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Pro-Life Motherhood: A Feminist Career Choice

March 13, AD2017

Raising children is not a default chore for women who were not successful in the world of business, power, and wealth.  However, the trend in the last few decades has been to delegate childcare to women who are often treated like second-class citizens. Society seems to dismiss and even ridicule women’s most sacred, natural role as nurturing mothers.

I fully realize most mothers have no choice but to work in our present economy. My contention is with prevailing attitudes about children, mothers and child care. From preschool, we are groomed to get ahead, surpass our peers by getting into the best universities and snatch prized careers. But success alone will not make us happy. Just take a look at the generations who have gone before us. The all-too-common mid-life crisis is a testament to the failure of a life focused on career advancement to the exclusion of family. Many women bemoan the fact they did not have time to nurture their children like they would have liked to. Family life often crumbles to ashes, sacrificed on the altar of success.

Reclaiming Motherhood

In this milieu, Catholic women continue to grapple with how to live faithful to the teachings of the Church while remaining true to themselves as members of modern society. Sadly, young mothers are dealing with the same issues I did thirty-eight years ago. The problem is a pro-life stance seems to clash with concepts of feminism. Feminists believe the only way to achieve a sense of accomplishment is to succeed in a career, freed from the constraints of pregnancy and childcare.

Of course, some Catholic women should pursue full-time careers or consecrate themselves to religious life but others want to embrace motherhood. Young women are turned off by traditional reflections which often romanticize mothers while managing to leave them feeling powerless at the same time. In the face of this dilemma, I wrote an anthology with four other Catholic women about the pain and joy of reclaiming a sense of dignity as a mother in today’s society called Love Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood.

Mothering is My Vocation

I admit the words pro-life and feminist seem to oppose each other. I was surprised to discover a challenging, satisfying life as a mother of a large family. The background I came from did not look favourably on large families. When my intellectual grandfather heard I had married a Catholic, he was aghast, “My God, how did she get into that mess? Well, at least tell her to not have a lot of children.”

I did not plan on having a large family. As a convert at nineteen-years-old, I was sure I was called to be a nun with an important mission to fulfill. I was a serious university student, who worked on a pastoral team. I did not even date and never considered marriage or motherhood. Then, God introduced me to my future husband and upended all my plans.

After the birth of our fourth child,  my husband and I struggled to understand exactly how we should live our lives. Of course, we practiced natural family planning, but I was one of those rare people who could conceive long before ovulation and we were pro-life, abortion was not an option. My doctor, after considering another unplanned pregnancy surmised, “Ah, I remember reading about a woman in New Zealand two years ago who conceived five days before ovulation.” I raised my hand and chirped, “Well, you can add me to that list!”

One day when I was terrified I was pregnant with our fifth, I sensed these words interiorly about mothering a large family:

This is your call

This is your vocation

This is your witness to the world

I was astounded because I felt scorned and misunderstood, “What sort of witness is that?” I demanded. The answer was, “Trust me. I am with you.” Guilt lifted off and a sense of purpose took its place. I was surprised to discover mothering was the key to my own inner growth and fulfillment.

YOU  Had Nine Children?

Most people expect me to appear haggard, filled with regret and unfulfilled dreams. I surprise people when they first meet me; their eyebrows shoot up and they sputter, “YOU had nine children?” This is because I am 5’ 1” and weigh 108 pounds, even though I was pregnant or nursing for eighteen years without a break. I am healthy, articulate, and have a quirky sense of humor. This challenges the typical image of a mother of a large family as a grim battle-axe, efficiently marshaling her kids with little time to coddle them.

Surprisingly, my kids turned out well rounded and successful, while I, who grew up with only one sister, discovered dignity and freedom as a mother of nine kids.

Society’s Reaction To Large Families

A few years ago, when a journalist interviewed me for an article on Mother’s Day, she asked me if I ever regretted not using my degree to pursue a career. I simply stared at her in shock for a few moments, my mind blank. “No”, I finally stuttered, “the thought never entered my mind.” It was then the journalist’s turn to stare at me in shock for a few minutes.

