On coming home

Damian Thompson writes today that the era of Anglo-Catholicism in the Anglican Church is drawing to a close due to the forthcoming vote on women bishops in the Synod this week. According to Damian, Anglo-Catholics who are serious about their faith,will have already decamped leaving only what he describes as the ‘gold chasuble brigade’ i.e. those who like the liturgy of the Roman rite but not the meat of the Catechism. He also describes how the Ordinariate has not attracted most of the Anglo-Catholic laity and attributes this in part to the failure of the Catholic Church to provide the Ordinariate with a London church.

I’m not so sure he’s right on either score. I don’t think it’s fair to use the amusing biretta and lace trope (which does have an element of truth) when discussing matters of spiritual integrity. There are undoubtedly those who like the liturgy and outward trappings of pre Vatican II Catholicism but are very liberal in terms of Catholic teaching on sexuality and other matters; on the other hand there are those who genuinely yearn for reunification, who are well-formed, highly educated, theologically and morally literate who just cannot in good conscience sign the Catechism. I would hazard a decent guess that the former Bishop of Chichester, John Hind, is just such a man. Those who do not ‘Pope’ are not hypocritical or ignorant, all style over substance, simply that leaving home is not easy and takes much soul-searching.

There have been a few times online when I have seen decent men barracked and hectored that if they have any integrity they should convert. Such attitudes make me sad and angry in equal measure. Bullying and berating people is not the way to ensure conversions of heart.

I can only speak of my second-hand experience as the wife of someone who converted, though I was party and privy to Robin’s journey, being already a Catholic, I could not experience the turmoil in the same way. For me, it was blatantly clear that he should convert, but that was something he had to discern for himself in much prayer and thoughtful reflection, it was a decision between him and God, one in which I could have very little input. If I’m being entirely candid, on one level it would have suited me absolutely fine had Robin remained an Anglican clergyman. We had a lovely Rectory, a great parish, he was Freehold, a wonderful circle of friends and support, a pension scheme and lifetime security. We went to vigil Mass on a Saturday together so I could fulfil my obligation and then I would support him in the parish on a Sunday. I was being spiritually nourished, we had a good life, Robin was on Synod, conducted lay reader training, was part of diocesan vocations, school governor, trustee of a local charity, all in all was doing well, surely to throw all that away for an uncertain future was folly? I know both sets of parents were very uneasy about it all.

But all the while there was a nagging and niggling sense for me, that this was somehow dishonest. It became clearer and clearer that he needed to convert, that he wasn’t being honest with himself, with his parishioners and most importantly with God, but the impetus, the examination of heart and conscience can only come from deep within, no-one else can or should make those spiritual choices for you, plus we have to trust in God’s grace and the Holy Spirit. I wanted nothing more than the person who I love most in all the world to be in communion with me in faith, there is nothing more painful than being spiritually divided; of course I wanted him to receive all the richness and beauty of the faith, the graces and blessings of being a member of the one true Apostolic Church. Love is not selfish, it wants to share its joys with others, it will put the other person first regardless of the cost. But ultimately I could not substitute my will for his.

And yes, there was a cost, an enormous cost for us as a family and no doubt if I were a better, holier and more pious woman, I would have borne it a lot more unflinchingly, but when the eventual decision came, it was full of joy, our parish made Robin so welcome, but it was very bittersweet. We laid down our previous lives to take up a new one, which entailed much pain and sorrow. I know Robin felt like he was letting people down, deserting a group of people who he had cared for and ministered to over the past ten years and I felt like I was betraying those who had made me so welcome and loved when we got married.

We then, as detailed on this blog, had an incredibly testing two years whilst he discerned vocation and worked in the funeral industry, during which we doubled our number of children from two to four, I found a writing voice and struggled to come to terms with the swash and buckle of internet discourse and was subject to a series of vicious personal attacks, which was at times my only social contact with the outside world.

That’s not to deter potential converts, our story is not unique, every single Anglican convert’s wife has a similar tale to tell in terms of the impact upon their family life. One of the things that almost all mothers crave is stability and the opportunity to build a future for their children. One of the downsides of being any clergy wife, is that you have to accept that your husband’s vocation does not entail a guarantee of permanence. Moving house multiple times can be incredibly destabilising and losing one’s circle of real-life local friends and acquaintances, to move to an area in which you know no-one and can’t easily get out and about, isolating.

I was as supportive as I could be, I knew it was the right thing, but it was by no means easy and I was by no means a paragon of saintly virtue in serenely accepting the family turmoil or years of flux and uncertainty.

I’ve digressed, but the point is, that I was always 100% supportive of Robin. What about Anglo-Catholic clergy whose wives are reluctant to convert and/or support them? It’s an enormous ask and therefore denigrating the decision to put family stability first cannot be the correct way to go. Furthermore leaving one’s spiritual home can be an enormous wrench. I’ve never done it, but when C of E clergy are ordained, like their Roman counterparts they believe this to be a lifelong commitment and calling, in the same way as marriage vows. One cannot deny the affection for the spiritual tradition in which one was formed and it takes a lot of courage to admit there is no realistic prospect of reunification, to abandon your home and watch helplessly as it tears itself to pieces and moves further and further away from universal truths.

Crossing the Tiber is not the straightforward intellectual exercise that it might seem on paper, these are real people with real lives and a multitude of responsibilities to juggle. For the clergy there is the additional question of vocation. One has to accept that one’s former ministry was probably not wholly valid. What if one still feels called to priesthood? There is no guarantee that the Catholic Church will accept one as a candidate. What do you do if your life hereto has consisted of ministry, you have a hatful of theology degrees, huge amount of transferable skills yet are competing with people not only younger but with more relevant experience? All of a sudden you have to rebuild your life, whilst attempting to provide for yourself and any family. Was your former life a waste of time and meaningless?

All of which means than the decision to convert has to be made out of love in a spirit of joyful acceptance and not because one feels that the Church of England has left one with little other choice. There is a difference between choosing to ‘Pope’ and being pushed. Neither of us regret for one moment the decision to convert, there is no question that it was where The Lord was leading, our lives are spiritually richer, our marriage has been transformed and strengthened and if ordination does not take place, though crushing, we would still not look back. This is where converts need to be, it has to be a total laying down of a life in order to resume it and an acceptance that The Lord may not lead one back to the altar in the same way. It’s a total death to self and an acceptance than one may no longer be in ministry. The older one is, the more difficult that becomes, and if one is a young unmarried vicar, then one has to abandon any previous notions of marriage and family.

And this, I suspect is one of the reasons why perhaps not as many laity as some expected have joined the Ordinariate, because again, for many, leaving a former parish church and affiliated social groups is just too physically painful, not because of any shortcomings on behalf of the Ordinariate. I’m willing to bet as well that there are plenty of families where one party is far more enthusiastic than the others, Anglicanism famously encompasses a broad spectrum of views. An unsatisfactory status quo is psychologically more comforting than a leap of faith into the great unknown.

Is Anglo-Catholicism dead? I am no longer au fait with the latest developments, but it seems to be thriving as ever in its little pockets around the country, such as here in Chichester diocese. I guess it depends on one’s definition, perhaps life is untenable for Anglo-Papalists, but groups such as Affirming Catholics would claim otherwise.

