After Francis is it time for Pro-lifers to Pipe Down?

Taken from the Catholic Universe – 2 October 2013

 

The heart of pro-life work
Francis’ pro-life intentions in action

As someone whose writing has a predominantly pro-life focus, one of the questions that I have been continually asked since the papal interview is whether or not Catholic pro-lifers now need to focus their attention elsewhere instead of consistently discussing issues surrounding abortion, euthanasia and human sexuality.

Nothing better summarised the media’s confused attitude to Francis, than the reaction of the Associated Press, following his address to a group of gynecologists and obstetricians at the Vatican, in which he rejected the discarding of ‘defenceless‘ human persons through abortion. “Every unborn child, although unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of Jesus Christ, the Lord’s face,” said the pope, comparing the rejection of aborted children by the world, to the rejection of Christ and reminding doctors to ‘spread the Gospel of Life’.

The Associated Press subsequently reported the story as the Holy Father reneging on his word, a day after telling Catholics not to obsess about abortion, he allegedly did just that, by instructing doctors not to perform them. Francis’ speech was a deliberate reinforcement of his previous statement that he is a son of the church therefore doctrinal change is not on the agenda, but blindsided those who were hoping for a moratorium from the Catholic Church regarding abortion. Of course he was going to address the topic when talking to a gathering of medics whose specialism is pregnancy and childbirth, not to have done so would have been not only peculiar, but a gross dereliction of duty, it would have been the  enormous great metaphorical unspoken-of elephant in the room, what else would he have discussed – the potential for pelvic injuries sustained by the unsavoury activity of twerking?! The dangers of Miley Cyrus? It is absolutely nonsensical to think that abortion would not be top of the agenda in a gathering of Catholic medics.

 But there’s still a question as to whether or not those of us who would appear to be preoccupied with abortion, should now pipe down a little and shift our focus and efforts elsewhere, such as directly helping the poor or getting more involved with other aspects of Catholic Social Teaching? Should we put abortion or euthanasia on the back-burner, whilst we concentrate more upon direct evangelisation?

 The answer is wholly dependent upon discernment. St Paul informs us that there are a variety of gifts which can all be put to good use in service of Christ and so there is still a n important place within the Church for those who feel their vocation is defend the sanctity of life. In a country which is witness to 200,000 abortions a year and a rich and powerful celebrity-backed lobby group who are repeatedly attempting to get euthanasia on the statute books, it is imperative that the pro-life lobby continues to speak out to prevent and raise awareness as to these atrocities. We must not forget our duty of care to the most vulnerable in society and who could be more defenceless than the unborn and the elderly, terminally ill and dying?

The best method of evangelisation is not by proselytising alone, but by caritas in action and this is best demonstrated by unashamedly Catholic pro-life apostolates such as the Good Counsel Network in London and the Cardinal Winning project in Glasgow, who while not afraid to speak out about the injustice of abortion upon religious grounds, also provide vital necessities such as food, shelter, rent, help with finding work, baby equipment and emotional support for women facing crisis pregnancies. Furthermore it is Catholic organisations who provide non-judgemental support and healing ministries for women who have been hurt by abortion. Francis is not suggesting for one moment that organisations such as these need to close and if anything they are actually fulfilling the heart of his call for Gospel-based evangelisation.

What groups such as Good Counsel do, is wholly in tune with the Gospel as they address  and help each individual according to that individual’s physical and spiritual needs, whilst never once straying from the truth. Pro-life work is not just generically about dogma, but also about actually listening to people and attempting to address their needs and concerns, such as for example the post-abortive woman, instead of a mere insistence that ‘abortion is evil’ and a refusal to listen or acknowledge past wounds.

For pro-life writers and apologists such as myself, Francis’ words are challenging, although I am constantly aware that it is never enough to simply write about being open to life, one must also live this in our daily lives, which is often difficult. On one level it is simple enough to be pro-life, pro-family and to advocate this, although multiple pregnancies are no breeze, but actually pro-life writers must not forget that such a mindset includes being pro-poor and pro-immigrant. We must also ensure that we fight against less obvious political anti-life initiatives, such as the cutting of disability benefits and services, or the cuts  housing or other benefits that could adversely affect the vulnerable.

 What the pope has reminded Catholic pro-lifers is that we cannot be pro-life in isolation from our Catholicity. Just as Jesus commanded us that we must love God with all our heart and soul and from that a love for our neighbour will flow, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are pro-life because it is part of the Gospel. Not because the pro-life cause is our sole Gospel.

 

An unlikely Catholic feminist icon

Winbledon BardotThe blogger Mrs Meadowsweet caught my eye yesterday with a post about Pauline Boty, the female darling of the sixties avant garde generation.  Boty was a key founder of the British Pop Art movement and the only British female painter of that genre – she produced bold bright canvases which both celebrated and critiqued mass cultural movements, exploring themes of female sexuality, gender, race and politics.

Boty’s work is currently being exhibited at the Wolverhampton Gallery, including some pieces that have not been seen for over forty years, having gathered dust in the outhouse of her brother’s farm, before art historian David Mellor chanced upon Boty’s appearance upon Pop Goes the Easel, Ken Russell’s first full-length documentary for the BBC and began a quest to track down her work. As a result of the recent renaissance and reappraisal of her contribution to the sixties art scene, her canvases have more than quadrupled in price since the 1990s,

Born in Carshalton in 1938, the youngest of four children and the only girl, Pauline won a scholarship in 1954 to study stained glass  at the Wimbledon School of Art, amidst her parents’ disproval. She had originally wanted to study painting, but was discouraged from applying as admission rates for women in the school of painting were extremely low.

She completed her studies in 1961 and straight away featured in what many describe as the first ever Pop Art exhibition at the AIA Gallery in London. The following year she appeared in Russell’s documentary and began an acting career alongside her work as a painter. A phenomenal beauty, often referred to as the Wimbledon Bardot, Boty was picked from hundreds of applicants to be one of the weekly dancers on the ultra-hip Ready, Steady, Go. 

With her huge luminous eyes, back-combed mane of blond hair, flawless skin, voluptuous yet slim figure, one can imagine Pauline Boty taking a starring role as the sidekick of Austen Powers, in the films that so successfully sent up the spirit of the sixties. Despite the fact that there was so much more to her than being merely eye candy, her looks (she once appeared in a Vogue photo-spread taken by David Bailey) meant that she was not taken seriously as she should have been as a painter. According to Sue Tate who has written a book about Boty and is co-curator of the exhibition in Wolverhampton  “Unlike her contemporary Bridget Riley who was careful never to present herself as a woman artist, Boty allowed herself to be seen as beautiful and sexy, and because of that she was received as just beautiful and sexy, and not as serious and intellectual.”

