As most of us have seen by now, there is widespread debate following the leak of a Supreme Court document that reveals a potential overturn of Roe v. Wade. Whether or not the nearly 50-year-old ruling is overturned, the opinions and insults are flying across social media. There are discussions about policy, faith, and the law – but what about the real people who would be affected by overturning Roe? It is the belief of our Catholic Faith and of my own conscience that life begins at conception – and focusing on the dignity of the human person is of the utmost importance as we once again wade into bitterly charged waters.
The Realities that Lead to Abortion
I know women who have had abortions. They are real, living people that I love, and most of them kept an oath-like silence about their decision to have an abortion out of fear for how they would be treated if people knew they were pregnant – or out of fear of actual violence. Decades ago, a relative of mine was taken to have an abortion in secret by someone (now deceased) who was one of the most serious pro-life people I’ve known. They were both certain that if the man of the house found out that this then-16-year-old girl was pregnant, he would beat her until she miscarried. For those women in my family, having an abortion seemed to them a matter of harm reduction in a situation that was already precarious and abusive. Contrary to what some may have us believe, most people seek abortion neither because they hate babies, nor love abortion.
The grizzly reality of abortion is that it is often an act of desperation. Sometimes, this desperation is born of shame, guilt, or fear. In many cases, the prospect of bringing a child into the world is simply too much. Another still grizzlier reality is that even if overturning Roe leads to states enacting strict anti-abortion laws, abortions in America will not stop completely. Rather, in some cases, the lengths to which women will go to get an abortion will become more extreme.
Possible Challenges Created by Overturning Roe
Abortion has existed across human communities for centuries, whether or not we agree with the practice. The existence of abortion does not hinge on the legality of the action itself. Even with an overturning of Roe, women could travel to another state in search of legal abortion. Regardless of Roe’s fate, women will still seek abortions, and we will still need to support women whose circumstances have driven them to consider abortion.
Given this reality, we need to take a serious look at the reasons why women have abortions, as well as the challenging situations that could be created by overturning Roe. For example, if abortion becomes illegal in many states, as is predicted should Roe v. Wade be overturned, the question necessarily follows: Who will bear the brunt of the criminalization of abortion?
It should be of concern to all of us, but in particular those of us who are engaged in social justice work that nearly 50% of all women who seek abortion live below the federal poverty line. Additionally, Black women, who make up only 13% of all women in the U.S. receive over a third of abortions. Considering the staggering rate of incarceration in the U.S. (we make up just about 5% of the world’s population but over 25% of the world’s incarcerated) and the fact that women are the fastest growing prison population, it gives me pause when a proposed alternative to legal abortion is tossing the women who seek them in jail – especially in a broken system that disproportionately impacts people along racial and class lines. While few proposed laws against abortion would criminalize or punish the women who seek them, we need to watch out for those laws that would.
Respecting the Dignity of All, Regardless of Roe’s Fate
If our goal really is to preserve and uphold dignity for all, we must be honest about the realities of moving towards outlawing a practice firmly embedded in American society. If we want to confront the culture of death and disposability, we must do so in ways that are not only compassionate and full of Christlike love for women who have had abortions, but also in ways that critique the very conditions that led women to the clinic in the first place.
FemCatholic and other organizations, both religiously-affiliated and secular, are providing a fresh take on what it means to be pro-life: a holistic, “womb to tomb” approach that looks under every rock to figure out how we got to the legalization of abortion in the first place. It’s not too late to join in initiatives for widespread paid maternity leave, comprehensive healthcare, and other policies meant to support mothers. We have far more options than standing on the street corners, holding signs. Now is the time for wide-eyed witness, full of compassion for all who are tangled up in this messy experiment of democracy and freedom we call America.
The Archdiocese of Denver recently became the fifth U.S. Diocese on record to offer a 12-week, fully paid maternity leave.
The new policy was announced on April 28, 2022, and it applies to all diocesan employees in the diocesan Pastoral Center. "This paid parental leave policy was a great opportunity to emphasize our support and encouragement of families in their walk with Christ, and really honor the Church’s teachings on openness to life," said Mark Haas, Director of Media and Public Relations for the Archdiocese of Denver.
On the feast of the Annunciation, FemCatholic released a report on the state of paid leave across the 176 U.S. Dioceses. As of press time, less than 40 of those dioceses offered some length of paid leave at 100% of an employee's salary. FemCatholic contacted each diocesan communications and human resources department in the United States multiple times via phone and email. To date, 34 dioceses are on record as offering at least five days of fully paid parental leave to at least their chancery or pastoral center employees.
In the month following the release of the report, FemCatholic has continued to receive information from dioceses and diocesan employees. Two U.S. Catholic Dioceses recently announced paid leave policies for their chancery employees.
The Diocese of St. Augustine announced a two-week leave for adoptive and biological parents on April 26, 2022. Prior to this paid leave policy, which goes into effect on July 1, women who worked for the Diocese of St. Augustine could pay for a short-term disability insurance policy or use sick days to cover their twelve weeks of unpaid leave guaranteed through FMLA. Female employees in the Diocese of St. Augustine can still opt into a short-term disability insurance policy to cover part of their pay after their two weeks of fully paid leave
Two days later, the Archdiocese of Denver, which previously did not offer a maternity or paternity leave policy, announced a parental leave policy that offers sixty days of leave for mothers and thirty days of leave for fathers. The Archdiocese of Denver, with a population of approximately 600,000 Catholics, holds approximately $81 million in assets, according to its 2020 financial statements. The average Catholic diocese in the United States holds roughly $120 million in assets and has a population of just over 400,000.
The policy became effective for employees starting in August 2021. And, throughout the year, the Archdiocese began finalizing the details of the plan. Although the Archdiocese did not offer parental leave, Mr. Haas said that it had a "very generous PTO policy."
Because many women need to use sick days to care for children or schedule doctor's appointments during pregnancy (or use them for times in which they are actually sick), using their general paid time off is often not enough to cover the twelve weeks of parental leave guaranteed by FMLA and recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The Archdiocese of Denver is offering this paid leave to employees who have worked at the pastoral center for 12 months. Employees who have worked at least six months are eligible for half of the paid leave offered. The Archdiocese of Denver, one of approximately 40 dioceses that require Natural Family Planning courses for couples marrying in the diocese, offers reimbursement for Natural Family Planning education and materials for archdiocesan employees and their spouses.
