Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Astonishing Frankness about Time

Warning: Allusions to Natural Family Planning in this post, so modest Eavesdroppers shouldn't read it, and the rest of you Eavesdroppers are jerks.

So when Benedict Ambrose and I met and got engaged, I was 37. My mother conceived her last baby at 36, so I figured I was running out of time. We tried to get married as soon as we could, but my parish priest back home squeaked with horror, so we couldn't get married in March, as we wanted. We had to get married in May.

Now, I learned all about NFP when I was 19 and was as regular as clockwork from the age of 12 to the age of 37. That's, twenty-five years with serious dysmenorrhea, too. I used to lie on the floor next to a radiator with a scorching hot electric pad on my tum, complaining about it to Almighty God.

"You better give me children to make all this worthwhile," I said.

My point is, I definitely knew the signs of fertility when I saw them. And the last time I saw them on a normal, clockwork basis was that March. April, no. May, no.

So I should have gone to my friendly family doctor in April. By the end of May, I no longer had access to my friendly family doctor because now I was in take-a-number-IVF-is-free land instead. Despite her politics, I was comfortable with my Canadian family doctor, who still treats the rest of the family back home, but the idea of submitting myself to a gang of foreign pro-ab*rts scared me to death. When the first nurse I spoke to mentioned the baby I wanted to have and then swiftly corrected herself to say "fetus", I was so depressed, it was a long time before I went back. Why they bother asking us our religion when we sign up is a mystery. Maybe I should start adding "PRACTISING" or "FANATICAL" to forms.

The local bedside manner is such that when I called to make an appointment regarding the results of my fertility tests, the doctor gave me the bad news over the phone. And mentioned IVF again. And sounded pissed off after I told her my opposition to IVF was very difficult to explain as a Catholic in a Protestant/post-Protestant country. In Scotland, it is a big insult to suggest that someone is sectarian; the idea is that cultured Protestants/post-Protestants like Catholics, they just hate the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, for all I know, Doctor Sensitive was herself a Catholic, only pro-IVF and drugged to her eyeballs on the Pill.

That said, the last doctor I talked to was very nice and gave me what I wanted, which was a prescription for anti-depressants. Hello, pillbox, my old friend; I've come to talk to you again. Actually, I love these pills because I love balanced seratonin levels like I love Georgian architecture. Where was I?

Ah. Time. So the thing about not settling, is that sometimes not settling means not having babies. However--and this is very important--I do not regret it. I love my husband and our life in Scotland and the view outside my window and this beautiful blue 1960s formica table we got for only £25. I love our Extraordinary Form of the Mass community, and my Polish classes, and being so close to the delights of Continental Europe. I love the Historical House almost as much as B.A. does. I did not want just any baby--I wanted B.A.'s baby. And I keep hoping some dramatic teenager appears at the door, announcing in tragic tones that B.A. is his father, although B.A. assures me that this is not going to happen.

I am happy to ascribe blame for my too-early infertility on God or the nervous parish priest or the British medical establishment or myself, but the culprit is really Time. Bad Time. And I can in no way blame B.A., even if I wanted to, because B.A. married me as quickly as the Church allowed.

I would never recommend that anyone else marry in six or eight months after meeting. We are very happy together, but we are we, you know? If you are over 30 and seriously grown-up, getting engaged after six months sounds reasonable to me. If you are under 30, I'd say a year before engagement. If you are under 20, I'd say wait until college/trade school graduation. Meanwhile, we did not marry so fast just as a last chance to have a baby but to avoid serious sin and also because we were so crazy in love, we suffered so much from being apart.

So I do not understand why women spend so long waiting for their boyfriends to make up their minds to marry them. I really do not understand this. And I really do not understand this in women over thirty. Okay, I guess I do understand how hard it is to say to a man you deeply love, "Marry me or I'm gone", but I don't understand why the men, if they are not getting any sex, don't want to sleep with their girlfriends. In short, I don't understand why Catholic men do not marry their Catholic girlfriends within two years of dating.

Anyway, this is not really about me not being able to have a baby because nasty old Father Time tapped his watch. It is about other women not having babies because they are stuck on a man or on a series of men who simply will not marry them or, if they are living with a man, because he says that he is not ready for a baby and means it. If the woman stays with him so long that eventually she cannot have a baby, how could this situation not end in bitter resentment?

I will always say don't settle for the wrong man. You are never too old to get married. But, unfortunately, you will one day be too old to be a birth mother. I am, but the man I love most in the world is not at all to blame. That is a huge comfort.

Update: New post at Ignatius Press Novels! Subject: why Catholics need other Catholics to teach us to write.