Pauline Boty

Her premature death in 1966 at the age of 28 meant that her talent was never developed to its full potential, but her work displayed startling originality, her palette consisting of vibrant colours like cobalt violet and lemon deep yellow, by contrast to the muted palette used in classical training. Many Pop Art painters tended to portray woman as passive and objectified, whereas Boty was keen to celebrate unabashed female sexual desire, such as her painting With Love to Jean-Paul Belmondo, in which the Gallic new-wave actor is portrayed as an object of lust, the rose, Boty’s frequent emblem of female sensuality, imposing itself upon the heart-throb’s head. Unlike other artists such as Warhol, Boty never approached her subjects with a cool detachment, her passion is almost tangible and leaps off the canvas.

Colour-Her-Gone-by-Pauline-Boty-web
Colour her Gone
The Only Blonde in the World 1963 by Pauline Boty 1938-1966
The Only Blonde in the World

Moreoever Boty was not only an artist, actor, model and dancer but a political activist, not only touching upon subjects such as the Cuban Missile Crisis in her work, but also actively engaged in the student politics of the era. She was secretary of ‘Anti-Ugly Action’ a pressure group who marched on the new Kensington Library, demonstrated at Caltex House and scattered rose petals on the coffin of British Architecture outside the new Barclays Bank head office. Later on, when she was beginning to make appearances in chat shows of the day, she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and displaying some of the morality with which she would have been brought up (Boty was a baptised Catholic) she challenged the esteemed historian A J  P Taylor who had been describing Hitler as a ‘great man’ in relation to the magnitude of some of his achievements. Pauline refused to countenance this view, passionately retorting, ‘The size of his deeds no more make him great than their nature makes him good’, an interjection which apparently briefly stopped Taylor in his tracks.

As perhaps might be expected, Boty lived the life of the avant-garde set, she lived a life of sexual liberation, was embroiled in a messy affair with the married producer and director Philip Saville, she dabbled in drugs, smoked pot and occasionally took Benzedrine, but apparently had a preference for Purple Hearts. Her house was a hive of activity, Ossie Clarke was a regular guest, she was close friends with Bob Dylan and friends remember parties, champagne and heated debates.   Several anecdotes abound about her unbridled sexuality, posing nude in front of her photo of Johnny Halliday, sunbathing topless in Ibiza, describing her genitalia in lurid and explicit detail in interviews,  behaviour that broke all social conventions and that would still be considered vulgar 40 years later.

So, with all this in mind, especially when one thinks of some of Pauline Boty’s more sexually explicit work, (one painting featured a naked female derriere, another had the words ‘oh for a fu’ enigmatically scrawled across the corner), why on earth should she be thought of as a Catholic feminist icon?

Firstly, as a sixties pioneer, someone who was interested in smashing the limitations placed upon women and not interested in conforming to society’s expectations, she unexpectedly got married to actor and literary agent Clive Goodwin, ten days after meeting him.  Speaking about the union, her friend Penny Massot says “He was straight and conventional and she was wacky, never quite knew whether she should be with Clive, you know . . . But I think they were dreamy together.” Their marriage was a happy one, in an interview in 1965, Boty spoke about marrying Goodwin because he made her feel secure. Not the sort of thing that modern feminists would be happy to promulgate and perhaps one of the reasons why her memory was until recently expunged from popular history. Why would a beautiful talented politically engaged woman who seemingly had the world at her feet choose to marry? It doesn’t fit in with images of an oppressive patriarchy, especially when we learn that as in all successful marriages, the benefits were mutual, Goodwin by all accounts was transformed as a result of his marriage.

Tragically upon a routine examination during the first trimester of pregnancy, it was discovered that Pauline Boty had leukaemia. She refused to think about abortion, which though still illegal would have been easy to obtain for a woman with her contacts and furthermore refused chemotherapy in case it harmed her unborn baby, a decision which would ultimately cost her life, her daughter was born in 1966 and Boty died a few months afterwards, although she was able to care for her baby for a short time after the birth. In circumstances in which pro-choice feminists would argue that an abortion is a necessity (modern medical research has proven that there is no risk to pregnant women undergoing chemotherapy after the first trimester) Boty stood up for the right to life of her own unborn child.

Interestingly for someone looking to smash gender barriers, amongst her political campaigning and affiliations she did not seem to have involved herself with the activities of ALRA, the Abortion Law Reform Association, established in 1936. While claiming her as a pioneer of the modern feminist movement, the feminists seem to have overlooked this key facet of her life.  A woman who had everything to live for, committed an act of ultimate generosity for the life of her child, not wishing to do anything that might cause her baby what she believed to be, untold harm.

While her life is hardly commensurate with that of the average hagiography, we should nonetheless note and pay tribute to one of the modern feminists who recognised that gender equality does not have to necessitate taking the life of an unborn daughter, even though this came at an enormous personal cost to herself.

Formed and fully human

I based a previous post about Sarah Ewart based on a misconception of the severity of her baby’s condition which had been misreported in the press, with even Melanie McDonagh stating that the baby ‘had no head’. While I did not quite believe this to be true, my visualisation of the condition was something infinitely more graphic and gruesome than the reality.

Peter Saunders has sensitively and scientifically outlined the reality here, in a must-read piece for anyone wanting to know the reality of the condition. Had the case been as I believed, I still don’t believe that would have been a good enough reason to abort the baby, but I would not have been rushing to demand prosecution of someone who assisted her and would have wanted some compromise found, which did not implicitly endorse abortion, but also would offer some relief for the mother if necessary, such as early delivery at point of viability.

I still believe that pro-lifers need to exercise due care and compassion nonetheless in these situations, rushing to quote the Catechism, which is couched in philosophical and theological language at a frightened mother, who may or may not be a Catholic, is not the most pastoral, compassionate or necessarily convincing approach.

If we are to change society’s consciousness on this, then we need to reach out beyond our own religious circle. One isn’t going to convince a pagan or committed atheist as to the compelling philosophy, logic and science that supports a pro-life mindset by referencing the Bible, the Didache or Magisterium, although my experience is that very often the pro-life cause is what attracts people to re-examine, revert or convert to Catholicism as they begin to explore why it is that we are so uncompromising on this.

LIFE charity are currently running an extremely effective ‘not blinkered’ campaign, which de-bunks the whole ‘religious nut jobs on the right’ stereotype very nicely. While we cannot divert from Catholic principles, a recourse to theism is not a necessary when it comes to explaining why the most vulnerable, from the unborn, to the disabled, terminally ill and elderly should be protected from abortion, assisted dying and euthanasia.

When I discovered that our unborn baby had died, I chose to undergo a procedure similar to a medical abortion in order to deliver our baby after waiting to see whether or not matters would resolve naturally. It was one of the most difficult decisions we’ve had to face and even though we knew that the baby had died, there was still some guilt in taking action that would literally force the baby out of the womb. Despite having had the diagnosis confirmed by 3 separate doctors I still needed confirmation that no heartbeat was present, before I allowed intervention to proceed.

