Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, August 16, 2018


About a week and a half ago, I was asked to help sing at a wedding. It was a Catholic wedding, but not a Mass, and there wasn't even much music. However, the bride had requested an Alleluia, and not just any Alleluia, but, for reasons that were personally and culturally significant, Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, like so:

I only know one verse of Hallelujuah, the one that goes:
I heard a stern and secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord,
But you don't really go for music, do ya?
It goes like this: the fourth, the fifth,
The minor chord, the major shift,
da da da da da da da, Hallelujah!
But it didn't matter what words I knew, because not only did the bride want to sing the verses herself, but they weren't the original words, and they weren't in English.

Friends, I have given up trying to be a liturgical crusader, a cause that used to be very important to me. I won't justify musical innovation on grounds of liturgy; it's clearly an abuse. But right now my role seems to be not advocacy, but obedience to anything not morally suspect, and I've stopped putting my energies into trying to introduce Gregorian chant, and into simply singing what I'm given as excellently as possible. As it was, this request was okayed by the presider and relayed to me by the bemused pianist, and we figured out how to make it work with as much dignity and as little embarrassment as possible to the bride, an amateur in all senses of the word.

Also a week and a half ago, I sat on my bed staring at my NFP chart, trying to figure out why my period seemed to be late.

When the first niggling feeling that things were not on time began, various dramatic possibilities flitted through my mind. Perhaps I'd just take a day away to absorb this huge new development, and just come home whenever I felt like it. Let Darwin figure out what was going on himself. Maybe I'd just sit in my room and cry. Maybe I'd bear it bravely for several days until I was certain, but how would I break the news to Darwin?

And then I actually looked at my chart, which I usually update at night, in the dim lamplight, while trying to nurse baby to sleep, and realized that my life hack of updating my chart on the back of an old chart because I hadn't gotten around to ordering new ones had failed me when I'd somehow skipped from day 17 to day 19. I wasn't quite late, yet. I simply wasn't on the day I thought I was, which had repercussions for me in a month in which I'd had a cold and had used mucus-thickening cough syrup. And there was no one to blame but myself.

"You goddamn idiot," I said to myself. "You GODDAMN idiot."

Which was a lie, actually, as the one thing I hadn't done in the scenario was sin.

That afternoon when Darwin came home and kissed me as I stood over the stove stirring a pot while a child hung on my leg, and asked, "How's it going today?", I didn't make a dramatic fuss or bear up bravely by myself. I said, "Actually, let's step out on the porch," and we shut the door on the protesting child as I explained.

"Trust the biology," he said. "You recorded the signs, right? What does it matter what day it is if the signs were correct?"

"I know," I said, "but if I was off a day, maybe I was seeing what I thought I should be seeing? I was sure at the time, but now... I even thought we were waiting a extra day, but my count was off, and the cough syrup..."

We pondered, quietly. Recall that when we talk about NFP, or the difficulties thereof, we're only ever talking about sex. What would it have mattered what the signs were, if we didn't act on them? Why didn't we always build in an extra day? Why put ourselves through this stress? But did we even need to stress if we'd followed the signs correctly?

A day passed. Two days passed. I spent my nights awake, mostly in prayer. Help me get through this, Lord. Please, please, guard my blood pressure. Help me deal with giving birth at age 40, with veins and stupid support hose I thought I'd never have to wear again. Help me deal with the school year, and my Confirmation class, in the midst of nausea and fatigue. Help me run my household and not neglect my children and husband. Help Darwin. Help me deal with the scorn, the snickering, as I have children number 7 and 8 in less than two years. Help me weather the contempt even of my fellow Catholics who will take my failure as one more feather in their anti-Humanae Vitae cap, who demand more honesty and proof that NFP isn't all happy clap-trap and then seize on any honesty as evidence that the teaching itself is wrong.

And so I began to make changes. I took my vitamin and stopped taking sugar in my tea. Darwin and I walked a mile each day. I started trying to cut out one of the baby's feedings at night. And still I waited: day 29, day 30.

On Saturday morning, day 31 of the cycle, Darwin and I walked downtown, and we talked about facing the reality of an unexpected, geriatric pregnancy. How would the household need to be structured during these months? What should I cut out from my schedule, if anything? How could he get home early each night? How could we help each other through this? We were anxious, scared even, but we looked to the future and even bandied about some baby names.

That afternoon, right before I walked out the door to go to the wedding, I started bleeding: not the spotty bleeding of implantation or the old, tissue-heavy blood of miscarriage (both of which I know), but the true, brilliant, lifeblood of a period. Darwin had been right: trust the biology. And God be praised for his mercy, and for letting the mother of seven children languish.

At the wedding, I sang the refrain of Hallelujah for the congregation, trying to walk an appropriate line between style and occasion. The glowing bride belted out the verses to her grinning bridegroom as the pianist slowed down as much as he could and looked to me to bring him in on the refrain. The presider waited patiently, having worked with the couple for a year to bring the wedding to fruition. He knew, as I should have known, that concessions are made for the weak, not the strong, and that the sacrament is the sacrament whether or not the music meets my taste.

