Listen to the cry of the baby Jesus

Here is this year’s piece from The Catholic Herald Christmas supplement.

Merry Christmas.


This Christmas will be the third consecutive occasion that we have celebrated in the company of a young baby. As the mother of young children it is all too easy to get drawn into the physical narrative of the Nativity, with discussions about the shepherds, wise men and angels while neglecting the theological truth of the Incarnation and our true reason for celebration.

Contemporary culture celebrates the Christmas story in a vague, general sense, with as much emphasis upon the peripheral characters in the tale, as opposed to the infant Christ. When we are invited to consider the birth of Christ, it is purely in the sense of the “cute little baby Jesus in the manger” as opposed to Christ humbling himself by taking the form of a helpless and feeble baby: mankind in its weakest and most vulnerable form. One of the many blessings and privileges of parenthood at Christmas is that it brings the joy of the Incarnation into a much sharper focus. I cannot be the only parent who metaphorically rolls their eyes heavenwards whilst forcing a rictus grin upon hearing or singing about the immaculately behaved infant who never uttered a single cry. The idealised, cloying, mawkish stained glass image of a mute infant Christ is not reflective of the real truth of the Incarnation. A real baby will cry as it has no other way to communicate its needs and so we can be assured that, even if he did not go through the terrible twos, throwing constant temper tantrums out of anger and frustration, Jesus most certainly would have cried to indicate to his mother that he required feeding. Tending to a baby who is totally reliant upon you to meet all of its basic needs is a constant reminder of both the self-emptying – or, to use the correct theological term, kenosis – manifested in the Incarnation as well as the way in which God takes into Himself humanity’s weaknesses without losing any of his divine grandeur.

So much of the Christmas pageantry revolves around a sentimentalised image of the baby Jesus, the plastic dolly or porcelain figure in the manger. A living, breathing baby with all of its bodily functions is a welcome counterpoint. Rooting the Incarnation in the realties of life with a newborn baby is a reminder that Jesus was not some abstract figure but a real human being with inherent physical frailties and bodily needs, and yet at the same time not simply another baby, but the Redeemer of the world. Every year a priest friend of ours, affixes a cross to the cradle on Christmas Eve, in time for the arrival of the baby in the manger, as a reminder of just that.

We are not just celebrating the birth of a sweet baby in inauspicious and unusual circumstances, but the Word of God made flesh. Without Christ’s Passion and victory over death, his birth is meaningless. We cannot celebrate the cradle without celebrating the cross.

As any parent with young children will testify they are constantly changing and growing, often looking entirely different from one day to the next. Inevitably at Christmas we cast our minds back to previous years, and as I look at my toddler chasing about the house, demolishing Christmas decorations and attempting to dissect the undecorated Christmas cake it seems like only yesterday that she was a two-week-old baby fast asleep in her Santa babygro on Christmas Day. It seems incredible when I contemplate that the almost eight-month-old who has recently had a growth spurt and sprouted some teeth, this time last year had just hit the point where she could be considered viable and a person in her own right.

Very often when cradling my baby sleeping peacefully in my arms there is an awareness that this is a brief and fleeting moment in time, which only serves to make the moment more precious: it won’t be long before the baby decides that there are exciting things to discover and explore beyond the confines of my breast. A line from Shadowlands seems particularly fitting: “The happiness now is part of the pain then.” As parents, we witness and guide our children on their journey to adulthood knowing that the way will be littered with moments of great sadness as well as joy. The beautiful innocence and childhood wonderment cannot last forever and we wonder what will become of our children. As we reflect on the image of the infant Christ it is important to remember that this a snapshot in time, like a mosquito caught in amber, not the whole story or the whole person of Christ. We already know the end of the story and part of the pain of the Crucifixion is present in the happiness we feel in the lowly birth of our Saviour. We can unite our fears as parents to those of Mary, who while unaware of the terrible price that her son would need to pay for the salvation of the world, must nonetheless have been filled with trepidation as to the future,having been informed that her son was the Messiah with whatever that might entail. Simeon will shortly prophesy that “a sword will pierce your soul” and Mary’s joy must have been all the more poignant as she contemplated what must have seemed an uncertain and turbulent future for her tiny baby.

Though we must not forget that the baby is not the Jesus who will challenge us on the Day of Judgement, there is still much to be said about the contemplative gaze of love when we look upon the manger, a gaze that is echoed every time I look at my children, whether they are feeding at the breast, marauding through the house or peacefully reading or sleeping. They are yet to acquire any personal sin, and I see reflections of the perfect nature of Christ in them and experience a renewed gratefulness, not only for the gift of my children and the special blessing of a newborn baby, but also for the child of God, fully human and yet fully divine. John’s Gospel tells us of how the Word speaks creation into being, and yet here is the Word made flesh and unable to speak. Here is Emmanuel physically come to be with us in the second person of the Trinity. Here is a physical representation of how God is with us all the time, gazing upon us with reciprocal eyes of love, perhaps best summarised by the French peasant’s conversation with the Curé d’Ars: “I look at Him, and he looks at me, and we are happy together.”