With their new policy, which retroactively went into effect August 21, 2021, the Archdiocese of Denver has become the fifth dioceses in the United States to offer twelve weeks of fully paid leave to employees, joining the Archdioceses of Chicago, New York, Raleigh, and the Diocese of Omaha.
The Archdiocese of Denver cited the decision to offer this leave as a specifically pro-life action. Their leadership expressed hope that other dioceses would trust in God to provide for an action that would create a culture more in line with the teachings of the Church.
"We celebrate the heroic decisions of our employees to welcome life and children into their families," said Mr. Haas.
On May 2, a draft of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked to the media, igniting a firestorm of reactions across the United States.
In the United States, nearly 1 in 4 women have had an abortion, so the topic of its legality is an immensely personal one. FemCatholic is hosting an opportunity to process the news together on May 5th at 8pm CST / 9pm EST.
Rebecca Christian, CPD, CLEC is a writer, doula, and lactation counselor living in Los Angeles, CA. She loves all things related to filmmaking, birth, and wellness. Having served over 150 families since 2016, she has walked with women facing every type of reproductive health outcome, and is especially passionate about improving maternal health disparities, empowering women’s healthcare decisions, and building a culture of life rooted in reproductive justice. Her doula practice can be found at Fiatdoulaservices.com.
Leticia Ochoa Adams is a 43 year old wife, mother, grandmother and lover of her family’s three pit bulls. She is a born and raised Texan. She is Hispanic, Catholic, Whole Life, anti-racist and is dedicated to helping people make space in their lives for their own grief or for the grief of those they love. She speaks and writes on parenting, her Catholic faith, learning how to process childhood trauma and suicide loss. She lived the worst day of her life the day that her oldest son Anthony died by suicide, and honors his life by telling people about him and helping others who have also suffered a huge loss. Because she has lived that day and survived, she is no longer scared of anything except not showing up as her full self. You can find out more about her at leticiaoadams.com.
Leah Libresco Sargeant is the author of Arriving at Amen and Building the Benedict Option. She runs the substack Other Feminisms, which is focused on the dignity of mutual dependence.
We’re thrilled to announce the return of #FemCatholicBookClub!
In June we will be reading “Fair Play” by Eve Rodsky, the bestselling book that PopSugar called “A must read for every busy woman out there.”
Fair Play gives voice to the often invisible load women carry at home, a load that exploded during the pandemic and contributed to millions of women leaving the workforce entirely.
Millennial women have more degrees than any generation before them, and many eagerly pursue careers only to hit what some have called the “maternal wall” - this phenomenon where, after having kids, women suddenly drop far below men in career advancement, earnings, and even free time.
Catholic women in particular face many cultural ideals about marriage and motherhood, which further complicates the search for what is “good” - for women, their families, and for society at large.
Whether you are wondering what to ask your boyfriend to ensure you’re on the same page long term, drowning in the trenches of a dual-working-parent household, or just passionate about understanding the cultural and economic systems that keep women back from their full potential, this book is for you.
Join FemCatholic Book Club with an All Access Pass
Join the book club for weekly discussion questions, a network of women inside our Mighty Network community, and a live Zoom panel discussion at the end of the month.
FemCatholic Book Club is part of the FemCatholic All Access Pass Membership.
Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars, and in a moment of frenzied television, the entire world was activated. From #arrestWillSmith trending on Twitter, to videos on TikTok outraged about Chris Rock’s mockery of Jada Pinkett Smith, it seems everyone has an opinion. However, few people are talking about the context in which the Oscars slap happened.
Racism and Black Women’s Hair
Chris Rock has insulted Jada Pinkett Smith at the Oscars before. He made a demeaning and misogynistic joke about her in 2016. His recent joke about G.I. Jane 2 mocked Jada for not having hair, which is because of a medical condition. Jada has been vocal about the pain of that medical condition.
Black women have a complicated relationship with their hair. For decades, they’ve been held to the White standard of beauty of having long, straight hair, and have been subject to intense chemical processes to adhere to that standard. Those who wore their hair in natural styles like afros – or specifically Black styles like cornrows, dreadlocks and Bantu knots – are often seen as unprofessional or unfeminine. Some Black women have lost their jobs because they chose to wear their hair as it grows from their heads, as God intended.
Chris Rock knows all about this because he has two daughters and made a great documentary on the subject called Good Hair. He interviewed a woman with alopecia for the film, and he listened attentively as she described the challenges of being viewed as less feminine because she was bald.
This is why so many women, especially Black women, took offense to Chris Rock’s joke. The four-second joke had several complex layers where race and gender intersect, and those layers can be hard to understand if you haven’t lived with this dynamic.
Mocking Jada Pinkett Smith’s Career
In addition to mocking her hair, though, Chris Rock also demeaned Jada for her career. He had just been talking about Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, and how they were both up for Oscars. The joke about Jada started with saying that Will Smith had to win, so that Bardem and Cruz would not fight that night. To joke about maybe seeing her in G.I. Jane 2 was a barbed insult at her career at an event that celebrates that career.
It was a grave discriminatory joke against her as a woman, as an actress, and as someone with a medical condition. As the closest person to her, Will Smith must know the pain she endures at not being at that point in her career yet, and at not getting to have fancy hair for the night. I cannot imagine the depth of pain to be at what should have been the greatest night of his career, only to see his wife mistreated in this way.
Making Fun of a Medical Condition
Women, People of Color, and people with disabilities or serious medical conditions have endured centuries of cruel treatment. Jada Pinkett Smith is at the intersection of all three of those minorities. She has been very open about her diagnosis and has spoken about it with dignity and grace, and it’s a shame that Chris Rock didn’t treat her with that same dignity and grace.
Will Smith’s Righteous Anger
Much of the world can relate to feeling like injustice always wins. What Chris Rock did was wrong, and it doesn’t justify Will Smith’s actions. At the same time, Will Smith’s anger and grief speak to the powerlessness felt by so many. The strength that victims of bullying and cruel treatment are asked to uphold is unreasonable.
