Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Let's Have a Chastity Chat

Thanks to a few recent conversations with some of the ladies of Cathsorority, I have been thinking about chastity talks and how they relate to sex education as well as self-worth. 

I have mentioned in a previous post what my own abstinence education class was like (you can read it here) but, to be honest, the chastity talks I had as a teen were never really that memorable. I had mountains of personal testimony that were far more convincing than any analogy that was thrown my way.

I am not sure when I was told, but I don’t remember a time where I was unaware that my mom and dad conceived me before they were married. (I wrote about it more in depth for the GSP here.) They were always very open and honest with me about how it was the right decision, that they loved me very much, but that even the right choices can come with some consequences. I loved school. I loved reading and drawing and learning: I wanted to go to college. I wanted to wait to have sex until I was married. I was awkward and would rather break up with a boy than be intimate when I was a teen.  I had my mom’s personal testimony to the hardships of being a mother young, as well as all the wonderful things that came with parenthood. I had more information about contraception, abortion and abstinence than I knew what to do with, and I had hormones and ways to distract me from those hormones. I had dozens of chastity talks. I read Real Love and hit the chastity speaker circuit.

There seems to be a giant conspiracy in this country that has opted to make every aspect of one’s teenage years focused on sex. Not only are you thinking about sex because of hormone changes, but they have you reading about it in English class, and talking about it in youth group. I heard every analogy under the sun: Your virtue is like a stick of gum/duct tape/a crisp dollar bill/a spit cup/a piece of fruit. If you give it away or whatever fits best with the analogy of the moment, there is something not quite right about what is left.  Your gift belongs to your spouse, ladies! You must be modest so that you do not let others see what belongs to your future husband! I read plenty of books on the subject also, because I was na├»ve.* It seemed that our speakers and youth group leaders were always dancing around what they wanted to say, and I just did not get it. What things could you be doing sexually that were not even okay to do when you were married?!

I had no intentions of giving away my flower/gift/virtue. I was a virgin, and I often crushed from afar or dated boys from out of town, so these talks went in one ear and out the other. The sort of talks that stuck with me, were the talks such as The Snowball Effect** that focused on the sex act continuum and how it applied to our lives. It was not until after I spent some time as an advocate that I realized how harmful some of the chastity talks I had heard as a teen could be to a young woman’s psyche.
While I do not contend that it is important for teens to have these conversations and a safe place to ask questions, I do take issue with the talks that imply young women are owned by their future spouses. As a human being, I am owned by no other human being. I chose my spouse of my own free will. Had I had my virginity taken from me without my consent, I would not somehow be worth less than an individual that had sex willingly or an individual that still had their virginity. The fruit, tape, gum and money analogies leave the impression that after the abuse or the sex act, a person is ultimately worth less.

I believe there are better ways to talk to our young ones about chastity, sex and self-worth.

Admittedly, I have not studied Theology of the Body. I do understand the concepts well, however, and I can recognize the genius behind it. This week, I came across this article that talks about expanding our understanding and teaching of TOB to include NOT just the sexuality of our bodies, but all our bodies are capable of being. The article encouraged me to put the original addresses on my reading list as I find the subject to be THAT important and relative to the relationship Catholicism has with true feminism.

Raising our children to know that they are valuable is a priority as far as this discussion is concerned. They are valuable precisely because of who they are, male and female alike. Our value as human beings does not decrease or increase depending on how sinful we are, gender, size, age, sexual orientation or ability. This respect for life breeds self-worth in a way that a chastity talk or a list of do’s and don’ts cannot match. Yes, teens are thirsting for information concerning sex, but I don’t think it has to be isolated in the way that it has become. Our self-worth, respect for all life, sex/TOB/contraception/abstinence/abortion talks and healthy relationships (AKA bullying, rape culture, intimate partner violence) are all interconnected and we as parents can begin the conversation and shape it in a way that reminds our children of their inherent worth without inserting shame.

What are your thoughts on the issue?

* As another example of this, at the age of thirteen, I overheard a friend's father talking about how his son and I probably spent all our time smoking pot in the second story of the garage. I had no idea what he was talking about. I was imagining cookware with smoke billowing out of it, and was thoroughly confused.

** The Snowball Effect may have been coined by a friend of mine, I am not sure. We took turns in CCD class with the chastity talk so we could avoid hearing it from our friends' parents. In retrospect, it is a much preferable method to me precisely because it talks about how sexual acts can start out small but "snowball" out of control, and how we all have different limitations, turn ons etc. that we must be aware of in order to be responsible. It is much easier to insert conversations about what rape is, was abuse is, etc. into The Snowball Effect rather than an analogy that compares an object's decreasing value to a human being.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Birth Stories are My Writing Kryptonite.