Ending a pregnancy is a traumatic and violent affair, regardless of the method one chooses even armed with the knowledge that there is little other choice,  as there was in our situation. For a while I was too physically battered by what had taken place to begin the process of grieving and it was only yesterday, following the burial of Rafael’s remains that the loss really ‘hit’ the pair of us.

I cannot imagine the trauma  experienced by grieving parents who have felt compelled by a baby’s disability to take steps to end their life. Several priests have recounted heartbreaking tales of parents bringing their aborted children for funeral services, their grief compounded and complicated by the dissonant knowledge that they terminated their babies lives, often due to medical coercion, themselves.

It has not been definitively confirmed, but upon talking to the doctors and sonographers involved, the cause of death was likely to have been Downs Syndrome as many markers were present. People come out with the most ridiculous platitudes, implying that your baby’s death was ‘for the best’, ‘a blessing in disguise’ and it was probably ‘just as well’.

Downs Syndrome has an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or neo-natal death, though not as great as anencephaly, but as we laid our baby to rest yesterday (fully formed with limbs, fingers and toes) had we experienced stillbirth or a neo-natal death, both of us would have given anything to be able to have held our baby, even just for a short while. Which is what convinces me that Peter Saunders is right.

But at least we have the knowledge that despite being denied the privilege of holding our child, we did whatever we could to look after them, both in life and death. We accorded our baby the dignity and respect that every unborn child deserves. It was not only the right thing to do, but is already a source of enormous comfort.  Being pro-life sometimes means needing to bear witness in death. Treating a baby as a human being from the moment of conception until moment of death is the compassionate, decent and humane response, for mother and baby alike.

A tale of two tragedies

Two terrible pieces of news have emerged on the BBC News website today.

At London Zoo, a Sumatran tiger cub has been discovered dead at the edge of the pool in the tiger enclosure. It is thought that the cub accidentally ventured into the pool and drowned.

In a separate tragedy Edinburgh Zoo has announced that Tian Tian, their giant panda is no longer pregnant, she appears to have miscarried her cub in late pregnancy.

Animal-lovers such as myself will be saddened to hear of these events, especially as the animals concerned are both endangered species.

Perhaps that’s why this is considered headline news and of far more importance than the approximately 500 women in the UK who will today end the lives of their unborn children via abortion, because they feel that they have little other ‘choice’.

500 unborn babies or the plight of 500 women doesn’t quite have the same ‘aw factor’ or sense of urgency and importance as a dead baby tiger and panda cub.

And we wonder why the human race seems in trouble?

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 13.43.07
The most popular stories on the BBC News website on 15 October

Women’s safety a priority?

The 40 Days of Choice group, set up to counter 40 days for Life, have gone into propaganda overdrive, tweeting a link to a report that women diagnosed with foetal abnormality are ‘denied surgical abortions’. Yet again, the Guardian proves its reputation as being the the soft advertiser on behalf of the abortion industry, the conference referred to was one organised and funded by BPAS and the pro-choice group ARC (ante-natal results and choices).

A woman who has never actually had to give birth to her deceased child vocalised her horror at the prospect and described how she had needed to borrow £1,000 in order to have a surgical abortion performed swiftly, instead of having to wait two weeks to see a consultant and being told that she would need to give birth naturally.

With lots of accompanying rhetoric about the politicisation of abortion and how foetal abnormality ‘forces’ women to abort, the usual frame of choice shifts from the concept of abortion, to the actual method itself. Nobody seems to be asking the question as to why these women are somehow forced, why does foetal abnormality or disability take away a woman’s agency?

The stat that less than 1% of all pregnancies are ended due to foetal abnormality is also presented, in order to convey sympathy, this is such a rare occasion, (which should tell us something about the obscene amount of abortions that are performed in the UK) surely women in this unusual situation ought to be allowed to choose, as well as take their time?

Jane Fisher of Antenatal Results and Choices points to the research that this is such a distressing time for women that they need to be able to take their time and space to chose on the abortion method that is right for them. Not that they need time and space to choose whether or not to abort, rather to choose the method.

Sadly I understand this all too well. We had an appointment at the hospital today in order to discuss the options in terms of delivering our own deceased child. The nurse could not have been more sympathetic, she checked that I understood why we were there and took her time explaining the different options to us. She also stressed that there was absolutely no hurry to make any sort of decision, we could go home, we could choose whatever option we wanted, we could change our mind at the last minute, no-one was going to pressure us at all.

I can more than understand why some women in my situation would choose surgery, it’s over very quickly, you are unconscious, you do not have to see any foetal remains and neither do you have the interminable wait to see if nature might take it course, something that could take weeks. I would not admonish any woman who chose the surgical option, however, I don’t think it’s for me, for a number of reasons, one being that there are often no remains left to bury.

But the difference for women in my situation is that tragically, our babies are already dead. I more than empathise with women having to give birth to a dead child, it’s what I am going to face over the next few weeks, but there is some comfort in knowing that there is nothing I could have done. All I can do now is see to it that he or she is given a decent burial.

For those women who are faced with the terrible situation of feeling forced into aborting a profoundly disabled child, there is for many, some form of closure in being able to hold a funeral, or bury the remains and say goodbye to their child, even if there is also a sense of dissonance.

But the most important thing is that by giving women time to make their decision, something that I would always advocate, the surgical option becomes less and less safe. So today, when we were discussing my options, it was very clear that while not being forced, I was being strongly steered towards a medical management, i.e. when pills are administered to force contractions. Surgery would not have been denied, but it was clear the consultant preferred to recommend a medical management because it was safer for me with a relatively late, missed miscarriage, which is larger than usual.

I was explicitly informed, both verbally and in writing, that surgery carries an increased risk of infection, scarring and perforation of the uterus. If I opted for a medical management, I would be given a private room with ensuite bathroom, a cannula inserted in case fluids or a blood transfusion is needed and given as much pain relief as possible. They would also issue me with the paperwork to bury or cremate the remains. A far cry from the medical abortion procedure that takes place in abortion clinics, who have been campaigning for women to be able to miscarry at home. The NHS pulled no punches, this will be emotionally and physically difficult, but they would support me through it, rather than leave me to suffer at home alone. Unlike at the clinics, Robin will be allowed accompany me the whole way through the procedure. It isn’t the narrative of period pains or slight cramping that the abortion clinics try to soft-soap women with. Former clinic worker Abby Johnson who had a medical abortion tells it like it is.

I get it, I truly understand what an ordeal it is to have to deliver a dead child, at any stage of gestation, but if surgery is the riskier option for me with a child at 10 + 5 gestation, 12 weeks into pregnancy, the risk will increase for women at a later stage – typically, abnormalities are not picked up until around 12 weeks and in many cases, not until 20, when one doesn’t have a choice in terms of abortion, you have to deliver.