The simple act of a mother fondly gazing at her child with love while reflecting on the nature of God is in itself an act of contemplative prayer. Throughout the rest of the liturgical year we are invited to listen, to engage with and to act upon the words of Christ. The Christmas celebration of the Incarnation is the perfect opportunity to take a step back to watch and to wonder, just to be with God as we contemplate His son in the form of a tiny baby. No matter how we look upon the image of the Incarnation, we remember that to gaze is to love. Our whole soul is in our gaze.

Déjà vu

I was re-reading the piece I wrote for the Catholic Herald last Christmas and reflecting that it seems as relevant now as it did then!

For those who didn’t see it – here’s the subbed text. We did have a memorable and special Christmas, watching this year’s Rev Christmas special was a timely reminder that this short break from ministry has its advantages!

A peaceful & blessed Christmas to all – clergy families in particular. Only a few more days til it’s all over!


Every year I am reminded that all families, perhaps unwittingly, enter into the spirit of the Advent Season, regardless of whether or not they profess a Christian faith. For most households December is a time of preparation, often of uncertainty and stress in these difficult economic times, as well as a looking forward with hope, either to the festivities of the day itself, or perhaps to a more optimistic New Year.  Regardless of whether or not most families are anticipating the Second Coming itself, the aspects of frantic preparation and anticipation certainly seem to be a feature of the twenty-first century Christmas; every year, the pressure for the ‘perfect Christmas experience’ ratchets up a notch in terms of the early appearance of festive goods in the shops and the non-stop bombardment of advertising and Christmas-themed programmes.

For my family, this Advent and Christmas will be unique in that it is the first time, that we will be truly united both in our spiritual and physical preparations and in celebrating the joy of the coming of Our Lord. Having been the Catholic wife of a Church of England priest, Christmas has previously had something of a bittersweet flavour. The compromise available to most couples of differing Christian denominations usually involves both parties attending two different Christmas services together, perhaps midnight Mass and then a service on Christmas morning itself. This option was never logistically available to us, for the last few years I have cut something of a conspicuous lonely figure, sat on my own, or with my young daughter during Mass on Christmas Morning. Clearly it was important to be able to support my husband, so usually we attended all his services on Christmas Eve, then I would go to the Mass at the Catholic Church just a few yards away from his church on Christmas morning, before joining him at the end of his service.  It was at this time, that despite being linked by the sacrament of marriage, our disunity in faith was most acutely experienced. The incompleteness of our spiritual union was thrown into physical relief, the only time we had previously been able to receive communion together, was the occasion of our nuptial Mass, Bishop Kieran having graciously granted a special dispensation. We experienced the sense of deep pain and sadness at being divided at the most sacred moment of the Eucharist on a weekly basis, but at Christmas, a time traditionally associated with the family, this was felt more sharply than ever, when the family was both physically and spiritually fragmented. However, as the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales reminded us in their 1988 teaching document, One Bread, One Body, this pain did much to highlight our brokenness, our division and acted as a spur to unity and healing, playing a not insubstantial role in my husband’s subsequent conversion to full unity with both the Church of the Apostles and his wife.

Like many others who are caught up in the whirlwind of pre-Christmas preparation, my focus was often predominantly on the practical, the making of the nativity costumes, the food shopping, the gift-buying, the Christmas card-writing, the decorating and so on and so forth. As many a clergy spouse will testify, Christmas is often unbearably hectic, one doesn’t see one’s husband for the vast majority of December and at times the rounds of lunches, Christmas fairs and carol services seem endless. In addition to being the Rector, my husband was also a School Governor and trustee of a local bereavement charity, all of which had additional Christmas services and meetings to factor in on top of the usual day-to-day business, as well as ensuring that the pastoral ministry to the sick, elderly, housebound and bereaved was not neglected. It is something of a family custom, that come Christmas Night, Robin will succumb to his annual bout of illness, following six weeks of relentless activity, including several sessions burning the midnight oil whilst sermon writing. The past two years have been particularly manic; last Christmas I was dealing with a newborn baby born in mid-November, the year preceding that, we were preparing for our forthcoming wedding on the 29th December and though both times I had attended various Advent groups conducted by my husband, it was incredibly difficult to remain spiritually focused. In previous years I had been on light girlfriend duties only! At the time of choosing our wedding date, Christmas had seemed a marvellous idea coinciding with his period of annual leave, with hindsight it was sheer folly.  I came down with a chest infection on Boxing Day, Robin passed out with perhaps the worst case of genuine flu I have ever seen mid-honeymoon. “For better for worse, in sickness and in health” was enacted sooner than we had anticipated!

This year has also been equally manic and for most of the year we have been focussed upon Robin’s conversion and the upheaval that this would entail. At the moment, we as a family are thoroughly enjoying this season of Advent, finally having the luxury to take time and slow down, to pause and reflect, to fully spiritually prepare ourselves, instead of preparing others. We feel acute parallels between ourselves and the Holy Family who have always held particular resonance for us. St Joseph the foster-father of Christ is a constant source of inspiration to Robin in his role as step-father to our eldest daughter. St Joseph unfortunately sometimes seems to be sidelined in the Nativity story, although what is clear is that like Mary, St Joseph was uniquely singled out for his role. Robin felt very much that not only was he called to the vocation of marriage with me, but just as importantly he was also called to become a father to my little girl, with whom he had fallen deeply in love. He often reflects that it was perhaps her, as much as me, that helped him to affirm his calling. The fact that St Joseph is a foster father and that he probably died before Jesus began his ministry, affirms that the often difficult and complicated family circumstances in which people find themselves, do not doom us to failure. To fail to appreciate St Joseph’s role can undermine the importance of the Christian family and thus he continues to play an important role in our Advent reflections.