I cannot stress strongly enough that the joy and happiness of conversion far outweighs any difficulties and every convert clergy family I know says the same. There is no looking back, no regrets and this is, I believe, because it was an independent decision to embrace Catholicism and not a convenient bolthole. There is a distinct difference. This is why Damian Thompson is wrong to want the legislation on women bishops to pass in its current format, with no provision worked out for conscientious objectors. We should not laugh or pass judgement on the consciences of those who remain behind to be alienated and vilified by their peers and brethren in Christ. It must be a horrific time for all. It could well have been my husband, I take no credit for his journey but undoubtedly one of the factors that led to his conversion was the actual experience of worshipping in a Catholic Church with his wife every week for two years. The unknown did not seem so scary, Christ called from the Eucharist, he pushed at doors and found them opening. Not everyone is so fortunate. I know many who are still grappling with their consciences.

For those Anglo-Catholics who do read this (I had the honour of being listed as a blog of note by New Directions) please know that you are all in our thoughts and prayers. If clergy or families want to contact us to sound out ideas or go through any practical realities, put your details in the combox (I won’t publish) and I’ll get in touch. There is help and support available, not least the St Barnabas society without whom this would not have been possible.

If Anglo-Catholicism is dead, it is a tragic time. The only reason for rejoicing is if this alleged death provides an impetus that leads people home. This is far more likely if we extend a lifeline out of caritas, condescending pre-judging and barracking is counter-productive. The body of Christ is wounded but never beyond repair. If history teaches us anything it is that any movement that feels suppressed eventually re-emerges stronger. We have to trust the Holy Spirit and pray for resolution and comfort for those whose futures currently lie in the balance.

God’s Gift

Apologies for the tardiness in posting an update, I’m just beginning to emerge from the post-natal fug. Theodora Mary Elizabeth was born on Tuesday 21st August 2012, at 3:57 pm, weighing 5lbs, 11oz, or 2580g in new-money.

Due to the high blood pressure problems that I suffered from in the latter part of pregnancy, Theodora is on the small side, especially when compared to all my other babies who weighed in at over 8lbs and sported gorgeously plump cheeks, arms and legs, so it is something of a shock having a baby who seems so absolutely tiny with not an ounce of spare flesh, with spindly lean limbs, but she is in good health, if a little jaundiced still and the pair of us are just hopefully coming out of the woods.

As for her name – it was one of those “lightbulb” moments. Right up until the moment of birth, we still had no definite idea of what to call her, other than a few ideas vaguely floating about. Theodora certainly did not feature on “the list”. It was during recovery, whilst Robin was having a cuddle, that he looked down tenderly at her, marvelling at her tiny, yet perfectly proportioned size and remarked that she really was a “teddy”. “Teddy – Theodora?!” I said, whereupon we just looked at each other and something just clicked. It just felt right, it was her. 

When I suspected that I might be pregnant, the timing could not have been worse. I had just passed my first term’s assignments at university with flying colours, having had to defer my much-wanted place once already due to an unplanned pregnancy. I knew that another pregnancy would make continuing unfeasible; I struggle with pregnancy sickness and hormonally related depression and there was no way that I would be able to mange 3 children under 3 and the demands of a full-time course, let alone the costs of the university creche for 3 children. Added to which, the term dates had changed meaning that the baby was due a week before term recommenced, the creche won’t take children under 5 months and the lecturers and faculty staff were unprepared to let me attend with a feeding baby in tow. All of which doesn’t add up to a very pro-life environment for students with unplanned pregnancies – but there’s a rant for another time.

So anyway, with waves of nausea, shaking clammy hands and tears of despair, I did the test and the two faint lines appeared. Robin, who had been in a state of total denial, followed by incomprehension, took the toddler off to Adoration and Mass, looking rather pale. I’ll never forget the look on his face upon his return, which can only be described as serene and glowing. He had an air of acceptance and even excitement, whilst I broke down in tears. “It’s going to be okay” he said, “I sat there with the Lord, I looked at Imogen, I saw how beautiful she is, I thought of our other two children and realised that this is just a gift. I know it wasn’t what we expected, I know it’s the last thing we wanted right now, I know it’s going to be tough as hell for you, I know you suffer, but I can’t help but think this is what God wanted for us”. He was terrified, knew full well how difficult the prospect of yet another pregnancy and birth so close to the other two would prove, both physically and mentally for me, and the knock on effects of that to us and our family, and yet he was overwhelmed with a sense that it was just meant to be. We had in good conscience attempted to avoid pregnancy, we had been extremely scrupulous and yet despite our best efforts, here we were about to have another child. It really did feel like God’s will and if it hadn’t been for the support of my husband, I don’t think that I would have made it intact over the past few months.

Make no mistake, this pregnancy has come at enormous cost, physically, emotionally and financially. It has taken every ounce of strength that I have had. There have been times when I didn’t actually think I could continue any longer, but with the help of my husband and the grace of God and much prayer, I have somehow found the strength to get through not only the physically debilitating effects of pregnancy, but also to pull back from the depths of despair. Though I couldn’t see it at the time, the ordeal of the past 9 months actually did more than any other traumatic events in my life to draw me closer to God; I really did experience my own personal Calvary.

So nothing could be more apt than Theodora – God’s gift, given out of love and totally perfect in every way.

And some nice news

I am going to write about what it really means to be pro-life at a later date, but this pregnancy is forcing me to put my money where my mouth is, in more ways that one.

When the word “crisis” pregnancy is bandied about, single women, often in straitened circumstances comes to mind. Actually a “crisis” pregnancy is one that is unplanned and is very difficult for the mother to accept, for a multitude of reasons.

One of the things that has been causing me a lot of anxiety is the thought of yet another cesarian section, my third in three years. My last two children were born by cesarian section and I have to admit that my personal experience is not a positive one. I shall spare the gory details, but in the interests of fairness and for any expectant women reading, it’s fair to note, that many many women testify to their cesarian as being a “blissful” experience, which, if it is planned, is certainly possible. Mine just haven’t worked out that way.

I thought that after 2 cesarian births I would not be allowed to attempt a natural birth, however this has been agreed in principle today. Though I can’t quite have the experience that I wanted, I can at least attempt to do what nature intends, on the proviso that I am strictly monitored at all times. This is a huge weight off my mind, the thought of yet another cesarian looming into view had been the source of repeated panic attacks.

Some prayers have been answered at least. This is what being pro-life means, having compassion for the stressed-out mother, understanding that for many childbirth presents a psychological barrier and that the heady cocktail of pregnancy hormones combined with pre-existing worries make her especially vulnerable and not dismissing her fears as histrionics or irrational.

This is why more midwives are needed in the UK – to help and support women to make the choices about childbirth that are right for them.

Lost families

A very bizarre thought popped into my head when praying for my Nana earlier, not the most seemly of thoughts and indicative that I need to focus more, but interesting nonetheless. She was born in January 1913, which makes me wonder whether or not she may have been conceived in the aftermath of the Titanic disaster. Though I haven’t been able to find any evidence to corroborate whether or not there may have been a surge in the birth rate following the tragic sinking, there is a known phenomenon of minor surges and fluctuations in birth rates following national disasters – sex is an affirmation of life, when faced with our own mortality, a theme aptly explored by Albert Camus.

Why would I be thinking about the circumstances in which my Nana was conceived? Though I had always associated her birth with occurring shortly after the Titanic, I had never previously made the connection, however the circumstances of her birth are somewhat mysterious and tragic. During the 30 years that she lived with us, she rarely talked about her childhood or her family, which were all veiled in secrecy. Whenever I had to complete any family tree projects at school, she always clammed up when asked to assist, angrily shouting that it was none of anybody’s business.