It is completely okay to feel righteous anger, as Scripture says, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). Jesus himself spoke out against the wrongdoing of others, mourned when people were mistreated, and explained better options to leaders who were hurting others – but Jesus drew the line at violence. We must remember that on the Cross, in the hour of his greatest agony, Jesus never lashed out against his persecutors. Rather, he prayed for them.
Will Smith acknowledged that his actions were wrong and spoke about his own spiritual fight. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we can acknowledge the hurt behind those actions in order to support him and others in finding constructive ways to create change.
How Should We Respond to Anger?
It is the imperative of our faith that we bring God’s love and mercy to the world, so let’s take the rest of Easter as a time to see those in our world who are suffering and comfort them. Let us set boundaries that create safety for others and ourselves. Let us expect and even demand better from our celebrities and our own communities. Let us be examples of God’s love to the world.
And let’s pray for Will and Jada Pinkett Smith – and Chris Rock too – for healing and for true peace that respects the vulnerable.
Luana Lienhart, OFS, is a Secular Franciscan, and holds a Master of Social Work and Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies from Loyola University Chicago. She has worked in social services and ministry in varied settings in the Chicago-Metro area, and is an adjunct instructor at DePaul University.
Julia O’Donnell hosts a TikTok community for those struggling with deconstruction and religious trauma and who still believe in God and want a relationship with Him. You can find her @byjuliaodonnell on all platforms.
The self-help genre sometimes gets a bad rap for generic advice, celebrities with out-of-touch perspectives, or promises of gimmicky “quick fixes.” But every once in a while, a real gem comes along that’s worth reading. When I find one of these gems, I add it to my rotation of most recommended books for my psychotherapy clients. Here are the seven best self-help books that I reach for and recommend to my clients time and time again.
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D.
One of the unfortunate misconceptions about mental and emotional health is that it’s “all in your head,” meaning you should be able to think your way out of any problem you face. This can look like telling someone with anxiety to “worry less” or someone with depression to “smile more.” This can also look like embracing a toxic-positivity way of thinking.
The Body Keeps the Score pokes holes in these misconceptions until they resemble Swiss cheese. The book is all about the brain and body connection, how we store memories in general, how we store traumatic memories, and how healing from trauma involves both mind and body practices. Dr. Van der Kolk weaves his own findings with other research and provides incredible insight into how our brains and bodies work together.
Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
While boundaries are a crucial component of all healthy relationships, few people know why they are crucial or how to set them effectively. This leaves us wondering why we feel taken advantage of by others or feeling perpetually exhausted trying to protect our time and energy.
Boundaries is a valuable resource because it explains why boundaries matter and how to set them confidently and effectively. If you’ve been curious about learning more about boundaries and how to set them, this book is for you.
Safe People by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
If you often find yourself in relationships (family, friend, romantic, work-related, etc.) where you feel like you are giving more to the point of feeling taken advantage of, Safe People is for you.
The authors explore the qualities in ourselves that leave us vulnerable to being in imbalanced relationships, as well as the qualities in others to watch out for. I recommend this book to anyone who describes themselves as a people-pleaser or codependent. It provides invaluable insight and practical tips for helping you to cultivate healthy relationships with yourself and others.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, PhD
This book is for anyone who would describe themselves as a perfectionist. Perfectionistic thinking comes from setting the expectation that being perfect makes us worthy of love from ourselves and others. The trouble with this way of thinking is that we will always be disappointed because making mistakes is part of being human.
The Gifts of Imperfection sheds light on the value that comes from recognizing our imperfections and seeing them not as reasons why we fail at being perfect, but rather as avenues for growth and healing. It’s a refreshing perspective.
The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman, PhD and Nan Silver
Gottman’s claim to fame in the world of pop psychology is that he can predict whether a couple will stay together or break up after observing their interactions for just a few minutes. But this book offers so much more than avoiding the four traits that most often predict divorce (called “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”).
The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work is research-based, and full of exercises, related scenarios, and helpful insights. It offers a practical approach to solving the most common conflicts among couples and presents a unique, helpful take on how to make effective compromises. This book is hands down my most-recommended book on the topic of relationships.
Your Blue Flame by Jennifer Fulwiler
Not only is Fulwiler a great comedian, she is also the author of Your Blue Flame, which I recommend to anyone who is struggling to find a sense of purpose in their current circumstances. Too often, we equate living a meaningful life with one that is full of achieving milestones – so when our lives feel very “ordinary,” it can be hard to feel a sense of purpose with this mindset.
Your Blue Flame presents a unique approach to finding meaning, which Fulwiler calls your “blue flame” – and which can be found in the most ordinary of circumstances.
Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts by Sally M Winston, PsyD and Martin N. Seif, PhD
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions in the U.S., and intrusive thoughts are one of its many distressing symptoms. This book came highly recommended to me by several other therapists and I’ve heard very positive feedback from my clients who have read it.
Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts walks you through the different types of intrusive thoughts and offers several practical strategies for coping with them. If you or someone you know struggles with anxiety, this book would be a great way to learn more.
You’re sitting in a team meeting with your boss, who introduces a new project or idea. And you disagree with it – strongly, even. How do you professionally disagree with your boss without getting fired?
When managing conflict and a disagreement with your boss, here are eight steps to consider:
1. Think about where your boss might be coming from.
Try to understand why your boss came up with that specific idea and put yourself in their shoes. One helpful question to ask is, “What’s the intention and motive behind this?” If you still disagree, try to visualize why other ideas may not have worked as well.
2. Check yourself and think about where you’re coming from.
Take a moment to think about your current mood and where you might be coming from. A person's mental and emotional state can influence their thinking process, choices, and what they agree or disagree with.
Checking ourselves can help us make sure that something else isn’t negatively impacting our judgment in the workplace. It’s important to remain calm and respectful while voicing concern, especially with our supervisor.
3. Find an appropriate setting.
Where you confront your boss plays a considerable role in how he or she will react to what you have to say. A private setting can optimize focus and increase exchanges of ideas and openness for all parties. After all, Jesus tells us, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” While disagreement is not necessarily rooted in sin, public confrontation can lead to your boss shutting down or damage your rapport.