Another more obvious parallel for us with the Holy Family during this season, is that of Mary’s joyful acceptance of news that could have had fatal implications for her. Since discovering on the Feast of the Assumption, that we would be expecting another child, due on Good Friday, I have looked to Our Virgin Mother several times. Like her, this news has come unexpectedly, not at a time of our choosing and has thrown our lives into disarray. I noted with alarm the words “high risk” written in my pregnancy notes and certainly this pregnancy has had severe consequences in terms of its impact on my health. At a time when we were moving house and I was commencing a three year degree, along with the usual demands of a young baby and child and supporting my husband in his quest for work, the pregnancy meant that I had to put many of my cherished plans on hold. If I am candid the acceptance was more grudging than joyful, with much to learn from the example of Mary, ‘let it be done to me according to thy will’. However, in common with both Mary and the theme of Advent, I am now indeed looking forward with hope.

Of course, I am not the only one who has had to joyfully accept a calling that has entailed great personal upheaval and suffering. Like the Holy Family in exile, we are experiencing a period of great uncertainty. We have been uprooted from our home and though we continue to enjoy the prayers, support and friendship of former parishioners, we are in a period of transition, from one place to the next, unsure of what the future may hold. My husband still discerns a calling to priestly ministry, but this is entirely in the hands of the Lord.

No matter what happens we have answered the call of the Lord in as best a way we can and so we are looking forward with hope, in common with all Christians. Robin’s conversion means, that for the first time, we really can enjoy the perfect family Christmas, united in hope, love and joy in the Eucharist and in our celebrations of the coming of our Saviour.

Civil Partnerships – what does the Catholic Church REALLY think?

Jenni Murray stated on Woman’s Hour the other day, that the Catholic Church had completed a U-turn (much like this present government on so many matters) and now supports civil partnerships, therefore it seems worthwhile to outline the current position, as I perceive it.

As stated by the Bishops’ Conference in 2003, the Church welcomes and endorses the removal of unjust or discriminatory treatment against ALL people, as a civilised society must recognise that everyone retains their human and civil rights simply by virtue of their inherent dignity as human beings.

The reasons given by the government for introducing civil partnerships were to address an existing inequality between opposite and same sex couples, but as the Bishops noted at the time, many of the provisions made in the Civil Partnership Act were unnecessary – immigration rules and tenancy rights had already been altered in order to grant same-sex couples equality under the law. The Sexual Offences Bill in 2003 also removed discrimination by gender and orientation and employment law was also advanced in order to tackle discrimination and removed any remaining prejudice in the workplace.

As the Bishops said:

 It is very much to be welcomed that in recent years, there have been many significant changes to the law to remove unjust discrimination against people on grounds of their sexuality.

Given the changes to the law and the fact that individuals could make their own private arrangements with regards to inheritance matters, the Bishops questioned whether or not there really was a pressing need for civil partnerships.

As I noted in my previous post, the Civil Partnership Act is discriminatory, in that it is only open to same-sex couples, meaning that elderly relatives or close friends are excluded. Technically speaking there is nothing to stop my aunties from entering into a civil partnership because the act of forming a civil partnership does not require any vows or official wording, the partnership is formed once the contract is signed, whereas a civil marriage must include basic vows in addition to the signing of the register.

Unlike a marriage,a  civil partnership cannot be dissolved on the grounds of either adultery or non-consummation and therefore it is clear that it is a very different structure to marriage evidenced by the fact that it is controlled by a separate piece of legislation.

In 2003, the Bishops stated that they recognised the great value of close relationships which is not to be confined to marriage or family. Whilst Church teaching is clear that sexual relationships belong exclusively within marriage, the Bishops were explicit in noting that

“the Church does not thereby reject the love or friendship between homosexual people, the bond of friendship makes someone closer to us than we are to any family member. A deep friendship is something in which we can all rejoice. A failure to acknowledge this could lead to the wrongful exclusion of someone who should be informed and involved in cases of medical emergency or funeral arrangements”.

Without wishing to reignite all the furore, I believe it is these aspects of civil partnerships for which Archbishop Nichols was expressing support, which is entirely consistent with the Bishops’ statement in 2003.

So, with that in mind, can someone like Fr Ray Blake rush out and contract a civil partnership, as he mooted the other day? The answer is, of course not. Aside from the public scandal caused by the sight of a Catholic priest pledging his troth in Brighton registry office, a civil partnership would be the source of scandal for any Catholic, because though legally a civil partnership does not require any reference to sexuality, there is an implied conjugal bond given the exclusion of close family members. In 2008, the Conservative MP Edward Leigh, attempted to put through an amendment which would remove the existing inequality and disadvantage suffered by close family members, but was defeated as the sole purpose of the civil partnership act was to grant a state-recognised union to homosexuals alone.

As Archbishop Cranmer noted at the time, the state was therefore privileging erotic love over family or platonic love.