My mother confided that there was some kind of mystery, Nana had not in fact been brought up by her birth mother, but by an “Auntie and Uncle” in rural Devon, two very lovely, kind and caring people, but it was not clear what blood relationship, if any, they had to Nana. This couple had children of their own and brought my Nana up as if she was part of their family, but she was always aware of being different, of there being some kind of stigma. Apparently her mother was a “grand lady” who would occasionally come to visit, my mother noted that clearly there was money there: Nana often talks about the fact she had rickets as a child and was sent to specialists in London to correct the bows in her legs. ‘When you see photos of children in leg braces, they always look terribly uncomfortable’ says Nana, ‘but mine weren’t at all. They were made of the softest leather and sheepskin. I can still remember how soft they felt even now’. Maybe I’m playing amateur detective here, but one thing that has always struck all of us in the family, is that specialists in London and high quality orthopaedic braces would not come cheap, they would not be the preserve of a farming family in pre-war Devon.

A few years ago Nana was on a nostalgia trip, unwrapping and showing me all the trinkets and knick-knacks from her wedding, incredibly enough she still has the decorations from the top of her cake. One of the things she painstakingly unwrapped was some exquisite solid silver photo frames and candle sticks from Mappin and Webb, which had never been on display. She explained that her mother had not attended her wedding, but had instead sent her some silver as a wedding gift.

All of which has led all of us in the family to ponder who my great-grandmother and my mother’s grandmother was. We have a surname, but that is all. We assume that there was money in the family and some reputation. We have no mention of a father and the subject has always remained strictly taboo. It has always been a source of great sadness to my mother, she lost her own father at the age of 22, and though she has maintained close relationships within her paternal family, there has always felt as though there was something missing. Though I try not to dwell on it too much, my curiosity is piqued, all of us like to know our identity of our forefathers, from whom we hail, it helps us in terms of establishing our own sense of identity and context in relation to the world around us. The BBC programme, Who do you think you Are, has proved enormously popular for that very reason.

With the advent of the internet and the rise in genealogy websites, it has occurred to us on more than one occasion that some amateur sleuthing might be in order, although not in the period of Nana’s lifetime, as she is incredibly touchy about this subject and it would seem, rather ashamed. It was only a few years ago, at the age of 95, that she finally admitted that she had no idea who her father was, she no longer had a copy of her birth certificate, but that the father was marked as unknown. It seems to have been a source of great shame, stigma and sadness.

I would love to know about my maternal family, but have to concede that this will be lost in the mists of time. Perhaps one day I’ll investigate more as to the identity of my great-grandmother, just to satisfy my innate curiosity. But it would certainly seem to fit that some clandestine relationship may have taken place in the Spring of 1912, almost certainly in the aftermath of the Titanic disaster – not that I am claiming any link whatsoever or hinting at any James Cameron style story, merely noting a historical fact. Perhaps the two events were entirely unrelated and it’s just a fanciful whim?

So what does my Nana’s history have to do with the price of eggs? Not much really, other than personally I am glad that the stigma of illegitimacy has largely been wiped out. Children should never be blamed for the circumstances in which they were born, nor the indiscretions of their parents. Having seen how my Nana has suffered in many ways as a result of never having known the love of her biological family (she was cared for, but knew she was different), I am glad that mothers are no longer routinely forced into having to give their babies into the care of someone else in the name of respectability. I can understand the physical need for contact and close loving relationships with both biological parents and the damage that can be done if a parent is deliberately withheld. This happened also to my father, whose parents divorced in 1945 upon my grandfather’s return from the war. My father was brought up without any contact with his own father until he reached the age of 21, this being deemed in his best interests, in an era in which divorce was still a dreadful scandal. Both my nana and my father, whose knowledge of his paternal family is scant, feel somehow incomplete.

I am relatively sanguine about it all, but there is some innate desire in me to find out more about from whom I hail. I know that my maternal grandfather was Italian and my father’s family were King’s Lynn fisherman and Norfolk agricultural labourers (I think) but that’s about it.

When I think about my Nana’s circumstances in particular, I give thanks that abortion was not an option in 1912. Though my Nana has missed out in many ways, she had a happy marriage, a child of her own, 2 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren. Though I am sure that my great-grandmother, whoever she was, must have endured a lot of suffering, she also brought forth much joy and happiness. One ‘mistake’, one clandestine relationship has borne much fruit for which we are all grateful. It made me wonder how many other potential families are now wiped out before birth as a matter of routine?

Limits

I am admittedly suffering from ante-natal depression at the moment. It’s a condition that has affected every single pregnancy, but this bout is particularly bleak. I am struggling to find a light at the end of the tunnel.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know why this has been exacerbated. I’m not going into the tedious specifics, but since the beginning of February I have been the subject of a prolonged smear and hate campaign which has hit me, whack full-on at a time when I am feeling especially vulnerable, for a multitude of reasons. I simply can no longer cope with the abuse and latent threats.

I am primarily disengaging from Twitter for a while for my own mental health, I may still tweet the odd link, but it’s best, in the short term to concentrate on my own well-being and upon the odd blog post, which I find therapeutic, carthatic and healing. If it’s inspirational or informative , that’s simply a bonus.

Due to the issue of abortion being firmly back on the political agenda – and yes abortion is a political issue, it always has been, those campaigning in favour of the 1967 Act were more than happy to politicise the matter, once again the notion of acceptable time limits is under discussion. There has been a massive sea-change of opinion since the incredible advances in very detailed 4D diagnostic imaging pioneered by the likes of Professor Stuart Campbell. Babies of only 12 weeks gestation can be seen playing, smiling, sucking their thumbs, exercising, in minute detail. It is increasingly difficult to deny the humanity of the unborn child and the vast majority of the public favour a reduction in the abortion limit to 20 weeks. Over half of UK women believe that the current abortion laws are too lax, according to a recent YouGov poll conducted in January 2012. A more recent Angus Reid poll from March 2012, shows that over half of the respondents and 3 in 5 women believe that the current limit of 24 weeks should be reduced.

Discussing abortion limits is a minefield for pro-lifers and Catholics who believe that all abortion is the taking of innocent life, a viewpoint with which I am very much in accordance. To campaign for a lower limit seems to concede that it’s perfectly acceptable to kill an unborn baby at an earlier stage. Most abortions performed in the UK are now under the 12 week mark – to imply otherwise is misleading and disingenuous. Honesty and integrity matter when discussing such ethical topics. The problem with implementing a reduced limit, is not only does it imply that earlier stage abortions are acceptable, but it may also rush a woman into making a premature decision, aware that the clock is ticking. Another factor that comes into play is that the earlier the abortion is performed, the more straightforward and thus less risky the procedure. A surgical abortion at 12 weeks will be less physically traumatic for a woman than a procedure at 22 weeks. So if we’re looking at women’s welfare, its something of a double-edged sword. An earlier procedure may well be better for her (not the baby) but the existence of a time limit may not give a woman enough time to properly consider her different options.

Pro-choicers on the whole aren’t keen on any delay, they believe that a woman should be able to have swift access to abortion as soon as she “requires” it. Whilst this logic is understandable, most women faced with a crisis or unplanned pregnancy do need to be able to take some time to fully consider their options and not be rushed into an abortion by clinics, relatives or abortion limits. At the end of the day an abortion results in the end of a life, regardless of whether or not one wants to play around with the semantics of whether it is a real life or simply a potential for life. I know where I stand on that scale, but that’s an argument for a different time. An abortion cannot be undone ,therefore women must not be rushed. As the law stands, if a woman has made up her mind that she wants an abortion, she can go and book one for the next day, without counselling if that be her wont. If, however, abortion is this difficult decision that is only arrived at via a lot of soul-searching, then it seems right not to exert any undue pressure with time limits. Clinics already do enough of that in terms of rushing women into taking the abortion pill, because for them, this is a less costly and riskier procedure, regardless of whether or not the abortion pill is the right option for a woman. Let’s say, for example, I discovered at 6 or 7 weeks in pregnancy that the developing fetus had died. Would I opt to take a pill to induce a traumatic miscarriage or would I go for the surgical option under sedation or anaesthetic? The answer would most definitely be the latter – but surgery isn’t the option that is promoted for women in the early stages of pregnancy for obvious reasons.

