A few years ago when a journalist interviewed me for an article on Mother’s Day for our city’s major paper, 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 this article merely shared a humorous peek into my hectic life written by a bemused acquaintance, half of the ninety comments had to be deleted after publication because they were angry, profane attacks against my lifestyle. 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. It is my hope that by once again articulating my positions with respect, simply sharing my journey, even bitter adversaries will begin to understand my pro-life, feminist stance even if they do not fully agree.
I admit the words pro-life and feminism seem to oppose each other. However, true feminism is not the antithesis of motherhood or a pro-life stance. Contrary to standard stereotypes, one is pro-woman precisely when one is pro-life. I was surprised to discover a challenging, satisfying life as a mother of a large family. I am a conundrum because I am a joyful mother of nine children. I feel vilified by modern environmentalists, as well as feminist career women and of course beatified by religious right at the same time. Most people, of all persuasions, expect me to appear haggard and filled with regret or lamenting unfulfilled dreams. I realize I surprise people when they first meet me; their eyebrows shoot up, their mouths drop open 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. Yet, I am healthy, remain quite articulate, and have a quirky sense of humor. This challenges the typical image of a woman of a large family as a grim battle-axe, efficiently marshaling her young charges with little time to coddle the poor, deprived dears. 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.
After the birth of our fourth child, Michael 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!”
Around this time, my husband and I discussed an article which quoted Pope John Paul II whose main premise was that letting go of control and trusting in God was not some abstract principle but a day-to-day practical call that included the surrender of our fertility. Although we could not imagine how large our family would become, the words of this article resonated within both of us. Guilt lifted off and a sense of purpose took its place. It took a few years to really believe none of our children were simply a failure of the natural family planning method. Many small experiences kept reinforcing the truth; God called each of our children into being with our cooperation. We stumbled blindly at times and then a burst of clarity would shine light on our purpose as we lived out pro-life.
Of course, not everyone can stay at home these days with their kids. Not everyone is called to mother a large family, but every woman should understand the tragedy of abortion. I have witnessed the life destroying effects of abortion on friends who have struggled to move past grief and guilt for decades after; abortion destroys not only the life of the unborn, but has unforeseen repercussions in the life of the mother. The effects are even more far-reaching, because abortion is an injustice that affects all of society. A pro-life society is a just society.
I don’t have all the answers. What would I have done if my thirteen-year-old had become pregnant? Yet, I do know that life does begin at conception. I simply wish to express that motherhood is a pro-life feminist career and abortion is not pro-women.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.