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Filtering by Tag: Pro-Life

March for Life

alec vanderboom

Incredible. Unbelievable. Inspiring.

Wow, my first time at March for Life--with my beloved husband and all 3 of our young children.

We rose at 4 AM to catch the free parish shuttle to the Verizon Center at 5 AM. The kids were so excited to take their first bus ride. We decamped at a super crazy, super crowded Verizon Center at 7:00 AM, a full 30 minutes before the Basketball Stadium Center opened. We needed all that time because trying to thread a group to the right entrance with a giant 3 kid stroller was a bit of a challenge.

Once we got inside, we got ushered into this amazing spot on the actual basketball court, a few rows back from the main alter. To the right was a giant slab of seminarians, the ones in NYC who got a visit from our Holy Father in April. There were also the extremely cool monks. Everything in their habit screamed 12 century, thick, course robes, giant wooden rosaries and their bizarre wool wraps instead of coats. I loved it when they pulled out cellphones to direct fellow brothers to their seats, what a contrast!

On our left was a huge section devoted to the Sisters. On the top were 30,000 high school and college students from all over the country. Around the floor stood hundreds of priests all in white at least four rows deep.

The 2009 Youth Rally and Mass started with a fun Catholic rock concert. My last concert was when I took Jon to U2 in Cleveland for his 29th birthday two weeks before we were married. It was surreal to sing my lungs out to "The Streets Have No Name" with my husband, my 3 tiny babies, hundreds of boisterous seminarians and thousands of students.

Then things quieted down with a 1/2 hour recitation of the Rosary. I thought the MC made a good point. He told all these students that it's easy to feel pumped up for God at a rock concert. Yet when the hard times come in college, when your girlfriend breaks up with you or your grandpa dies, their won't be a rock concert available. You have to get yourself immersed in the traditions of the Catholic faith that are dependable, these are the rosary and the Holy Mass. With that introduction, and the good example of hundreds of priests and religious, the rosary was quiet and deeply personal.

Then came the Holy Mass. What a transformation. After the Papal Mass, I was a little nonchalant about viewing hundreds of priest come in to Celebrate the Mass. Then this huge row of men in pointy hats entered. Honestly, there were at least 50 bishops and archbishops who attended this Mass from all over the United States. I started tearing up. I couldn't believe that all of these men fly to D.C. for one day, just to celebrate this Mass with the Catholic Youth and pray in front of the Supreme Court.

The Pope even sent an Archbishop from the Holy See. It was incredible. Every single person in a crowd of 30,000 stood up and screamed appreciation and adoration for the Holy See for a good 5 minutes. It was such an incredible act of Catholic universality to see these 20ish seminarians, these 50ish nuns and 18 year old high school seniors all shouting "We love you Papa Benedict!"

The actual Eucharist part of the Mass was handled by our Archbishop Wuerl with honor and dignity. The communion hymn was a Latin chant lead by the Mount Saint Mary's Seminarians. My own Archbishop handed me the host with such an intense, reverent gaze "THIS IS THE BODY", then I got to float away on gorgeous music for 20 minutes afterwards.

The thing that most struck me was the reverent way the hundreds of priests carried the silver bowls carrying the remaining consecrated hosts down hundreds of stadium bleacher steps. Everyone did it differently. Some carried the bowls with both arms outstretched, watching their feet carefully on each step. Some clenched the bowl tightly to the bodies on one hand and the other hand firmly held the handrail. Some reverently covered the bowl with one hand to protect the host from above. Some of less coordinated priests looked slightly panicked and held their entire abdomine under the bowl hoping to at least cushion the bowl with their own body.

Every single body position translated the same, however, "this is truly the body of Christ our King, not some plain wafer."

We finished Mass, which I have to say also carried an amazing amount of grace. My kids can usually not sit through 30 minutes of Daily Mass. Heck, my son can't sit through 10 minutes of "mat time" at pre-school. Yet here all three sat quietly in their seats from 8 AM until 12:30. We were helped so much. Some unknown, friendly parish members took turns holding Maria for 3 hours. She adored the fresh faces and novel environment. Alex started getting agitated during the rosary and mercifully fell asleep for the entire Mass. As we left, one usher waved us onto the VIP elevator because of our stroller. We ended up riding the elevator with all the bishop. One kind bishop from Rhode Island mentioned how happy he was that during the "encouragement to respond to the call for vocations, the Archbishop also included the vocation of marriage. That's such an important vocation," he said.

After our express trip past 30,000 exiting Catholics, we headed to the National Building Museum for our Parish Lunch. One more grace. This is Alex and Hannah's favorite museum of all time because of the expansive young kids play area. After being quiet church mice during Mass, they got to run around and have fun for over an hour.

At about 2, we headed to the March for Life. That was actually the only stressful part of the day. Mimi fell asleep in this weird position in her stroller, her whole body was projected 90 degrees of the giant 3 kid stroller. That meant that one parent had to push a stroller while the other carefully guarded Mimi's head from being accidentally knocked by another Marcher. I didn't get much praying down, maybe 3 Hail Mary's the whole march. We also didn't get to chat much with all the visitors to D.C. Our slow pace meant that we kept falling behind which ever fascinating conversation we had just started.

I'm happy on two counts. One, I got to see how important it is to pray for a Catholic event, even if you can't attend in person. I only got 3 Hail Mary's said during the March, but I know all of you dear readers had many more prayers going up to heaven. Second, I really hit me that I've got a prayer apostate just by living in D.C. Jon & I can go regularly to the Supreme Court building an pray for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. I hope we'll start doing that soon. It hit me as funny, that I spent most of my twenties wishing that I could argue at least one Supreme Court Case in my lifetime and idealizing those that did. Meanwhile, I hope to spend my life praying outside that same building- with far more powerful results!

Oh, I forgot to mention an incredible signal grace. Inauguration Day on Tuesday was freezing cold. My parents were so, so miserable in teen degree temperatures. Today, warm, sunny, high of 41 degrees. It was so warm that I didn't wear at coat or mittens during the March. This weekend it's supposed to return to frigid winter weather again.
It's as if Our Lady Clothed in the Sun peeked out today just to keep us company and I was so, so grateful that the antsy kids were not also freezing and miserable.