An aborted baby/fetus, whatever terminology one wishes to use is just that, it can’t be magically revived, whatever stage of development it is at. Obviously, when we come to pregnancies post 2o weeks, there is the hotly disputed issue of fetal pain, awareness and viability. The general public are as a whole a lot more squeamish about later stage abortions because of the huge advances in neonatal care. Babies born at 24 weeks can and often do survive. This baby girl survived being born at 21 weeks and 5 days. At 22 weeks a baby has a 0-10% chance of surviving, increasing to 10-35% at 23 weeks and 40-70% at 24 weeks.

Ideologically speaking, limits should be something of a red herring, either abortion should be on demand right up until birth or it should be against the law, unless abortion is a necessary side effect of a procedure undertaken to save a woman’s life.

If only life were that simple. I admit to a personal heavy investment in the notion of reducing the limit, which I firmly believe would reduce the number of abortions. Not that there should be an acceptable number or quota, but one life saved is better than none. Someone close to me aborted healthy twins at the 23 week stage. She had already taken the decision to keep the babies following a 19 week scan, kept things quiet until she was 21 weeks, but was coerced due to an enormous amount of family pressure, led by an overbearing and dominant mother who was concerned about the shame that would be brought upon the family. The ironic thing being was that the pregnancy was already known about by most people and there was more shame, stigma and distress in the late stage abortion of twins than there would have been in actually giving birth to the babies. The situation was heartbreaking and no blame should be attached to the vulnerable 19 year old who was put in an insufferable position and convinced that an abortion was the only solution. Were the limit lower, then this would not have happened.

Time limits act as a cut-off point, beyond which it is deemed unacceptable to abort a baby, which is why for many they are an irrelevance. The very existence of a limit gives a protection to the unborn child beyond a certain age. It stops people from “unnecessarily” aborting their babies. I was won around to the idea about half an hour ago.

I’m having a very hard time, I am struggling mentally. That is not pure hyperbole, it is fair to say that I am on the edge. I find pregnancy difficult enough as it is. I am daunted at the prospect of coping with the demands of a breastfeeding baby, a hen 16 month old and 33 month old in a bungalow the size of an average flat. I am terrified by the prospect of another cesarian, my 3rd in 3 years. The last two were no walk in the park. I don’t know whether or not I will cope. My degree will need to be deferred – again. At any other time, I might be more mentally equipped to cope with the sheer undiluted spite that has been flung my way over the past few weeks, and that is no exaggeration, but coupled with everything else, it’s all proving far too much to cope with. I am having moments of panic, despair, darkness and anxiety. I am exhibiting signs of severe depression, losing appetite, finding menial tasks overburdensome and dreams filled with anxiety. I wake up drenched in sweat after being chased by an irate female client from my old job or troubled because I’ve had to sit an exam which I didn’t previously know about and for which I’ve done no revision.

Perhaps this is too much personal information, I’m not putting it out there to play victim as often accused, but to say look, I’m a normal bright intelligent woman with no previous history of mental illness (contrary to the 16 unsolicited emails sent to a lawyer advising me) but the strain of pregnancy coupled with a few months bombardment of internet harassment has proved too much. There should be no stigma or shame, I know I’m bent out of shape at the moment and I am fortunate to have a loving husband who is encouraging me to go and seek the help that I need. That is not an admission of any wrongdoing of which I’m accused either, I don’t want any amateur psychologists putting two and two together and making the invariable five. I am a very stressed and vulnerable pregnant woman. I am well aware of that, which is why I know that I have to take a break from Twitter which is proving enormously self-destructive. It’s like a sore tooth that I keep worrying away at, I keep hoping that it will get better, that I will get the much longed for apology or retraction, and am freshly hurt every time the invective recommences.

So, with all of that in mind, I’ve just come off the phone to someone well meaning. The conversation consisted mainly of me crying, which is what I have spent most of the past week doing. Either crying or getting into a blind rage, which is what those who are winding me up, want to happen. The next few months will be tough. There is a light at the end of the tunnel in that I’ve never suffered from post-natal depression, normally once the baby is delivered and the breast-feeding hormones kick in, I’m in my element.

The person to whom I was speaking recognised that I’m in a dark place and that life is difficult. They are really worried. I am 22 weeks and 3 days pregnant. I regularly feel my baby girl squirming around inside me. We’ve chosen her name. Doubtless several clinics would be prepared to carry out a termination on the grounds that this baby will probably be my last and is my fourth girl. At some stage it might have been nice to have a boy. It’s lucky I’m not married to a Tudor monarch or living in a culture that puts little worth on the life of girls. But anyway after repeatedly expressing the sentiment that it was a great pity that I did know when the baby was conceived because otherwise I could have taken the morning after pill, well meaning person came up with a solution. They were so worried about me that they had found a clinic, made preliminary enquiries and discovered that there was availability/feasibility for me to have an abortion next week, around the 23 week mark. I can see why it seemed an answer. I can also see why, to a person who is worried, anxious and suffering from depression it might seem the only way out.

Up until 24 hours ago, I thought I was managing fine. Today I’ve realised that isn’t the case. I am experiencing a crisis. Were I of a a less tenacious and stubborn persuasion or less affirmed in my beliefs about the sanctity of human life, then I can see how at 22 +3, a late stage abortion might seem appropriate. If I were to have an abortion next week (rest assured I won’t) it would be because the law says I could. My baby is healthy and moving, she is literally alive and kicking.

There is a myth that says late-stage abortions are necessary and only occur in the case of babies with life threatening abnormalities and it is for these reasons that the limit stays at 24 weeks. Given the law also shockingly states that it is fine to abort a disabled baby up until birth, something that should be an anathema to most people with any sense of a moral compass, there is a pressing case for a reduction in limits, provided no other grounds are ceded.

If I were to abort now it would be a short term solution that would generate longer term mental health difficulties. To abort would be a gruesome sticking plaster and panacea. If the mental health of pregnant women is of such pressing concern, surely more resources need to be put into making sure that they can cope, that they have the medical, emotional and practical support that they need? Surely that has to be a better solution than traumatically ending the life of a baby with a chance of survival outside the womb? Would an abortion be the answer for a woman in my situation? There is only one way to find out, and that’s a decision that cannot be undone. With a 20 week limit, a woman in a similar situation would not be faced with a choice. There would therefore be no other option for her other than to seek the support that she needs. With a lower limit fewer women are pressurised at a later stage, if circumstances suddenly and traumatically change, i.e. a partner walks out or the family faces redundancy. No woman should have to abort her baby because she feels she has no other choice. Would more women be pressurised prematurely, I think that’s unlikely. The later the limit, the longer the opt-out clause which some people will always leave til the last minute.

I effectively have no choice, I’ve not had a choice since the moment I’ve discovered I’m pregnant. That is not necessarily a bad thing and has been the case of millions of women since the dawn of time. Choice should not be mistaken for the Holy Grail or defining value of our age. A lack of choice forces me to find the help and support that I need. I’m no superhero. If I was a better, stronger and more heroic woman I wouldn’t be struggling quite so much, but stoically, quietly, patiently enduring and offering up my suffering and glorying in the miracle that is reproduction and the privilege of carrying my own baby. The fact that I am not coping is a testament to my own shortcomings and so if I can get through this, then anyone can.

But prayers much appreciated in the meantime.