Even though my article merely shared a humorous peek into my hectic life, half of the ninety comments had to be deleted after publication. Many comments were angry, profane attacks. Obviously, a pro-life feminist stance strikes a raw nerve in society, a symptom of a decades-old battle between the pro-choice and pro-life camps. Ironically both sides fight for the equality and dignity of women.

God’s Love Stands Strong

Though I often still cringe under disapproval from society, I understand my children saved me by compelling me to dive deeper into my spirit, discovering the power of eternal Love at my core. God’s Love stands strong against all opposition.

I can honestly say my husband and I are joyful because we answered a particular call to parent a large family. Many small experiences kept reinforcing the truth; God called each of our children into being with our cooperation. I stumbled blindly at times and then a burst of clarity would shine a light on my purpose as I lived out my calling as a mother of a large family.

Motherhood is a choice women should be free to make without feeling ostracized. Society is building a false narrative by looking down on a woman’s most sacred, natural role. Mothering can be a feminist, pro-life call, vocation, and witness to the world.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Melanie Jean Juneau serves as the Editor in Chief of Catholic Stand. She is a mother of nine children who has edited her kid's university term papers for over a decade. She blogs at  joy of nine9 and mother of nine9 . Her writing is humorous and heart warming; thoughtful and thought-provoking. Part of her call and her witness is to write the truth about children, family, marriage and the sacredness of life. Melanie is the administrator of ACWB, a columnist at CatholicLane, CatholicStand, Catholic365 , CAPC, author of Echoes of the Divine and Oopsy Daisy, and coauthor of Love Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood

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  • Mark McCann

    Melanie, another wonderful article! It’s been hard these days to even hear the word “feminist” without cringing. Society has so distorted and assaulted that word that its original meaning and the context in which it was formed have been all but lost. There is nothing so wonderful and nothing so beautiful as godly motherhood. I’m one of 7 and I saw my mother sacrifice her whole life for her children. I’ve seen the same thing in my beautiful bride. I often wonder if motherhood is a gift that comes with a built-in “curse” – for Mary isn’t the only woman who found the joy of motherhood coupled with a sword of sorrow. But your humor and your sweetness in retelling your story is a real inspiration. Let the other “feminists” talk all they want. You are a true picture of what it means to be a woman of God!

    • Melanie Jean Juneau

      The only possible response to your touching insights on motherhood is a resounding YES and a humble thank you

  • Dr. Edouard Belaga

    My deepest respect and happy admiration for your life stand — Catholic Stand ! Just to remind that a Father of many kids has similar problems …

    • Melanie Jean Juneau

      Very true . I think fathers of large families often face even more ridicule from colleagues who are baffled by their lifestyle..

  • Shannon Marie Federoff

    Its not that you conceive before you ovulate… its that sperm can live for up to 5 days before ovulation if your mucus is good. Look on the bright side… your husband has AMAZINg (rare) sperm and you have some REALLY AWESOME fertile mucus. 🙂 (I say this as the mother of 11 who also is married to Mr. Super Sperm!) LOL! 🙂

    Your article has been a blessing to me, and I hope to others. For the most part I am proud of the “counter-cultural” choices I’ve made to use my M.A. to be a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom (hey! Just 14 more years to go!!!!) …. but sometimes I do allow the sting of feminists criticism to hurt.

    • Melanie Jean Juneau

      AND you homeschooled! I am duly impressed.

      We lived on a hobby farm for 18 years with meat birds, laying hens, chickens, pigs, a calf, horses … I like to think we homeschooled our children in survival skills, after they hopped off the school bus. We were blessed with a small Catholic School which went from junior kindergarten till grade 8 so our kids were with the same classmates for ten years.

      Thank you for connecting heart to heart. Even though I tell strangers I have nine children, I really have ten- a miscarriage.