It’s terrible when your 12 week scan delivers devastating news, we have been totally blindsided by what’s happened, though we’ll get through it, life seems that bit more grey, bleak, colourless. Our future does not seem quite so rosy, our precious little baby has been taken away. My body has not yet caught onto the situation as is common in this situation, and so I’m still experiencing full-blown pregnancy symptoms in a cruel twist of nature. The mind and body are at odds with each other, while I know the baby has passed away, my body is trying to fool me into thinking otherwise. I’m sick, have the erratic familiar food aversions, am growing bigger as the hormones increase the size of the sac and yet know there will be no baby at the end of the process.

I have no doubt that a diagnosis of foetal anomaly has a similar effect and my heart goes out to anyone faced with this. But where there is life there is always hope, why aren’t we asking why women in this situation are feeling forced, but instead blindly accepting the inevitability of abortion for disabled children?

As for the choice of method of termination, surely that should be wholly down to clinical factors, and what is in the best interests of a woman’s overall health, not politicised in order to do homage to the false notion that we have bodily agency?

If one were inclined to shout empty slogans, the following seems applicable:

Pro-“choice”? That’s a lie, you don’t care if women die.

As the Good Counsel Network have just pointed out the reason why 40 Days for Choice find women having to give birth to their dead child ‘disgusting’ is because that word sums up the tragic reality of abortion.

One of life’s ‘lemons’

Those who keep up with my Facebook and Twitter account will have read the news of the loss of our baby.

As I’ve frequently stated on this blog, a life of pro-life witness means walking the walk as well as talking the talk. So a few weeks ago, I confidently shared the news about my pregnancy in the pages of the Catholic press, genuinely believing that it was in women’s best interests if the taboo of early pregnancy was broken. The aim was not to compel women to share their news before they feel ready, rather to empower women who may be suffering in the early stages of pregnancy to ask for the help that they may need, especially if they are experiencing a crisis pregnancy.

The flipside of that means that women who suffer an early loss also then have to make that public, which is the hard part. Because frankly I don’t feel like sharing my grief or raw emotions with the world and every single message of condolence, hammers home the hurt and loss. We have the consolation of Christian hope, we know that the baby is without sin, we trust in the mercy of God and yet still there is terrible pain and a lot of tears.

I also feel like a prize wally for naively thinking that just because I was pregnant, I would definitely be carrying a baby to term. Not to mention terrified of the usual trolls. Shortly after announcing my pregnancy, one woman tweeted some dreadful stuff in response, namely that I was making things up, that the most ‘natural thing in the world would be for me to announce a miscarriage’, followed up by a stream of (later deleted) musings about an obviously mentally ill woman in America who had simulated pregnancy for 7 months,  with links to the story as well as a site where one could buy a prosthetic stomach.

I have no need to prove anything, I’m not tweeting the scan photograph which will probably be all that we have to remind us of our baby, it’s too private, too personal, I don’t want to share him or her with the world.

The day began so auspiciously. We’ve had a friend staying with us for a few nights so they could attend the Labour conference events, after a few nights up late drinking red wine and chewing the Catholic fat, I woke up this morning and managed to finish an extra long Universe column dealing with last week’s papal interview. Feeing particularly smug at having submitted a piece early, I then nipped next door to pick up a parcel containing my copy of the new Father Robert Barron series on DVD, together with associated study material. Part of my excitement was that due to wholly chance encounter last year, it appears from the trailer that I make an appearance in the film, when they followed me across London to film a radio segment at the now defunct Bush House.

After a lovely lunch at a restaurant in the late summer sunshine overlooking the sea with Robin, the children and our friend, I skipped off excitedly for the scan at the Royal Sussex at 4pm. This was the first one of our baby’s ultrasounds that I had been to on my own, the time of the appointment meant that it would be impossible to do the school run and besides which, Robin needed to look after the children, as the unit is keen to discourage young babies and toddlers from attending.

As I bustled my way through throngs of frighteningly young-looking delegates at the Labour conference, clutching my plastic Bounty wallet containing pregnancy notes and with the hint of a protruding belly, I smiled benignly at various familiar faces.  Suddenly a bumptious young man asked me whether or not I fancied catching Ed’s speech with him followed by a bite to eat. ‘Sorry, I’ve got a pregnancy scan appointment”, I sniggered. Bounding up the steep hill towards the hospital, I giggled at his presumption and mused that despite having greasy hair, not a scrap of make-up, manky toe-nails caught unaware of the unexpected turn of weather and wearing a scruffy Mothercare top that was probably about 10 years old, and not far off the dreaded 4-0, obviously I still ‘had it’. Either that or more likely he’d had too much at lunchtime and was clearly blind! I mused as to whether or not certain feminists would quote this as an example of Labour misogynist sexism and that the conference was obviously a hotbed of dastardly sexual predators!

But all in all, life was good, though still sick, the worst part of the pregnancy was behind me, I’d just entered into the blissful second trimester, was feeling like I was beginning to glow, things were coming together for us as a family and soon there would be a snuggly new baby whom we were looking forward to. Just before arriving at the hospital I realised that I didn’t have any cash with which to pay for the scan pictures, something that I’ve always considered a cynical piece of exploitation and stopped at a cash machine, which proceeded to fail, meaning that I then had to waste precious minutes queuing at the next one, whilst muttering under my breath and worrying that I would be late.

Running into ultrasound reception, at 4.05 pm, the velociraptor on the desk snapped at me that I had just made it and ushered me through. Just as I was fiddling with the change machine, I was called into the sonography room, whereupon I panicked that I didn’t have the right amount of change for the photograph and they assured me that they could give me some. Lying down on the couch, I settled into the familiar routine, unbuttoning jeans, feeling the cold jelly on my stomach and enjoying the cool air-conditioning blasting onto me, by contrast with the scorching heat outside. ‘There’s your little one’ said the sonographer, putting the scanner on my belly. I was too busy marvelling at the little hands and feet, noticing that the baby seemed to be lying in the perfect transverse position for a photo and wondering whether or not I could spy a willy, or was it the umbilical cord, to realise the uncharacteristic silence.

“Sorry, there’s no heartbeat” came a voice, completely out of the blue. It was a bolt from the blue, it had never occurred to me to be concerned that the baby might have died. I’m still sick, growing larger and have had no indications that anything might be wrong. The primary purpose of the scan as far as I was concerned was to check on the size of the baby and due date. I am the fertile baby-maker,  I am Mrs Fecund, the person who falls pregnant at the drop of a hat, who goes on to produce healthy  babies, nothing else was on my radar. Besides at 12 weeks plus 2, I was out of the danger-zone surely?