4. Find an appropriate time.
Timing is everything. Ask your boss if it’s a good time to talk. When managing conflicting ideas, it’s important that both people are able to receive and listen to what the other has to say. If your boss seems stressed or busy, your message might not be well received.
Remember that bosses are human too, and they might not always be ready to take in criticism.
5. Keep your history with your boss in mind.
How you approach your boss depends on the type of relationship you have with him or her. If you have a history of disagreeing or arguing with your boss, the way a new disagreement is delivered will matter even more. If you haven’t spoken much with your boss, though, building rapport before voicing disagreement could be vital.
6. Be well prepared.
Take the time to do any research you need to so you can explain the full scope of your disagreement. And if you’re an expert in your field, your years of experience will give you a gut feeling when something isn’t right. Trust your instincts.
7. Be bold – but avoid pointing fingers.
Stating what you believe – especially if you disagree with a superior – takes courage. Be bold in stating your opinion, but also be respectful. Being accusatory or judgmental doesn’t help.
8. Accept the outcome.
You did it – you talked to your boss and voiced your disagreement. Good work! Now, take some time to think about the outcome of your conversation. Whether your boss understood your perspective or not, try to accept the outcome and learn from the experience.
Approaching disagreement is an art. Depending on how we see it, disagreement can be a great opportunity to explore new ideas, go outside of our comfort zone, and explore the workplace from new lenses.
I never believed the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade. As a Catholic and a lawyer, I felt the decision was fortified by legal precedent, and that even Catholic justices would hesitate to dispatch it for that reason. When news broke on Tuesday that a preliminary Supreme Court opinion portended the end of Roe v. Wade, I was astonished and, like many other Catholic women, I experienced mixed feelings.
Jennifer Worth, the devout Christian whose memoirs served as the basis for the BBC series Call the Midwife, worked for years as a midwife in the impoverished East End of post-World War II London. While Worth was strongly opposed to euthanasia, she said of abortion, “I did not regard it as a moral issue, but as a medical issue. A minority of women will always want an abortion. Therefore it must be done properly.” Indeed, Worth witnessed the consequences of legal restrictions on abortion—women with eight or nine children who nearly hemorrhaged to death after attempting at-home abortions, for example, or young women who attempted home abortions, then had emergency hysterectomies–and risked imprisonment–after being seduced by predatory men. As a woman and as a Christian, I cannot ignore Worth’s perspective.
It’s not only Jennifer Worth who influenced my opinions. A favorite law school professor—who was among the first female law clerks on the Supreme Court—concluded one of my Constitutional law classes by describing how a friend in her undergraduate dormitory woke her up, saying a girl was bleeding to death in the bathroom after performing an abortion on herself, and nobody knew what to do. My professor, who was known as a leader among her peers even then, risked being expelled from school by driving this young woman to the hospital. If it were not for the discretion of the doctors there, both the young woman who nearly bled to death and my law professor could have faced prosecution. My professor’s lived experience affected my perspective on abortion more than any theoretical precepts could.
And yet I am Catholic, and the position of the Catholic Church on abortion is not negotiable. The Church position on abortion is a piece of a comprehensive whole-life ethic that protects human life from natural conception and natural death. While this pro-life ethic has extensive consequences for Catholics, it’s eminently reasonable, and it justifies many of the Church’s other teachings, including its positions on chastity, in-vitro fertilization, and contraception. Catholics are defined—and always have been—by their radical commitment to the sanctity of human life. I’ve tried rejecting the Church’s staunch moral opposition to abortion while accepting the other teachings of the magisterium, but it’s logically untenable. The Church position on abortion is core to the faith, and it informs many other aspects of Catholicism.
So how to reconcile the lived experience of my heroes with the teachings of the Church I love? The recent news about Roe has forced me to try.
I have concluded that, while I agree with stronger legal limitations on abortion than Roe permits, I cannot celebrate the end of Roe because our culture denigrates parenthood and treats healthcare as a luxury good. As many others have stated, wealthy women will never want for abortions. If necessary, they will travel to obtain them. Any ban on abortion will effectively present a financial rather than total bar to the procedure. It is also true that Margaret Sanger and other prominent abortion proponents encouraged abortion for eugenic purposes, lending the institution of American abortion a terrible legacy. Nevertheless, the fact this development will mostly affect the poor and vulnerable should trouble every Catholic mind.
A priest on the Call the Midwife television series said to a young, fictionalized Jennifer Worth, “Poverty isn't bad housing, dirty clothing, families of ten…It's never having been loved, or even respected. Not knowing the difference between love and abuse, a kiss that wasn't down payment on a blow.”
Now that Roe may end, it is time for all of us to consider the weight of those words–and the weight of our responsibilities in light of them.
FemCatholic is excited to share with you this excerpt from Rewilding Motherhood by Shannon K. Evans.
One of the greatest social myths of our day is that a woman can be totally fulfilled by motherhood. This is reiterated to us in many ways and through many voices: media, religious institutions, nostalgic family members (or sometimes, total strangers), perhaps our own lifelong yearning for children or battle with infertility. By the time we hold our first child in our arms, however they come to us, most of us have taken in the narrative hook, line, and sinker. Behold, universe: I am a mother. I shall henceforth want for nothing.
It’s a compelling idea. The trouble is, I know no real woman who can honestly say this has matched her experience. I’m lucky to know many women who are incredible mothers and who are doing that mothering in incredibly different styles and circumstances. I have yet to meet one who desires nothing for herself beyond motherhood.
As someone who has wanted to be a mother since before I even menstruated, I can say that parenting my five children has exceeded my wildest dreams. My kids are incredible, but they did not arrive in tidy packages and suddenly deliver me from all personal desires and interests. My sons and daughter make my life more meaningful, but they do not exist to give my life meaning.
Mothers are fantastic at berating themselves for not being “content.” This discontent, we are certain, is indicative of spiritual immaturity, or ungratefulness, or cultivating a bad, worldly attitude. But what if contentment is not the point? What if the idol of contentment actually holds us back from something greater? What if the idea of total contentment through motherhood is simply a bill of goods we’ve been sold?