I hope you all had a lovely day of prayer. Please remember to pray for all of those excited, chaste pro-life Catholic students in the US. I meet 20,000 today and they were all lovely!

(I took pictures and video, but I'm not sure when I can get them posted. We just got a new camera, which means learning a new photo program. I'm not sure when I can get to reading the instructions. Funny photos of me and Jon puffing up a steep hill loaded down with children and excess water bottles to come, however!)

Pope Benedict says hello!

Life as the Most Important Principle

alec vanderboom

On Dateline NBC on Friday, Ann Curry held Protestant Pastor Rick Warren's feet to the fire for his close friendship with President Elect Obama & his decision to say the Prayer during Obama's Inauguration. I'd enjoyed Warren's spirited defense of the theology of marriage a few minutes earlier in the broadcast. It came as a shock to hear this exchange.

Ms. Curry: "How can you be friends with Obama if he's pro-choice and your pro-life? Isn't that murder in your view?"

Pastor Warren: "You'll never get a representative to represent you 100% on all of your issues. Heck, I can't get my wife to agree with me all the time!"

You know, I get the whole 'spiritual blindness' thing for the pro-choice side, because I lived it for so long. It's "the I'm pro-life, but its not really the most important issue for me" that has me head scratching right now.

I thought about Ann Curry, who I used to really adore in my prior TV without restrictions days of youth, and Pastor Rick Warren as my 18 month old snuggled into bed with me.

Mimi is a post-colic baby, which means she still doesn't sleep reliably through the night, especially if there's another warm body in her bedroom who could be persuaded to play with her. As a result, our sleeping arrangements in our 2 bedroom apartment are a bit unique. My 5 & 4 year old share a room. Mimi sleeps in a crib in our room. Meanwhile every night, my husband pulls out our IKEA mattress from the beautiful IKEA woven sleigh bed and places it on the living room floor.

When Mimi gets up in the morning, she's not just next to me and my sleeping spouse. Instead, she easily steps on the bed and perches on my head.

So this morning as I mentally wrestled with religious witness questions while physically wrestling with my wide-awake toddler, I realized they are both interrelated.

Here's my current favorite pro-life picture. This a photo of my husband holding my youngest daughter by the grave site of her brother.

Francisco died in my second trimester of pregnancy six weeks before Mimi was conceived. After his death, there was an anguished week of waiting for a miscarriage so that we could have a Catholic burial. There was about a half-hour during that week that I really raved about not being Protestant anymore. I wanted to use birth control again. I hurt so much, I couldn't imagine ever having another child. I wanted to be certain that I'd never have to go through another miscarriage again.

I knew in my heart going back on the pill wasn't an option. The was only NFP or total absence. (Fortunately, the Catholic church has some absolute rules in this situation. Birth control is a mortal sin, and is completely off the table.) Knowing our track record, I figured it was pretty unlikely we could get through 15 years of NEVER conceiving another child.

The question in my mind changed from "IF I ever have another child? To WHEN will I be ready to open my heart to the possibility of another child."

God can work with a frightened, unwilling heart. That what this picture means to me.

Immediately after the funeral, Jon and I truly thought we couldn't be ready to have another child for at least 10 years, if even then.

Instead, six weeks later we brought another soul into the world.

Now out of heartache, there is blessing. I have a son in heaven who is as real to me as my son on earth. (I talk to him all the time in my heart). And Francisco's early death left room for an "extra" red headed daughter. The silly one who tells jokes in baby talk, and who puts on her Dad's dress shoes for a laugh and who sits on my head at 6:30 AM when I'd rather hit another round on the snooze alarm.

Christmas is about welcoming the most important baby in the world.

This Sunday we also remember the Blessed Mother who said YES in the most emphatic way possible. We need to say YES to God in all different ways in all parts of our life. Yet we married couples also need to say YES to Life in a special way.

Our Blessed Mother pray for us. Help us all be "handmaidens of the Lord" in our hearts.

Hurrah For Baby Trig

alec vanderboom

It did my heart so good to hear Sarah Palin speak last night. Mostly, however, I adore seeing Cindy McCain and later big sister Piper hold little baby Trig. Did you love it when Piper licked her hand and smoothed down Trig's messy hair? That's the stuff that happens in my house!

This is my first election as a registered Republican. (I converted to Catholicism and the prolife cause in 2001. In 2004, I refused to vote at all for president. I hated that John Kerry had recently adopted the "pro-stem cells" position. At the same time, I blamed George Bush for the Iraq War.) It's such a special grace to have the chance to support a strongly pro-life Mother of five in this election.

Dear God, we pray that during this election cycle that many hearts will be changed. We pray that more mothers with Down Syndrome babies start to feel God's special grace for their teeny babies with special needs.

Lord, Protect the Unwanted & the Unloved

alec vanderboom

"Lord, Creator of Life, You have blessed us with the privilege of bringing new life into the world. Open our hearts and minds to recognize Your special gift of children and Your great love for each of us created in Your image and likeness.

Through love You sent your Son Jesus to redeem us and through love He entered our world as an unborn child in the womb of Mary, His mother.

We now turn to Mary for her prayers and intercession as we struggle to protect innocent unborn children from decisions that seek to destroy them. Following Mary's example as mother and disciple, let us proclaim the truth of our faith, assist those in crisis and protect those most vulnerable, unwanted and unloved. Amen."

Prayer of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Maryland

(We say this prayer everyday at the end of Daily Mass at my parish church.)

Et Tu Jen? -How I Became Pro-Life

alec vanderboom

Et Tu Jen?- who is also a convert to Catholicism and the pro-life message- has an awesome post on this subject today. Here's a brief quote:

"The message I'd heard loud and clear was that the purpose of sex was for pleasure and bonding, that its potential for creating life was purely tangential, almost to the point of being forgotten about altogether. This mindset laid the foundation of my views on abortion. Because I saw sex as being closed to the possibility to life by default, I thought of pregnancies that weren't planned as akin to being struck by lightning while walking down the street -- something totally unpredictable, undeserved, that happened to people living normal lives.