The staff were exceptionally kind.  They volunteered to remove my pregnancy notes, provided tissues, left the room while I called Robin and made sure that I could get home safely. They also didn’t charge me for the photo, and didn’t think I was macabre for asking for one. They called for someone else to come and confirm the diagnosis, there was a brief flicker of hope when she thought she might have seen something, but no it was bone, the baby died approximately a week and a half ago at 10 weeks and 5 days. Apparently there is a lot of fluid, an indication that there could be chromosomal problems, and according to the sonographer the baby ‘didn’t look right’. They didn’t elaborate and neither did I want to know. The sac has continued to grow, but not the baby.

I don’t really know what happens next and it’s better that I don’t speculate, although I’ve read through the leaflet. The priority now is attempting to ensure that the baby is not treated like another piece of hospital waste, but if possible given some sort of funeral. I’ve a job interview tomorrow to take my mind off things and a further appointment on Thursday to discuss possible options. I don’t want to contemplate what lies ahead.

I said at the beginning being pro-life means walking the walk. Being open to life entails the heartbreak that can accompany that, a few weeks ago someone was telling me about how they suddenly understood the sorrows of Mary and that’s something that I can now sharply identify with.

Looking at my twitter feed earlier, I saw the pro-choice protestors out in force at the start of 40 days for life outside the Stratford clinic and felt a jolt of sharp anger that these women were campaigning for their right to kill their babies whilst mine is dead. Certain pro-lifers don’t get off  lightly either. Quite frankly if I saw a photo of a dead or dismembered foetus in my sightline right now, knowing what could be in store for my baby, I’d struggle to restrain my anger.

I look at my four beautiful girls and am grateful that they are safe and well, but that doesn’t somehow magically alleviate the sadness that one of our babies has died. We are just so immeasurably sad that this little one didn’t get the same chance.

On the print-out I’ve been given to take with me on Thursday it says “missed miscarriage”, but somehow that noun seems inadequate. It wasn’t the passive of a verb, but a human being whose life has come to an end and who was and is and will always be loved and whose loss we miss keenly.

RIP little baby. Thank you so much everyone for the prayers, intentions and Masses offered, which are sustaining us.

In the words of the children’s favourite American pachyderm:

A person’s a person no matter how small. 

First Trimester Taboo – why keeping mum is a bad idea

Taken from the Catholic Universe – 25 August 2013

(Since this piece was written, I’ve lost well over half a stone in weight and my nutritional intake consists solely of sips of flat coke, water and bites of white bread, further reinforcing the original view.  At times I’ve been almost bedridden and barely able to leave the house, thank goodness for a supportive husband who is carrying the majority of the load during his holiday, whilst I languish like some gothic Victorian heroine. How women are supposed to function normally let alone make rational decisions in this condition is beyond me. Once again I am reminded why abortion must seem like an attractive option to those who may already be overburdened and find the crippling nausea and fatigue almost too much to deal with). 

First-Trimester-Symptoms
My Catherine Earnshaw moments are rather less glamourous!

Much to our delight, we discovered a few weeks ago that we are expecting our fifth child who is expected to put in an appearance some time in March.

The response, even from Catholic quarters has been interesting and is one from which lessons can be drawn. Many people have questioned whether or not I am correct to announce things at this relatively early stage in the first trimester. “Do people tend to go public before 12 weeks, I thought it had to be top secret” asked one colleague in good faith , which made me realise that a taboo pervades when it comes to the subject of early pregnancy.

I’ve therefore decided, perhaps rather foolishly, to lead by example and announce the happy news to the world at large. This pressure to keep mum about being mum, seems to me to be doing women a major disservice under a misguided notion of compassion.

There are really only three main reasons why a woman may wish to keep her pregnancy news to herself. Firstly, she is concerned about the risk of miscarriage, secondly she wants to be sure that the baby is healthy following her twelve week scan and thirdly, she might be undecided and not want to have to face the public stigma of abortion. Which goes to debunk the notion of choice, because surely if the unborn child is not really a person but a bundle of cells, if the decision is hers alone, to do whatever she likes with her body, then why the urge to keep silent? If pro-choicers are wishing to remove the stigma of abortion, to discuss it in terms of need, then why are they wishing to buy into the silence that surrounds early pregnancy?

Regardless of choice, there can be absolutely no doubt, that for most women, the first trimester is a physically and mentally exhausting time. Added to the worry about potential miscarriage, the majority of which take place in the first trimester, women, if they are anything like me, have to face the trauma of perpetual nausea and sickness, loss of appetite, food and scent aversions, (my children currently smell appalling much to my horror), crippling fatigue, periods of feeling faint, accompanying breathlessness along with headaches, with the skin and temperament of a moody adolescent as huge amounts of progesterone go crashing through your body.

In short, one is a wreck. It’s not surprising, as the first trimester is when all of the baby’s major development takes place. By 4 weeks, all of the baby’s major organs and body systems are in place and beginning to form. By 12 weeks all bodily organs and systems are fully-formed and ready to grow. It’s no wonder you’re shattered! There’s an incredible amount of building work taking place inside you, it’s only after 12 weeks that the placenta takes over in terms of supplying the baby with vital nutrients. Before then, it’s one’s body doing all the work in constructing this tiny human, which will naturally deplete your existing resources.

 It therefore seems crazy to keep this quiet when the first trimester is the time that a woman requires most support from her partner, family, friends and employer. You need people to exercise due care and understanding and even if one’s  symptoms are not all that severe, it is likely that at some point, a woman will need some leeway and understanding. To keep things quiet forces a woman to conform to the expectations and demands of others, whilst suppressing her own needs, which is not an ideal model of womanhood.

While it is understandable that a woman may not wish to publicly announce the loss of a child if she were to miscarry, it is far more likely that she will get the time off work and compassion she needs from others, if she has previously made them aware of her pregnancy. By suppressing the news, a woman inherently buys into the prevailing zeitgeist which holds that a child is only a child if it is wanted and once it has reached a certain stage in development, whereas biology tells us that a life is formed from the moment of conception.

Why should women be forced to suffer the grief, pain and loss of a child in early pregnancy alone and unsupported? Friends of mine who have experienced the tragedy of multiple  early miscarriages have testified to experiencing enormous stigma for wishing to mourn the loss of their little ones, because an abortive mentality tells us that this is not really a child or person.

To keep news of a pregnancy silent until one finds out whether or not the baby may have any abnormalities, heaps further pressure on the disabled who live in our society and upon the parents who may be faced with some very difficult news. The silence serving as a shroud with many parents not feeling able to discuss their news with anyone who might be able to give them a more positive vision than a gloomy clinical prognosis, which talks only in terms of pathologies.

A woman who is undecided needs even more compassion in a society which endorses abortion as an acceptable and even responsible option. If she is struggling with a terrible dilemma whilst in the throes of feeling absolutely dire, how does a conspiracy of silence help her to be able to talk through her options with someone other than the worker at the abortion clinic, who will in all probability consolidate her doubts and offer a swift concrete solution.