Most mothers are not content; they are hungry—hungry for a deeper spiritual life, hungry for inner healing, hungry for intimate friendships, hungry for more of themselves. Yet we are immersed in a society that has always told us the hunger of women is bad. Dangerous. Undesirable. We have been indoctrinated in every possible way to believe that our hunger will make us too big, too indelicate, too uncomfortable to be around. Here, have this small salad and be satisfied. Here, have this small life and be content.
We long to follow that gnawing hunger, that instinctual knowing that tells us there is yet more transformation to lay hold of. But there never seems to be enough time for that sort of thing. After all, there are mouths to feed, appointments to keep, games to attend, baths to give. The work of her soul is never the most imminent need in a mother’s line of vision. There is always something else to be done first.
That motherhood leaves a small margin for personal time is a reality no one would deny. But there is a greater reality available to us, one in which the spiritual vibrancy we seek is actually realized by examining more deeply the very things we are already doing. The limitations on a mother’s time are real, but the rhythms of that burdened time can serve the life of our soul, not diminish it, and we will explore the ways this is so for most of this book.
We would be remiss, though, to believe that busyness is the only scapegoat for our lack of inner growth when in fact larger, even systemic, factors are at play. We exist within a cultural (often religious) ideology that exalts selflessness as the most laudable quality of a mother. But this should give us pause. Why do we believe the loss of self is a noble goal?
Self-giving is an incredible human gift and a virtue that we should all seek to cultivate, whether male or female, mother or not. There is no disputing that in every healthy relationship and system, mutual self-giving must be present. The problem arises when the expectation of self-giving falls predominately on one person; and when it comes to mothers, our social narrative assumes this as a given.
In religious spheres in particular, we are inundated with messages that glorify the sacrificial nature of motherhood, which further perpetuate ideals that would have women throw themselves on the altar of our marriages and children. The voices in these spheres are well-intentioned—at least, mostly—and sincerely want to honor the vital role that mothers play in the lives of their children. But we have to examine the narrative; we have to ask hard questions and recognize when we are allowing ourselves to accept messages that are downright harmful to the women they are meant to encourage. When the selflessness of motherhood above all else is exalted, value is indirectly assigned to each mother based on how small she can make herself. The result is not true self-giving but needless martyrdom.
I can’t tell you how many Sunday homilies I have sat through that have bestowed grandiose praise on mothers for their selflessness and yet have failed to mention the many other qualities that mothers demonstrate: qualities like strength, resiliency, tenacity, leadership, and problem-solving, to name just a few. This has been true within both Protestant and Catholic churches I’ve attended. In fact, thinking back on the churches I’ve been a member of for any significant length of time, I can recall only one in which selflessness was not preached as the crowning jewel of motherhood. It was the one where the pastor was herself a mother.
A Symbol of Self-Sacrifice
Years ago, as I was preparing to give birth for the first time while parenting our three-year-old adopted son through a difficult season, I came across an ancient symbol of a pelican mother piercing her chest and letting the drops of blood fall into the mouths of her hungry chicks. The symbol predates Christianity but was assimilated into the Christian tradition because of the obvious association with the blood of Christ shed to give life to human beings.
At the time of my discovery I was in a painful stage of motherhood: physically painful in that I would be facing the most excruciating experience of my life—childbirth—in just weeks, and emotionally painful in that my preschooler was suffering in ways I did not know how to alleviate. I was vehemently protective of both of my children and utterly overwhelmed by what they were requiring of me.
The pelican stirred something deep within me. It seemed to dignify the sacrifices I was making and affirmed the vital role I was playing in the continuation of life. It also doubled as a metaphor for the Eucharist but with a rare feminine quality I found fascinating.
So like any good millennial, I found an Etsy shop that sold necklaces with the image and ordered one. The artist was phenomenal, and the colorful pendant of the feathered mother and her wanting chicks left light pressure on my chest for several months, including during the birth of my son Moses. And then suddenly, one day, it was gone. The bleeding mother pelican had been such a source of affirmation to me that I almost never took the necklace off. But one day, in a rare departure from my norm, I did. And I haven’t seen it since.
For several years I bemoaned the loss of that necklace, sorely missing the physical reminder of my spiritual reality. I considered replacing it but never did. I considered getting it as a tattoo (because I’m a good millennial, remember?) but never did that either. My sentimentality slowly faded until it became only me turning to my husband about once a year and asking, “Remember that pelican necklace? I hate that I lost it.”
Only now, years later, it occurs to me that maybe losing it was exactly what I was meant to do. A self-sacrificing pelican mother symbolized my reality in an important way for one season of my life; it gave me comfort and pride. But I don’t believe I was meant to identify with the pelican forever. My family is not an ancient myth, and I am not an archetype. No one can bleed forever and hope to live.
Almost 75% of Catholic School Teachers are Women, and Many of Them Lack Paid Maternity Leave
One Catholic school teacher was excited to teach in the Archdiocese of Chicago two years after the diocese implemented its much-publicized 12 weeks paid leave policy. She was disappointed to learn it didn't apply to the Catholic school employees. Her school was not under the jurisdiction of the diocese, but operated with its approval.
When she signed the contract for her school, it did not not list the maternity leave policy. She was excited, however, to learn that the maternity leave policy was four weeks of paid leave and eight additional weeks of unpaid leave. “The maternity leave policy was one of the reasons I chose that school,” she said (who has asked that her name be withheld to protect her privacy).
In September, at the start of the school year, she learned – to her delight – that she was pregnant. But when she shared the news with the school later in the semester, she learned that the policy had changed. In October 2020, the school changed their maternity leave policy to six weeks of short-term disability insurance at 60% pay. Because her policy was not in her initial contract, she couldn’t be grandfathered in.
“My son was due the last day of school, but I didn’t make it,” she said. Her son arrived two weeks early and, since she had used her 10 days of sick leave to cover COVID quarantine periods and doctor’s appointments, she was docked those two weeks of pay. “Even though we were fully virtual those two weeks due to COVID,” she added. She still worked, however; she remembers grading final exams from her hospital bed.