Being pro-choice for me (and I'd imagine with many others) was actually motivated out of love and caring: I just didn't want women to have to suffer, to have to devalue themselves by dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Because it was an inherent part of my worldview that everyone except people with "hang-ups" eventually has sex and sex is, under normal circumstances, only about the relationship between the two people involved, I got lured into one of the oldest, biggest, most tempting lies in human history: to dehumanize the enemy. Babies had become the enemy because of their tendencies to pop up and ruin everything; and just as societies are tempted to dehumanize the fellow human beings who are on the other side of the lines in wartime, so had I, and we as a society, dehumanized the enemy of sex."

Go check it out the full text in person and leave her a "that a girl" comment. Even better, write your own essay on the subject. (I'd be really interested to read some cradle Catholics trace how their families raised them to "always be Pro-Life")

March For Life, IV

alec vanderboom

While the kids and I were scouting for sights of Dad during EWTN's live coverage of the March, I heard a fascinating talk by Dr. Mary-Joan Marron-Corwin, Head of Neonatal Medicine at Manhattan's St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan. You can still catch her entire interview by checking out the "March of Life" reruns on EWTN (also available on their website). She was the second speaker interviewed by EWTN, about fifteen minutes into the start of their program. If you miss her speech, here are some brief highlights:

1) The pressure for pre-natal testing has had devastating result. As Dr. Corwin says, "look around at our parishes and at our malls. There are many less young people with Down Syndrome. Where did they go? They have been aborted."

2)"Miscarriage is a real risk in pregnancy." We need to treat the result as "sacred remains of conception."

3) Dr. Marron-Corwin describes her first-hand experiences with the pro-life issue. As an OB doctor, she contracted a devastating virus while recessitating a baby. She was seven weeks pregnant herself at the time. The virus (I think it was called CVR) had terrible risks for the developing fetus-blindness, brain damage, etc. All her medical co-workers urged her to consider an abortion.

Dr. Marron-Corwin states, “I wish I could sit her and say that I was completely pious and was appalled at their suggestions. At these times, you are pulled out of yourself. And so, I as a devoted Catholic was considering having an abortion myself.”

Dr. Marron-Crowin said she walked around in a fog for about two weeks. As she was pulling down some Christmas wrapping paper from a high closet shelf, a book by Mother Theresa fell out and hit her on the head. There was a quote inside that said “what a great poverty it is for a child to die in order that I might live the way I wish.” Well, that sealed her mind against an abortion.

She said she went on to cry every day for the next nine months. Even with a supportive husband and supportive friends, she said she found the unknown during her pregnancy extremely scary. The happy end is that her second son, Timothy, was born perfectly healthy. He is now a cross-country runner, a good Catholic middle school student and is considering a vocation to the priesthood.

I was so impressed by Marron-Corwin’s deep sympathy and her medical knowledge in this field. It’s rare to find a doctor who urges one to “go to the daily Eucharist” as a source for strength in dealing with the cross of an adverse pregnancy diagnosis.

March for Life, III

alec vanderboom

I stayed home Tuesday with one sick kid and one teething baby. Happily, the star photographer for Abigail's Alcove made the march.

My husband Jon at his first political rally.

Our church brought signs stating the necessity of attending adoration and saying the Divine Mercy Chaplet for the conversion of hearts on this issue.

The theme for this years march was unity on life all principles, no exceptions!
Praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3:00 PM in front of the Supreme Court
Church members walking home from the Capital Building

March for Life, II

alec vanderboom

Well, it's 9:30 PM the night before the March. I've got once kid down with a sore throat, a teething baby, an exhausted husband and a severe winter weather advisory. I'm still setting the alarm early in an attempt to make the parish bus deadline.

Just in case, my husband convinces me that dragging three young children out into sub-zero temperatures is not a good idea (it's a sign of a good eight year marriage that he didn't press his point tonight with a wife that has been waiting all month for this event) I still want to do my part. Here is my all-time favorite Pro-Life picture.

Father Jaffe officiates the funeral of Francisco Benjamin, July 2006

I don't know if you can see without enlarging this photo, but the incense burner is actually wider than my son's five-inch wooden coffin. (Our son died, from a miscarriage at 12 weeks and 6 days in utereo.) When this photo was taken, I sat numb and grief-stricken, gripping my crying husband's hand in the front pew. It hurt me that my son's coffin seemed so small. I noticed that the coffin was even smaller than the incense holder used to bless it. Then I noticed the reverent, holy way that Father swung the incense holder over the coffin in the shape of a cross. He performed the motions exactly the same as in a "regular" funeral. Watching Father Jaffe reverently bless my son with incense was the moment that I started experiencing true peace.

Size doesn't matter. Someday, my coffin will be at least six feet long, while my little son's body only needed six inches. The different lenghts are irrelevant. My son and I share equal dignity of the soul. The church recognizes this fact and treats all life (no matter how brief, no matter how long) with dignity and reverence. This is the picture which reminds me that my church and my God recognizes the unborn as "real children." Someday, I hope we will all join my "big" boy in heaven.

March for Life

alec vanderboom

On Tuesday, January 22, my family will be boarding a bus at our parish hall at 6:15 AM to attend the annual March for Life in downtown D. C. If you can’t join us in person, why not join us in a prayer for an end to the Roe v. Wade decision at noon?

This is the first time my family will march. (Last year, I was too pregnant to risk falling on the ice. Eight years ago, I was firmly pro-choice.) The recent cold snap may keep the baby and I inside a downtown McDonald’s for most of the day. Regardless, we’ll be able to attend the 7:30 AM rally inside the Verizon Center as a family. I think it’s important to bring a baby to these pro-life events, even if it only uplifts the spirits of a few of the marchers.

