December 4, 2009

A Recovering Catholic?

Posted in Catholic, faith and doubt, Faith Transformations, Family, feminist theology, Spirituality tagged , , , at 7:08 am by Gina Messina

At the end of September my grandfather passed away.  It was a very difficult time for my family.  My grandfather was an amazing person who gave us all so much love and I miss him dearly.  I traveled home to Ohio to celebrate his life and I was honored when my uncle asked if I would participate in the mass by reading a passage from the Book of Wisdom.  In all the years I was a practicing Catholic, I had never participated in a mass in any way.  This would be my very first time, and even though I no longer considered myself a member of the Church, it felt very special to me to have a role in the mass celebrating my grandfather’s life.

It was a beautiful service and I felt a strong connection to my family and to God/dess as I participated in the rituals.  The mass was a great comfort to me.  Although I have claimed to be a “Recovering Catholic,” on that day I had to wonder if this was really true, am I no longer Catholic?  What does it mean to be Catholic?  Do I have to conform to the Vatican rules, or is it true as Rosemary Radford Ruether says that the “Vatican does not equal Catholicism?” 

So many things about my life as a Catholic has been troubling to me and so much of what the Catholic Church claims to be the way of God/dess I believe to be absolutely false.  I am angry at the Catholic Church. I am bitter towards the Catholic Church.  I believe the Catholic Church is abusive.  But can I still be a Catholic?  Can I hold on to that identity?  Can I remain in the Church and struggle against what I believe to be wrong?  Can I fight the fight or will I simply be perpetuating the victimization of women by continuing to participate in what I view as a violent institution that demands the suffering of women? 

While I believed my struggle with these questions had ended and thought my connection to Catholicism was permanently severed, participating in the celebration of my grandfather’s life through a reading at mass propelled me back to my place of questioning.    Am I Catholic?  Was I ever not a Catholic?  Can I make a clean break or will my upbringing and family heritage always keep me in a place of struggle and questioning?  It seems that every time I think I have the answer, I could not be further from it.  I wonder if perhaps living in the question is the answer.  So for now, although I am not sure that I want to call myself a Catholic or a non Catholic, I want to give myself permission to continue to struggle.  Right now living in the question seems to make far more sense than thinking I will ever have the answer.

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November 28, 2009

A Woman in Waiting

Posted in Family, fertility, Infertility, Parent, waiting tagged at 4:40 am by Gina Messina

Celebrating Thanksgiving yesterday made it more evident to me than ever that I am in a constant state of waiting.  While of course I am waiting to finish my PhD and I am waiting for my career to officially begin, what I am truly waiting for is family.  Holidays are a time for family and being so far away from home has left me feeling a little lost.  This Thanksgiving my dad flew in to spend the week with me and my husband and we spent the holiday in a restaurant with my brother and his wife.  Our family time consisted of two hours together over a meal someone prepared while missing their own family.  I found it terribly depressing and longed for the days when I was a child and Thanksgiving was a time where nothing else could interrupt the family bond.

I remember as a child waking up on Thanksgiving morning and watching the parade on television with my brother and sister while my mom baked her famous cheesecake and pumpkin pie.  She would always give us each a slice right out of the oven…although they were meant to be chilled desserts to this day there is nothing quite like the taste of my mom’s warm pumpkin pie.  Then we would spend the day at my grandparents with aunts, uncles, and cousins…often with our own football game being played in the front yard.

Today, my mom is no longer with us.  I miss her dearly and cannot remember what the last holiday we spent together was like.  I keep waiting for my grief to end, for my every move to not focus on what it would be like if mom were here.  I wonder if having children will allow me to carry on family tradition in my own way and heal some of the wound I feel so deeply in my heart.  However, dealing with infertility has left me waiting for a child.  I have waited for round after round of fertility treatments to work, I wait month after month hoping for a miracle and wonder if there is any end in sight of this cycle that has left me in limbo. 

Of course I truly appreciate that I spent this holiday with my dad, my brother, sister in law, and my wonderful husband.  I just feel like something is missing from my life and my sense of family.  There really is not anything like the mother child bond and I desperately need to have that in my life.  And so I am waiting, waiting for my grief to lessen, waiting for a child to love and teach the value of family, and waiting for a sense of family that nurtures my soul the way it did when I was a child.