Most Diocesan Maternity Leave Policies Exclude Catholic School Teachers
In March, FemCatholic released a report on our research of the maternity leave policies of the 176 dioceses throughout the United States. Only 32 dioceses offer at least five days of fully paid maternity leave. Many dioceses (at least 52) offer some percentage of pay during maternity leave. Yet this does not always guarantee that these maternity leave policies apply to teachers in the diocese. Our report intentionally focused on the policies that apply specifically to the central diocesan offices, often called the chancery. Many dioceses, even when offering generous maternity leave policies to their chancery employees, exclude teachers at diocesan schools.
Lay women make up nearly two-thirds of all Catholic school teachers. That’s a significant number of women working for the Church, many of whom are left without adequate maternity leave when they have children.
“The Catholic school ecosystem rests on Catholic women and Catholic mothers,” said the Chicago school teacher. “To be at schools that don’t appreciate that women are also mothers, and that it’s part of our vocation, is frustrating. Their attitude seems to be less open to life and more, ‘you’re making life so hard for us.’” Women say they feel pressure from their employers to work even when it may not be healthy for them or their child.
One Catholic school teacher in the Diocese of Arlington said that she took several of her accrued sick days when she was 41 weeks pregnant. She received an email asking if she had already begun her maternity leave. When she explained that she was not yet on maternity leave because she had not had her baby, she received a response that she needed to come in to work, with the caveat, “Only you know if you are healthy enough for you and your child to come in.”
The obvious cost that prohibits fair maternity leave at small schools is the need for the school to hire a maternity leave substitute, which seems prohibitively expensive for a small Catholic school.
But the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina – one of four dioceses in the United States to offer a full 12 weeks of paid parental leave – extends these benefits to all diocesan employees, including Catholic school teachers. Maureen House, who works in Human Resources at the Diocese of Raleigh, said that when teachers used their sick time or vacation time to cover paid time off, the diocese still had to pay for a substitute.
The Pressure on Catholic School Teachers to Time Their Pregnancies Well
The solution for many dioceses and Catholic schools is to subtly (or not so subtly) encourage teachers to “time” their pregnancies well so that their due dates align with the onset of summer holidays. Multiple teachers told FemCatholic about feeling the pressure to time or plan their pregnancies in this way.
One theology teacher said that when she shared the news of her surprise pregnancy with the Dean of Students after the school's Christmas holiday, the dean's face fell. The teacher immediately felt like she had done something wrong. “I was ashamed – and I should have been joyful,” she said.
“A Catholic high school looked at a pregnant theology teacher and said ‘this is bad, you should have waited to get pregnant when it was good for us,’” she continued. The job she currently has in a different diocese offers 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, which she said was a definite factor in her decision to take the job. She thinks Catholic institutions need to do much better when it comes to supporting women through the “most basic function of their bodies,” and offering at least some financial support and time to recover after childbirth.
“If you’re not making that a priority, then we don’t have a leg to stand on when Roe v. Wade is overturned,” she said.
Since Catholic schools offer inadequate maternity leave, it’s often cheaper for a woman to stay home with a child rather than keep working and take on childcare costs. This leads to staffing turnover and shortages, which is costly for women’s careers, their family finances, and for schools that spend extra money re-hiring and re-training talent.
Jennie Richer is one of those women who returned to teaching after having four children. She works at the Archdiocese of Boston, which offers at least six weeks of short-term disability at 100% pay for employees in the chancery. Richer works for a virtual diocesan school that is located in the same building as the chancery, but she doesn’t have the same policy; at her school, they are offered eight weeks of unpaid leave.
But unlike her previous employer, the Archdiocese of San Francisco, where employees could accrue a few months’ worth of sick leave after a couple of years of employment, in Boston she is allotted 13 days of sick and personal leave a year that cannot rollover. Thus, the eight weeks of leave can’t be entirely covered by sick leave, and women often have to use sick and personal days during pregnancy or – if they already have children, as Richer does – to care for their children at home.
“It was a lot to ask of an expectant mother,” Richer said.
Inadequate Support for Catholic School Teachers Who are Also Mothers
Richer says her school is supportive of mothers in other ways: encouraging mothers to bring their babies to meetings and allowing a flexible remote work set-up so mothers can work from home. But she was surprised that the Archdiocese couldn’t do more for school teachers in terms of maternity leave. "You would think they would be a little more supportive of employees in that regard."
Richer ended up going back to work after less than three weeks of leave. Because her school is entirely virtual, it felt manageable, she said. But she was nonplussed by the experience. "Eight weeks unpaid leave means most of their families can’t afford it, so they’re going back into the classroom after a few weeks off," she said. "That’s a little crazy that the Church is asking mothers to do that."
Laura, an early-career ELA religion teacher in the Diocese of Orange, is currently supporting her new family as her husband finishes up full-time law school. She and her husband are trying to delay pregnancy to time with the summer holidays since her diocese doesn't offer full pay during maternity leave. How would she feel if she told her boss she was pregnant? “I would feel guilty,” Laura said. She has asked that her last name be withheld to protect her job.
She would also be stressed. "If I got pregnant," Laura said, "I wouldn’t be supported financially by my employer, who is the Catholic Church, who is telling me to have babies as soon as possible.”
Laura said she and her husband are doing their utmost to be “open to life.” But she said she doesn’t feel like the Church is always open to her. She’s loyal to the Church but doesn’t feel that loyalty back all the time:
“I feel like the Church doesn't know my life or what I'm going through."
Additional reporting by Kelly Sankowski and Isabella Volmert.
One diocesan employee in the Midwest was eight weeks into her pregnancy when she realized she was losing her baby. She was in the middle of a Zoom meeting when she began not feeling well, turned off her camera, went to the bathroom, and took ten minutes to herself before returning to the meeting and continuing on. “No one made me go back to the meeting – no one knew – but I do feel like that moment was reflective of how I felt about balancing pregnancy and baby and work in general,” she said. “Even in that meeting, I just felt like I had to go back – I’m in a meeting with two men and it’s important, and I just had to go back. I struggle with knowing I made that decision.” This diocesan employee, who wished to remain anonymous, recalls feeling stressed about her lack of maternity leave options as soon as she learned about her pregnancy.