The other difficulty for the Church with civil partnerships is that they include rights pertaining to children and are therefore framed as being an equivalent to marriage, which is certainly how they are understood, even if that is not legally the case. A civil partnership includes the ability to gain parental responsibility for a partner’s children as well as a responsibility to pay maintenance for one’s partner and their children in the event that the partnership should dissolve.

In practical terms, the Civil Partnership Act did not change much. The Adoption and Children Act passed in 2003, already allowed single people to adopt, a gay person could already adopt and assume joint responsibility together with their partner. One partner would adopt and the other would apply for a residency order. Same sex couples have had the right to adopt since 2002, three years before the Civil Partnership Act came into force.

What the Civil Partnership Act has done, is elevate civil partnerships to a legal status equivalent to marriage, hence the public confusion. The scope of the Act is too broad and the group of the people to whom it is applied is too narrow.

All Catholics naturally applaud the removal of unjust treatment and inequality, which is why we recognise that some aspects of civil partnerships are to be welcomed, solving issues of natural justice, but we reject those elements which seeks to put civil partnerships on an identical footing to marriage, in terms of rights pertaining to children. It is not right to embark on a policy of which the long-term outlook can only mean that more children are deliberately brought into this world to be deprived of a mother and father.

I saw nothing in the Archbishop’s remarks that contradicted that.

Nick Clegg has opined that marriage is a private matter. He is wrong, marriage is a public institution, outside of the Church, its success or failure has impacts on society as a whole. It is right that proposals that could harm it are given rigorous scrutiny, the same as any other public policy. It is not simply between two people, but exists for the good of children and for society.

It is Civil Partnerships which should remain an entirely private matter of arrangements between two consenting  individuals.

Walking the walk

One of the things that I sometimes forget when blogging is the number of people who actually read this blog, which is something of a hybrid, being a bizarre mixture of the personal, polemical and political all heavily influenced by Catholic social teaching.

One lesson this week has taught me is not to write or blog in haste and I think that my previous entry may have been a little irresponsible and irrational in tone, no doubt influenced by the conflicting hormones and emotions.

This weekend was very cathartic for me for a number of reasons, not least in terms of affording plenty of precious time for spiritual reflection. Juggling motherhood, family life and undergraduate studies can sometimes mean that my prayer life is neglected. Eucharistic Adoration is nigh on impossible with a baby and toddler and so the hour I spent in the chapel at the retreat centre yesterday afternoon was a source of much needed spiritual refreshment.

This morning’s Gospel had particular resonance, “let it be done unto me according to thy will”, a reminder that all of us have to realise that the Lord’s plans for us, do not always tally with our own. Although still terrified about the prospect of giving birth and dreading the prospect of another protracted difficult pregnancy (here we go again), I am grateful for this pregnancy in a way that perhaps was lacking in my previous pregnancies. Those who are Christian will understand that I feel that it is a sign of God’s compassion and mercy not to mention an exercise in trust. Despite my best efforts, things have not gone the way that I wanted or planned them – I think the Lord is definitely trying to tell me something. I also realised that perhaps, with the most honourable of intentions, I had something of a contraceptive attitude, in that we were definitely attempting to avoid pregnancy. With that in mind however, it can’t be said that we were closed to life, in that both of us are prepared and happy to welcome a new life. I am walking the walk and thus attempting to live a life of witness.  Although I need to be careful to avoid superstition or fatalism, I am more than a little struck to discover that the day that this baby is due is the Feast of the Assumption, which is incidentally, also the day that I discovered that I was expecting Felicity, our other unplanned baby. Furthermore the day that I discovered the positive pregnancy test was the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patron of the Unborn and the pro-life movement.

Though the next months will undoubtedly prove testing, I am keeping my eye on the prize – another beautiful baby and a house full of children, who are a source of joy, happiness and the embodiment of God’s love. A baby is always a blessing. As I have always accepted the philosophical and moral argument that life begins at conception, I have never previously really taken that much notice of  how the baby is developing on either a daily, weekly or monthly basis. As I have previously admitted, I do suffer ante-natal depression, not helped by the fact that pregnancy thus far has proved such a physical strain. With 3 young children including a toddler and a baby, it is vital for me to stay both physically, psychologically and spiritually healthy, so I am resolved to make a real effort to stay strong and take comfort in any suffering.

One of the things that I think is going to help me in this, is to keep a pregnancy diary, which I think may be of interest and help to others, but I shall set up a separate page, so that those who have no interest in being put off their Weetabix with my hormonal and gynecological musings are not subjected to an irrational stream of consciousness. I think I will find it helpful to log my journey and the stages of development of the baby – others will find it interminably tedious.

Given that my last post was rather rash – it’s probably worth clarifying a few points.