I’m thinking of sign slogan ideas to create for Tuesday’s march. The sign I will put on Maria’s stroller might read “During the 2007 March, I was one of the unborn. Thank you for marching for me!” Any other slogan suggestions?

On The Bookshelf- Karen Santorum

alec vanderboom

During this season, while we contemplate the mystery of our Savior’s birth and ultimate death by crucifixion, keep in mind your friends and family that experience this painful connection of birth & death through the loss of a child to miscarriage, stillbirth or SIDS.

For a sensitive, honest description of this heartache check out “Letters to Gabriel” by Karen Santorum. Mother Theresa wrote the forward to this pro-life story. Gabriel Santorum was the son of Rick Santorum, the US Senator from Pennsylvania. While his father was fighting with President Clinton to ban the partial birth-abortion procedure, his mother realized that their fourth child was critical ill with defective kidneys. Gabriel Santorum received cutting-edge inter-utreo surgery, but ultimately died two hours after his birth. His mother’s letters to her son written throughout her pregnancy reflect the incredible grace she received from the Catholic sacraments. It’s a sad read of course, but a ultimately life affirming and uplifting.

Here’s a sampling of her heart-felt prose:
“Some people do not recognize the depth of a parent’s loss. They can’t imagine how such a small person whom a parent had so little time with could leave such a huge void. They want parents to quickly get over their child’s death and put it behind them. I find it so strange that at times it’s as if some people measure a parent’s pain on a graph according to what they think the intensity should be. And according to these people’s calculations, the grief experience with the loss of a twenty-week preemie is less than at forty weeks which is less than losing a six-month-old infant, and so on, and the older a child gets, the worse it is!

How outrageous. Because the truth is that the death of a child-no matter what age- is always a profound loss. My friend Nadine summed it up so perfectly. She said, “On a scale of 1-10 losing a child, at any age, is always a 10!”
Tuesday, December 10, 199 pgs 11-113.

One of the most important things that we can do to combat the culture of death and easy access towards abortions is to take the time to grieve the loss of the smallest members of our Catholic community.

This Advent season, take some time to say a prayer for someone who is hurting either a parent who is missing a child, a widow who is missing, or a child whose parent is stationed in Iraq.

Help of the Holy Innocents

alec vanderboom

On December 23, 2002, Jon and I started crying in a genetic counselor's office at Ohio State University Hospital. We started out the day happy to have an extra day off work. We packed snacks to munch on during the two-hour car trip to Columbus.

We'd already gone through the shock of hearing that Cystic Fibrosis was in the family gene pool. (Jon's Dad casually mentioned having a nephew who died at age five during a Thanksgiving visit. I was five months pregnant with our first child and promptly burst into tears, convinced my fascination with an autobiography l read on the subject at age 8 was a foreshadowing of things to come. I was right, sort of. My husband and I are both carriers of the CF gene. His is the most severe form, mine is a mild form that is rarely active. My ob-gyn had done her homework. She said our babies risked a mild to moderate form of CF. The referral to OSU was a formality, we were told.)

So we started out the car trip, happy. We talked about asking for advice on how to tell our children they were at risk for having CF positive babies. We decided to spring for CF test when they got married. We told ourselves we could handle saying rosaries by the sickbeds of any future grandchildren. "Whistling in the dark" is the name for our conversation.

Then came the devastating news from the genetic counselor. "No, your baby has the 1/4 chance of having a fatal disease, not your grandchildren." Then to ease the burden on my stricken face, "Don't worry. This is the only baby who will have that risk. For all the other babies, we'll do an amino, if the fetus is CF positive, we'll take care of it. Sorry that we didn't catch this one until it was too late [the sixth month.]"

I was a brand new Catholic, and I hung so fiercely to the label that I'd just checked of on my religious preference form.

"I'm Catholic," I said. "I can't do an abortion." I repeated that same sentence for a mind-numbing amount of time. I watched my husband fall apart. I cried into fist after fist of tissues. I argued my way out of a same-day amino by saying "I don't want to worry about miscarriage on Christmas. Let me go home, now." I felt scared. I felt alone. There was all this intense medical pressure to do a test which would only tell us a basic hands up or hands down CF result a mere two weeks before my due date.

"I'm Catholic, I'm Catholic, I'm Catholic" I stuttered, until they let me go home.

I knew in their mind "Catholic" meant "crazy as a loon about medically necessary procedures." I didn't care. It got me out of that suffocating environment. Because the whole Catholic church has been solidly pro-life for all these centuries repeating the phrase "I can't because I'm Catholic" means that doctors will eventually realize that they single-handedly can't "reason" with you. Eventually, they will save their breath to cool their porridge.

Because I was Catholic, I had a chance to get out of that room without an amnio. Because my husband is an expert in patient advocacy, we found our way to the hospital library. The information we read gave us hope. The average lifespan of a CF patients is age 18, we read. “Well, at least that isn’t age five, we said.” [I’ve since discovered its currently up to age 36].

Jon and I left the hospital library. We were dazed and ended up missing our freeway entrance. After a few wrong turns we gave up and decided to eat lunch at a Bob Evens Restaurant. I cried again, this time into paper napkins instead of Kleenex.

Then, I grabbed his hand over mashed potatoes and a pot roast sandwich. "Even if it ends up just being us in the room at the nursing home. . . even if none of our children live to adulthood, it would be worth it. We're not raising kids to get something back from them. We won't be hoping for companionship in our old age, or for them to make us look good by graduating from college with lots of awards. We're just raising kids for themselves alone, for whatever life God has planned."

Those were the words that I shared with my husband. That was our "mashed potato pledge." This is where our unconditional love of our children began. I count that moment as one of the sweetest in my marriage.

It's taken me a long time (like 3 years) to forgive the genetic counselor we had at OSU. Now, I pray for her, for the ob who said women can’t have more than three c-sections, and for all the medical professionals caught up in the anti-life sentiments which currently plague a healing profession.