In the midst of all the craziness a home with three children under four can bring, I seriously cannot find the words to tell you how happy I am to not be pregnant. No, really. I have sat down at least five times to write this post and every time it results in a sentence or two, and then I delete it. My brain is broken.

It is not as bad as it sounds. The baby is doing fabulous, the older babies ADORE their new brother, we are proud parents, and I healed up quite well. The one advantage the pregnancy had over having Frankie boy here in my arms, napping as I type, is that I would be napping right now if I was still carrying him. While I do miss sleep, I’m just going to say it: This last pregnancy was bat sh*t crazy.
I have given out the details before (see here and here) so I will not go into them again. In all my efforts to make an informed decision, there was nothing more empowering  and emotionally vindicating than choosing a repeat c-section for my third child’s birth.

I went through the intense labor with my first, ended up exhausted with a c-section, and none of it mattered as soon as I saw that beautiful child that made me a mom. He came home from the hospital sleeping six hours a night and he was just an easy kid! With my daughter, I was overwhelmed with a cross-country move and the news that the new state was not very VBAC friendly. I cried. Hard. For weeks, I was a bawling mess upon hearing I had to have surgery again with my second child. Then, I sucked it up, called my mommy to come and hang out with us so that my husband could be fully present. I was really scared. There was a two-hour delay before the surgery: I sat there is panic mode for the duration. It took the anesthesiologist thirty minutes to administer the drugs. There was pressure from the nursing staff and one of the weekend doctors to give me a blood transfusion. I was homesick, and terrified of being alone with my two children. I had to get over that quickly as my husband had to be out of town for a few days in the first few weeks my daughter was home. We struggled with nursing for a few weeks. Recovery took some time. I truly did not realize how difficult the birth of my daughter had been for me, until a few weeks ago.

From the second I decided to go back with my regular OBGYN, I felt a billion times better. I gave myself a break from the overly-analytical worrying about every single decision I made. I stopped having nightmares about drowning in amniotic fluid and not being able to remember the birth of my child. I remembered to pray, ask for strength, and to trust my instincts. When I felt the occasional contraction, I did not panic, I just paid attention.  As I was being prepared for the surgery, I had to explain to the nursing staff what the h was going on with my records from the previous practice. They were as confused as I was. Then they delivered the Icing on the Cake kind of news: one of the nurses carefully informed me that even though I had consented to sterilization after the surgery (WHAT?!) my physician did not perform sterilizations so I would have to make other arrangements. Anger flashed across my husband’s face, and my mom teared up. I laughed. It was purely confirmation for me that leaving that practice was the best decision I could have possibly made, not only for my child’s health, but for my health AND future fertility. We had never had a conversation about sterilization at the other practice. I was never even given an exam at the other practice. My intake paperwork very clearly stated (in multiple ways) that I was pro-life and not interested in birth control, abortions, or sterilizations.

The anesthetic went easy this time. Though the room was cold, so did the surgery. I was genuinely surprised to find out the newest addition to our family was a beautiful baby boy.  They gave him to me almost immediately. Laying eyes on your child for the first time is just the most wonderful thing in this world. My husband went with him to be weighed, etc. and I laid in a puddle of elated tears as they got me ready to head to my room. I met my mom and the kids in the hall way and we watched my husband with the new baby and we were all smiling bigger than we had in months!

I felt the difference almost immediately. I was not as tired or emotional as I had been the last time. I did not dread getting up to walk around, and it was not as hard to breathe. Pain meds were nice, but I took them less often. I am not capable of going a day without showering, so I showered the next morning with all three c-sections, but this time I felt perkier. I also was discharged a day sooner, and it was wonderful.

I think I am starting to realize that every pregnancy and birth really is different. I am grateful for the bonding moments that my husband has with our children on the day they were born. I love seeing the photos he takes during the moments before I am out of the operating room. He has time to bond with his children that I do not experience. I certainly do not feel like less of a mother, or less of a woman because of how my children came into this world. This birth really left me with a sense of empowerment that I did not know I was capable of feeling. I feel as though I completely conquered the challenge. I might still be running on pure adrenaline (Frankie boy is still figuring out a schedule so solid sleep is elusive) but our home just feels happy and joyous right now, and truly, God is good.

(Note: Pope Francis totally was looking at our baby name list before he chose his name, but we are happy to share. I was also seriously concerned about the Patron Saint for the Cathofeminism project this year, but it seems rather serendipitous to me now!)

So, there it is: the closest thing to a birth story as I am going to be able to get out in writing. I am truly blessed.