  • Terrified was probably too strong a word to use for Robin’s reaction. He was infinitely more joyful and serene than I was, although he did go rather pale initially.
  • NFP or Creighton. It does work. It is 99% effective. I really don’t know what happened in my case – perhaps the baby who has occupied my womb really is the 1%, but I suspect that what has happened is some sort of user error. The whole family succumbed to a dreadful bout of gastroenteritis, so it is more than feasible that I missed just one crucial observation, or that being so ill, completely threw my system out. So many people have testified to the fact that it really has worked for them – if you look at this secular website and the advice of the NHS, you’ll see that most people who adhere to extended breastfeeding principles, do naturally manage to space their children by at least two years. It would seem that I am blessed with hyper-fertility, other women have been incredulous to discover that my fertility returns so quickly after giving birth and have questioned whether or not I really have exercised ecological or extended breast-feeding principles. The answer is yes.  I wish the baby would take a bottle, it would make my life infinitely easier. Unlike my other children, she does not go through the night yet either. I have no idea quite how I have managed to conceive, but I am going to talk through my charts with an expert who is confident that she can spot what happened, which is what we need for closure, and in order to start putting something into place to ensure that I can have a break from endless pregnancy. Most women who follow the principles I used do not have a return to fertility until 14 months postpartum. Mine returned after 3, after which point we were scrupulous.
  • As stated above, I think I am rather unusual and certainly lucky to be so fertile, many women of my age are struggling to conceive their first child, to be able to conceive so easily particularly when measures were being taken to avoid pregnancy, is unusual. I was being unfair and rather rash.
  • Nothing is 100%. No matter how careful or “safe” one thinks one is being, there is always a margin of error, no matter how tiny. I am walking the walk and dealing with the physical, emotional, practical and logistical challenges of this pregnancy which are not easy. I have no close family or friends nearby, it’s going to be tough, I mentioned my mother who, out of well-intentioned concern will have a different preferred course of action, but I am fortunate to have the support of my husband, who, on the day I discovered the pregnancy, returned home with flowers and champagne as I tweeted at the time. It will be tough, but the tumult and uncertainty of the last few years has been the absolute making of us – along with the grace of the Sacrament of marriage. This time three years ago we were excitedly making the final preparations for our wedding on December 29. Little did we think that in 3 years time, child number 4 would be on its way and that he would no longer be in ministry.

Finally, I just like to ask for the continued prayers of the Catholic and Christian blogosphere. Part of the training course I attended this weekend included a session upon how living a public life of Christian witness, can leave one open to spiritual attacks. I think one such attack has been happening recently and has been as a result of some of the online abuse, under which I would like to draw a line.

Over the past few weeks, some of the unpleasant activity has escalated. Someone set up a blog, the purpose of which seemed to be to state what a dreadful person I am, ugly on the inside and out. Someone else set up an anonymous twitter account devoted to stalking, trolling and attacking my tweets. My thanks to the Vernacular Vicar for his gallant defence and excellent post. Those who have been long-term readers might remember a post from last September,That man in a frock in Romein which I outlined why I was leaving a particular forum. Well over a year later, my blog stats have informed me that these same people still find me the source of abject fascination, as they are linking various posts to their private, password-only forum for discussion. Coincidentally, the unpleasant comments intensify on those days that my blog is linked.

The answer is of course to ignore it but it is nonetheless disconcerting to know that a group of women who dislike me intensely, because of my perceived sanctimonious nature or alleged insanity are unable to engage directly in a civilised fashion and continue to snipe behind my back. They are now well aware that when they link to this blog I can clearly see it and yet when I express my disquiet the response is that I am obviously attention-seeking, insane and thus deserving of their pity, but continue to repeatedly link to here, regardless. There can be no doubt that it is a form of bullying, from a group of women, who count schoolteachers among their number and therefore should know better. For a blogger, I am a sensitive soul and I’m still finding this very difficult to respond to and finding my feet in terms of the correct response.

It is a tiny proportion of my overall readership and is far outweighed by the overwhelmingly positive response I receive from blogging which has led to being published in print and online elsewhere and most recently to an invitation to speak at the Oxford University Catholic Society, on the subject of Catholicism and Feminism, all of which are great fruits of the Spirit.

Writing seems to be my charism. I am aware that not only do I need to use it wisely, but also that it does leave me vulnerable. I was introduced to the concept of scapegoating earlier today, which seems to be the only way I can make sense of this. The inevitable result is that little nagging voice of doubt starts telling me that I must stop writing, I must get out of the public square and leave it to other Catholics who are so much more talented than me, as evidenced by that little group who seem to have taken such exception and my reaction to them.

Satan’s clever like that. He uses our weaknesses against us. I wouldn’t be surprised if this intensifies over the next few months, so I am going  to regularly receive the sacrament of reconciliation and the power of prayer. I hold everyone who reads in prayer and give thanks for staying in theirs.

See – I knew I’d get there eventually. I just needed a little time.


Feeling grumpy and out of sorts:

1) The zip on my much loved parka has totally jammed and looks to be beyond repair

2) Currently staying in the middle of Wales with no mobile phone signal and thus missed a call asking whether or not I could appear on Woman’s Hour tomorrow

3) My period is 5 days late, we have been abstaining for most of the month and yet there is a nagging doubt. I have so far done 3 pregnancy tests. 2 seemed negative but the last one had a very faint line. I’ve tried to upload a photo but WordPress hates me.

Make no mistake, although I was messing about re having another baby, I really do NOT need to be pregnant right now. We went to Mass this morning, Robin was quite shaken after all we have been beyond careful, we really can’t work out how this might have happened (beyond the obvious), my cycle is usually spot on, textbook 28 days, but he is reconciled, if terrified and is convinced it is a definite gift.

