I warn you now, this isn’t going to be a particularly upbeat post, so those of a nervous disposition – look away now. As I always say – my blog, my gaffe, my rules and if I want to have a jolly good moan, then frankly I’m going to.
So where are we? Last Friday, Radio Kerry asked me to contribute in their lunchtime talking heads programme about the case of Denum Ellarby, the little boy with Downs Syndrome who has been asked to delay his First Holy Communion. I was quite nervous but on balance think it went quite well and had some positive feedback and constructive criticism from other Catholics.
That night I received a horrendous poison pen email. I have no idea who it was from – some clever Johnny has worked out how to access my email from a WhoIs lookup and thinks it a jolly good wheeze to send me streams of poison, telling me what other people are saying about me. By other people I mean the ladies from a mumsnet-type forum I left over a year ago. Whilst I don’t think it’s constructive to engage in any further criticism of this forum which always results in streams of vitriol and people defending the “lovely supportive group of people” and my being accused of Munchausen’s (yawn), I obviously found this more than a little hurtful. As it comes from a DNS – do not reply server, I can neither block nor reply to it.
A complicated pregnancy
A bit of background. For those who don’t know and I’m not inclined to make all my confidential medical details public, I had a scare a few weeks ago, following some excruciating pain which saw me in A&E. A hopelessly over-excited SHO decided that it was an ectopic pregnancy and decided to prescribe methothroxate without actually having scanned me. I obviously objected – on an ethical level, methothroxate is an unacceptable treatment as it constitutes a direct attack upon the fetus. That doesn’t mean that Catholics are supposed to die from ectopic pregnancies or life threatening complications, but ethically, we are not supposed to do anything that is designed to directly kill the unborn child. A tubal removal would have been the answer, because it is removing the damaged tube to save the life of the mother – the side effect of which would have resulted in the death of the baby. It’s known as the concept of double effect. A mother suffering from life-threatening cancer and requiring treatment would not be expected to forgo the treatment for example, hopefully ways would be found to enable both lives to be saved, but in the worst possible scenario, any consequences for the baby would need to be as a side-effect and not a direct intention.
After a lot of deliberation and various shenanigans I was informed that I had something called a heterotopic pregnancy, a really rare condition whereby there is a surviving life pregnancy in utero and an ectopic one in the fallopian tube. Most amusingly, I was repeatedly asked by the doctors “now are you sure that you haven’t had any fertility treatment?” Like that’s something I’d just “forget”. Apparently it’s a condition that mainly affects those who have received IVF, the chances of it happening in a natural conception are 1:30,000.
Despite being told not to google, I did just that and thus we spent an agonising weekend, trying to work out what the best course of action might be. My thanks to Antony McCarthy from SPUC who proved enormously helpful – bio-ethics being his particular specialism. I was booked in for a laparoscopy on Monday, however after many more scans and blood tests, it was decided that it was not a heterotopic pregnancy after all, but merely an ovarian cyst, the pathology of which is similar to an ectopic pregnancy. As I had been exhibiting symptoms, including excoriating pain down one side all of which were presenting as identical to an ectopic, that is what they had been looking for, and upon scanning with a slightly older scanner up in the gynae department instead of the state of the art one in ultrasound (which was shut on a Friday night) they had spotted the live pregnancy and the mass on the fallopian tube. The pain is caused by torsion or twisting, hence I have been given painkillers. Although I felt something of a wimp, apparently cysts often do prove painful.
So what will they do to treat the cyst?
- Leave it, monitor it and hope it goes away, pregnancy hormones often stimulate the growth of cysts, but it may well go away and shrink of its own accord
- If it grows to more than 7cm and continues to cause pain then a procedure will be required to remove it, but ideally between 14 and 20 weeks
- Very worst case scenario – deliver the baby early, if the cyst grows too big in late pregnancy
At the moment I am still experiencing intermittent sharp pain.
As I said, I’m not going to launch into a huge attack on the mummy forum, I know that most of them are fundamentally decent people, but I don’t think anyone would relish receiving bitchy emails containing accusations of mental illness discussing my medical details and history and the thoughts of a group of women, whose company you are deliberately eschewing and avoiding, who seem to have nothing better to do than obsessively pour over my tweet feed and blog. Fundamentally however it is more their problem than mine. Years ago the kind of person who engages in this type of activity would obsessively keep scrapbooks and clippings, or spy behind the net curtains, logging neighbours’ movements. These days we have the internet.
