Difficult Decisions and Responsible Parenthood

The end of June every year marks two very difficult anniversaries for me. On June 26th, 1986, during my first pregnancy, 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.

Seven years later, in 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 22 years.

Below is a reprint of an article that was published a few years ago. It describes the difficult decisions James and I faced when discerning 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 gestation, 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 without assistance the last four 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 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 amazing human beings who have already given so much to our family and to society.

For a more comprehensive discussion of our discernment process, check out my recent video presentation for the CC4 Moms Conference on the topic of Responsible Parenthood (or How I Came to Have Five Kids When the Doctors Told Us to Stop At Three).

James and I are so grateful to God for each of our five sons because they are all unique, talented and irreplaceable human beings. We can’t imagine our family and our world without them.
Easter fam cropped

Updated 2015, text and photos copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

Catholic Writers to Speak at Catholic Writers Conference

live_logo_transparency CWGContact: Ann Lewis, Catholic Writers Guild, 317-755-2693

SOMERSET, N.J., June 1, 2015 /Christian Newswire/Several prominent Catholic writers will speak at the seventh annual Catholic Writers Conference LIVE taking place July 22-24 at the Garden State Exhibit Center in Somerset, NJ. Sponsored by the Catholic Writers Guild and the Catholic Marketing Network (CMN), and held in conjunction with CMN’s annual retailer trade show, the Catholic Writers Conference LIVE provides Catholic writers with a prime opportunity to meet and share their faith with editors, publishers, fellow writers, and bookstore owners from across the globe. The theme of this year’s conference is “Perseverance.”

Speakers include keynote speaker Pat Gohn (BLESSED, BEAUTIFUL AND BODACIOUS), authors Gary Zimak (FROM FEAR TO FAITH), Regina Doman (RAPUNZEL LET DOWN), Margaret Rose Realy (A CATHOLIC GARDENER’S SPIRITUAL ALMANAC), Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle (THE MIRACULOUS MEDAL: STORIES, PRAYERS AND DEVOTIONS), Ellen Gable Hrkach (STEALING JENNY) and many others.

The conference will give authors an opportunity to meet personally with publishing professionals and pitch their writing projects. Some participating publishers are Ignatius Press, Ave Maria Press, and Servant Books. In addition, attendees have the opportunity to sign up for a fiction critique workshop with award-wining short fiction writer Arthur Powers (A HERO FOR THE PEOPLE), a non-fiction critique group with Nancy Ward (joyalive.net) and attend writing workshops with novelists John Desjarlais (SPECTER) and Michelle Buckman (RACHEL’S CONTRITION). Information for these events can be found on the conference website.

The Catholic Writers Guild, a religious non-profit organization affiliated with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, sponsors this conference in July, an online conference in March, and a writers’ retreat in October to further its mission of promoting Catholic literature. “With members all over the world, these events bring our diverse membership together for fellowship and networking to promote our mission of creating a rebirth of Catholic arts and letters,” says CWG President and award-winning novelist Ellen Gable Hrkach.

Registration costs $80 for CWG members, $85 for non-members and $40 for students. There’s also a discounted combined membership. To register or for more information, go to www.catholicwritersconference.com.

SQT – Mini Review Edition

seven-quick-takes-friday-2-1024x727Please join me and other Catholic bloggers at This Ain’t the Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes Friday. I’m using this opportunity to catch up on a bunch of reviews.

1. Opal’s Jubilee (mini-review)
Opal’s Jubilee by Leslie Lynch Opal McBride has paid her debt to society, but it’s only when detective Josh Boone untangles the secrets of her past that justice can be truly served. Beautifully written, this is my favorite book of the series. Lynch is not an author to shy away from difficult issues. In this one, the topic of domestic violence is tackled. Highly recommend!

2. Hush, Hush (mini-review)
Hush, Hush by Michelle Quigley I enjoyed the author’s debut novel, set in Northern Ireland at the beginning of WW II. Molly is normal sixteen-year-old. One night, she is brutally assaulted. What follows is a heart-wrenching journey through anger and denial as the young girl suffers in secret and silence. Molly initially tells her family only that she is pregnant but not about the assault. Sensitively told, this is a compelling story that illustrates the preciousness of every human being as an unrepeatable gift (with a nice plot twist at the end).

3. Georgios (mini-review)
Georgios by A.K. Frailey Interesting, factual, well-researched, A.K. Frailey’s Georgios is a must read for historical fiction fans. The novel takes place in the year 100 AD and our young protagonist has been “destined for greatness” by his family. The Greek boy later discovers that his lineage isn’t what he thought it was. In the end, this unique coming of age story is an inspiring tale for young and old.

4. The Grace of Yes (mini-review)
The Grace of Yes by Lisa Hendey The Grace of Yes is a moving, inspiring, challenging and entertaining look at the virtues. I was especially touched by the personal experiences Hendey shares. The book is beautifully written in conversational tone and is one that can be read and reread over and over. While I loved the author’s other books, this one has become my favorite. Highly recommend.