I am still almost exclusively breastfeeding a 7 month old who is not fussed about solids, managing a 2 year old and 7 year old whilst juggling a degree. Robin is working 12 hour shifts with periods on call 24/7, the diocese will not house us unless he is ordained. 5 of us are stuffed into a tiny chalet bungalow and seminary was delayed for a year by the diocese because of Felicity’s unexpected arrival.

I had 2 cesarians in 17 months, the last one was gruelling beyond measure and though we planned number 4, we were hoping for at least a 2 year gap to let things stabilise a little. I am phobic about birth, seriously terrified, just thought of lying on that table has me bursting into tears. 4 children, 3 under 3 with no family within 300 miles and no close friends nearby.

I can never ever talk with any credibility about NFP again and expect to be taken seriously.

Apparently Clearblue are apparently notorious for false positives so we will try a digital one if no period arrives in the next few days.

Offer one up folks. And for now, mums the word. This post is password protected. If you are reading this it is because you are trusted. My mother does not know and the last thing I need is the daily “you need to have an abortion and/or be sterilised” phone call. Nor do I need any online abuse right now.

If it is not a false alarm, life is going to be very challenging.

Update – 14 Dec

I did 2 more tests. All negative including 1 last night. Nagging doubt earlier, so I tried a digital test.

It took an age which made me think that there was obviously no hormone to detect. I was wrong. It’s come up pregnant – 1-2 weeks post conception.

I’ve taken the password off, I don’t think my mum reads the blog anyway, but there we are.

Despite exclusively breastfeeding a baby who won’t take much solids & refuses formula milk, despite abstaining until day 22 of a regular 28 day cycle (we all had the sick bug), and making sure that not only were there no fertile signs but leaving a good 4 days after the last fertile marker, I have ended up the duff again and in August sometime face my 3rd cesarian since Nov 09 and 3 children under 3.

Oh and there’s a history of multiples. I joke not.

Kids. Don’t try Creighton. It clearly does not work.

I may be liable to swear and if any commenter says I behaved like an irresponsible 16 year old for having sex with my husband during a believed period of natural infertility, there will, almost certainly be violence.

I love babies and children, I wasn’t averse to another, but not yet. I needed a break.

Still it’s a beautiful gift. Talk about dying to self.

I hold Mac Maclernon, Fr Tim Finnegan and Laurence England personally responsible. That was the day we conceived.

Think I’ll pass on the stuffing

You have to hand it to BPAS. My abhorrence at their latest campaign, cheekily entitled “Santa Comes” is intermingled with jaw-dropping admiration for a very slick PR job, very well done.

It seems that BPAS are so concerned by the seasonal spike in unplanned pregnancies, that they are providing a new service which enables women to obtain stockpiles of the morning-after pill in advance of the Christmas festivities, in case of an unforeseen instance of unprotected sex.

Given BPAS’ concern for the needs of women and the awareness that perhaps more women than usual might need to obtain access to emergency contraception, one might think that a charity who claim to have the best interests of women at heart, would open emergency clinics over Christmas. As a charity who are mindful of their costs, after all opening on Boxing Day would entail double-time payments and the cancelling of annual paid leave, the handing out the pill in advance is obviously an infinitely more cost-effective and practical notion.

As BPAS admit, it is more than likely that underage teenage girls will be able to access advance supplies of the morning-after pill, but well teens will be teens won’t they? It’s probably very unlikely that any girls will be coerced into ringing up or that anyone sexually exploiting teen girls will misuse the service isn’t it? No teen will contemplate passing it onto a friend or selling it will they?Parents have absolutely no right to know whether or not their children might be contemplating engaging in un-protected sex, let alone whether or not they are taking huge doses of a synthetic hormone. Parents don’t really have any need to know what might be going on, enough information is given so that the responsible young teen engaging in unplanned sex will know that if she is sick within two hours she might need another dose and that if she has a persistent pain in her lower abdomen, she will need to consult a doctor as Levonelle (the morning after pill) does nothing to prevent ectopic pregnancy.

It’s not at all irresponsible to suggest that unsafe or unforseen sexual encounters are all part of the Christmas tradition and that people will be unable to resist the lure of a quick tumble with a relative stranger after one avocat too many. Forgetting to use a condom goes hand in hand with a drunken rendition of Fairy Tale of New York does it not?

Still let’s not be too condemnatory, BPAS do chuck in some free condoms just to prick the conscience and to provide justification for their handing out of emergency contraception, which when it was introduced was intended only ever to be administered on prescription in exceptional circumstances.

Considering the evidence that the morning after pill does not have an impact upon unplanned pregnancy rates, in the words of Dr Caroline Scherf, a consultant in sexual and reproductive health with the Cardiff and Vale University Health board

the pill as emergency contraception is preferable as opposed to nothing after unprotected sex, but there is still a very high chance that they will end up pregnant

it is surely ungracious and cynical to suggest that this is merely a ploy to surreptitiously increase their customer base?

This scheme does not discourage irresponsible sex, it positively sanctions it. According to the doublethink of BPAS, planning for irresponsible sex is the height of responsibility.

Of course, compassionate souls that they are, BPAS wouldn’t dream of encouraging yet more sexual encounters that might lead to more demand for abortions now would they? After all, there is no possibility that more drunken or spontaneous sex, safe in the knowledge that there’s always a back-up, will lead to more unplanned pregnancies or STIs now is there?