Then there’s the midwife
So this week, I visited the midwife for my hour long booking in appointment. I had hoped to go alone, but the whole family has picked up another D&V virus from nursery this week (more on that later) so I had to take the two babies who were banned from nursery for 48 hours. It was one of those mornings. Scream scream scream SCREAM went the baby all morning. I couldn’t get dressed, I couldn’t get the toddler dressed, I couldn’t brush my teeth, hair, make breakfast, do anything without high pitched SCREAMING. “Stop it Licity, stop it, stop it stop it” shouted toddler, proceeding to pick up the biggest toy she could find and clatter the baby about the head. Toddler on naughty step – joint chorus of screaming.
I arrive at the midwife 10 minutes late, the surgery never has enough parking spaces so I had to park 1000 yards down the road on a busy street and manhandle the pair into a double buggy. I arrive into the surgery very flustered and toddler starts having a major tantrum because she wants out of the buggy and I won’t let her because of her habit of not staying with the toys in the toy corner, but running out of the front door and climbing all over the other patients. Just as I relent and she proves me right, I retrieve her from running out of the door, she throws herself on the floor in meltdown, baby starts to scream, out comes the midwife….
So into the midwife’s room I trot with two children in full-on meltdown, eliciting lots of sighs and huffing and puffing. Can’t you get someone to look after them for you, she asked. I explain that they have been ill and so aren’t allowed in nursery. Don’t you have anyone else to help you she asks. No, I reply, I don’t. What about family? No – one set in Wales, the other in Oxfordshire and a sister with 4 children of her own in Northampton. I’m not from Brighton, I don’t have any close friends here, only having moved here a few years ago and then having to move house just having got to know a certain area.
Well you’re clearly struggling she said, life isn’t going to get any easier for you with another baby and three small children, are you sure that this is the wisest option? I don’t agree with abortion, I replied, so this isn’t a discussion that I want to have. Well, alright, fair enough, but I’m just very concerned for you. Thanks, I appreciate it, what I need is some help, do you think you might be able to arrange that for me? No, sorry, you’ll have to speak to the health visitor once the baby is born.
So we go through my notes, etc etc and a lot is made of my advanced age (37) and the fact it’s my 4th pregnancy and all apparently rather risky. I need to go to thrombosis clinic as given that I’m so old and it’s my fourth baby, I’m at much greater risk of a blood clot?! I also get referred straight to consultant for discussions about whether or not I’ll be allowed to attempt a natural birth. Much tutting and talking about the risks of blood loss. Tut, tut, tsk, tsk, tsk. All the while the children are in meltdown. There are no toddler toys in the consulting room because they constitute a risk of contamination. I am asked why I didn’t bring anything to entertain them. I explain that I was in a rush, it was a difficult morning and I was trying to rush out of the house as quickly as possible. Tsk, tsk tsk. Tut, tut, tut. Then – what are you going to do about contraception once the baby has been born. I explain that we are either going to abstain for as long as it takes or we are contacting the couple-to-couple league for a belt and braces method. Not just examining one type of fertility marker, but all three and backed up by the persona device. If in doubt we’ll leave it out!
Tsk, tsk, tsk, tut, tut, tut. That is not good enough. Natural contraception just does not work. You cannot be in this situation again (as if I don’t know) what about sterilisation? I explain, briefly that contraception is out of the question for us as a couple. I don’t go into any detail, just explain that due to cultural beliefs we cannot use it. Well that’s ridiculous she says, you have to do something. I can’t, I tell her, it’s out of the question. Well in that case, I think I need to refer you to counselling. No, I don’t need counselling I tell her. Yes, you do she tells me, I have here in your notes that you suffer from ante-natal depression and there’s a huge risk of post-natal depression, unless you use contraception you are going to be very very ill and you need to understand that, as does your husband. Oh, he understands that alright, he understands that I am more than just a bit “sad” at the moment, but even IF I accepted what you are saying about contraception, which I don’t, if I get sterilised or use contraception behind my husband’s back, my marriage will be effectively over. We will never be intimate again and our marriage will be under huge strain. How will that help anyone, particularly the children? Well he needs counselling to make him understand. No, he doesn’t and nor do I, as a couple, contraception is OUR choice and OUR business, not for one person to hector another and given the situation, I hardly think we are going to take any future risks.