5. Watershed (mini-review)
Watershed by Neil Hamilton Today and tomorrow this book is still FREE on Kindle. Watershed is a compelling international mystery novel set against the backdrop of the “looming water shortage in the American Southwest.” Hamilton, who is a retired member of the RCAF, uses his military background to create a realistic political mystery that takes place mostly in the USA and Canada. For me, as a resident of the Ottawa Valley, I particularly enjoyed the scenes describing downtown Ottawa and the surrounding area.The writing is solid. There are many characters to keep track of, but the development and dialogue are well done, especially with the main characters. There are, however, numerous swear words and mature situations, so the book would not be appropriate for children and those sensitive to language.

6. Eve’s Apple (mini-review)
Eve’s Apple by Marie Therese Kceif Like many other teens, Marie was rebellious. That rebellion continued into young adulthood and a career in aviation. Abuse, bankruptcy and divorce led her back to God. Eve’s Apple is a witness to how “God gently guides one of His Eves into a slow freeing surrender of a Mary’s trusting yes.” Compelling true story.

7. Backup Cartoon (because I always include a cartoon!)
My children are mostly grown up now, but some days I still feel like I need “backup!”

Copyright James and Ellen Hrkach...please do NOT use without permission

Copyright James and Ellen Hrkach…please do NOT use without permission

Cartoon copyright James and Ellen Hrkach, please do not use without permission

Seven Quick Takes – Miscellaneous Links and Anniversary Fun

seven-quick-takes-friday-2-1024x727Please join me and other Catholic bloggers at This Ain’t The Lyceum for SQT Friday.

1. Catholic Writers Guild
I’m over at the Catholic Writers Guild Blog today talking about finding inspiration in the little things.

2. Latest Post at Catholic Mom
My latest post at Catholic Mom is entitled, “NFP Improves Marital Communication.”

Photo courtesy Tim Baklinski at Two Trees Photography

Photo courtesy Tim Baklinski at Two Trees Photography

3. Interview at Carolyn Astfalk’s Blog
Special thanks to Carolyn Astfalk for the wonderful interview over at her blog!

photo copyright James Hrkach

photo copyright James Hrkach

4. A Chase in the Woods
Enjoy this entertaining video made by my second oldest son (and starring the three youngest sons). It was shot back in 2007 when at least two of my boys were shorter than me!

5. Anniversary – 33 Years!
It’s hard to believe it’s been 33 years! We’ll be celebrating by going to Mass and then out to breakfast. If you click on the link below, I uploaded a short slide show with photos and audio from our wedding 33 years ago. I thank God every day for our life together.
Wedding Slide Show

6. Reading Shelf
Hush, Hush by Michelle Quigley (review coming soon)

7. Anniversary Cartoon

copyright 2013 James and Ellen Hrkach (Please do not use without permission)

copyright 2013 James and Ellen Hrkach (Please do not use without permission)

Copyright 2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach

NFP Improves Marital Communication

Photo courtesy Tim Baklinski at Two Trees Photography

Photo courtesy Tim Baklinski at Two Trees Photography

My latest article over at CatholicMom.com illustrates one of the main benefits of using NFP:

Couples using Natural Family Planning are accustomed to communicating deeply and frequently. According to researchers at Marquette University College of Nursing, use of NFP improves a couple’s overall relationship, but specifically focuses on communication. One couple said, “Since we speak about our fertility on a daily basis (my husband charts and asks my observations daily), NFP has helped our level of communication remain very deep and intimate and always above-board, open and honest.”

Lack of communication is one of the leading causes of marital breakdown. For the NFP-using couple, honest communication is essential. Procrastination isn’t an option. Each month, the NFP couple discusses whether or not they will be avoiding or planning pregnancy. In order to be successful at this, it’s necessary to discuss the woman’s signs of fertility and infertility. My husband has often said, “If you can talk about your wife’s cervical mucus, you can discuss anything.”

To briefly review how NFP works: husband and wife chart the wife’s signs of fertility and infertility. (Note: the man is fertile every day of his post-pubescent life, assuming there are no health difficulties). The couple then determines the start and end of the fertile time (we call it Phase II). If they are avoiding pregnancy, they abstain during the fertile time. If they are planning a pregnancy, they engage in relations during this time. Although it sounds simplistic, there are various scenarios, conditions and more complicated issues that arise, so formal NFP classes (either live or online) are recommended.

One of the keys to each couple’s success in using NFP is effective communication. NFP works best when the couple together study and observe the woman’s signs of fertility and infertility. Ideally, each month, the NFP couple discusses whether they will be avoiding a pregnancy or achieving a pregnancy. Because NFP can be used both to plan and to avoid pregnancy, it’s a good idea to have this conversation every month, even if the couple has decided that they will be avoiding pregnancy for a year or more. When internal shifts in emotional attitude are brought to the surface, the couple can unite in their efforts to carry out their plans regarding abstinence.