And who will be the first port of call when the emergency contraception or even the free condom fails? BPAS, those caring people who gave me the free contraception in the first place. Stunning piece of marketing and indeed PR. Even if it transpires that there are no spikes in STIs or unplanned pregnancies over the Christmas period, (I hope someone monitors this)even if our young responsible girl (the advert is clearly aimed at a certain demographic) resists the lure of a quick pash on the tinsel bedecked photocopier, or her contraception works, well she’s still got the pill for another time. Together with a heightened brand awareness of BPAS. You have to hand it to them, this campaign gets their name all over the media, in the same way as Benetton’s Pope stunt; it wins the praise of pro-choicers and professional copulationists sex education advocates whereas anyone with half an ounce of sense will shake their head in despair. The scheme vastly increases awareness of BPAS in the teenage market with carefully targeted, fun and festive advertisements featuring in teen magazines and young adult glossies.

Santa’s coming, how witty, how risqué, what a clever and sophisticated double-entendre. I can think of a much more responsible slogan in a similar vein.

“Say no to the stuffing”.

Into the maelstrom

The remarks of Archbishop Vincent Nichols regarding civil partnerships have stirred up a lot of controversy on the Catholic blogosphere this week, led by the respected columnist for the Catholic Herald, William Oddie. I won’t re-hash the debate, but Oddie’s pieces may be read here and here. Archbishop Nichol’s response to the criticism may be found here.

I don’t want to add too much to the debate, other than to wonder whether this is something of a storm in a teacup, I’m not going to deny that the Archbishop’s statement was ambiguous, but I think there is a tendency to be guilty of a lack of charity here. I am quite uncomfortable with the concept of automatically assuming that the leader of Catholics in England and Wales has some agenda which runs contrary to that of the Holy See which he is intent on pursuing. I know all sorts of commenters will now rush to tell me about a whole host of scandals in an attempt to demonstrate that there is a consistent trend and underlying proof that secretly the Bishops are seeking to do xyz, but I am also aware that there is always two sides to every story, and so far, I’m only aware of one side, namely that of the very orthodox Catholic blogosphere. I know that things don’t look great on paper, I am not disputing the veracity of various claims or calling into question the integrity of anyone who comments on these things, but in the case of, for example, the Cardinal Vaughan school, it’s quite difficult to comment from the sidelines, only having been party to one side.

Another thing I will note is that I can’t summon up the enthusiasm for ecclesiastical politics. I don’t know anyone from the Bishop’s Conference and if I’m honest, I don’t really want to know either. Networking, schmoozing, knowing who’s who, isn’t my thing, which is probably something of a failing for a former vicar’s wife. I like to write my blog, talk about Catholic social issues, discuss a bit of politics, what’s going on in the twittersphere and in the media, occasionally venture into a bit of theology, hoping that I don’t launch into heresy, but I’ll only call people to account when I feel able and qualified to do so. I genuinely don’t feel comfortable about publicly questioning Archbishop Nichols, for a multitude of reasons, none of them to do with sycophancy or self-advancement, but simply that I am yet to be convinced of certain things, such as whether the Liverpool Care Plan, is back-door euthanasia for example or whether or not it gives ammunition to the euthanasia lobby, so I’m not going to go down that route. Call me naive but I trust in the Holy Spirit whom I believe has a hand in episcopal matters.

In terms of civil partnerships, I think we have to remember, that were Archbishop Nichols grossly in the wrong here, we’d have heard about it already from the likes of Archbishop Cranmer, who wouldn’t have passed up an opportunity to criticise the Catholic Church if he thought that they were in any way supporting the issue of same-sex marriage. I admire the dead heretic enormously, but he isn’t exactly Rome’s greatest advocate.

The other thing that I think it is worth remembering, is that civil partnerships do solve some issues of natural justice, without necessarily undermining marriage. It is only right and just that people who are not in a marital relationship should be able to have similar access to various legal privileges, formerly only available to married couples, such as inheritance rights, or the right to nominate someone as your next of kin, or name them as a beneficiary on a pension. Though there are arguments to be made for keeping certain things as being exclusive privileges of a married couple, actually it is no bad thing for people to be able to legally formalise close relationships.

Where civil partnerships have failed and are utterly discriminatory is that they are only open to same-sex couples and necessitate an official public ceremony similar to a wedding ceremony. I have two elderly aunts, Auntie A and Auntie B. Unless my parents have finally got around to changing their will, they are still named as our official guardians in the event of my parents’ death. My Aunties were a part of our family when I was a child, they attended every family party or celebration, were part of Christmas, came to look after myself and my sister for a week when my grandmother died and were the first people my parents called to help when we were involved in a horrific car accident when I was ten, which incapacitated my mother for a year, at one stage all of the family were in different parts of the hospital being treated for our injuries with the aunties switching from theatre to theatre to check on our progress.