Words of Consolation

I hope the person who sent this doesn’t mind me blogging it. It brought much consolation last night.

Despite deleting my Twitter account, my timeline was still showing on my phone and I could see the cattiness and sniping continued until about 6pm last night. I’ve now deleted the app so I’m not tempted to read any more damaging poison.

Dear Caroline,

You have been significantly embedded into my thoughts and prayers for the last 24 hours, which included the early hours of the night. I came home from C****** rather late and read what was to be your final tweet, seconds before you deleted your account, but not before I was able to read your blog and then look back at what had been said by your detractors.

I am dreadfully sorry for all the bile and vitriol that was hurled at you. I am still trying to get my head around the nastiness that was thrown so mercilessly against you and was so far removed from the truth of what and who you are.

I came to know you through twitter, and of course, was copied in to an email from ******* a number of weeks ago and have only ever considered you to be a kind, VERY intelligent, gentle, Faith and love driven individual. That anyone could take anything else from your writing is beyond me.

I have no idea how you have coped with all you have, because, in all honesty, it would have given me a complete breakdown if I were to have experienced just a fraction of such abuse. The school yard bullies have all progressed to the twitter arena, haven’t they.

You have NOT “failed” anyone. It is just not possible to reason with some people; they are way beyond normal sensitivities, empathy, understainding and argument. Their agenda is totally different to yours and the devil is using them very efficiently.

You must be feeling totally drained, physically and emotionally, and bitterly disappointed in so many ways, but please, remember why you write what you do; it’s not for personal gratification, it’s to further God’s Kingdom. I believe those lovely words of Jesus are very appropriate to you, “When you declare me before men, I will declare you before my Father in Heaven,” for this is what you have done, so faithfully. You have nothing to reproach yourself for.

I am really sorry that you have deleted your account because I enjoyed reading your tweets, but I am also glad that you have because you deserve some peace; distance from people who relish hurting whoever they can, especially at the moment whilst you are in the early stages of pregnancy. You have a beautiful family, they deserve you to be happy and you deserve to be happy, away from the pernicious bullies, of which there are so many and who are only happy when they spot someone whom they can really hurt. That someone is invariably the opposite to what they are = lovely people like you. Don’t allow them to spew their vitriol in your direction any more.

You have so much going for you; they don’t.

I will continue to pray for you and all the family.

Lots of love and God bless Caroline. I will be in touch.
xx

Thank you so very much everyone.

Brokenness

There is a situation that I really want to talk about but cannot for legal reasons. It has caused much pain and suffering over the past year and still continues to rumble on. All I can say is that I am confident that the truth will out and ask for everybody’s prayers and compassion, not only for myself, but the other individual involved.

There is however, something I wish to explain, which is deeply personal, but I think perhaps is necessary in order to shed light upon why I may often give the impression of being perhaps disproportionately hurt by some of the various online jostling and may also explain why I may appear overly defensive at times online.

Those who know me in real life, will testify that I am not an aggressive individual in the slightest. Typically English, I’m quite backwards at coming forwards and perhaps one of the reasons why I am struggling a lot in term of managing the practicalities of juggling quite so many balls, is that I’m absolutely useless as asking for help. I feel like I am imposing on others, that assistance in anything is an admission of failure. It’s like I need to be superwoman, run a perfect home, look after the children, manage university work and write the odd commission every now and again. All whilst maintaing a flawless appearance without a hair out of place. In short I suffer from the sin of pride and lack the humility and grace to ask for help and accept it when it is needed. I need to learn to receive and to let others learn to how to give.

Whilst I’m sure that psycho-analysts and social theorists could find all sorts of reasons for my innate perfectionism and need to be a high achiever, there is another factor that comes into play, one that I rarely talk about, that is still raw and that I attempt to block out on a day to day basis and one that I’m still scared to talk about now, just contemplating it is producing hot stinging tears which are splashing onto my shiny laptop. When I was eighteen, I was in a relationship with a 31 year old man. It was a mess. It was coercive and violent. It was my first proper relationship and it scarred me more deeply than perhaps I have realised until recently.

He was volatile and possessive, being acutely aware of the age gap. When we met he had showered me with affection and presents, it was my first adult relationship and I had no idea that this wasn’t normal behaviour. His moods would swing on a tuppence. He was controlling over what I wore, alarm bells should have rung on an early date, when he came to pick me up, we were supposed to be going to a bar to meet his friends and a thick brooding silence overhung in the car. Eventually he said to me “I can’t take you out tonight, you look like a whore, all my friends will be looking down your top at what is mine and they will think you are easy and I will be embarrassed”. Despite my innate sense of injustice, I asked him whether or not my top really was that low-cut as I didn’t think it was. He assured me that it was and that I had spoiled his evening and I should have not been so selfish and thoughtless when getting ready. I replied that I was trying to look “nice” I had no idea that I looked even vaguely tarty, which elicited a slap. I cried, he ranted and raved, I then apologised.

That was really the pattern. The problem was that everyone else, including my parents, had invested so much into this relationship, after all we had been intimate, we HAD to get married, that all of the violence, all of the dysfunction was overlooked. It was blamed upon my being too young, too immature and the general sympathy was with him. We started living together and every time I tried to return home, my mother would phone him up to come and collect me like an errant schoolgirl. All sorts of things would set him off, one problem was that his mother had been a housewife, who prior to the return of her husband would change her dress and freshen up her lipstick. He expected me to do that. He once came home to find me “looking like the swamp monster” which caused another episode. I was on a supposed year out before starting university. He did not want me to go, neither did my parents, they wanted me to get married. I didn’t qualify for a grant. I was trapped. He used to choose what underwear I was to wear before going out to my part-time job, anything fancy would make him suspicious. He used to insist on buying clothes that weren’t my taste at all. He once beat me for not having the courtesy to ask him before switching the fire on when I was cold. I lived on eggshells, anything could set him off and you could guarantee it would be my fault, and he would keep hitting until I said sorry. Like the time he called me ignorant because I was reading a book instead of raptly watching him land a 747 into Hong Kong on Microsoft Flight Simulator. One one occasion he threatened me with a bread knife. One another he threw my car keys down the loo saying “you either leave here in a body bag or not at all”, on another, he physically sat on my chest preventing me from moving. I used to dread the days that he would attempt his give up smoking ritual. Nicotine gum and bags of sweeties would be purchased and he would psyche himself into a foul mood. I had to wait on him hand on foot those days, so delicate was his constitution and his temper. Giving up smoking is a tricky business and he needed to be wrapped in cotton wool and have my full support. Any lapse back to smoking was always my fault for causing the stress.

Eventually I did get out and instantly understood what it meant to be free. But it left deep and lasting scars. My parents blamed my immaturity for the breakdown of the relationship, the violence was brushed under the carpet, downplayed and as an inevitable consequence of my shortcomings, which is what made it so difficult to leave, because I thought that it was my fault and that if I could just adapt a bit better, that things would all come good, that he would stop hitting me.

Why is this relevant? Today, I understood the word “trigger” for the first time. Whilst talking about a specific type of online abuse with another Tweeter, she said “I used to find it very triggering, it reminded me of my grandmother’s rages”. A lightbulb clicked. Over the past few months, Robin has said to me, “I think your past makes you react to the online stuff in a very specific way. You cower, you look frightened, like you used to  look in the early days of our relationship”. Which is true. When we were first dating,I was really conflict averse. I couldn’t cope with even minor rows and would cower and flinch, which would make matters worse as understandably Robin was devastated by the signals I was inadvertently giving out, i.e. “please don’t hurt me”.