Our memories of that day are still fresh. When my husband's employer wanted to add the Association of Genetic Counselors as a client, my husband did his research. He looked at their policies and talked to our priest. Then he told his boss that he would have to quit his job if they demanded that he do any advertising work for this association because it conflicted with his beliefs as a Catholic. He said this even though I was six months pregnant with Maria, and our savings would have barely covered one month’s rent. (This is a Dad story I’ll proudly share with Alex some day.)

So far all three of my children have tested negative for CF. I worry about every baby from the first positive pregnancy test until the results of the newborn blood test heel-stick tests come back. According to a New York Times newspaper article, 90 % of all babies who are dignosed as positive for CF through an amnio in the United States are aborted.

I picked up a brochure on this subject from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops at my new parish today. The bishops stress that priests and pastors can help support family. Catholics have a right to know that "early induction of labor performed simply for the reason that the child has a lethal anomaly is direct abortion." They suggest that rather than saying, "only you know what is best for your family", Priests should share some of these statements:

“Every life is created by God and has a purpose.

God has chosen you to be the mother of this special child.

God will give you every grace you need.

Name your baby, talk to your baby, and love your baby like any mother would.

God hears your pain. He loves you and calls you, and all of his children, to embrace the sanctity of human life form conception to natural death. He will never leave your side.

No matter how long your baby lives, he will be your child for all eternity.

Create wonderful memories of this special time while he is still alive and protected in your womb.

Remember that God can and does perform miracles. Don't be afraid to ask, and don't be afraid to hope.

These special babies bring with them many spiritual gifts and graces."

Holy Innocents, protect all children from harm. Encourage our priests and laity to speak out strongly in favor of the dignity of human life.

The full text of "Peter's Story" by Mary Kellett is available here.

Babies are Powerful

alec vanderboom

Last night, my husband took all the kids to the playground after dinner. He ran into a neighbor whose son loves to play with Hannah. "We haven't seen you in a while," he said in a cheerful greeting. "Oh my, you've had another baby!" she exclaimed when she saw Mia Bean sleeping in her stroller.

She skipped over saying how cute Maria was, and instead launched into this long, tortured explanation at all the reasons why she couldn't have another child, none of which I'll repeat here other than to assure you, gentle readers, that none of them involved the physical inability to bear another child.

After fifteen minutes of explanation, Jon was so unsettled that he took the kids home early. "I don't know why she would get so agitated and feel the need to take me into her confidence like that. I never suggested that she should have another child," Jon said.

"You didn't have too!" I replied. "Maria did all the work."

I truly believe that. There's all this talk about children growing up to change the world. Maria's already this powerful force- a gorgeous third child when everyone else in America seems content with one girl and one boy. Our neighbors knew that we are struggling. There's no secrete suitcase of money stashed away under our bed. Yet there is my husband, at the same apartment-complex playground that she shares, hanging out with yet another newborn.

How I became Pro-Life

alec vanderboom

(Note: this is an extremely long post. Grab a cup of tea and spend 15 minutes reading my conversion story. Leave a comment at the end to let me know that you got through it!)

My earliest memory on this subject comes at age eight, or there about, and screaming in the middle of a four-square court on a Columbus playground, “Well, I’m not a Republican because Ronald Regan makes women have babies when they don’t want to!”

My concern over abortion rights had a bizarre beginning. My mother started out her teaching career as a seventh grade history teacher in a special inner-city school for pregnant girls. This meant she that had daily exposure to girls ages 12 and 13 who were pregnant with their second or even third baby. So my mom, who was too tongue-tied to offer me an explanation of sex or even to urge abstinence, just kept telling me from age eight “If you ever get pregnant come tell me early so that we can take care of it.”

I knew that I was going to have an abortion if I got pregnant before I even had any idea how one became pregnant. I figured out from watching movies that passionate kissing must be involved. Couples kissed a lot and then in the next frame they had a baby. So I decided that there was some big electric clock-like counter in a couple’s bedroom and after a certain number of kisses in a row- say 500- a baby would suddenly appear in a Mama’s belly. (I distinctly remember having this thought as late as 7th grade.)

Skip to senior year in high school. We’ve moved to rural West Virginia, a place where teenage pregnancy is “rampant” or at least out in the open when girls decide on adoption rather than abortion. I remember standing in the lunch line as a freshman and being shocked at seeing 4 to 5 girls in line ahead of me with swollen bellies.

My senior year, my well-respected doctor, came to speak to my Methodist high school youth group about sexual education. After his chat about the dangers of syphilis, he calmly passes around tiny fetuses in test tubes. “See how small fetuses are,” he said passing them around. “They can’t live on their own. This is why it’s okay to abort them early.” The babies were impossibly small, under an inch long, and looked like unformed Martians bobbing up and down in formaldehyde, like some type of toy. He passed them around to show how uncreepy death was. A freshman girl ahead of me recoiled and refused to touch the two tubes. I remember distinctly pushing down the bile in my stomach, and grabbing the test tube in front of her. I felt like I had to be brave, and have a scientific mindset in front of my doctor. “Yep, this is not human. It might as well be a chicken embryo.” I thought, “Early abortion must be okay, just not late, late abortion.”
(I have no idea why this was permitted in my Methodist Youth Group. I’m sure that many adults in my Methodist church did not share my doctor’s viewpoint. But no parent or the youth group leaders ever complained about it. I can only assume that as a popular doctor, no one dared to complain to their parents about his tactics or his message.)

When it was time to attend Smith College, I looked carefully over the student health insurance brochure. The brochure said plainly that abortions were a covered service, kept entirely confidential from the student’s parents, and even secretly coded in the resulting medical bill. I’d never gone further than kissing a guy, but I remembered thinking at age 18, “this is good. I’ll be responsible and get the insurance for this reason.” It seems so important to be responsible and plan for this service before I was actually in a position to need it. I remember urging my dad to pay for the optional health insurance. He didn’t want to pay at extra $500 because I’d still be covered on his family plan until I turned 21. I fought hard, and kept saying “I really need this.” I never told him the real reason behind my urgency. I justified the extra cost to my parents because I figured it was far easier to pay $500 for a medical plan I may not use, rather than have to ask him for the money to pay for an abortion if I accidentally became pregnant.

