An Open Letter to the Pope: Do Not Call Me a Rabbit

Pope Francis on women breeding, having babiesSo according to Pope Francis, being a good Catholic does not mean people should breed like rabbits. What does it mean and why should I care?

I have four children – lots more than my mother, lots more than my grandmother, lots more than my friends. In fact, I don’t know anyone who has four or more children. Typically it’s expensive and moderately crazy to have more than two children, but I decided decades ago that child-bearing was my thing and that child-rearing was something – finally – that I was good at.

And I’m Catholic. I know that contraception is not something the Church can accept and, remarkably, I also understand why. But this is where we part ways, dear Pope whom I admire, dear Pontiff I have come to love: you can’t tell me how to breed.

When I started college, back in the 1960s, the Pill was brand new and the ways it would impact my future and the future of all of my friends were still coming into focus. I only knew one girl who had a prescription. She was a hooker. She financed her education by turning tricks and at the end of the day, it mattered little to me how she met her bills, only that she was in school and like me, interested in an education in an era that was less than friendly toward female degree-seeking students.

A girl that started at the University of Michigan with me was shut out of the architecture school she so desperately wanted into because, they told her, she’d just go get married anyway and her education and their time teaching her would be wasted. True story. Yet we soldiered on, getting degrees, delaying marriage, delaying childbirth, and half of us got divorced.

But when I decided to have my own children back in 1985, there was no force on earth strong enough to stop me from going down that path. I was lucky to be able to carry my children with next to no medical intervention, opting for natural childbirth, shunning drugs, speedy recovery. I wasn’t out of the hospital with my daughter before I started planning my second pregnancy. Like a rabbit.

I realize the Pope – who I admire, who I love – has backtracked a bit from this comment since it was made, but still, I worry that people listen to him in an area of our lives that must remain within our lives, not dictated or directed by anyone in the church, in Washington, on television, in the movies. There is no more personal decision than to have and to raise children and if you think for a minute that anyone can help you make that decision or stop you from making it, you are so wrong.

Nobody can tell me that I must or must not have children – especially since I am so damn good at it. Please sit down, Pope Francis whom I admire, whom I love, and listen carefully to me: women are abused and neglected and raped and killed during pregnancy. They suffer inhumane treatment in many, many places even now when good medical care is so prevalent. So, please do not begin this discussion because I won’t let up on it. Not now, not ever.

I am a mother to four smart, beautiful, and important children. And I don’t like being called a rabbit.

Anne Born is a New York-based writer who has been writing stories and poetry since childhood.  While her children were enrolled in New York City public schools in the late 1990s, she edited and published The Backpack Press, and the CSDIII News, a monthly newsletter covering all public schools on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  She blogs on Open Salon and her writing focuses on family and life in a big city after growing up in a small one.  She is the author of “A Marshmallow on the Bus” and a photographer who specializes in photos of churches, cemeteries, and the Way of St. James in Spain.  Most of her writing is done on the bus. You can find Anne at www.about.me/anneborn  and you can follow Anne on Wattpad and Twitter at @nilesite.
  • Joan Haskins

    Nice piece, Anne. I have been a fan of this pope for some time now. But his latest comment left me scratching my head. Is he saying not to have too many children, or not to have too much sex? The whole thing was weird and strangely unlike so many of the more enlightened things he’s said.

    • Anne Born

      Thanks, Joan. He inferred it was reckless to have many children. I just prefer not to listen. And I agree – he’s fabululous in many arenas. This one’ll be trouble.

  • Joan Haskins

    Maybe I’m a bit slow here, but if Catholics are not supposed to use birth control, then the number of children they have is really out of their control.

  • Anne Born

    Not slow. That would be accurate.

  • Leeandra Nolting

    The comment he made–in some context–regarded a mother who was pregnant with her eighth child, having needed seven previous C-sections. There is a false conception (pun intended) among certain Catholics that the more children, the better, the more holy they are, the more God likes them, and to hell with the real-world consequences to the mother, the father, the other children, society at large. Breed, breed, breed to prove what good Catholics you are.

    This isn’t what the Church teaches at all.

    The practical and theological debate over the various methods of using periodic abstinence to space births vs. contraception is for another time and forum, but let’s put it this way: You might know that you are medically infertile or be advanced in years and that having children is unlikely, but you cannot, in your free will, at the time of your marriage, be 100% opposed to ever having children no matter what happens. This is true for both men and women. If either party is, it is grounds for annulment in the Church, as “openness to life” is considered required for a valid marriage to exist.

    You can have one child or twenty and be an equally good Catholic family (or, if you find yourselves infertile or have good reasons for not having biological children, no children at all). The reasons you have for your family size and timing are kind of between you and God, and bigger isn’t automatically better.

  • Anne Born

    Thanks, Leeandra. I went to school with a girl who was one of 16, with a boy who was one of 12. Nobody judged them good or bad Catholics. We just wondered how they paid their bills and the cost of running the giant houses they lived in. But nobody ever suggested to me that having or not having children was anybody’s business. That’s between you and the Church, you and the family you live in, you and your conscience. That is the Church in practice, regardless of the Church in theory.

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