Julia said...

Auntie, I'm so sorry that you don't have children. That's all I can say, really. It sucks.

"In short, I don't understand why Catholic men do not marry their Catholic girlfriends within two years of dating."

I know, right? I know a couple like at the minute. Both serious, Mass-going, practising Catholics aged 23. They've been dating for nearly two years, and as far as I know, they have no immediate plans to get married. By this stage, I really expected them to be engaged, especially since the girl moved hemispheres to be closer to the guy. They are both decent people, and I do think that they will marry each other, but I don't really get what the hold-up is. He's still a student, but she's a young professional, and I don't see why they couldn't get married soon - she could support them for the time being. Sure, the wedding would need to be non-super-fancy and they'd probably have to live in a less-than-perfect rental flat somewhere, but don't understand the apparent lack of urgency. Meanwhile, the guy has dreams of postgrad philosophy study overseas, so who knows what'll happen.

Julia said...

* but I don't understand

Seraphic said...

Be it far from me to tread on a young man's dreams...

Sheila said...

Getting married at 23 is no cakewalk, I can tell you from having done it. You're fertile as the Amazon jungle and get pregnant the second your husband looks at you .... even, if I am to believe my friends, when you think you're using NFP correctly. You have debt and your jobs pay you peanuts if they pay you at all. (For the unpaid internship is increasingly popular these days.) And then there's hospital bills for the birth, unexpected expenses, and the blithe comments of "two can live as cheaply as one!" and "babies don't need much!" shift to, "Well, what did you *think* was going to happen?!"

Not that it wasn't the right choice. I'm pretty sure it was, because we were so miserable apart. But I can see why people would choose to wait. Average age of first marriage tracks up in a bad economy and down in a good economy. In the 50's getting married at 22 made sense. In the Depression, 28 was more like it.

Some will end up getting married too late to have kids. But not everyone *has* to have kids. I feel the Church needs childless couples to be spiritual mothers and fathers to the rest of us. Being a parent is one kind of calling, being a childless married person is another kind of calling. Both involve hard work and suffering. And the toughest part is, you don't get to pick which you'll be! But that's one way of being sure that you are in the will of God, I suppose.

Seraphic, I hope the pills are doing their job. Having a brain that knows how to feel happy is a very helpful thing.

Seraphic said...

Oh yes. I love my little pills. They really make a difference regarding my productivity and sleep patterns. I have an ongoing mood disorder thing that flares up now and again, like eczema. It's a cross, but it's a lighter cross than a lot of crosses!

I just mentioned them because I got an email recently from someone with a similar condition and I thought it would be helpful to somebody. There's still a stigma, although there shouldn't be, since it's nothing to do with morality and mostly to do with having a bit too much or this or that your body.

The bad news re: babies was some months ago now, so I am past the weeping and wailing stage. And my brother sent me a photo of me with the CUTEST LITTLE GIRL IN THE WORLD, i.e. my niece and heiress, today.

Seraphic said...

*Or too little. Whatever. It has something to do with seratonin anyway.

Julia said...

Hmm, I have re-read my initial comment and I see how it sounds...judgy. To explain myself, what I was trying to get at was, in Seraphic's words, "I don't understand why the men, if they are not getting any sex, don't want to sleep with their girlfriends. In short, I don't understand why Catholic men do not marry their Catholic girlfriends within two years of dating."

Brigitte said...

I'd venture a guess that a 23 year-old guy who is still figuring his life plans out doesn't want to get married because... he's 23 and still figuring his life plans out. From the lofty vantage point of age 31, I can tell you that most people don't know nothin' about nothin' at age 23, even if they think they do (I certainly didn't), and getting married at that age, as Sheila pointed out, is a heck of a challenge (for life!). Some people can do it, but what's the rush?

Seraphic said...

To be frank, I don't see a need for any kind of rush at 23. I think 26 is probably when most twenty-something couples are at a good age to be married. They're grown up, they're usually out of school, they've got their feet on the first or perhaps even second rung of their career path.

I do think the idea that "THOU MUST BE ENGAGED BY 25" is very dangerous. But at the same time, I feel badly for girls who are very much in love with their boyfriends and have to wait for years for a proposal.

sciencegirl said...

If men have managed to not sleep around as adolescents, it is a lot easier to keep going as adults than movies might make us think. Practicing chastity makes it easier to practice chastity, and adults tend to get more self-control in all aspects of their lives as they get mature. While I think it's true that some men who are cohabitating may not feel an urge to get married, I also think the idea that chaste couples race to the altar so they can have sex is silly and has plenty of evidence against it.

Julia said...