Her diocese offers short-term disability for 6 weeks at 66% of her pay, but since she is the primary income for her family, she wasn’t sure how she was going to make that work. Then, she learned that since she had worked there for less than a year, she wouldn’t qualify for FMLA. There was no legal protection that she would not lose her job or face repercussions if she took time off to care for her newborn child.
“That was a very stressful factor in my life,” she said. “I thought about it every single day from when I found out that would be my maternity leave situation until we lost the baby.”
She described the lack of support she felt upon finding out about her pregnancy – as well as the overall atmosphere she has experienced at the diocese – as contributing to her decision to return to work so quickly after losing her baby.
“I have seen how other women who have babies in the chancery get talked about,” she said. “If there is no room to talk about having kids, there is certainly no room to talk about losing them.”
Understanding the Realities of Pregnancy Loss
Miscarriage, defined as when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy, occurs in 10 to 15% of pregnancies among women who already know that they are pregnant. This means that more occur before a pregnancy is discovered, making the estimated total number of miscarriages about 26% of all pregnancies. Stillbirth, defined as when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy, affects about 1 in 160 pregnancies each year in the United States. “Pregnancy loss” encompasses both of these terms.
The medical realities of these losses can differ from woman to woman, depending how far along she is.
Miscarriage can happen suddenly, or a woman may bleed and cramp for weeks knowing she is losing her baby. Sometimes, no symptoms occur and women do not find out until they go to the doctor and learn that there is no heartbeat. In some cases, women may use a medicine called misoprostol to pass remaining tissue. In other cases, they may need to have a dilation and curettage (D&C) in order to remove the tissue.
In the case of stillbirth, there are a few possible procedures, once again depending how far along the woman is. One option is dilation and evacuation (D&E), in which the doctor dilates the woman’s cervix to remove her baby. For women farther along, they may induce labor, perform a C-section, or wait for labor to occur naturally, which usually happens within two weeks after the baby has died.
“If it is a late pregnancy loss, then it is physically like recovering from a term baby,” explained Dr. Mary Davenport, former president of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “But even for pregnancy losses that aren’t necessarily physically very difficult, the psychological part is the most challenging.”
In addition to the physical recovery needed from pregnancy loss, women need time to heal psychologically and emotionally. The sudden loss that often occurs before others even know they are pregnant can leave women feeling isolated and grieving on their own. Or, if people do know about the pregnancy, a woman’s experience can often be dismissed by comments such as, “You can get pregnant again, you’re young,” noted Dr. Davenport. Nearly 20% of women who experience a miscarriage become symptomatic for depression and/or anxiety, and in a majority of those affected, symptoms persist for 1 to 3 years.
Dr. Davenport recommends that her patients take one to two weeks off of work after an early pregnancy loss, and up to six weeks off if they were toward the end of their pregnancy and/or were psychologically devastated. She was also sure to note that women who experience ectopic pregnancies (when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus, making the pregnancy not viable) ought to be included in this discussion, saying, “I do believe it is a living soul and we have failed as a medical community to deal with that satisfactorily.”
The State of Leave for Pregnancy Loss
There are no national or state laws providing paid leave for pregnancy loss, though there are some bills that have not passed in state legislatures. The most successful effort has come at the city level, with Washington, D.C., Boston, Pittsburgh, and Portland, Oregon offering policies that provide time off for pregnancy loss (though these policies are controversial, because they sometimes include abortion in that category).
Despite the lack of law-mandated leave, private companies have started offering paid leave for pregnancy loss. The dating app Bumble offers 15 days of compassionate leave, which includes miscarriage. Goldman Sachs offers 20 days. Pinterest offers 4 weeks.
The Church, however, is lagging behind this trend. Out of the 176 dioceses that we contacted for our report on maternity leave policies, just one – the Archdiocese of Cincinnati – has a policy specifically for pregnancy loss. They offer 2 weeks of paid leave to both mothers and fathers.
The Diocese of Cleveland specifically mentions miscarriage in their short-term disability policy. The Michigan Catholic Conference’s short-term disability policy states that it covers “pregnancy and its complications,” but with the 10 day waiting period before benefits kick in, even if this applies to miscarriage, it may not be useful. Short-term disability only covers the necessary medical recovery period, which differs from woman to woman, and does not address the bereavement of the death of a child.
“I maybe needed to take off a day and a half physically – cramping and dealing with the physical side – but if, according to our faith, that is the loss of a life, that deserves a lot more time,” said the diocesan employee from the Midwest, who added that short-term disability “doesn’t touch on any level what I was going through realizing I lost my child.”
Several dioceses we spoke with said that instances of miscarriage would be handled on a case by case basis, sometimes citing the possibility of women receiving bereavement leave or family medical leave. While women who work for these dioceses may receive some sort of paid leave if they ask for it, this places the burden on women in the middle of a traumatic time to seek out support amid unclear policies. They may have supportive employers, but without the knowledge that there is a system in place to protect them, it can be difficult to speak up.
One Catholic Relief Services employee (who wished to remain anonymous) recalled being surprised that there was no policy in place when she lost her baby. After learning that her baby no longer had a heartbeat, she told her boss – who was understanding and supportive – and took a day off to “cry in bed and not do anything.” In the week before her scheduled D&C procedure, she continued to work because she “felt responsible to,” she said. She took one more day off when she had to go to the D&C, and when she returned, she had a new supervisor who did not know what had happened. He asked, “How was your vacation?”
“I think in reality I could have used a lot more time to heal and process,” she said, adding that not having a policy “puts the burden and guilt, in a time that is very filled with a lot of different types of guilt,” on the woman. Especially with remote work, it is easy to feel obligated to “work a few hours here and there and go cry in between meetings,” she said.
The CRS employee likened this case by case approach to the trend of companies offering unlimited paid time off, since people at those companies end up taking less time off “because the onus to justify times they take off is on individual person.”