I held onto my virginity until just a few weeks before my 21st birthday. My decision to lose it was so heartbreakingly innocent. I remember pacing up and down this hill by my dorm my junior year- weighing the pros and cons. I’d been dating this boy for five months. I’d reached the end of what I thought was the only “normal” time to be a virgin. (I had somehow decided was okay to be a virgin when you went into college, but if you were still one after age 21, you morphed into this scary, weird thing & no one would date you.) So now I’d come to the cross roads: so here was the basics of my internal monologue which continued for over two hours as I paced up and down this steep hill. “I love X. I really love him. But what if we don’t end up married college sweethearts like my parents? Hmm, well even if we break-up and I end up marrying someone else, my future husband is still going to know that I really loved X when I was 20, so what is the difference if I slept with X too?” “So what is the difference?”- that was conclusion what marked my fall from celibacy with a guy who broke up with me three weeks later!

While nursing a broken heart Junior year, I’d also enrolled in this intensive senior seminar called “Women and The Law.” We met once a week at a local café to talk with my favorite professor about musty Supreme Court cases and old articles from The Economist. This class was memorable because I actually got to debate policy while eating my favorite lemon poppy seed scones. I also asked a fellow classmate “How was your summer break?” Her unexpected answer “Great, I was an egg donor!” Out poured a hideous tale about shots, doctor visits and the advantage of a Smith degree on the price of one’s ova. All I could think of was “GROSS.”

So in the midst of this climate, I read Roe v. Wade for the fist time and I get this sharp, stabbing pain in my stomach. Suddenly the abortion debate is real. I had sex, I could have gotten pregnant, and in the middle of this frantic “debate” I realize that I personally could never have an abortion. I was a college student. I had options for employment. Even if it were hard in the beginning, if I got pregnant now, I wouldn’t hesitate to keep the baby.

So that is how I morphed from “I’m going to have an abortion.” To I’m personally against it, but people should have the right to make up their own minds about it.”

Then came two telling events in law school. First, I gave material aid to someone seeking an abortion. One of my close friends picked me up from the airport and said she was pregnant. I said “Congratulations!” She responded, “This isn’t good news.” I had this prickly feeling every time she talked to me about it. At that time, I thought that I might never have a baby of my own. I wondered if I should offer to adopt it for her. I raised the issue with my friend in one hesitant, poorly stated question “Have you thought about adoption?” My friend said she couldn’t bear to do adoption. It was going to be raise the child herself or have an abortion. After two weeks of debate, she asked me to go with her to the clinic.

Filled with ironic pride that I was "such a good friend", I had the "honor" of accompanying her to the clinic. When it came time for the procedure, I asked her if we should say a prayer for the baby. My friend said, “No, that will make this worse.” So I said a silent prayer, instead. (I don’t know why I felt moved to offer to say a prayer for the baby but still lack enough clarity of thought to not yell STOP!) I remember feeling sort of numb towards my friend, but thinking clearly that the other girls in the waiting room looked so sad. They were young, college kids and high school kids. Each had a female friend with her and the friend kept joking in an attempt to take away the pain “Think how much fun you’ll have with your boyfriend tonight at the party!” and “Maybe we can go out for chocolate milkshakes when you’re done.” Soothing the pain of an abortion with promises of milkshakes and boy-girl parties, it seemed so painfully young.

Five months later, I was shocked by the painfully cheap price of an abortion. I was manning the call center for our Family Law Clinic. A low-income mother called, furious, that there was no public funds for abortions in Wisconsin. “Shouldn’t that be illegal?” she asked. “Can’t I sue someone?” Her daughter was pregnant with a second or third child, and she didn’t have the money to get an abortion. It was going to cost $350. On and on this mother went complaining about the cost. “Doesn’t the state know how much more expensive it is to pay for a child on welfare? Why isn’t there more money for abortions?” I started out pacifying her and then I got more and more upset. I remember scrambling to get off the phone and finally hanging up the phone in relief.

Then we read Roe v. Wade in law school. I noticed for the first time that this case is a thoroughly rottenly decided legal opinion. It’s short. It doesn’t cite precedent. It rests on a first trimester, second trimester and third trimester framework which no longer matches the living saving technology available in hospital NCUs. Here I was wrapping my head around terribly complex constitutional issues- and this seemed sort of slapped together, poorly reasoned. How could this central Constitutional law question be so different from all the other Supreme Court decisions in my casebook?

In my last semester of law school, I met my future husband. Only, I didn’t know it at the time. I was graduating in six months and he was supposed to be my foray into guilt-free causal sex. This insight was made I was still a good Methodist girl who was living in dorm attached to an Episcopal Church. I was ridiculously proud that he was only my third partner at 26 and that we “waited” a whole three months. Of course, actual tears came out of my eyes and ran all over his head every time we had sex because I just couldn’t imagine ever breaking up with him.

My new boyfriend was a Catholic, which I should spell with a small “c” because he was only going to Mass five times a year and obviously had no qualms about having pre-marital sex with me. Even so, I knew that he’d draw the line at throwing away a potential baby. He’d be the type to honor his duty and become a father. While that touched me, it also freaked me out. Suddenly, I wouldn’t be the only one who decided what to do about a pregnancy. Also I wanted him to marry me because he loved me, and not feel like he had to stick around for a potential child. At the time, that seemed like the greater tragedy. To have a boy I loved stay with me, but for all the wrong reasons.

So how did I cope with these thoughts? I just doubled up the birth control! I went to our college health clinic before we started having sex and ordered a Depo Preva shot from a nurse practitioner. God Bless the doctor who freaked out that I was putting such toxic chemicals in my body and demanded that I switch to low-hormone birth control pills. I wasn’t excited because I didn’t think that I could remember to take them at the same time each day. But I consented. So their we were having sex with condoms & birth control pills. Within two to three months, I stopped taking the pill. I complained about horrible side effects- and my sensitive boyfriend told me to just stop- he hated me putting those chemicals in my body.