November 22, 2009

Why I Wait Within The Mormon Church

Posted in Family, feminism, the Mormon church, waiting at 10:42 pm by Gaia

Attending my Mormon congregation is a struggle for me sometimes. A lot of the rhetoric I hear over the pulpit about gender roles and identity, “us” vs. “the world”, exclusivity, and black and white statements in general – not to mention a lack of focus on the social gospel – drive me up a wall.

But despite all of that, I am somewhat committed to staying at least a partially active member, to waiting for the Church to change. I can locate a few reasons for this.

1. Mike. He’s the best human male I’ve ever met. Hands down. Kind, ethical, compassionate, thoughtful. And really smart. Sure, there are some things I would change (e.g. his politics and lesser interest in helping animals), but overall he is an incredibly good person. And the LDS Church helped produce him. I can’t forget that. Every time I wonder why I stay, I look at him and know that the Church can indeed do very good things for some people and teach some very good principles. It helped fashion a marvelous human being in Mike.

2. While I find a lot of Joseph Smith’s actions, particularly during the Nauvoo period deeply problematic, I like his radical vision of a new religion. I find compelling his vision for the divine potential of humans, male and female. I like his radical approach to battling poverty through the United Order. I think his ideas about the spiritual and divine potential of women were particularly revolutionary, as when he “turned the key” to the women’s Relief Society and organized them “in the order of the priesthood.” I think our present day Church institution has unfortunately retreated from the liberated vision Joseph Smith had for women.

3. I wait within the Church because I now realize I can choose what to believe in. I wait because I now realize that I have the privilege, the right, and the responsibility to embrace those wonderful LDS ideas that empower me and to reject the ones that don’t. And this realization – that I can choose what to believe in, that Mormonism is not an all or nothing proposition – has liberated me. By rejecting the ideas that tear me down and hurt me (men presiding in the family, women having to hearken unto husbands, a circumscribed definition of womanhood, polygamy as my eternal future), I am now at liberty to embrace the ideas which I love that are also a part of my faith. It inspires me to know that the Jesus we Mormons believe in is the same Jesus who went out of his way to include and teach the outcasts of society, to break taboos, and to uplift all humans despite race, sex, or class. That is the Jesus I accept and love, and any ideas that have crept into Mormonism that go against that, I roundly reject.

4. I wait because I know that leaders need to be allowed to make mistakes and grow. At this point in my spiritual life, I am on a religious journey that privileges my own conception of God’s wishes and my own conscience (i.e. personal revelation/the Spirit) over the statements of Church Authorities. I now realize that all human beings, including Church leaders, are subject to their own cultural contexts, and that even the wisest, most wonderful leaders can allow unfortunate cultural ideas to creep into their conceptions of the gospel. I am trying to be more compassionate towards these leaders. After all, they are human, and I am human. And I know that I make mistakes too.

5. I wait because of my own fallibility. This realization of my own fallibility has also profoundly affected my relationship with the Church. Just as I need the Divine to forgive me for all the mistakes I make, I know that I need to forgive the institutional Church for the mistakes it makes. It’s not easy to do. I am hurt by the ways women are routinely shut out from the general Church hierarchy, by the ways women’s voices and ideas are lost or ignored in nearly all Church talks and lessons. But I need to give the Church time to progress. This is the gospel of progression; it is also the Church of progression. And I have reason to hope that it will indeed progress with time. (After all, blacks did eventually get the priesthood.)

6. I also wait within the Church because, in order for the Church to progress, it needs people like me. The Church benefits from having all types of people of various ethnic backgrounds, ideologies, and political persuasions. The more types of people it has, the more types of people it can help. Besides, this is my church too. If progressive, liberal people keep leaving the Church, it will be left with a population that grows steadily more conservative and homogeneous in ideology. This would negatively impact its ability to be the inclusive and compassionate church I know it has the potential to be.

October 29, 2009

The Kids Shaped Spleen Hole Inside Me

Posted in Family, fertility, kids, Mother, mothering, Parent, sexuality tagged , , , , , at 9:52 am by Eostre

ella and me

Me holding my wonderful niece when she was just over a month old

There are few things in my life that I am absolutely sure of right now. One of them is that I don’t want kids. This is a fairly new thing. For most of my life I thought I wanted kids, not because I really did, but because I didn’t know it was okay to not want them. During this past year, when I finally figured this out, it was a major revelation for me. I think I can look to that discovery as a turning point in my recent life, a shift from the person I was to the person I am becoming. I don’t know why this realization has taken on such importance for me, but in my mind I have tied the me who wanted kids to the me who was stuck trying to fulfill what I thought a Good Christian Girl was supposed to be. Sure, I wanted a career too, but I definitely (even if I didn’t admit it) wanted a husband and family too. It was what I was supposed to want, and it was what I was taught I had to have to be valuable.