Complications with Health Insurance Provided by Catholic Employers
A month after her D&C, the CRS employee – whose health insurance is provided by the USCCB – received a bill telling her that she owed 100% of the cost of the procedure. This was due to the medical terminology used, which calls miscarriages “spontaneous abortions.” In her case, the term used was “missed abortion,” which is when the baby’s heart stops beating without the mother’s knowledge or the typical symptoms of a miscarriage. Because the insurance provided by the USCCB does not cover abortions, someone made a mistake and billed her for the full cost of the procedure. She had to call her insurance and explain the situation to get the claim reprocessed, and thankfully had it 90% covered.
It was “that extra twist of the knife that comes with having a really black and white health insurance coverage around women’s health,” the CRS employee said.
Valentina Piotrzkowski also ran into problems with insurance when she experienced pregnancy loss. After having worked for the Church for about 6 years, she moved to Lansing, Michigan after getting married because her husband worked for St. John’s Student Center, which serves college students at Michigan State University. It was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it was difficult to find a job. She planned to get onto her husband’s insurance in the meantime.
Despite the fact that he had gotten repeated reminders to let the insurance company know within 30 days of the wedding that he had gotten married, they soon found out that she was not eligible to be added to his Michigan Catholic Conference insurance plan until they had lived together for six months. As a result, when Piotrzkowski started bleeding six weeks into her pregnancy, she was unable to see a doctor.
“It was just a little bit at first, so I was trying not to jump to conclusions,” she recalled. “It continued, it got heavier; toward the end I accepted that it was happening and it was just a matter of time.”
Piotrzkowski called doctor after doctor to ask if they would take her, but kept being told no. Finally, after a woman answered the phone and initially gave her the same response about needing insurance, she said, “Please help me,” and the woman agreed.
“She was sensitive enough to take me on regardless of my insurance status, and I am forever appreciative of her for that, but I was too far along for them to stop it,” Piotrzkowski recalled. “I still wonder if it would have been preventable if I was able to act earlier.”
All of the dioceses in the state of Michigan are under this same health insurance policy, which provides coverage for a “Legally Domiciled Adult” who “has shared a primary residence with the employee for at least six months, shares basic living expenses and is financially interdependent with the employee.” It does not have any additional provisions for spouses. If a couple conceives a baby soon after their wedding, this could leave a mother uninsured during a time when she needs prenatal appointments or care after pregnancy loss.
As Piotrzkowski pointed out, this policy penalized them for living out Church teaching.
“It is really disheartening after being such a vocal proponent of pro-life, after my husband and I were states apart for our whole engagement – we made huge sacrifices to follow Church teaching – and it was precisely because we followed Church teaching that I felt punished and I felt alone,” she said.
What the Catholic Church Can Offer Women After Pregnancy Loss
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God.” Because the Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception, Catholics are in a unique position to understand the grief of women who experience pregnancy loss.
“I am very grateful for everything our faith offers me on a personal level for navigating this issue, for the sad days of grief and the waves up and down that come with that,” said the diocesan employee from the Midwest, who especially noted that she appreciates the Masses held for pregnancy and infant loss. In addition to these Masses of remembrance, many Catholic cemeteries will help a woman bury and bless the remains of an early pregnancy loss. Yet, this recognition falls short of providing systems of support for the women who work for the Church.
“On a personal level, there is an abundance. God doesn't leave you wanting for anything you are clinging for,” the diocesan employee continued. “It is just sad because working for the Church feels very integrated to me, personally – when I go to work I feel like I bring my whole self, my whole heart and whole soul. It is disappointing that I don't feel like work responds to my whole self.”
After her experience, this diocesan employee has started going out of her way to make sure that other women who are pregnant while working for the diocese get what they need, but emphasizes that this peer support is not the same thing as having a comprehensive policy to cover women.
“To help avoid pregnancy loss is to feel the support of being a pregnant woman in the first place. It has to start there, the celebration of life at any stage, because if there is not that feeling of support and celebration … then there is just no chance of getting support when you lose that life,” she said. “I don’t want anyone else to go through what I just went through, feeling as alone as I did.”
Instead of following secular companies – which may or may not recognize a fetus as a human life – or waiting for laws to be passed, Catholics can choose to be leaders in this realm by offering paid leave and health insurance policies that take into account the need for women to heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually after pregnancy loss.
“Before joining the club I didn’t want to join, I didn’t realize how big it was and how incredibly sad and painful it is, and how there are so few spaces to process with women openly,” said the Catholic Relief Services employee. “I think the more that we can normalize [the experience of pregnancy loss] in our daily lives, but also in real life policies that impact women, the more we will be able to truly say that we are creating a culture of life.”
Hailey Bieber Tells IG Audience that Birth Control Contributed to Her Mini-Stroke
Yesterday on Instagram, model Hailey Bieber posted a video with caption “sharing my story” to explain her recent hospitalization after experiencing stroke-like symptoms. She describes how she was sitting at a meal with husband Justin Bieber, when suddenly she felt tingling down her arm, facial drooping, and the inability to speak.
The 25 year old said, “All these thoughts were running through my head,” and she wondered if she would have permanent side effects afterwards. After undergoing hospital testing, doctors confirmed she had experienced a “mini-stroke” due to a blood clot in her brain, but that she seemed to be recovering well.
As to why she had a blood clot, and especially at such a young age, Bieber cited a few reasons: a heart condition that had gone undiagnosed, a recent long flight, and the fact that she had started taking birth control pills. WebMD reports that the chance of blood clots is 2 to 6 times greater among women taking the pill, compared to women who don’t use birth control.
Bieber advised fans to talk to their doctors about the risks of birth control, especially if they have any history of migraines, which are a known risk factor for clots when taking the pill.
Her advice comes among growing concerns among women about the hormones in contraceptives. Last summer, the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine rollout was paused due to concerns about blood clots in women, even though the risk was far less than that of the birth control pills frequently prescribed to women. The New York Times shared the story of Kelly Tyrrell, an ultramarathon runner in Madison Wisconsin, who was advised to stop taking estrogen after clots were found in her lungs.
The conversation around birth control and women’s health has been growing for years. Six years ago, an Emmy Award winning television host and veteran film producer began working on the documentary The Business of Birth Control, which was finally released last November in NYC. Back in 2017, fertility tracking app Natural Cycles raised $30 million in Series B funding for their approach, which they call “digital contraception.”