When the some of the online ranting starts, that is how I feel. It’s particularly hard on Twitter, because the nature of it does not allow for nuance, the medium is very direct and often it seems like question after question after question. The speed of it is dizzying at times and it can be quite disorientating. This is the effect that online ranting and name-calling has. I feel my heart-rate accelerating, my breathing quickening, my hands shaking and I feel sick. Particularly if what is being said consists of invective, but even liberal use of caps for emphasis, comes across as shouting. It has the effect of making me want to hide under the sofa or retreat into my shell, but at the same time defend myself. I don’t cope too well with seeing calumny writ large in front of one. I have difficulty letting what I see as blatant injustices stand. But it might explain why I take things more personally than most. I realised that being subject to this kind of rant, was producing exactly the same kind of reaction that I had when I was in a dysfunctional relationship. Fear, terror and adrenalin. It self-perpetuates, because psychologically a certain name will be associated with a certain reaction, so I’ll find myself shaking before I’ve even seen what’s said.

Today was the first time that I realised that certain people act as triggers that provoke certain reactions, which is not a stress I need at the moment. I’m sure all that adrenalin can’t be good for the baby, so I think I am going to calm it down a little. But I cried like I haven’t cried in years, when the realisation of my reaction hit me and memories suppressed in a dusty little box in my brain came pouring out, scene after scene after scene flashing through my head.

I wouldn’t publish a comment this week, because it berated me for putting personal stuff out on the net and informed me that everybody hated me and that this must be for a reason. I have to stop putting my head above the parapet.

I’ve been considering that. And then reflecting on the psalm reading of last Sunday. I am undoubtedly broken, but then all of us are broken in our own way. Even if we are healed, the scars are still there, no matter how minute. Is it so bad to be broken, to be vulnerable? Look at Christ on the cross, his body contorted, bloodied and broken and yet still compellingly beautiful.

Oh that today you would listen to his voice, harden not your heart.”

As I said a few months ago, Catholic women need thick skins online. My father used to say to me when I was little that I wore my heart on my sleeve too much, I have to toughen up. I still haven’t managed that. But then neither did Christ who put himself out there, who repeatedly made himself vulnerable for His Father’s Kingdom. Christ did not harden his heart, he knew that there would be those who hated what he had to said, who could not bear it and who wanted rid of him. If we harden our hearts to others then we harden our hearts to Christ. If we retreat into a shell, then we render ourselves unable to receive Him in his fullness and to impart Him to others.

We have to accept ourselves in all our brokeness and vulnerability and through that unite ourselves to Calvary. I am broken and weary. I have seen the most evil and unkind falsehoods written down about me and about others. Lies have been perpetuated and elaborate and bizarre fabrications woven. I desperately want to fight them, to hold this ugliness up to the light, I cannot believe that anyone would behave quite so callously as to calmly lie in order to cause such a devastating impact and attempt to destroy lives. I get so upset because though I have very many flaws, lying is not one of them and neither is shouting or aggression. Which is why I find that kind of behaviour so difficult to understand. I am incredibly frustrated that I am advised that I must remain silent for now. I want to shout the injustice from the rooftops.

I am broken. But I have the support of many many people, the intercession of the saints and of Our Blessed Virgin and above all the comfort of Christ. The other person is broken. Their mind is in torment. They have none of these things. They know only anger, bitterness, rage, scorn, contempt and self-deception. Pray for us both. Miserere nobis.

Pregnancy Crisis

When I last wrote about what it was like to face an unplanned pregnancy, a commenter angrily wrote that they could not believe my cheek in asserting that I could now look a pregnant woman facing a crisis pregnancy in the face, that I was comparing myself to someone who had been raped when clearly there was no equivalence, I could never know how it could feel to be pregnant as a result of a rape.

Assuming that statement is correct, it must be remembered that trauma caused by an unplanned pregnancy is no less serious and distressing for a woman, regardless of how she came to be in that particular situation. Being avowedly pro-life does not somehow lessen the emotional or physical impact of an unwanted pregnancy. As a Catholic I feel under additional pressure to serenely grin and bear it, to plaster on a saintly smile and offer up every bout of retching for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, whilst declaring to the world how wonderful it is to be bringing another beautiful baby and human soul in the world.

Now whilst there is some truth in the latter part of that sentence, I know that once the baby is here, I will adore him/her, I will proudly post photographs of him/her on social media and proclaim “look, my baby is so beautiful, here is proof of the evils of abortion”, the reality of being pregnant and pro-life is somewhat different. The reason that I look at my babies and feel filled with horror at the idea of abortion is because I know quite how tempting that prospect is. I experience it on a daily basis. Looking at my babies once born, is an affirmation, not that one is needed, that I have undoubtedly done the right thing and if we’re going to psychoanalyse, is probably as much about assuaging my guilt for entertaining such abhorrent feelings whilst pregnant. One of my more unpleasant detractors said “if I see one more photo which says my baby is cute and abortion is wrong, I’ll throw up”, further consolidating that she had absolutely no idea what it is like to experience a pregnancy, let alone an unwanted or unplanned one.

Here’s the reality, warts and all. I will attempt to remain as dispassionate as possible and not whinge, but I think pro-lifers need to get a feel for what it is like when a woman is desperate, something that the pro-choice lobby, understand only too well.

I feel constantly nauseous. Not mildly nauseous, but full-on, I’m on the verge of throwing up big time here. Everywhere I go, a bucket or some sort of receptacle has to come too. I emerged from around the back of a shrubbery on campus yesterday, wiping tears from my eyes, mucous from my nose and surreptitiously dumping a plastic bag full of vomit in the nearest bin. Being British I cannot bring myself to face the mortification of using the campus toilets and bumping into someone I might know, or indeed that anyone might hear. If I’m not throwing up, I’m feeling that I’m on the verge of it at any second. Everything and everyone smells of cheese, even me. I disgust myself with my smell. Even my beloved children absolutely stink to high heaven. My beautiful baby is repellant, I can’t bear to have her anywhere near me, because she literally makes me sick, one whiff of her head and bleurgh I’m off. This is something of a problem, given that she refuses to drink anything other than breast milk and the odd bit of water. Every time she latches on to the breast, the surge of hormones as the milk is released causes another heave. Another issue is that she is, at not yet 9 months, going through separation anxiety. Put her down for more than 5 nano seconds and the million decibel screaming as if she is being tortured starts, thus setting off the toddler.

I’m exhausted. Not just a little bit tired, but as though my arms and legs are weighted down with lead. I feel constantly wiped out and struggling to keep my eyes open. When I’m at home with the children, I’m fighting sleep, but with a lively and boisterous 2 year old and the baby, it’s obviously not an option. What is exacerbating this is that due to a shortage of space in the house, there is nowhere to put a cot. Thus bunk-beds have been ordered, toddler will be evicted from her cot bed and the baby will then have a cot to sleep in. Until that time she is still in the bed with us and cannot get to sleep unless she is breast-feeding. She has now grown three teeth, so there is lots of biting, nights consist of being used as a giant human comfort blanket, my nipples made ultra sensitive via pregnancy hormones, spend the night being bitten or twisted, handfuls of flesh are grabbed, kneaded, scratched, pulled and pushed in order that the baby can slumber peacefully. As soon as the bunk-beds arrive, I anticipate a double dose of sleep trauma, toddler will be none too happy being evicted from her cosy cot, 7 year old will be getting frightfully stressed and coming to tell us every 5 minutes that toddler is talking, crying, whimpering etc (this happened on holiday when they shared a room) and baby will be apoplectic at having to sleep in a cot in a different room. There is a reason why sleep deprivation is used in torture techniques. It makes you desperate. What I have been doing, because I am a shocking, neglectful, lazy mother, is taking advantage of when my children are in University nursery to nip back home and catch a couple of hours of sleep.