 In 2012, 91% of abortions were carried out in first trimester, compared to 57% in 2002. It’s no wonder the abortion industry want to keep early pregnancy hidden and behind closed doors. Pregnant women should not feel silenced.

Catholics and Family Size

Francis Philips made some excellent points in her Catholic Herald blogpost this week, asking whether the Church has succumbed to an anti-family culture and reminding Catholics that they should not feel the need to limit their family size.

She quotes one Christopher Gawley who posits that while the Church abhors the small-family contraceptive mentality, it does not present the true message of Humane Vitae, namely the obligation of married couples to have children and not to limit their family size. According to Gawley, this is because the Church does not teach NFP properly, citing it as the natural alternative to artificial contraception and thus couples fall into the contraceptive mindset, using NFP as a form of contraception in order to avoid pregnancy.

That’s certainly a criticism that has cropped up a lot in my combox over the years, with non-Catholics claiming that NFP is merely semantics or a form of sophistry, NFP it is claimed, is just another form of contraception. To be fair, one cannot blame the non-catechised for taking this view, it can be confusing, especially considering that NFP is even described as a form of contraception by the NHS. We Catholics can also play into this perspective, when trying to persuade others of the efficacy and morality of NFP compared to other forms of contraception. There can be little doubt, that religious principles aside, there are compelling reasons for a couple to use NFP, which is entirely natural, leaves no ecological footprint and does much to enhance the relationship between husband and wife on both a physical, psychological and for Catholics, spiritual level.

Which is why we should probably attempt a Catholic boycott of the phrase and instead plump for something along the lines of NFA, Natural Fertility Awareness which is the essence behind NFP for Catholics. It’s not simply about planning one’s family in a utilitarian fashion, but a couple together monitoring a woman’s fertility and every month making prayerful decisions as to the best course of action.

I do not agree that the Church is implicitly buying into the contraceptive mentality by the way it teaches and presents NFP, because let’s be honest here, sadly many practicing Catholics are using contraception and actually see no problem with this, such as for example, the former editor of the Catholic Herald, Cristina Odone. The problem is not, in my experience, that the Church is not teaching NFP or Humanae Vitae correctly, the problem is that it isn’t really being taught at all. Perhaps I’m being unfair, but I think I’ve heard it alluded to once during a homily over the past five years. I once spoke at a neighbouring parish on the theology of NFP, together with a practitioner who did the mechanics and once I’d got over the embarrassment of telling a group of engaged and co-habiting couples that they ought to consider chastity, what was clear was that none of them had ever really considered the doctrine on contraception, let alone the reasons behind it or even putting it into practice.

We are really fooling ourselves if we believe that the reason that Catholics are having small families is because they are misusing NFP. those Catholics who do use it, are the ones who fully understand it and tend to have larger families anyway. In the absence of stats, it’s impossible to make generalisations, but the priority should not be Catholics with say two or three children, who may be using NFP with a contraceptive mentality.

The expert moral theologian in this area, Janet Smith, says that often, the graveness of the valid reasons for avoiding pregnancy can be overstated. I would tend to agree, because what constitutes ‘grave and serious’ reasons is entirely subjective and depends upon the individual couple. While childbearing shouldn’t be postponed for trivial social reasons such as planning a holiday for example, it is totally valid for a woman who has given birth in the last year, for example, to use NFP/NFA to space out her children and give her body adequate time to recover before the next pregnancy. That may not come under the life-threatening implications of ‘grave’ but so long as she doesn’t postpone indefinitely and the decision is taken carefully and prayerfully, it isn’t one that should attract censure. Janet Smith suggests that ‘just’ reasons would be a more suitable phrase.

Humane Vitae admittedly uses the terms ‘serious’ and ‘grave’, as follows:

“If we look further to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who, guided by prudent consideration and generosity, elect to accept many children. Those are also to be considered responsible, who, for serious reasons [seriis causis] and with due respect for moral precepts, decide not to have another child either for a definite or an indefinite amount of time.” (HV10)

Certainly, there may be just reasons [justae causae] for spacing offspring; these may be based on the physical or psychological condition of the spouses, or may be based on external factors.” Further on it states the spouses may have worthy and weighty justifications (argumenta . . . honesta et gravia); defensible reasons (probabiles rationes); and just reasons (iustae rationes) for limiting their family size.” (HV16)

So in planning family size, a couple needs to think about ALL their commitments, to each other, to their existing children, to other family members who may be dependents, such as an elderly parent, basically, the decision has to be defensible, and not selfish, but directed towards a good beyond their own comfort. There are a multitude of good reasons why a couple may decide to use NFP and their decision to do so should be between themselves, taking into account Church teaching on the matter, based on prayerful discernment. The external factors referred to in HV16, obviously refers to compelling financial and social reasons, and can in themselves be a defensible reason, i.e it does not need to be a matter of life and death.

Gaudium et Spes 50 has a passage which is also helpful in discerning what constitutes a just decision.

“takes into consideration their own good and the good of their children already born or yet to come, an ability to read the signs of the times and of their own situation on the material and spiritual level, and finally, an estimation of the good of the family, of society, and of the Church.”

On the matter of how many children one should have, John Paul II had something interesting to say:

“The family is an institution created by procreation within the framework of marriage. It is a natural community, directly dependent on the parents for its existence and functioning. The parents create the family as a complement to and extension of their love. To create a family means to create a community, since the family is a social unit or else it is not a family. To be a community it must have a certain size. This is most obvious in the context of education. For the family is an educational institution within the framework of which the personality of a new human being is formed. If it is to be correctly formed it is very important that this human being should not be alone, but surrounded by a natural community. We are sometimes told that it is easier to bring up several children together than an only child, and also that two children are not a community – they are two only children. It is the role of the parents to direct their children’s upbringing, but under their direction the children educate themselves because they develop within the framework of a community of children, a collective of siblings.”

So ideally, a family should constitute more than two children.

It seems to me that getting too hung up on the grave and serious nature of reasons for avoiding childbirth, ignores the actual teaching of Humane Vitae. I also think that to do so, encourages us to fall into the trap of judging others on the basis of their family size. There’s many a time that I look at some of these marvellous Catholic families with 6 or more children wistfully and wish I’d met my husband when in my twenties so we could have got going a lot earlier and had plenty more, but such is life. We’ve not been doing too badly in the reproductive stakes, to put it mildly.

But we shouldn’t be too keen to judge a family’s Catholicity on the basis of family size. A family may only have one or two children for reasons that are unknown to the outsider and could well be a source of pain for them. A small Catholic family is not a scandalous situation and neither should we hector those who prayerfully chose to employ NFP to achieve or avoid pregnancy, the two being different sides of the same coin.

Ultimately if a faithful Catholic couple is using NFP then they are still accepting and participating in God’s plan for creation. NFP/NFA accepts that no method of pregnancy avoidance, bar total abstinence is 100%. It is hugely unlikely that such a couple would then opt for abortion or reject an unplanned pregnancy. Practicing NFP constantly reminds one that this is always a possibility which is why NFP encourages spouses to care for and take responsibility for each other.

