday was the Optional Memorial of St. Bridget:

You say "Optional Memorial," I hear "Excuse to Par-tay, Swedish-style." Or, I should say, my personal made-up Swedish-style. Since I am not Swedish and don't actually know anything about how Swedes do anything, except that my mother in law (also not Swedish) makes a mean Swedish meatball.

How'd we do?

Then we had the Feast of St. James, the Greater, which is the husband and father-in-law's nameday (because, is anyone named for St. James, the Less?).

And the Memorial of Sts. Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary and nameday of my grandmother and daughter, both Anita, me, middle name Anne, and my mother-in-law's confirmation name, so she can come, too.

Sarah said we were supposed to have lobster. Who am I to argue with that?

I took the three youngest to the grocery store to get them. It was like a visit to the aquarium. Only you get to pick something from the tank and they'll steam it for you and you can eat it. So . . . also different from the aquarium. But they were about $10 each, which, for a special occasion, was doable for us. And I didn't have to cook them!

 Other recent feasts that we celebrated by having dessert and talking about the saint over dinner were:

St. Mary Magdalene:

St. Kateri Tekakwitha:

And Our Lady of Mt. Carmel:

Now for this week's questions . . .

1. What’s your favorite thing on YouTube?

I like a lot of stuff on YouTube. Blythe's video is on there. The swimming pool submarine and leaf-blower hovercraft that my dad made with the kids are on there. I'm even on there.

But it's not even close. This is my favorite thing on YouTube:

Punch that cougar in the face!

What's that in the weeds? It's a baby. Awesome.

2. Who taught you to drive?

My beloved grandfather gave me my first lessons. And then my dad put the finishing touches on. He thought I should know how to drive a stick shift, so my first car was a manual transmission.

not my exact car, but it was a silver Ford Festiva
Learning to drive a stick shift was SO frustrating! In the middle there, I was utterly convinced that it was impossible and could never be done. I remember stalling over and over again trying to get over the little hump in the driveway at my parents' house and finally just leaving the car there sticking out into the street and storming into the house in tears. I threw the keys at my dad and ran into my room. Instead of pointing out how unpleasant and unreasonable that was, he gently talked me back into the car and I was eventually able to get it into the garage. And, somehow, after that, it was pretty easy.

There's a lesson in there somewhere. Perseverance? The forest for the trees? Picking your parenting battles?

It's a Choose Your Own Adventure lesson. You get to pick.

3. What’s your favorite thing to cook?

My favorite thing is what I like to call "Pantry Challenge," where I haven't planned ahead and I stand there in front of the pantry and fridge and come up with something crazy for dinner. I do like a challenge.

But my favorite recipe is probably my grandfather Pop's (the same grandfather as the above driving lessons) German potato dumpling soup. We call it Spatzen Kartoffel Zuppa. But I'm sure Sophie can tell us whether that is actually German. Probably it's not.

I have such fond memories of cutting the little chunks of spazele dough into the soup with him as a little girl. Every time I make it now I flash right back to the kitchen at my grandparents' house.

I don't even have the recipe written down anywhere, but it goes something like this . . .

Dosé Family Spatzen Kartoffel Zuppa:

Into a 4 quart Dutch Oven or stock pot half-full of salted water, put a stick of butter, 2-3 medium onions cut into medium sized chunks, and 4-6 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
Make spatzele dough:
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2cup water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Dash pepper
Put dough, one dollop (a cup or so) at a time onto a floured wooden cutting board with a handle, and cut off a little chunk at a time, with a wooden spatula, into the boiling soup. It cooks the dough and the extra flour thickens it.

It is super duper tasty comfort food.

4. Are you a hugger or a non-hugger? Why?

I am reflexivly a hugger. When I meet someone, usually I lean in for a hug. I hope I haven't been weirding everyone out.

5. Where do you pray best?

I pray best first thing in the morning and while moving. I have tried and tried to be a good prayer while sitting quietly, but I still have a lot of trouble staying focused in that situation. I do love sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, and there I have a little more luck with not letting my mind wander.

But I do my best praying on a run, out in God's creation. Even though I'm thinking of a thousand different things, somehow, in that environment, it feels like a conversation with God, and I'm always able to bring it back to my petitions and intentions and thanksgivings.

6. When is the last time you saw/spoke to your grandparents?

When I wrote this question, I meant it as, "Hey when did you last pick up the phone and call your grandmother?," since Saturday was the Feast of St. Anne, Grandmother of Our Lord.

But since many of us, me included, have lost most of our grandparents, this question could be a lot more intense. Please feel free to just skip it if it's too much. . . . 

I called my grandmother on Saturday to wish her a Happy Feast Day, since she is the Anita after which my Anita is named.

My mom and I took baby Lulu out to Memphis to meet her just a couple weeks ago.

My other three grandparents have passed away. The only last memory that comes to mind is Pop (my dad's dad). He was in hospice care at his home (which was such a beautiful thing) at the end of his life. I was in high school, and I would come over sometimes and read to him. Books, but mostly my essays from school. He would ask me to read them to him, it didn't seem odd at the time. I don't think he was just humoring me. He really did have a great interest in pretty much everything.

I had been there the day before we got the call that he had died, and the immediate family went over to the house. I remember being grateful that I was able to see him again, and be together with the family, even if I had missed his actual death. I guess it was like an Irish wake, but I had never heard of one of those.

But it just seemed like the natural thing to do. 

I've tried to allow death to be a part of my kids' lives, at least a little bit. I wrote about it here:


Okay, sorry, back to happy, back to happy!

For next week I'm tagging two more of my fellow Blessed Is She writers:

Anna at knit one, yarn over. Post to check out:

And Patty at A Modern Grace. Post to check out:

Next week's questions for Anna and Patty and you are . . .

1. When driving, are you more likely to listen to the radio, to CDs or an iPod, or nothing at all?

2. Do you prefer window or aisle?

3. Do you fall asleep on your side, back, or stomach? What position are you in when you wake up?

4. When is the last time you attended a zoo, circus, carnival, county fair, or parade?

5. Do you have a favorite quote or inspirational saying?

6. What's the best thing about summer?

Next week's installment will go live at 10pm Pacific Saturday night, and will be open until 10pm Wednesday night.

So, please, answer this week's questions for yourself in the comments. If you have a blog, answer the questions there, link back to this post, and link your blog post up below. For bonus points, you can even tag a couple other bloggers so THEY can play along too! So fun.

But always remember, in Answer Me This . . . there are no rules, and the points don't matter.