Auntie A and Auntie B were both teachers at my mother’s school which is how she came to know them. She immediately clicked with Auntie A and a lifelong friendship was born, I don’t ever remember them not being in my life. Auntie A moved in with Auntie B when she was a newly qualified teacher in the fifties and needed temporary lodgings. She never moved out. I honestly have no idea whether or not they were involved in a sexual relationship, but my instinct tells me that they were not. Schoolchildren being what they are, found out that Misses A and B lived together and constructed their own narrative, but I can honestly say, I never witnessed anything that would lead me to believe that. To a certain extent it doesn’t really matter, I’m not interested, it doesn’t affect my feelings towards them. Auntie A is probably one of the wisest and most perceptive women I’ve ever met. Over the past 60 years the aunties have done everything together, they have a lot of mutual interests, probably one of the reasons behind such a close enduring relationship, and are much loved in the local community, still attending Scottish Country dancing together in their 70s and 80s. They have travelled the world over and had an enormously full life. Auntie A once confided to me however were she to have her time again, she would have liked to have got married, that she would have liked to have had a husband and children, something that surprised me.

Now Auntie A is approaching her late 70s and Auntie B is ten years older, in her late 80s. Auntie B has increasingly been suffering health problems. Auntie A has become her full-time carer without complaint. Auntie B recently suffered a rectal prolapse which has necessitated very intimate and compassionate care. They are not in a civil partnership because neither of them want to put themselves through a ceremony that does not reflect the nature of their relationship. This means that when Auntie B dies, Auntie A will have no legal claim (not that she wants one) on Auntie B’s estate, despite having jointly contributed to the upkeep and maintenance of the house as well as the household shopping and so on for almost the past 60 years. She also has no social security rights, no tenancy rights and no right to be consulted in terms of treatment, as next-of-kin. I should imagine that being the canny ladies they are, that the correct arrangments have been made, but it seems nonsensical that Auntie A could well face a claim from Auntie B’s various nieces and nephews and could lose her house. It also seems unfair that Auntie A has no legal status. This could all be rectified with a civil partnership, but this option is not available to them as they don’t wish to formally recognise their relationship as being a same-sex one. Auntie A said that she wouldn’t put Auntie B through it and the pair of them would find it deeply humiliating and embarrassing. They don’t want it on permanent record that they were in a romantic relationship and besides Auntie A feels, it would be a lie or a sham.

This is where civil partnerships fail, because they do not give people like my aunties, or several other people, such as cousins, brothers and sisters, or platonic friends similar rights. Civil partnerships frame these relationships as only being romantic or sexual and are therefore discriminatory. But the principle of offering equal legal and employment rights to those in chaste loving relationships is a noble one, just as it is noble that whilst Catholics should not be seen to support same-sex sexual relationships, we cannot assume that all those who are in a civil partnership are necessarily indulging in sexual relationships. Though the Church of England allows its clergy to be in civil partnerships they are, technically speaking, supposed to be chaste and refrain from sex.

Civil partnerships are, excuse the pun, a b*gger’s muddle. The Church of England is in exactly the same position as the Catholic Church. Civil partnerships were seen as a compromise that served the legal needs of the gay community, but were not seen as undermining marriage as they were separate to them. The rules of democracy mean that views that are seen to be in the minority, and opposition to same-sex partnerships is a minority view, don’t hold sway. Most people were concerned that gay couples were not being treated on a par with married couples and held this to be grossly unfair. A much better solution would have been to create a legal process which meant that all couples could go to a registry office and register another person as their official next of kin. If gay couples had wanted all the extra bells and whistles there was still absolutely nothing to stop them from doing this, with a humanist minister or whatever they wanted, but civil partnerships discriminate nonetheless against those who are in a chaste relationship.

There are many arguments for keeping marriage special and according it unique status, civil partnerships should not, for example, include parental responsibility, which should remain as being the exclusive right of married couples, or put more precisely the right of children to be brought up by a biological mother and father, but done properly civil partnerships might not have undermined marriage.

The problem for both the Church of England and the Catholic Church is that neither wished to be seen to deny legal equalities and rights purely on the grounds of sexuality. The homophobe label still carries immense power, it’s Stonewall’s entire raison d’etre. Also at the time of the consultation on civil partnerships, the gay rights groups stated that they were not pushing for marriage, simply that they wanted equality.

This is one of the reasons why the CDF specifically spoke out against civil partnerships in 2003, they could see that civil partnerships were marriage by the back door – the slippery slope and that civil partnerships could very much be seen as an inferior option. Had all parties pushed harder for a wider definition of civil partnerships, then perhaps we would not be in the mess that we are in today.

In any case, it should be remembered that Archbishop Cormac Murphy O’Connor was in charge in 2003 when this was discussed. I am unable to offer comment as to what the church should or should not have done as I was not in communion with the Catholic Church at that time. I was dealing with an unplanned pregnancy and traumatic birth. Had the Church mounted a more concerted campaign, it is unsure whether or not this would have been successful, given how split the Anglican communion was over the whole issue, but the Bishops Conference was very clear in 2003, when it stated that “civil unions would not support the common good and we therefore strongly oppose them”.

Whatever else he might have said, Archbishop Nichols has stated that equality and commitment do not amount to marriage. Surely that is the main thing. Surely what matters now is sticking together to defend marriage, rather than this internecine squabbling, which does no-one any good. We are all part of one body in Christ. Wounds and divisions hurt us all.

*PS I know I will probably regret this and the internet will explode as a result. That’s the problem with trying to please everyone, you please no-one, but my loyalty lies in Christ and the Church that he founded. I am not convinced that hitching my wagon to the “church isn’t catholic enough” train is the way that I might best serve her. Don’t be too horrid in the comments.