So it’s all a barrel of laughs so far. Then.
11 weeks pregnant, and if anything the sickness is getting worse. The painkillers for the cyst are also adding to the upset stomach. On Monday night I started to projectile vomit and continued throughout the night. The baby decided to join in for good measure, then on Tuesday morning Robin starts to copiously vomit on his way to work. I go to wake up toddler and the cot is covered in piles of sick. It’s up the walls all over her toys, matted in her hair all over her pyjamas. I’ve never seen so much sick in my life and go through paroxysms of guilt. Why didn’t I hear her in the night? What if she’d choked on it?
Fortunately being the sturdy child she is, she seems to have recovered pretty swiftly, but it’s meant that nursery has been out of the question all week as have lectures and seminars. It was the first week back at University following reading week so great, I’m already behind again. At time of writing, Robin is still suffering for an upset stomach and so I am. It’s difficult to tell with me whether its a virus or just general sickness.
I’m still exhausted. Bunk beds not delivered yet, so baby is still in bed with me. She smells the milk and fusses and screams for feeding every hour. Robin has been taking her downstairs in the middle of the night and cuddling her to sleep away from the smell of the milk, but as soon as she comes back upstairs, one sniff of mummy and whaaaa. As Robin has to work really long days, it’s not fair to expect him to be up in the middle of the night with the baby, although he does so gladly. We don’t have a spare room, so that option is out of the question. I guess the only answer is for him to sleep on the sofa with the baby, which I can hardly ask him to do when he has to work. We’re just praying the bunk beds arrive soon so we can begin the whole crying down process – but fair to say we are currently both sick and exhausted.
A few weeks ago, a rather unpleasant commenter, whose comments I refused to publish, set up an entire blog to tell the world what a wicked awful woman I was and not only that I am very ugly too, with a face like a horse. He is a known anti-Christian agitator, having trawled various Christian blogs, spouting absolute bile and poison. I refused to publish his comments not only because they were very personal and unpleasant, he’d gone to the trouble of finding out our former address and attempted to allude to potential going acquaintances, but more seriously, they were racist. Black African Christians are a complete anathema to him. I refused to give his nastiness and racism a voice and so he went off on a mad one, setting up his own personal anti-Caroline, face-like-a-horse blog. Other Christian bloggers also testify to his special brand of spite, he’s able to target in on areas of weakness, capable of an enormous amount of projection and goes in for pseudo psycho-analysis, my particular bete-noir.
One of the things he predicted with some accuracy is that the orthodox Catholic bloggers would turn against me. Which brings me on to:
The Pope of Corby
I have spent the last year receiving all kinds of abuse and bile from those who simply could not cope with my promulgation of Catholic doctrine. It’s a recurrent theme of this blog. Most of the time the earmuffs are firmly affixed, but it does get wearisome.
Recently I joined Catholic Voices because I thought I’d be good at it and I thought I had much to give. I had spent so much time engaged in written apologetics, I know Catholic social doctrine inside out and many people encouraged me, thinking I’d be a great spokesperson for the Church. I knew that the organisers had a bad press on the Catholic blogosphere, but I tend to seek as I find, make my own mind up about people and form my own opinions, as opposed to pre-judge. My crime was to give up three weekends, spend time and money travelling from Brighton to Leeds to learn media skills.
What that means is that I am now perceived as some kind of traitor. My blog, is no longer my own blog. No, it is an officially sanctioned Catholic Voices one, which I should not be allowed to hold, according to those on the Catholic blogosphere. When I write about my children, or my pregnancy, my dog, or anything else, that is an official Catholic Voices view apparently…
Joining Catholic Voices means that I have lost all capacity to think for myself. I am now an “establishment mouthpiece”, I have been indoctrinated into saying whatever the Bishops want me to say and as a result I am going against Church doctrine. I am following a “liberal socialist” agenda and need to think before I open my mouth.