The house is an absolute state and I am behind with my university work. I went to the much advertised Student Life building to get some advice about support, given I have a few late essays. I was told how to submit mitigating evidence but also told that there was no guarantee that my claim will be accepted. The highest I can achieve in my essays, if my claim is not accepted is 40%. This will do, it will get me a pass, but is more than a little frustrating.

So, to recap, I’m snowed under with university work, the house is its usual pigsty, I have three young children, I am utterly exhausted, my family live hundreds of miles away and I’ve no close friends nearby either. The parish we worship at is 10 miles away from our house, we started worshipping there before we moved, when Robin was still a vicar, have built a close relationship with the priest and have some friendships, but are still slight outsiders.

The thought of having another baby fills me with absolute dread. As soon as the nine month old reaches a vaguely manageable stage, yet another screaming newborn will be here. I have been pregnant and breastfeeding since February 2009. I have had 2 cesarians in two years, one in November 2009, one in April 2011. Neither of them have gone well. I have a phobia, a genuine dread and terror of childbirth. I feel sick, ill and rotten. I cannot believe that this is happening to me yet again, no sooner does my life begin to come together, then bang, I’m pregnant again. I also feel extraordinarily foolish for being pregnant, like I’ve done something wrong and incredibly stupid in my use of NFP; some would say its my fault for trusting in it, others would point out my deficiencies in not being able to use it properly. Either way it is my fault. In short I am not floating about in a state of pious tranquility that the Lord’s work is being fulfilled. I am miserable. I am letting just about everybody down, my husband, my family and my friends because I am finding it so difficult to function.

My husband is working really long hours, if I defer my degree again, then I’ll be liable for the higher £9,000 a year fees, if I give up, then I’ll never be able to get a job. This getting a job business is actually quite important. If for some reason my husband is not ordained, then instead of spending these few years training for a career, he’s been working in, what can be, a pretty back breaking job paying £5.90 a hour. He’ll need to do something else, as will I. Even if he is ordained, then it is not fair to expect the Catholic Church to pay for my upkeep. So the degree is important.

As an aside, perhaps people can understand why I may be just a tad short-tempered at the moment. Perhaps they can also understand why, given we gave up everything in order that my husband could cross the Tiber, and given that I have received unprecedented amounts of abuse for defending Catholic social teaching, it is more than a little galling to be called “liberal, pro-life lite, misleading the faithful and reinventing Church teaching” and had the fact that we are not cradle catholics thrown back at us by some of the traditionalist Catholics. It’s why I’m having a twitter break for a short while. Anyone looking through some of the early comments on this blog can see some of the abuse that I’ve had to put up with, being called a fundamentalist, extremist and other such names. It is just laughable to have my faith called into doubt this way. There has been absolutely no understanding that I might be feeling extremely vulnerable at present – name calling of the most un-Christian kind and aggression has been de rigour. It has been worse than anything previously faced, not simply because of the spiteful derision, but because this has come from brethren in Christ. Although I am to blame for perhaps overreacting, I think bloggers who devoted two consecutive blog posts to me and tweeters who embarked on consecutive twitter rants, need to ask themselves how they feel they might be coming across?Twitter does not allow for nuance, nor does it allow pause for thought. When faced with tweet after tweet after tweet, the blood starts pumping, the breathing quickens, hackles rise at the invective writ large in front of you and the emotional temperature is raised. This is not good for anyone and certainly not righteous. I would urge all Catholic tweeters, just to stop, pause and think. Things might not be meant aggressively, but that is certainly how they come across.

It’s fair to say that I am not Mrs Duggar, floating about in euphoric bliss about the Lord’s will being done, having conceived baby number 21. If only I were. This pregnancy is proving to be a huge spiritual test. I feel like asking “Lord, why me, again”, but am focusing upon Romans 8.

Why am I spilling like this – firstly, its to let people know in no uncertain terms that I am having a hard time. It’s to let pro-lifers know that pregnancy is often a terrible physical and emotional ordeal. I am effectively being forced to give birth, as the pro-choicers would put it, because for me there is no other choice. What I have to do, in the words of Mama Odie, from Disney’s Princess and the Frog (currently showing 24/7 in these parts) is to dig a little deeper. What we want and what we need are not always the same things, doing what is right, is not the same as doing what is easy. There are times when I feel that I would literally do anything to not be pregnant right now, I would make some kind of Faustian pact that didn’t actually involve taking the life of my chid or indeed selling my soul. If someone would offer me a solution to take away the pregnancy and the sickness, I would be mightily tempted.

This is what pregnant women face and this is what is on offer at Marie Stopes and BPAS. I know that were I to visit, they would not sit in judgement, but would validate my feelings of despair and negativity whilst offering a way out. This is the reality that anyone dealing with a pregnant woman has to face. I wrote a lot this summer about non directional counselling, my feeling was that women must not be bullied and hectored. I still stand by that, but my opinion has changed slightly. The only thing that is stopping me from not aborting this baby, is the fact that I know that it would be the killing of a child. I am 9 weeks pregnant. That’s definitely a baby, not a potential life, but a real live one. Abortion providers make moral judgements for women, they tell women that aborting children is acceptable and understandable. It might be the latter, but whichever way you look at it, when an abortion counsellor recommends a woman for an abortion procedure, they are making a moral judgement.

Pro-choice people understand only too well how difficult it is for a woman, which is why they hate us pro-lifers piling on what they believe is unnecessary guilt and pressure. But where I have changed my mind, is that actually, a woman needs to know that if she aborts her baby, she is killing her unborn child. There can be no getting around that fact. Women need to see ultrasounds and understand the choice that they are making. Someone needs to put the reality to them that abortion is the ending of a life. It’s an uncomfortable truth and it is what has people so up in arms, because they feel that women don’t need to know that, it’s easier to put the whole idea out of their minds, in a separate box to be dealt with later. This does not necessitate religious reference or hectoring, but simple facts. Here is your baby – here is what it looks like – the decision is still yours, but it is precisely because of the nature of abortion, that you may well feel some emotional trauma afterwards, particularly if you are already vulnerable.

I know that Marie Stopes and BPAS would offer me the solution that I wanted, but it would be a decision entirely centred around me, my feelings and my life as it stands now. The unborn baby would not feature at all, and thus spurious arguments would be used as qualification such as “its not really alive, it’s not viable”. That’s why this so emotive, desperate women take decisions to make their lives better, decisions that seem understandable, but decisions that are ultimately morally right or wrong. Either abortion is right, or it is wrong. What pro-lifers have to do is understand this desperation and fight to offer decent alternatives for women in these situations, as well as helping women to see the reality of their actions. What would help me? Someone to advocate at University, not only for the late penalty to be taken off my essays, but also to allow me to bring a newborn baby to lectures and seminars next year. Someone to help fight so that if I do defer, I don’t have to pay the higher fees. Ultimately we need people to fight for better conditions for pregnant women in terms of careers, so that they are not forced to put them on hold, or their prospects aren’t damaged by career breaks. That would get down abortions no end and would be a far more productive use of time than philosophically debating same sex marriage. Pro-life groups have to make it easier for women. I don’t need baby clothes, I need practical and career help.

No doubt aborting this baby would improve my short term health no end. It wouldn’t do much for the baby’s. No doubt I shall be filled with grace and blessings. But understand this – it is far from easy. I feel forced to set a shining example, when really all I want to do is to collapse into a hormonal mess. Faced with no alternative I just have to cope and dig a little deeper, I think it’s what most do when they are up against it. But I need people to be gentle. I needed a break from pregnancy. Desperately.