In over 30 years of using NFP, often one of us was more open to pregnancy than the other. Sometimes our monthly conversations were long and complicated; other times, short. The important point is that these types of dialogues are meant to take place well before — and not in the middle of — the marital embrace.

When the NFP couple is discussing intimate topics such as mucus and other fertility signs, it enhances their marital and sexual life, thereby increasing intimacy. This sort of communication should also continue when the couple is postpartum (after having a baby) and in post-menopause (after menopause).

When they are avoiding pregnancy, abstinence can be difficult and challenging. Being able to freely talk to your spouse helps you to understand that you are not alone in the struggles and challenges of NFP. This can help to bring a couple closer together and can promote marital stability. NFP demands the kind of intimate and deep conversations that allow the couple to grow closer.

Natural Family Planning has many benefits. One of its most significant benefits is that it promotes deep, honest and frequent marital communication.

For more information on NFP, check out these websites:
http://www.ccli.org
http://www.thebillingsovulationmethod.org/
http://www.creightonmodel.com
http://www.serena.ca
http://nfp.marquette.edu/benefits.php

Copyright 2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach
Photo by Tim Baklinski of Two Trees Photography. All rights reserved.

Author and Publisher Extraordinaire: Interview with Ellen Gable

Ellen Gable Hrkach:

Special thanks to Carolyn Astfalk for this wonderful interview. She asked some great questions!

Originally posted on Carolyn Astfalk:



Ellen Gable is a busy lady. I was flummoxed by how to encapsulate all her roles, so I’m going to steal her description right from her blog: “I am a freelance writer and author of five books, President of the Catholic Writers Guild, self-publishing book coach, speaker, Natural Family Planning (NFP) teacher, book reviewer, Marriage Preparation Instructor. However, the roles I love the most are being wife to my husband, James, and mother to our five sons, ages 15-27.”

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Ellen first through her novels, then the Catholic Writers Guild, and, now, as my editor and publisher.

Your most recent novel, A Subtle Grace, is a historical romance and the second book in the O’Donovan Family Series. You can read it as a standalone novel, but I think the story is enriched by knowing the family’s history, particularly the patriarch, David. How are the…

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SQT – Favorite Marriage Quotes

seven-quick-takes-friday-2-1024x727Please join me and other Catholic bloggers at This Ain’t the Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes Friday.

Since my husband and I will be celebrating our anniversary next week, I’d like to share seven of my favorite quotes on marriage.

1. “Intense love does not measure; it just gives.” (Blessed Teresa of Calcutta) This quote so perfectly illustrates the sacrificial love of marriage and, indeed, of any relationship. I see this illustrated every day when my husband goes above and beyond to sacrifice for our family. I try to live this quote: every morning I wake up and think, “What can I do to make my husband’s life easier today?”

2. “Marriage is an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family – a domestic church. ” (Saint John Paul II). Love is not merely a feeling; it is a choice. Every day I have an opportunity to choose to love my spouse. Sometimes it isn’t easy, but it’s always worthwhile.

3. “Be not afraid.” (Saint John Paul II) As shown in the photo below, I certainly wasn’t afraid of what the future would hold for us. I was too happy at that moment to think of future difficulties and challenges. I had no idea what the next 33 years would bring. All married couples will face hardships and challenges. But they will also experience great joy to balance any hardships. Of course, couples who enter into a sacramental marriage (and who live their faith) have the additional graces to assist them in handling any challenges and hardships.

4. “The two shall become one.” (Genesis 2:24) There’s no better illustration of our unity and oneness than our children who are the walking “representations of our love.” (cr Saint John Paul II).Easter fam cropped

5. “Be fruitful; multiply.” (Genesis 1:28)

6. “How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined together by the Church strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father? …How wonderful the bond between two believers with a single hope, a single desire, a single observance, a single service! They are both brethren and both fellow-servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or flesh; in fact they are truly two in one flesh and where the flesh is one, one is the spirit.”(24) Tertullian (cr Familiaris Consortio Saint John Paul II) I love this quote from Tertullian, who exquisitely describes the spiritual and physical joys of the one flesh experience of Christian marriage.

7. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Romans 4:6) Prayer is such an important part of a sacramental marriage. But having people pray for you is also essential. In that regard, I’d like to share one of my favorite anniversary gifts: a beautiful card that was lovingly made for us by Dominican Novices back in 2012 when we were celebrating our 30th anniversary. Each sister signed her name to one day in May with a note below saying that “In honor of this occasion, we will offer 30 days (plus one) of prayer with a different sister praying for you each day this month.” Wow.

Text and photos copyright 2012/2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach