Jennifer Fulwiler has a moving post up today, brought on by an email from a reader who was suffering because after two children, her husband had a vasectomy against her wishes.
What compounded "Jane's" suffering was how few people were sympathetic to her sadness:
She said that when she tried to talk to friends and family members about the difficult time she was having with the situation, almost nobody wanted to listen. The tone of most of the responses was surprise that she was upset in the first place, and a confusion about what the problem was. "Go take a vacation, and be happy that you're not overburdened with a bunch of little kids!" one relative told her...
[S]he remained surprisingly troubled by the fact that most people didn't seem to think that her story was one worth telling. Eager to know that she wasn't alone, she searched online for blogs or books in which other women in her position shared there experiences, but found few results. Women's websites told the tales of women undergoing all different types of challenges, but none showed much interest in discussing situations like Jane's, in which women were denied children by their husbands. It seemed clear to her that her pain was not deemed valid, and therefore was not considered to be worth discussing.
The comments thread in the post is instructive, and other people (both men and women) are chiming in with stories of their own. Truly there is a lot of suffering out there that we never know about or see.
A couple of trolls, natch. Skip them and move on.
One commenter ("Renae"):
"It’s about accepting and recognizing other people’s loss as loss."
"It is not just those who don’t stand with the Church on these teachings who can be thoughtless or even cruel, whatever their true intention may be. This is another example for me that those of us who are Catholic and following the Church’s teachings as it pertains to being open to life and avoiding pregnancies for grave reasons must never be flippant when speaking to others.
I was a little shocked to hear people make judgmental statements about couples with one or two children. They assumed those couples were not faithful Catholics without knowing anything about their situation. We never know what other people are dealing with or what suffering is theirs.
... These teachings are not easy and we must never just fling them at people. We must share the Church’s teachings with love and compassion. Our charity must always be even greater than our zeal."
Another commenter pointed out, probably in response to this, that it was possible to talk about the Church's teachings without pointing fingers at individual families or presuming to know their motives, but I think Terri's entirely right. Even when we formulate hypotheticals, we have to be SO careful not to use "those couples who stop after two children" as shorthand for "couples who stopped being open to life." And you know you've heard people saying that.
Oh sure, you can say "Well, I didn't mean people with secondary infertility." Or "Well, I didn't mean people who have very serious reasons they must not have a longed-for third child." Or "Well, I didn't mean anyone who yearns for a child but whose spouse refuses to be open to another." If you didn't mean that you should have said what you meant. Faithful Catholics with smaller families than they hoped for have enough to suffer, and one of the things that they have to suffer is the knowledge that people presume to know their motives.
Because if you're willing to say "families with two children" as shorthand for "not-so-faithful Catholics," the you're representative of lots of other people who might not say it but who probably think it.
We are supposed to hand on the teachings of the Church, not "fling" them -- a very apt choice of word. Just throwing it out without any thought to the wording -- well, you sacrifice not only compassion, but accuracy. (Show me from Church teaching where "two children" is the cutoff beyond which you are presumably open to life.)
It may take longer to say it, but the only thing that sensitivity and compassion costs you is extra breath. And if that costs too much, there is always the option of keeping your mouth shut, and letting someone more suited to the task step forward.