Like so many things from my Evangelical past, the idea that I should want kids (and a husband) has been kind of hard to shake. Even now, when I know that that is something I don’t want, I still feel guilt over those feelings. So many people think that not wanting kids is unnatural, somehow, for a woman. I mean, it’s not that I am not maternal, and I do really like kids (at least for a set period of time), and I am, usually, a very loving person who likes to take care of people. I have a 13-year-old nephew and a 7-month-old niece both of whom I love to distraction, but I am content being an aunt and not a mother.

I refuse to be defined by my past and where I come from. Yes, I am still dragging a huge net full of baggage behind me, but I am shedding it, piece by piece. And realizing that I don’t want kids was a huge step. I do not want to live the life that someone else thinks I should, I have tried that and it doesn’t work. I am figuring out who I am and what that means, and realizing that I don’t want kids was like finding a part of myself and fitting it inside me, like a missing spleen; one more piece to fill up the new me after I have emptied out the old. I’m not sure of much right now, but every new thing I figure out is a treasure, and knowing that I don’t want kids puts me one step closer to knowing who I am, and what I do want, and that is invaluable to me.

October 25, 2009

Having Children Young: Reflections on the Mormon Directive

Posted in Family, kids, mothering at 9:55 pm by Gaia

baby A, 2 days old

baby A, 2 days old

Three months ago, I gave birth to my second child. A girl this time. Though a bit sleep deprived and stressed out about how to care for both her and my 3 year old son, I’m absolutely thrilled to have her, as is my husband. Getting her involved several unpleasant trips to the fertility clinic, so we feel terribly lucky that it all worked out so well.

Having this baby has made me ponder Mormon Church leaders’ directives to not postpone having children. This advice (command?) never made much of an impact on me as a young married woman. I waited six years after my marriage to begin our family. I was almost 29, and I was always glad I waited, though my husband would have been happy to begin our family sooner. By the time I had my son, I really wanted a baby. I was ready. I would have struggled and had a much harder time with motherhood and marriage if I had had him a year or two into our marriage.

While my experience with postponing my family has definitely been an overall good one, I now appreciate, more than ever before, the idea of not waiting too long to begin. I had problems getting pregnant at 30. If I had waited until I was 38, it could have been that much harder, I imagine. Having experienced some infertility, I now ironically find myself tentatively advising my friends who are in their 30’s and getting married to not wait too long before trying to get pregnant, if they know for sure that they do want children eventually.

While my appreciation for this directive to not postpone families has grown because of my own experience with infertility, I am left wondering just why there continues to be an emphasis on having children young. Mormon Relief Society President Julie Beck’s 2007 ‘Mothers Who Know’ talk reinforces the idea. She states:

“President Ezra Taft Benson taught that young couples should not postpone having children and that “in the eternal perspective, children—not possessions, not position, not prestige—are our greatest jewels.”

I don’t know if she meant the second half of her sentence to explain the first half – i.e. that couples should not postpone children because children are our greatest jewels. But if she did, one can easily argue that children can still be our greatest jewels (I’m uncomfortable with that metaphor, but I’ll go with it), whether one gives birth to them in one’s thirties or one’s twenties.

The Kimball talk Beck references, “To the Mothers In Zion” gives additional hints as to why he implored young people to not put off having children. He seems to associate having children young with having many children, since he spends a bit of time talking about the joys of large families.

With the decrease in emphasis on having large families, however, I am left wondering if there are other, often unspoken reasons for Mormon leaders’ continuing emphasis on having children early into the marriage. Here are a few possible reasons I’ve come up with.

1) having children young might keep fragile young marriages together, as couples are given additional incentives to try to work through their problems.

2.) encouraging women to not postpone children often prevents them from establishing themselves in the workforce, thus making the gender role division that Church leaders advocate more likely.

3) since Church leaders see having children as such a huge factor in character and personal development, they think that the earlier one starts, the better a person he or she can become.

Personally, I don’t find these three to be persuasive reasons to have children young. (And in fact, regarding the first two, I actually find them potentially damaging.)