We should not berate those who use it in good conscience, procreation is one of the missions of marriage but not the sole mission, there are other ways of building the kingdom, the church does not treat children as a moral good to be pursued at the expense of all other moral goods. Gaudium et Spes 50 suggests that having a large family would be the generous thing to do, but also states that it is up to couples to decide.

The subject of children and family size is a fraught one to which we must be sensitive. I’ve been hurt by thoughtless comments from well-meaning Catholics, concerning the sex of my children, or suggestions that I ought to be trying for more to set a good example, when in fact we had very sound reasons to be thinking about avoiding. Tip, the last thing one should say to a woman with a newborn baby girl staggering into Church following her third cesarian is “oh what a pity, when are you going to try again”?!

Using NFP takes courage in this day and age, where most have us have been conditioned into wanting to and believing that we can control every aspect of our lives, including childbearing. NFP is liberating and empowering it paradoxically puts a woman in charge of her own fertility (far more so than artificial methods of contraception) but with that liberation comes a submission to God’s will. One innately understands that ‘accidents’ can happen and when they do, you are in a far better position to be able to make the heroic sacrifice required.

There is still so much work to be done in terms of catechesis and educating the faithful on this matter, far better to evangelise on the spiritual goods and moral imperatives of NFP as opposed to be hammering home the message that Catholics should expect to have as many children as humanly possible, continuing to reproduce like rabbits until their uterus falls out.

Yes, generosity is expected and required and this is something that we should be passing onto our children by word and example. But having a large family is not the only way in which one can exercise generosity and perhaps it’s a case of carrot and stick. Once the faithful have been convinced of the good of NFP, constant reminders of the grave and serious reasons to avoid may well become superfluous. Once you’ve understood the teaching in its entirety, not simply the logistics or mechanics, then the rest follows on holistically.

But berating those for using NFP to avoid in good conscience, or discouraging discussion of using NFP to plan a family responsibly, is not the way to go, particularly for those encountering these concepts for the first time, which sadly seems to be a not insignificant proportion of the faithful.

Postscript

Upon reflection it occurred to me that Christopher Gawley, the writer referred to is American, where it is normal pastoral practice for couples to receive NFP instruction as part of their marriage preparation. Perhaps Gawley is justified in critiquing the way this is taught if it only focuses upon the method itself as opposed to the underlying theology. This isn’t the problem in the UK where qualified NFP practitioners are in short supply and NFP is barely mentioned in many parishes or schools.

I still feel that faithful couples practicing NFP should be treated in good faith. It is highly likely that an orthodox couple who are using NFP to avoid pregnancy or space their children will be sufficiently motivated and well informed to understand their obligations in the light of Church teaching.

A beautiful royal baby – now we need equality for every unborn child

Taken from the Catholic Universe – 28 July 2013

Prince George

The nation is this week celebrating the birth of a healthy baby son to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – congratulations to this lovely young couple who are undoubtedly going to make wonderful parents.

My heart went out to Kate Middleton, having suffered identical ailments in pregnancy, from severe morning to sickness, to enduring sweltering summer temperatures in the final weeks before delivery. Kate may have many advantages, but chances are she isn’t going to enjoy the opportunity that most of us get to slob around the house in our dressing gowns in the post-natal blissful haze known as the babymoon! Watching the media furore over the past few days was a compelling reason for her to consider having any future births at home.

What was however both telling and heartening was that not once, even in the very early stages of the Duchess’s pregnancy was her son referred to as anything other than what he is, namely a baby. The absence of the word ‘foetus’ which we hear so often in relation to pregnant women, especially in the time before the baby becomes viable, was noticeable. Not once did any reporter or journalist refer to the Royal Baby as ‘the products of conception’, ‘a bunch of cells’, a ‘future potential person’ but for the entire duration of the pregnancy, his humanity and future destiny was explicit. The pregnancy even prompted a rushed change to the succession laws to ensure that the baby would automatically succeed to the throne regardless of their gender.

How many other unborn children have the privilege of being deemed so important that they necessitate a change to the country’s legislation? That’s not in any way to begrudge the status of the newborn, but instead of fighting for an unattainable equality of birth, (far better to concentrate our minds on the equality of death) surely we should all be fighting for the equality for every unborn child to be deemed a baby and thus accorded the opportunity of life?

Whilst we were all quite rightly desperately excited for the royal couple, I wish that some of the excitement and magic of pregnancy could be transferred elsewhere, to the frightened pregnant teen, to the single mother living in a run-down tower block, to the homeless drug addict whose baby will most probably be born with an addiction. Whilst the world was watching and waiting in breathless anticipation, I wondered how many other mothers would be labouring, perhaps alone, without the huge amount of support and well-wishers or loving family unit that the Duchess is fortunate to possess and was reminded of the gross inequality regarding how their pregnancies are viewed by society. Whereas the world would have reacted with horror had the Duchess suddenly decided to abort, proving that the whole notion of choice is a misnomer, had the teen mum or drug addict had an abortion, it would have been seen as the morally correct course of action, that these children would have been better off not born, due to their status and potential health problems.

Every child is born of equal dignity and worth in the eyes of the creator and so in one sense every birth is that of a Royal baby! Kate and William’s baby was never just a cluster of cells, but always a human being in the eyes of everyone, even the most avowed pro-choice commentators, by virtue of the fact that he was wanted. Compare the worldwide interest and concern for this baby’s welfare with that shown for the tragic victims of Kermit Gosnell, the American late-term abortionist who killed newborn babies at full term by snipping their necks. The media was on the whole disinterested and only began to report the distressing details following a widespread campaign on social media.

It’s certainly worth not only noting the dual standards applied by the mainstream media towards the Cambridge baby but also applying it to all children, refusing to allow the frame of clinical euphemism that only serves to dehumanise the unborn. Abortion providers rely upon the power of language to couch the unpalatable truth in terms of medical terminology. We never congratulate pregnant women on their embryos, foetuses, pluripotent cells or products of conception and this is why pro-life counselling groups cause such consternation in that they too are always keen to refer to the baby in purely factual terms. Political language is deliberately used, as in the words of George Orwell it is ‘designed to make lies sound more truthful, murder respectable and give the appearance of solidity to pure wind’.

All babies are deserving of a welcome fit for a prince and every single pregnancy an occasion of great joy as well as an opportunity of service, whether that be from the expectant mother carefully sustaining and providing for her child’s needs, or from those around her who should seek to provide her with every means of support in gratitude for her physical sacrifice. We should be daring to work for a society in which the bunting is hung out for every single baby.

 In the meantime we should keep the Duke and Duchess and their new prince in our prayers and hope that they continue to model a strong vision of marriage and family life for the nation. It would be wonderful if they could be generous enough to break the mold and produce a large family of Catholic-sized proportions.