And now here’s the Disney. Enjoy

Moratorium

I was speaking with my spiritual adviser earlier as a result of which I will be having a short blogging moratorium.

There are a few reasons for this, firstly I have three essays due in on the 10th January, secondly I am beginning to hit the exhaustion phase of early pregnancy whereby every muscle aches and yearns for rest and I’m downing the lucozade tablets for much needed energy and to keep going. Looking after 3 young children on my own in the week means I don’t have time to sleep, combine that with University work and I’m shattered.

One very unpleasant commentator suggested I am a dreadful mother who neglects her children, given the blog, but I tend to do my blogging when they are in bed, plus, I am an extraordinarily fast typist. Rest assured my children do not lack their mother’s attention.

I am also involved in another short-term personal project, that I cannot divulge, but which is proving spiritually draining, however it already seems to be bearing much fruit and a worthwhile use of my time.

I don’t therefore have the emotional energy to continue taking the constant attacks from others, both my husband and my advisor noted that I can’t be fighting on all fronts and I need to concentrate on my current short-term goals and suggested that the work I am currently doing needs to be prioritised.

I received a number of emails of support following my last two posts, from Catholic supporters with influence beyond the blogosphere, from past and present pro-life parliamentarians, newspaper columnists and heads of various organisations. All of them praised my “courage”, but to me there seemed nothing intrinsically brave about tapping out my opinion. My husband warned that I might have a hard time, but I was taken aback by some of the vociferous comments, a few of which were unnerving in nature. Having been exhorted to “take down your post and walk away, your friends aren’t helping”, then told “there will be repercussions”, I had rather an unsettled night. I subsequently woke up to a comment implying that I was peddling “a sack full of lies, half-truths, outright deceit and spin concerning Catholic teaching”.

All of this rather proves my point about a culture of fear. It seems to be acceptable for John Smeaton to blog his outrageous opinions and pronouncements upon others but not for others to respond. A few of my supporters asked me not to publically name them, a wish that I will respect, because as they said, they need to be above reproach and not enmesh their organisations in a personal feud. To get involved they said, would be in exactly the same error as John; it would conflate their views with that of their organisation, whereas I have more freedom, blogging purely as a private individual.

This is the joy of the blogosphere’s lack of regulation, it is a great equaliser and means people can be called to account. Let me be clear, if any Catholic blogger had decided to deride myself or my colleagues, I would have been equally hurt, I may have challenged in the comments box, but would probably have left it. The reason why I have taken issue is because John Smeaton’s blog is in his official capacity as SPUC Director, there is no comment facility and it is taken authoritatively. As some of my commenters have noted, he has sometimes not represented the full picture or has jumped to false conclusions on issues, alienating many in the process and sowing dissent amongst natural allies.

This is why i believe the hierarchy aren’t as keen on blogs as we bloggers. We are not all in full possession of the facts, I was not party to the discussions or expert advice presented to the Bishops in terms of the Liverpool Care Pathway and Connexions so I have to trust their judgement. Though there is room to ask whether or not certain things are wise, what is unfair is to allege that the Bishops’ Conference is intent on pro-life dissent. If any individual Bishop was in pro-life dissent, then they’d be out on their ear. As some of my commentators note, we cannot comment on the sensationalist stories we see reported, not being party to all the facts and nor can we present this as evidence of anything and then turn our fury upon others, without looking very foolish.

What is in danger of happening at the moment is the blogosphere is in danger of turning in on itself and becoming an ugly spectacle which I do not want to be a part of. It is doing nothing for the Kingdom or Catholicism as a whole. It is why so many are so wary about the Internet as a medium. There is a danger of treating blogs or things we read on the net as truth and being unnecessarily scandalised. As a private individual I can only ever speak for myself and not, unlike others, in an official capacity which would lend misleading authority.

My advisor reminded me to remember humility, you may know you are right, but you don’t have to jump up and down to prove it, think of the patient monk who waits 7-10 years silently carrying on, before he is shown to have been right all along.

My husband says “the problem is Caroline is that you write very reasonable, rational posts and expect everyone else to behave the same way. We know human nature is flawed and sinful and not everyone will respond as you would wish and be convinced, so you have to accept there’s a lot of unpleasantness out there.” As he says, the irony about all of this, is that I am an orthodox faithful practicing Catholic, one who is happy to sign up to the Catechism in its entirety, therefore the animosity is unfounded. One only needs to look at some of the abuse I’ve taken for blogging on the key issues, to realise that.

The bloggers hold onto the fact that they are able to hold others to account and swiftly disseminate information. This is all I have done. Democracy demands that we are able to freely and openly discuss concerns without fear of “repercussions”. Apparently SPUC is a Limited Company. I can understand that it may not be able to be a charity because it might not be able to adequately meet the Charities Commission test of “public benefit”. To see the accounts a Companies House search of SPUC Pro-life Limited needs to be made. Of course being a Limited Company, raises questions like who are the shareholders, are the profits reinvested and is a dividend paid? I haven’t the energy to investigate further, but I would like to know more before I donate money or encourage others to.

Whatever SPUC’s alleged successes in the EU or UN, there is still no significant UK progress. Their projects may well be worth Catholic support, but why do they claim to be more worthy of support than others, especially when their leader is preoccupied with attacking Catholic leaders and upsetting prolific and influential supporters(it goes without saying I do not include myself in that)? Why should a Catholic support an organisation whose leader seems to sow dissent and who inspires a response that has made me fearful? If SPUC feel that the Catholic hierarchy are ignoring their concerns and are not as pro-life as they should be, then they need to look at the bigger picture. Why is there a lack of a coherent pro-life movement in this country, unable to hold anyone in check? Why are SPUC marginalised? Who do they have to blame?

As I said, I am going to post one more entry and then have a short moratorium whilst I concentrate on essay work and other things, but I don’t regret opening this up for debate.

Amongst all the to and fro, Tyler, came up with the following comment as a wonderful New Year’s Day gift. This is what makes blogging worthwhile, in a beautiful twist of fate, in delicious irony, it is an interlocutor or “troll” who has motivated me to continue. The Lord does move in mysterious ways.

I’m not going to lie. I came here to troll all over your site, as I had held you in a fair bit of contempt, after being directed here through an angry friend’s link. However, I was unprepared for the unusual and surprising quality of your reasoning and logic, which was far from the usual, “the face in the sky commands us to do A, B, and C, while prohibiting E, F, and G” sort of religious blog. Therefore, I apologize, and after thinking carefully about it, I also apologize for the trolling I would have done, had your blog been less impressive, as what I was going to do was rather ridiculous anyway since,to put it mildly, and to insult you would have been rather immature, regardless of what I found here.

In addition to this, I feel I must point out that I obviously do not agree with all that is written here. As I am not a Strong Catholic, this is unsurprising, but I am not so naive as to fail to realize that not all Catholics are drones, mirroring and reflecting the same precise beliefs, and I realize that your reasoning is constructed in a way that is open to debate (if one has suitable facts and satisfactory mental facilities to engage in a reasonable disagreement in the comments section), which is a significant factor in the quality of your posts, as you have clear substance in what you write. Thus, while our principles are not necessarily on par with each other, I believe the respect in your blogging rises above that, and presents itself as valid and important opinion, despite what my own beliefs are.

So, I hope you keep writing. Perhaps I do not hope that people will take what you say as the absolute truth but, perhaps, I hope that people will consider and weigh in on what you write. Because, honestly, the best argument is constructed with knowledge on something you don’t like, and your blog, at the absolute least, is an exemplary argument for anyone, religious or not.

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.