However, the older I get, the more I do understand that having children young is not necessarily a recipe for disaster. I like to think of my friend who had her babies at 22 and 24. Having done the stay at home mom thing for the first few years of her kids’ lives, she’s now in her late thirties and is one year away from completing her Ph.D. Certainly there are many ways to conduct a successful life. And children, whether they come early or late, don’t mean the end of studying, learning, and moving forward professionally.

October 23, 2009

Infertility: Have you tried standing on your head?

Posted in Family, Genesis, Infertility, Matriarch, Mother, mothering, Parent, Relationships, Sarah in Genesis tagged , , , , , , at 7:22 am by Gina Messina

infertility

In Gen 16: 1 it reads “Now Sarah, Abraham’s wife, bore him no children.” The simplicity of this statement fails to communicate the complicated and devastating situation Sarah faced. The woman who became the matriarch of the Judeo-Christian tradition was barren, unable to fulfill the one duty that gave her worth within her community. With no understanding of biology, infertility was viewed as a curse by Jewish culture and as the fault of the woman. While women were already devalued by society, the social status of a woman struggling with infertility was even further diminished.

Sarah is a woman I have come to identify with. I share her plight of infertility and feel a hopelessness that can only be understood by women in a similar situation. Like Sarah I have been desperate to become a mother and although it is the 21st century, as a woman I have felt pressure to do so. Feelings of inadequacy and lack of worth have been overwhelming at times as family members and friend have felt it necessary to not only acknowledge my struggle but also offer commentary on what exactly they think my problem is.

It is difficult to describe the rollercoaster of emotions I have experienced in the last eight years that I have hoped to become a mother. I have felt sad, angry, hurt, disgusted, fearful, relieved, cheated, optimistic, disappointed, remorseful, irritated, exasperated, hopeful, punished, envious, despair, confused, indifferent, tormented, guilty, nervous, surprised, stressed, appreciative, resentful, bitter and the list continues. While societal pressure has certainly added salt to my wound, the most difficult part of dealing with infertility has been my unwavering knowledge that I a meant to be a mother; there is a child that is meant to grow in my womb, a child that I am meant to nurture and love. I intuitively sense it, it must happen, it is fate, I feel it in the depths of my soul, I am a mother, it is who I am. So why have I been unable to conceive? Why are so many other women privileged with the ability to choose whether or not to become a parent and why have I not been blessed with that same choice?

I have continually struggled with these questions as well as with the highs and lows of the infertility roller coaster. Recently my husband and I have come to the decision to adopt (which warrants numerous blog posts in itself). While we have felt a multitude of emotions (which of course excitement is one) over our decision; the people in our lives have felt it necessary to share their own thoughts on what we have been experiencing. I have been amazed, shocked, horrified, by some of the things people feel it is appropriate to say to me given my struggle to get pregnant. Thus, I feel it necessary to share here some things that you should avoid verbalizing if you know someone dealing with infertility. So for what it is worth, here is my personal top ten list of things you should NOT say to women dealing with infertility (all things that have been stated to me):

10. “Wow, you are so lucky your husband has not divorced you. Most men would not tolerate a woman who could not give him a child.”

9. “Why would you waste so much money on adoption when you could just spend a little more on invitro and have a baby of your own?”

8. “Why not just let me carry a baby for you?”

7. “If you are going to adopt you better make sure you don’t get a kid that is a lemon.” (Yes, a lemon as in if you bought a car with a lot of problems you would describe it as a lemon.)

6. “Oh, your adopting…well I hope you stay within your own race.”

5. “Are you sure you are having sex on the right days? Are you using the right positions?  Maybe you should do some research on the internet.”

4. “It is hard enough to love your own kids, are you sure you will love one if you adopt it?”

3. If a woman struggling with infertility mentions she may try artificial insemination don’t say “Are you really sure you want your child to be conceived that way? I mean, don’t you want it to be conceived out of love?”

2. “You just need to relax.” (What exactly does this mean? I am not sure myself but it is the one quote I have heard more times than I can count. Apparently, if I  just relax and stop worrying about it, a pregnancy will magically occur.)

1. “Have you tried standing on your head?”

I hope the list gives rise to thought offering humor in some areas and anger in others. I am not sure where my continued struggle with infertility will take me, but for now I am a mother. Although I may not yet have a child, I mother other areas of my life, with my partner, my family, my friends, my research, this blog.

For more information on infertility see:

http://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/infertility.cfm

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/infertility/DS00310

http://myinfertilityblog.wordpress.com/