Why? Because I happen not to automatically distrust everything that comes out of the Bishops’ mouths and seize on every announcement as proof of heterodoxy or pro-life dissent. As I’ve tried to critically engage with some of those areas which ARE prudential judgement, because I’ve listened to palliative care specialists and bio-ethicists with impeccable Catholic credentials on issues such as the Liverpool Care Pathway, I am now “pro-life lite”. I haven’t commented much on the Connexions issue, other than to note, that I don’t really know very much about it and from what I understand, the management of Connexions is supposed to be on a local school level. Connexions are apparently supposed to comply with the Catholic ethos of a school. I don’t know enough to support or defend it, but I am loathe to go shouting that compliance with the law is proof of heterodoxy.
Laughably I am told that I have a “liberal socialist” agenda and I am not a proper Catholic. The Pope of Corby and his team of navel gazing zombies seem far more interested in turning inwards and tearing each other apart, bullying me, and yes it IS bullying; a prolonged twitter bombardment starting on Christmas Eve, use of the imperative tense, which he still insists on using, liberally doling out warnings, not only to me, but also insults, branding colleagues of mine “Judas” and generally ranting non stop in an unhealthy and unhelpful fashion, trolling my tweet feed and telling whoever wants to listen that I have no right to comment on any Catholic issue whatsoever, all this amounts to bullying. He spent the whole of yesterday insulting and falsely accusing a colleague whose name he couldn’t be bothered to get correct. When I pointed out quite how hurtful he is being in the light of what we have sacrificed and given up, I was told that I use any means at my disposal to get at those who disagree with me. Disagree all you like, just don’t call me names or cast doubt on my motives. Criticism should be CONSTRUCTIVE.
Here’s what galls me, the person who is not a “proper Catholic” and is some kind of “sell-out”.
Not a proper Catholic? Selling Out?
Two years ago, I lived in a nice big 4 bedroom vicarage. I had lots of friends and was part of a supportive community. Two years on, I have had one unplanned baby and am now expecting another. I’ve had to put my plans to study at University on hold for a year, I might well need to do so again. University is important to me as it is probably the only way I’m ever going to get a job, or any job security. A job/job security is important to me, because we don’t know what the future holds.
There is no guarantee that Robin will be ordained as a Catholic Priest. He is currently being invited to consider his vocation. At present he is working full time long hours for not very much money. He enjoys the job, but it is not enough to support us. We are currently being helped by a charity specifically set up to help convert clergy, but the Ordinariate is an extra drain on their funds and they cannot help us in the long-term. If there is no priestly vocation, then Robin will have effectively “wasted” three years in terms of his career and will need to re-train. I am expecting a baby in August. We are living in Brighton so as not to have to disrupt my 7 year olds schooling and not move her several times. In September, following a cesarian section, Robin will start part-time for 2 years at Wonersh seminary, meaning that he will have to stay over at least one night a week, working a few days in his current job and spending the rest of the time at seminary.
Now he could delay it another year, but that means, just another year of transition of waiting, of uncertainty. We cannot plan for our daughter’s secondary school, we don’t know where we will be living, we can’t plan for the toddler and baby’s school, because we don’t know where we will be living. We will need to be in an area, a year before they start school in order to meet the eligibility criteria. My seven year has no idea when she will be leaving her school, or where she will be going. She is quite anxious about this. I have no idea where we will be living, I have no idea if we will have enough money to live on, I have no idea what we will do if a vocation is not discerned. I hope and pray that it will be, but it’s out of our hands and in the hands of God – we have to accept the outcome, whatever it is. But it is a time of huge uncertainty for us.
We, as a family have given up EVERYTHING, in order that my husband could follow his call across the Tiber. It wasn’t a decision taken lightly, off the back of any particular event in the Church of England, but one that happened gradually over a few years. My husband has 4 theology degrees, including one in Catholic theology from Heythrop, he’s introduced me to a lot of reading, we probably know the magisterium and Catholic teaching better than many ordinary pew-sitters and yet people think it’s acceptable to patronisingly ask “have you ever heard of Humanae Vitae”?
My blog has resulted in rape threats and death threats and poison pen letters. Commentators have called me fundamentalist, extremist, school friends have fallen out with me due to perceived “homophobia”, my mother is desperately embarrassed by me, she rang me up to tell me that if this baby is discovered to be disabled, then I really must have an abortion, in short publicly blogging has brought me nothing other than grief.