Well, a concern is that really, this girl has uprooted her life and MOVED CONTINENTS for a guy who is...still trying to figure his life out? I think well of the both of them, but honestly, if I were her, I'd be a bit nervy about this whole arrangement. It's fair enough that the guy still needs to figure his life plans out at the age of 23. I mean, I'm 23, and while I feel pretty on track with my life plans, I still have plans to sort out too. That's fine, but maybe it wouldn't be so fine if some guy had moved hemispheres to be near me.

Look, if she's fine with it, then I'm happy. And I'm also happy it's not me.

Jackie said...

Seraphic, I'm totally late chiming in here, but just wanted to say you would be such a great mom! I am continuing to pray for a miracle for you.

(It's obvious you are already a terrific spiritual mother to your Polish sons!)

Seraphic said...

Sciencegirl, that would certainly be silly and rather carnal of them, if that's what they did. I see it more in terms of the longing to be together, in the permanent and spiritual way brought about by the unative aspect.

Julia, I would be so worried and unhappy if I had a daughter who followed her boyfriend out of the country, sans ring. I suppose my comfort would be that she was only 23 and there are worse troubles a 23 year old can get into...

Jackie, that's so nice of you! Spiritual motherhood of 20-something men is really easy, though. You just bake cookies and wash sheets and serve hearty food and make sure there is a lot of alcohol in the house. Occasional exhortations to virtue are okay, if kept short.

Andrea said...

Thanks for your vulnerability here, Seraphic. I have a mantra these days "God is good even when FILL IN THE BLANK." I am mid to late 30s and childless, not married, wish I were both. But perhaps I will never have kids. You have convinced me it is likely I will someday get married. (thank you). But God is good even when if I didn't get married. And God is good even if I can't have kids. And these absolute truths must be adhered to, listened to, spoken and repeated again and again, since we as finite fallen creatures are highly likely to forget. God bless your journey, Seraphic.

Lillian Gerken said...

Re: all the comments about getting married at 23... I was married at 23 this past summer, and as other commenters have opined my husband and I are indeed extremely fertile and not very well-off. I'm now expecting our honeymoon baby. :)

But I feel so blessed, so SO blessed, for the gift of our fertility, particularly when I read posts like this one. Life is short and uncertain, and not everyone is as fortunate as I was to find the right person at 23. I do not understand the need to wait several years (to get married or to have children)! My husband and I were engaged after 8 months of dating, and married 10 months after that. I've already mentioned our honeymoon baby.

I think that even some Catholics have the wrong attitude and see their fertility as a burden instead of the great gift that it is. Thank you, Auntie Seraphic, for reminding me how rarely blessed I am. I will be praying for you and for your husband.

And as for the financial situation of getting married at 23... truth is, people do not *need* all the modern indulgences they think they need. My husband and I do not have cable of any sort (or, indeed, a TV!) nor do we have internet at our home. We live modestly in a 1bdr apartment and will continue to do so after our baby is born. We rarely eat out, and our entertainments chiefly consist of reading and watching free movies procured from the library. We are incredibly happy.

It's possible for even we fertile, poor 23-year-olds to marry fairly quickly, and I don't understand why more don't. My marriage has been the greatest blessing of my life. I'll take my husband and soon-to-be-born baby (frugality, 1bdr apartment, and all) any day over a wealthier, lonelier single or dating life.

Seraphic said...

Yay, Honeymoon Baby! Congratulations! :-D

Lillian Gerken said...

Thanks, Auntie Seraphic!! :)

Julia said...

Lillian, congratulations to you and your husband about your honeymoon baby!

P.S. I'm currently without telly at the moment too, and I seriously don't miss it.

Amused Observer said...

Lillian, I loved your comment. Congratulations! It made me happy to read about somebody getting married young and poor and having babies. I don't get to have that, (I just got to be young and poor and single, ha ha!) but I think it's beautiful.

Jenny said...

Hi Seraphic,

Long time lurker. But this particular article made me want to comment for the first time. Have you tried any Herbal supplements in regards to your fertility issues? I am 34 years old, single, never married, no kids, but a couple of years ago, I started to have irregular periods, and yes I even tried the pill to stabilize them to no avail. But I did a lot of research and tried herbal supplements to balance out my hormones, and they worked much better than the pill. Specifically I tried "Vitex" also know as "Chasteberry." It is thought to help stabilize and rebalance hormonal issues in women, and there are some studies that show it helps with fertility if used for six months or more.

I figured I would share this with you, because it is a natural way to possibly help you out. If nothing else it won't hurt you. Maybe your move, getting married adjusting to a new life etc, caused your hormones to get out of whack.