Difficult Anniversaries – Responsible Parenthood

The end of June every year marks two very difficult anniversaries for me. On June 26th, 1986, I was rushed into surgery to remove a tiny baby from my right fallopian tube. This, after already miscarrying a baby from my womb. I woke up in the hospital with the knowledge that I had conceived twins…and I would be leaving the hospital with neither in my arms.

At the end of June in 1993, I found myself in an ambulance fighting for my life, bleeding internally as the result of ectopic pregnancy complications. It’s hard to believe it’s been 18 years.

The following is a reprint of an article I had published last year which deals with the difficult decisions James and I faced when deciding whether we should limit our family to three boys after a life-threatening pregnancy in 1993.

Pope Paul VI in his papal encyclical Humanae Vitae states: “ Responsible parenthood… has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.”

In the ambulance, as I drifted in and out of consciousness, I didn’t have much time for retrospective thoughts, except “Please God, I can’t die. I don’t want my little boys growing up without a mom.” I was bleeding internally, the complications of ectopic pregnancy surgery two weeks previous, and quickly becoming weaker and weaker. Waking up later in the recovery room, I was thankful to be alive.

“You should not be having any more children.” The words were harsh and at first, we took them as truth. I was capable of having more, but after two ectopic pregnancies and complications from one of the surgeries, we were told that we must limit our family to three boys. The doctors suggested that I be put on hormonal contraception. They later urged me to have my remaining fallopian tube tied. The physicians weren’t the only ones to give the ‘order’ to stop having children. Well-meaning relatives and friends felt it was their duty to tell us that we should not get pregnant again. “You don’t want to be irresponsible, do you?”

“It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God…”

It became evident, as we dialogued with both the physicians and the well-meaning relatives and friends, that they were concerned only about my physical health. Most of them cared little, if at all, for my/our spiritual well being. And, initially, in those first few weeks after my surgery, we felt that we ought to listen to the “doctor’s orders.”

However, as the months went by, I began to regain my strength. We continued using NFP in the most conservative way, often adding one or two days to the rules for extra security. A year later, with heaviness in my heart, I thought of the future and the fact that we would not have anymore children. I wondered whether God was calling us to actively seek another pregnancy. My husband and I discussed it, then brought our concern to our spiritual director, explaining to him that the doctor told us that we should not have any more children. “James and Ellie,” he said, “that is a decision to be made between the two of you and God.” He encouraged us to pray about it and he further recommended that we talk to a faithful Catholic doctor. We knew of a Catholic physician through a neighboring homeschooling community. Her response after reviewing my file was that we could try for more children, but that I would need to be monitored carefully in the first several weeks to confirm that it wasn’t another ectopic pregnancy.

… a right conscience is the true interpreter…”

For the next several months, we prayed together. We deeply desired another child, but we did not want to be careless or irresponsible. After much prayer and discernment, and weighing all the risks, we decided to actively seek another pregnancy.

“…the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities…”

Ten cycles later, we were still not pregnant. We felt at peace with our decision to seek another pregnancy and, although disappointed, we trusted that God knew what He was doing. Eventually, we stopped charting. Another eight cycles went by with no pregnancy and I began to sell off most of my baby furniture. A few weeks later, it dawned on me that I hadn’t had a period in six weeks. The next morning, I took my temperature and it was 98.9. After 18 months of saying no to us, God was saying yes and blessing us with another eternal soul. I was thrilled that another new life, the fruit of our love, had begun, and would be sheltered lovingly in my womb.

With the blessing, however, soon came suffering. I began having debilitating migraine headaches and some days I could not get out of bed. Worse than the physical pain, however, was the emotional suffering. Doctors, well-meaning friends and relatives told us that we were being “irresponsible” and “selfish,” and that if I was suffering, “I had asked for it.”

At 30 weeks, our unborn baby was six pounds and I had already gained 50 pounds. That might not seem like much, but with my four feet nine inch frame, it meant that I could not drive (the seat had to be pushed back so far to allow for my large stomach that my feet couldn’t reach the pedals) and I could not walk the last six weeks of the pregnancy.

Our son, Adam, was born eight weeks later at nearly ten pounds. The pro-life Catholic doctor who delivered Adam by C-section told me that we could try for another baby someday, but that the pregnancy would again have to be monitored. Three years later, our youngest son, Paul was born.

“… recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.”

The words of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae courageously proclaim the truth of responsible parenthood. The decision to have or avoid another child remains a decision between the couple and God. No one else ought to make such a life-changing and important choice because no one else will have to endure the consequences (and joys), nor will anyone else have to stand before God someday and explain their actions.

Although we could have used NFP to avoid pregnancy permanently and to limit our family size to three sons, we chose to listen to our hearts, to answer God’s calling, and to seek more children. When I consider that our two youngest sons (pictured above) might possibly not be here today, my heart becomes heavy. Both are unique, talented and amazing human beings who have already given so much to our family and to society. I am grateful to God, because I can’t imagine our family without them.

Copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach

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22 thoughts on “Difficult Anniversaries – Responsible Parenthood

  1. Aunt Ellie,
    I agree immensely with your last sentence. I couldn’t imagine our trips to Canada with out my one older and one younger cousin. Thank you for sharing your story!(: See you all soon!

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. How hard it must have been to endure the miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies, and the waiting. While my story is different, I too have been told not to have any more children as they have all been born by c-section. My husband and I are open to God’s will and practise NFP in between pregnancies. Since the first warning from the doctors, God has blessed us with four more children (our seventh is due in September). Like you I could not imagine life without any of these precious children and I know my husband and I can stand before God with a clear conscience.

    • Thanks so much for commenting and sharing your story! Nowadays some in the medical profession urge choices which in their opinion are the “right” ones. It’s important to seek spiritual direction and also the guidance of a faithful Catholic doctor. We need to remember that any choice regarding fertility should be made by husband and wife prayerfully discerning God’s will.

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  4. Thank you for sharing this, Ellen. It’s one thing to study the documents, read them, or just plain judge the Church’s teaching, but reading someone’s story puts in in perspective. I love how you emphasize that you *prayed together*. You didn’t just said you prayed about it, and go about your day, you really did, and you did so together. Prayer is hard enough, but spousal prayer together can be very hard, particularly with little ones around. I also liked that you mentioned a spiritual director. It’s important to go to a priest you know and trust and who’s been formed well. So many people lack this.

  5. You’re welcome, Jess, and thanks for commenting. You’re right about praying together and seeking the advice of a faithful spiritual director. He can help a couple see things in perspective. Our spiritual director advised us to prayerfully discern. I’m so glad we decided to be open again.

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  14. Such an honest, beautiful account of your decision. Having had multiple miscarriages and complicated pregnancies (definitely not as dire as your situation), it makes me realize how blessed I am to have the profile ob/gyn practice I do, affiliated with our Catholic hospital. I think the Pope’s recent comments about responsible parenthood would have been more helpful had he not mentioned a specific case. These are always very personal, prayerful decisions with circumstances that vary greatly from case to case. Happy birthday to your son!

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