The condoms as birth control stayed the same while everything else changed in two years. I graduated, moved to Ohio, got a job, & passed the bar. He helped me move, started graduate school in New York, proposed the next weekend. We got married, 18 months after we met, in a valid ceremony in my home-town. We moved up our wedding a year so that we never had to “live” together, since we had both decided independently that co-habitation was bad for Christians. (That sort of summed up my bizarre thinking, co-habitation is wrong, contraception is not) During the Catholic pre-marital counseling (called pre-cana) I freaked out about the no-birth control rule. I remember saying, “I’ll agree to raise our kids Catholic but I’m not giving up birth control!” My fiancé agreed. Then came those awful September 11th attacks and I realized that I wanted his children sooner, rather than later.

To celebrate my husband’s 30th birthday, our first wedding anniversary, and his end of graduate school in New York (and hence an end to our nine hour commute)—we took a trip to Ireland. I had just converted to the faith that Easter after finishing a year of RCIA. Being around all those ancient cathedrals with my new shiny faith felt electric. I loved the cleansing feeling of my first confession. When we got home, I just thought that I don’t want to have to confess being on birth control. This was the entire basis of my conversion. I didn’t want to sit in a dark room, anonymously, telling a strange priest, that my husband and I use birth control. I didn’t know why it was wrong, just that the church thought it was. As a result, I was going to have the embarrassment of sharing the details of my sex life with a celibate stranger. Somehow, it seemed just easier to stop using it.

So I shared that incoherent idea with my husband and he agreed.

I remember clearly, we were cleaning up the bedroom and my husband took a long shiny roll of condoms, about fifteen left over from our Ireland trip, in a line so long it reached from his palm to the edge of our trash can. “Guess we don’t need these any more,” he said cheerfully and pitched the condoms inside. My entire line of descendants can trace their existence to that one bold act. My profound thought at the time was “Oh, those cost $22! Such a waste of money if we change our minds!”

So we became “open to life.” Sex, which had already turned into “making love” when we got married, suddenly became this profound, humbling thing. I thought that it would take us six moths to a year to become pregnant. I thought we’d have time for my husband to find a job, for us to settle into marriage, for us to find a similar way to record withdraws in our joint checkbook. Yet two weeks later, Hannah showed up!

I freaked out! I was happy. We called our parents. We set up our first pre-natal visit. Yet most of me was really numb. At the doctors office, I was surprised that the nurses kept saying “Congratulations!” I had a hard time connecting this new state of pregnancy with an actual, live baby appearing within nine months.

I remember so clearly when that all changed. It was a Saturday morning in July. I was fooling around on my husband’s computer and I found this great pro-life site that had real pictures and descriptions of each of the stages of fetal development. We were eight weeks in, and the baby’s heart had just started beating. I remember jumping around and telling my husband “the heart has started, the heart has started!”

We went for a walk downtown to celebrate. I remember so clearly, the bright sunshine, and the feel of my husband’s hand and the rough slope of the sidewalk and this electric feeling that there was a baby’s heartbeat inside of me. A heart beat that would go on her whole life, and it had just begun inside of me!

Then my next thought, "But she’s still a chicken! She’s in that chicken stage of embryonic development, so she’s not really a baby yet."

Then I realized with this all over clarity which somehow sort of hit my whole body at once, rather than just my brain, all chicken embryos are babies. Why should this baby be different? Why are we celebrating the start of this baby's heartbeat just because of a few external factors of her mother? I was white, married and had a graduate degree. As a poverty law attorney, I’d dedicated my life to fight for equality for people who didn’t look like me. I’d helped poor women get food stamps and housing and a decent education. Yet if one of my clients was unmarried, younger, with less education, she wasn’t supposed to be celebrating her baby starting a heartbeat. This was supposed to be a “problem” she should be busy getting rid of.

So that started me on the road to becoming an obedient Catholic, one with a capital “C.” I’d never heard about “natural family planning” and so somehow confused it in my internet research with ecological breastfeeding. That left me blissfully quitting my job (I was the only one with health insurance) and planning a move to Wisconsin, before discovering that I was twenty-weeks pregnant with baby number 2. He was conceived during that mind numbing time of being a full time lawyer, and nursing a nine-month old baby. When we found out the date of conception, I turned to my husband and honestly questioned “We had sex in January?” We did, and thank goodness.

I remember reassuringly rubbing my huge tummy with a baby I called "Joey," when a college friend questioned "Are you sure this is the right time?” I already had one child under age one, neither my husband nor me had a steady job, and we lived in a one-bedroom apartment the size of a shoebox. I told her confidently that Hannah didn’t seem to come at the right time either. Now, however, I know that God’s timing is perfect. And it’s true. We are still paying off a $15,000 credit card bill contracted during that time period, but how could the world exist without my son Alex?

My only truly “planned for” baby was my third child, Francisco. We sketched out the time line for our third child when Alex was only one month old. We took classes in Natural Family Planning. We successfully prevented conception during the awful time when we were unemployed and living with my husband’s parents. Once we had a new job, health insurance, and a new apartment, we happily reversed course. When we found out about Francisco, we threw a family “conception party.” I also prayed the rosary in thanksgiving and dedicated the baby to our Blessed Mother.

We were excited to find out that our new health plan offered a free ultrasound at seven weeks. My husband balanced a 3 year old and a 1 year old on each knee. Everyone strained to make out blurry blue shapes on the ultrasound machine. Then the doctor said, “Sorry there is no heartbeat. It looks like a miscarriage.”

Jon removed the questioning children from the room in a hurry. "What's wrong with the little baby, Daddy?" my daughter asked. I was left alone to hear the facts of a 'blighted ovum" from my doctor. We we got home and put the older babies down for a nap, Jon and I reviewed the prognosis. We refused to believe that the miscarriage had already happened. Instead, we prayed and prayed. My whole Catholic Mothers Group joined me in prayer. Our baby grew and developed a strong heartbeat. After two tense weeks, the baby passed his ultrasound: "Your little one looks great. The baby is right on track for where he or she should be at eight weeks." We thought that our conception date was just off and that now we were home free. On week thirteen, I went for a regular ob visit and discovered the baby died the day before. I had a miscarriage at home and we had a full Catholic burial with his body.