I’ve carried on doing it, for the positive comments, for those who have said “I don’t agree but I appreciate your reasoning and I can see that you are not a bigot or driven by hatred”. I’ve done it for those who have privately emailed me and asked for spiritual advice or guidance, for reading matter or for practical help on NFP or abortion issues. I’ve done it because there are people who I know I’ve helped.
But when I am called a traitor, a liberal socialist, not a proper Catholic, a heretic, when I subject to hatred and spite from brethren in Christ, when a self-appointed Pope of Corby, rants and raves, threatens and insults, when his team of hangers-on egg him on and tell me quite what a useless, stupid, thick, self-serving, attention-seeking waste of space and not a proper Catholic I am, when the fact that we are not cradle Catholics is waved about, suddenly, I snap, particularly when this comes from people who are supposed to be on side. When polls are held as to whether or not bloggers should be a part of Catholic Voices, a project for which I gave up my free time and money and energy and for which I have had received diatribes, I begin to lose patience. After all, who decided that the blogosphere should only consist of those in opposition to the CBCEW? What is so wrong about me taking the default view that the Catholic Bishops in this country ARE in accordance with the Catechism?
I was sorting out newborn baby clothes earlier this week. Instead of feeling the usual pang of excitement, I felt nothing but despair. “Oh no, not again” was all I could think. Another long drawn out difficult pregnancy which drains all my physical and emotional resources, just as I was beginning to feel more myself again. More screaming babies, more nappies, more sleepless nights. Three non stop years of pregnancy, breast-feeding and giving birth.
And all the while orthodox Catholics are screaming, ranting, raving, leering, getting their voices of spite in my head, calling me names, spitting poison, venom and fury.
An orthodox blogger said to me privately that I am pouring myself out to help a Church which will eventually hurt me.
What more do I need to say?
Just to add to it all, today I received 2 pieces of bad news. Firstly my nana who is 99 and had to go into a nursing home last year has been diagnosed as being in the final stages of her life.
Secondly and more trivially, never ever buy anything from Dreams. Children’s bunk beds won’t arrive until April, despite being ordered in December and assured of January delivery. As 28 days have elapsed we are not entitled to a refund. So another few months of no sleep.
Just to prove my point, a “Christian” commentator who I’ve never heard of has publically denounced me as a “vile individual”. She goes on to say “I genuinely shudder that people like you speak for me”. You have to wonder why other Christian bloggers are prepared to tolerate this unedifying behaviour on their site. My policy is to stop the comments descending into spiteful bullying.
Apparently my attack on John Smeaton was ‘shameful’. No, it was a public right of reply. It is one thing being slandered by a tuppenny ha’penny blogger, quite another when the leader of a large lobby group outwardly concerned with protecting the unborn, launches into a personal attack on a group of young Catholics for not being “true Catholics”. That is an abuse of his position at the very least. There are still questions needing answers.
The biggest and most bitter irony, is that this is proof enough of the failure of pro-life in the UK. Instead of marshalling forces, Catholics are lining up to pour hate, venom and scorn upon each other. Like any failed movement, it’s tearing itself to pieces. I want no part of this. I am no longer going to read the below-the-line pond-life. It’s spiritually toxic and unhealthy.
A very poor advert for Catholicism and Christianity and a deep wound in the body of Christ. Fortunately I know that these people are thankfully in the minority. The Church in the UK is a thriving group consisting of many young and old, of all nations and races with different liturgical preferences and passions but all united in the love and joy and the peace of Christ. All with a genuine love care and compassion for their neighbour, prepared to roll up sleeves and help, not sit in a darkened and be-cobwebbed room using the Internet to amplify their personal vendettas and disappointments. The Church is not simply lace cottas and thuribles the size of China. It is the body of Christ here on earth and when we damage and wound each other, when we inflict pain and hurt and suffering on others, we do it to Christ himself. Judging the theological purity of others, deciding whether or not someone is a real Catholic and calling someone enduring a great deal of personal suffering and sacrifice through attempting to live a life of witness “vile” and a “pseudo Catholic” is not an act of witness.
I think there is more than one of us in need of prayer and healing tonight.