Back in the choir loft, I listened to the questions before the vows:
Have you come here to enter into Marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?                   
Are you prepared, as you follow the path of Marriage, to love and honor each other for as long as you both shall live?                   
Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?
Yes, I thought. Yes, we entered into marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly, and we work hard, daily, to keep our marriage uncoerced, free, and wholehearted. Yes, we were prepared to love and honor each other, even in a time of stress. Yes, we were prepared to accept children lovingly from God, even when his timing was not ours. We had been ready to accept! We had been put to the test, and we had not blamed each other or turned cold or lashed out, but had prepared to receive good from the hand of the Lord. We  had turned to each other for support and comfort, not knowing what the future would hold, only knowing that whatever happened, we would face it together.

We took another walk in the evening, to a local wine bar. We discussed concrete changes we would make, now that we'd been given a reprieve. No more haphazard charting on the back of paper charts, with only one set of tired eyes looking at the data -- time to download a charting app to reduce as much as possible the human error of recording the wrong day. We discussed whether we should spring for a fertility monitor, but decided against it at this moment, as, in the end, the biology had been correct. We talked about how it would look to enter a maintenance mode to avoid a possibly complicated and hazardous pregnancy as I get older. We cast our discussion forward for the first time to that next hurdle, menopause. "I never thought I'd say this," I said, "but I wish I were 55. How cool would that be?"

At other times in our marriage, we've been called upon to accept an unexpected pregnancy. Our table is populated with unexpected olive shoots -- not all surprise pregnancies, but children whose personalities and gifts exceed anything we could have expected based on their parents' limitations. But this time, this time the cup passed from us, and for that I sing a blessed and broken Hallelujah.


Christy from fountains of home said...

Reading this I felt your anxiety and tension both in the charting and the waiting (been there) and in the less-than-optimal liturgical music singing (been there too!). Thanks for making me feel normal for feeling all those feelings!

mandamum said...

It is fascinating to read this while lying next to my own panic-inducing late-period cause who is now a week and a half old. Our #7. I was absolutely being off-hand about charting, but there were no. signs. And having just moved 1000 mi, just lost my mother, just ended up in a place much more expensive than we had expected with a money-pit house we hadn't realized was so bad, just signed on to an experimental year with a big-brother type HMO.... it was really not a time we would have chosen to have a baby and force an upgrade to a 12-passenger VAN while also paying for a homebirth midwife out of pocket (at double the old rate, see "much more expensive" yikes). At first, given the lack of signs, I somehow didn't connect the late period ("Those tandem nursers must have upped their demand, so it's messing with my cycle!") to the fact that I couldn't fit into my dressy dress for a Christmas party ("gotta lay off the stress-eating of graham crackers and chocolate!") and the nausea ("why can't I shake this stupid cold-flu-thing?"). Ahem. Because we really couldn't be pregnant at this time. Not now....

But as you found in the uncertainty of the waiting, we found across the months since the positive test on Christmas Eve. Facing it together, in faithfulness. Even though the stress carried all the way up to the day of birth, the joy bloomed along the way as we supported each other, until now, after she's here and the bills are (mostly) paid, it is all just good. And all her siblings come to hover and catch a glimpse of her :) or enjoy a soft baby snuggle. Phew.

mrsdarwin said...

Congratulations, Mandamum! The sight of a squishy, cuddly baby sure makes up for a lot of stress, but wow, that's a dramatic set of events leading up to a happy outcome. I always tell the baby, "So it was YOU all this time!" It's nice to be able to put a face with the kicks.

Always good fun with a money pit, right? We tried, a few weeks ago, to have a bedroom painted. But first we needed to have some cracks in the plaster fixed. The guys opened up the bubbled plaster on the ceiling, poked around, and said, "It's still damp up here." So then we had to call the roofers, who discovered that someone had facenailed the slates above that part of the ceiling and the nails had popped, meaning that to fix the leak we had to replace two layers of slate. So the cost and the length of the project just doubled. It makes me wonder: why did we try to do anything? Did the bedroom really need to be painted now? Not to mention the plumbing leak in the basement that is going to end up with several pipes being replaced (and that's only a the urgent work). If you don't uncover it, you don't have to do anything about it...

I hope your babymoon is peaceful and restful and full of grace.

Foxfier said...

Thank you for letting me know we're not evil for...well, basically all the worries you were dealing with, but c-sections instead of 40 years old.

We just got #6 home, and I'm getting very tired of everyone dragging my husband to the side to lecture him about getting sterilized.

mandamum said...

Congrats, Foxfier - it is a bummer you can't celebrate your baby (and deal with your own worries as you see fit) without people lecturing you or your husband.

Jenny said...

Congrats on all the babies and hurray for the reprieves.

Banshee said...

Awwww. So far as I understood the bride's new lyrics, they actually pretty suitable for a nuptial Mass. There's a lot of stuff about promising to keep faith all their lives, which is not what I was afraid I'd hear!

I tried to find the bride's lyrics, and it turns out there's more than one set of Spanish lyrics written for church weddings! Who knew!

As we all know, there is space for things happening before the Mass proper, as long as they are decorous and consonant with Mass. This is different, but nice -- sort of a Sarum Rite pre-wedding gift to the groom from the bride, and more portable than swords or bags of gold.

Heh... it's also a trending video.... Strange things happen.

MrsDarwin said...

Well, it's not necessarily that it was sung at all, but that it was the actual Alleluia before the gospel.