The profound experience of seeing my son, who died at 12 weeks and six days, made changed us from pro-life to vocally PRO-LIFE. My son was extremely small, less than four inches, but fully formed. He had toes, fingers, teeth buds inside his gums, and a tiny penis no bigger than a grain of rice. This last fact surprises people, who assume I’m just “wishing” that we had another son since it would be too early to possibly know for certain.

I had an upsetting conversation with my best friend over this issue, whose mother is ironically a science teacher. “He must have been older than the ultrasound date! If you could identify the genitalia, he must have been older” she confidentially stated. This was upsetting because I’d barely reconciled myself to a loss that just crossed over the first trimester. If I’d truly lost him in the second, I thought that it would be so much harder to have a fourth baby. “Let’s trust the experts,” my husband wisely said. I’ve since realized why people are so insistent that Francisco must have been older when he died. Babies aren’t supposed to be recognizable so early. That’s when abortion starts to hurt.

Now it all makes me sick to my stomach. Abortion. IVF babies thrown into the trash. Children aborted because they have Down syndrome. Or because their parents can’t afford the price of another college education. Or the fact that they are due before a marriage instead of after. As Americans, we are so judgmental about female children getting aborted in India, or the second & third children in China. Yet we also live in a culture that is throwing away children. My friends ask me “why have you changed?” But I’ve always been a child advocate. I took on tough child abuse cases as a lawyer and fought for better nutrition in schools. I’ve just moved back the time line on what counts as a child, and now I fight just as passionately for even younger kids.

This experience has given me a profound respect for the Roman Catholic Church. The church knew it was wrong and is the one institution that is consistently pro-life. As a mother and former Protestant, I wish I had embraced strict obedience in the Pro-Life area earlier. Instead, I participated in the death of one child. I debased my gift of sexuality with pre-marital sex. I may have directly killed some of my own children during my months of taking the pill, a chemical that causes abortions as well as preventing ovulation.

The real tragedy is that I freely committed all of these sins while continuing to imagine myself as "a good Methodist girl." I knew that I’d never, ever cheat on my husband once I was married. Somehow, I never connected that having pre-marital sex was just cheating on him before we had a chance to meet. In the same way, I wanted to be a loving mother. Yet, I never connected that only God could decide when you were “ready” to have a child.

I think that birth control also has a dangerous fallacy that there is a time in your life when you can be “ready to have a child.” I think we’d be doing a much better service to low-income women and young teenage women, to just admit that most mothers never feel truly “ready” to have a child. You can never have enough money, enough maturity, enough mental resources.

My proof is that with all of my experience, yesterday, my son throw a cheese grater at my newborn daughter. He hit her in the stomach, while I was inches away shutting down my computer and arguing with my four year old about why she couldn’t wash the dishes again right before Daddy was expected home for lunch. My son stood at my doorway and suddenly threw a cheese grater with all of his might. It bounced off his newborn sister’s stomach. I had a fearful few seconds when I didn’t know if, or how badly,the baby was injured. With every one in time-out, or nursing, I had a breakdown. I just thought, “Everyone is right. I have to many children. I can not keep an eye on them all. I’ve become the old woman in the shoe!”

My poor husband returned to work from his lunch break at home, knowing that he left a wife in bad state. I kept calling him every forty minutes with updates on how horrible life was with three children under age four allergy season. Then mercifully everyone fell asleep. I got to write a blog entry about Spartacus that made me feel human again. We decided to skip the trying to make dinner without any groceries drama and went out to eat to the newly discovered nearby “Noodles & Co.”

Then happiness unexpectedly hit me. My two kids politely shared a cheap plate of buttered noodles. My newborn was cooed in her car seat. Meanwhile, my employed husband drank a Japanese beer to celebrate Labor Day weekend.

I exclaimed over a yummy dish of Japanese noodles, “I love this dish, I used to order it all the time in Madison!” And my husband answered, “I loved that place, I went there all of the time.”

I made the discovery that for two and half years my future husband and I visited the same favorite noodle shop and yet never met. Then I strikes me what a gift this was- that we did meet on a snowy night of January 2000, and now I have a son who sings vintage Spiderman cartoon songs, and a daughter who shows off her newly painted her toenails, and a newborn who can now stare at ceiling lights, and even a little son in heaven who keeps us focused on all things eternal.

This was all “God’s Plan” and ever so much more thrilling than any plot that I could dream up myself!

The Importance of Motherhood

alec vanderboom

To get to my aunt's funeral, I spent an inspiring weekend in Amish country. My whole family has been Mennonite (a form of the Amish religion) for 350 years, and has
lived in the same Mennonite farming town since 1840. My great-grandfather was the 11th of 12 children. The direct offspring of Peter now number over 120. My grandfather, who moved to Columbus & became Methodist, still had four kids himself.

This region was such a relaxing one to visit with three kids under the age of 5. When we sat down to eat dinner at church, perfect strangers came up to cut my
2 year old's chicken and stroll with the baby so that my husband could eat. There was pro-life stories sold at the truck stops and healthy organic food everywhere. Kids five and under ate for free most places. The waitress at the local diner not only told me that our baby was cute, but also shared that she had seven kids herself. Each of my elderly aunts and cousins came up to compliment me on my family.

The only sad fact is that out of 20 + grandkids, only four of us have children at all. I'm the only one who has more than two kids. There's the whole rich history of being pro-kid in my family, but our wider culture has even effected the kids of the Amish. My closest cousin even told me that after two kids, she was so finished that she had her tubes tied. I could only sputter out that I had the opposite reaction remembering feeling so heartsick that a doctor cautioned me to stop after three c-sections.

These experiences reminded me that despite the hardships, so evident after traveling for 10 hours with little ones, that the job of motherhood is important and revolutionary in today's culture.