Even better that the baby was born on the feast day of St Mary Magdalene, the icon of a repentant sinner turning back to Christ. Perhaps there’s a portent for the UK in there somewhere? Let’s hope so.

I faked a Student Pregnancy

Pregnant student

Actually I didn’t, I experienced an unplanned pregnancy twice when embarking upon my degree. This girl did however and was horrified by the response.

The piece highlights precisely what I was talking about the other day, in terms of the stigma and prejudice that young and unmarried mothers have to face and why we should never exercise anything but charity, coupled with joy whenever we encounter a young mother who has chosen life against considerable odds. While the writer does not venture any opinion with regards to the morals of abortion, it’s excellent to see an acknowledgement in the mainstream media that the concept of consequence-free sex is nothing more than a myth.

Society, ably aided and abetted by the abortion industry is promulgating a chocolate-box, picture-perfect version of pregnancy, one that is all about designer maternity wear, high-maintenance grooming, top-of the range nursery goods and must be planned to occur at that perfect moment, whenever a woman feels emotionally and financially ready. Something I always say to teens who might be foolish enough to discuss their boyfriends or refer obliquely to their sex lives with me, is ‘do you feel ready to have a baby with this boy/man’. At which point they usually blush, start twisting their ankles awkwardly, look at the floor and hope it will swallow them up. The point being that unless you believe abortion to be an acceptable form of contraception, (and few women will actually admit to this), then you ought to be prepared to have a baby with your sexual partner.

The most amusing response is always ‘well we haven’t talked about babies yet, or what I’d do if I got pregnant, it’s far too early for that kind of thing’. Which strikes me as an illogical and emotionally incoherent response. So you are prepared to take your clothes off, get naked and intimate with this man, swap bodily fluids, but you are far too embarrassed to bring up the topic of what happens, if nature takes its course, what the backup plan might be. It demonstrates the falsehood of sexual freedom and empowerment. There is a an automatic expectation that any romantic relationship will swiftly progress to sexual intimacy but that on the whole women are too embarrassed to talk about what might happen if she gets pregnant, in case she deters her new partner from making any sort of long-term commitment to her and comes across as over-keen.

Ellie House (the writer) no doubt experienced negativity because men were frightened of what she represented and women saw her as a traitor, not only to her education, aspirations and the cause of womanhood but also because she might well put men off from having sex with them. It’s a strangely dissonant response.

The account resonated with me, because while not experiencing quite the same hostility, I was a married mature student in my thirties and thus others’ expectations were wholly different, but I did however have to sit through the stomach churning talk during Freshers’ Week where abortion was referred to in couched terms of how the University would help deal with ‘personal difficulties’ and students signposted to abortion services and counsellors and sexual health services in the numerous literature. It was emphasised that the University would be understanding to those with problems and allowances made and help given.

It was however a different story when I actually presented as pregnant. Extensions were grudgingly granted on provision of a doctor’s note certifying morning sickness, but very little in the way of actual support was given. One of the problems that I encountered was that the baby was due in the holidays shortly before the start of the new academic year. There was an on-site nursery, however they understandably would not admit children below the age of 5 months. If I were to be able to continue with my degree I would need to be able to bring the baby into lectures/seminars for the period of a few months. I did not see this as being much of a problem, it was after all my fourth baby, I was a confident breast-feeder, the plan was to have the baby quietly in a sling or car seat and of course I would have taken her out had she begun to cry or disrupt the class. I was informed that this was an unacceptable request, it would prove too distracting for other students, even if I sat at the back of the lecture theatre or was discreet in my feeding. A newborn baby simply wasn’t welcome.

The other issue was the on-site nursery which had been under threat of closure for quite some time, the university claiming that despite the rise in fees, it was not cost efficient. Fortunately there was a huge furore, the nursery was the reason that had attracted quite a few staff to the campus in some cases bringing with them millions of pounds worth of research grants. A solution was eventually found whereby the nursery was sold off to an outside provider in a tortuous process which involved lots of potential providers dropping out at the last minute and the nursery was saved, but it was clear that childcare provision was not a priority for the University of Sussex. Had the nursery closed then there would have been no facilities for either the students and staff of Sussex or of the neighbouring University of Brighton. While the student activists got terribly hot under the collar over the contracting out of all support services to outside providers, there was not a peep from them when the nursery was under threat and neither did they strike in support of the nursery workers, who had their contracts terminated and then renewed on far less favourable terms to a private provider.

Speaking from the perspective of a student who had two young children in the nursery and creche in order to study, the costs were extremely prohibitive, a child would need to be booked in for an entire session, ie. one couldn’t just drop the baby off for an hour’s lecture and on those few occasions where the nursery would ring mid-seminar to inform you that child had been sick or whatever and you needed to come and collect her, there was very little understanding from professors. The whole impression given by the academic staff was that student parents were a burden, I was being extremely foolish trying to juggle babies whilst studying and ought to reconsider. I came to the conclusion that it was simply unfeasible in my situation, obviously it was unusual in that I was juggling 3 children, a degree and pregnancy, but I can well imagine the barriers that a first-time pregnant young student might face. Abortion was implicitly mooted as the only sensible option. On one occasion I took one baby into the ‘child friendly’ cafe to feed and felt too self-conscious of all the bemused stares to continue. You stick out like a sore thumb with a baby on campus.

It was one of the reasons why I was so heartened to listen to Eve Farren, Director of the Alliance of Pro-Life Students (APS), at their London launch earlier in the year. She perfectly summarised my experience, i.e. of new students being given a leaflet with contacts details of abortion services but no information on the help available to students who choose life, and confirmed, as the article mentioned, that the secular pro-life group LIFE who are well placed to provide practical help support and advice are, in common with many pro-life groups, banned from campuses, in direct violation of principles of democracy and education.

One of the things that APS has sought to do is forge firm alliances with otherwise unlikely allies such as feminist groups, recognising that pregnant students are put in the position where the notion of ‘choice’ is but a pipe-dream given the lack of provision and support for student mothers and have together campaigned and fought for real improvements for pregnant women on campus. One way in which they can be supported is by signing up to donate £5 a month as part of their 500 give £5 giving scheme, £5 being the equivalent of one visit to a coffee shop, or a bottle of wine, to put it into perspective.

Without the Alliance of pro-life Students, life for women students who have been encouraged to lead lives full of emotionally unfulfilling short-term sexual relationships and find themselves caught out, shows no sign of improvement.

Every cloud has a silver lining, I now have 4 beautiful children and have taken the decision to pursue a more appropriate topic and method of study at Maryvale. Romans 8:28 and all that. But life is messy, best-laid plans go awry, there is never a perfect time to have a baby. That’s the message we should be passing on to the next generation and enabling them to continue with their education. Being a mother and being in receipt of a Higher Education – the two are not mutually exclusive.