Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
There is a growing feeling among pro-life Catholic Millennials that those segments of the pro-life movement that focus just on law have failed to see and do what will really save lives. Having all been born since Roe v. Wade, we have lived all our lives with the reality of legal abortion. Many of us spent countless hours of our youth praying outside abortion clinics, being yelled at by passing drivers, being scorned by the media, but not afraid to be persecuted for our defense of life. We have heard from our earliest days that Pope Saint John Paul II told us, “Do not be afraid!” So we have been brave in our defense of truth and life issues, and we are not afraid to continue to face persecution.
When it comes to defending the unborn, we Millennials have learned through our experience that the real way to bring abortion to an end is to change the hearts of Americans, and this is something we can do without the aid of lawmakers. And even when a mother knows that there is a human being inside her, emotional and economic circumstances may make it difficult for her to feel that she can care for her child. These are things the pro-life movement needs to keep in mind if we are going to save lives. We need to be giving support to women through pregnancy and beyond, and there are so many people and programs doing just that. These are the good things that will save lives and change hearts.
Many women of childbearing age are of the Millennial generation (born approximately from 1980-2000), and our rise into adulthood has not been economically easy. In my own experience, it was only through government assistance and the support of charitable Catholics that my husband and I were able to afford to have children of our own in the first few years of our marriage.
Fresh out of college, with our Masters of Arts in hand, my husband and I got married during the Great Recession in 2008. We were anticipating living on the income from a graduate student fellowship. Having learned and charted my cycles for months, we were ready to use NFP however we discerned best. After carefully assessing our assets we decided that we could make it work to have a baby, for procreation is one of the ends of marriage. We felt that we had no reason to not have a baby despite student loans, a small income, and living in a city hundreds of miles away from both of our families. It was perhaps a situation that people without our pro-life, natural-family-planning-using worldview may have felt differently about. However, we had support from each other, our relatives, and our friends. No one told us that we were acting unwisely.
By the time my husband’s first semester of doctoral school started in the fall, I was nearly out of my first trimester of pregnancy. My good friend from college came to visit around the time of my second prenatal visit, and she decided to come with us, as we were anticipating an ultrasound of our little baby. So with my husband, my dear friend, and a wonderful pro-life doctor, I saw for the first time a baby flickering on a black and white screen. My doctor typed the word “BABY” next to the small image of my daughter. One of the many feelings I had while seeing my own child on that screen for the first time was one of great weight and responsibility. This little life was one I had helped bring about and one that I was responsible to forever.
One of our plans to maintain us through graduate school was for me to find a job, but since the recession was in full swing, jobs were hard to come by. I applied at temp agencies, and found a short-term position through one of them. My husband spent his summer before the semester working in a factory. I went on several interviews, though, since I was pregnant, I knew that my job would last only a few months. Then, through a friend, I heard about a part-time administrative assistant position for an office of faith formation at a nearby parish. It was 8 minutes from our apartment, and the best part was this: the fellow employees at the office were okay with me bringing my baby, after she was born, to work. And I did. I brought her to work with me starting at 4 weeks after her birth until she was 15 months old, when I left the position because I was expecting again and wanted to be at home, and my husband was bringing in more income.
My coworkers and fellow Catholics did a truly pro-life thing for me, a young, low-income mother. They gave me work and supported me as a new mother. Everyone loved having a baby in the office, graciously accepted her napping schedule, and often disappeared with the baby for a few minutes when I needed to get some work done. If it had not been for this job, and the supportive people there, it would have been much harder for us to have our baby. But because they were there, our family thrived. If only every mother in need of work could find support like this.
During this time, I heard from another Catholic mother about WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), a federally funded supplemental nutrition program, and one that many Catholic mothers I know have used. I started on WIC during my pregnancy with my eldest, and with things like milk, eggs, cheese, bread, fruit, and vegetables being supplemented, we had a bit of wiggle room in our food budget to eat rice and beans a little less and meat and vegetables a little more. But mostly we used it to save as much money as possible. When my daughter was born, since I was breastfeeding, the amount of food allotted to me was increased, and when she was old enough, they supplemented baby food. They also offered nutrition advice, gave a free hand breast pump, and had a lactation consultant available should I need one. And while WIC is federally funded, where we lived it was run by Catholic Charities. Again, it was Catholics bringing me the aid I needed to feel that I could more comfortably afford my child.
One of the things that made it possible for me to stop working and be at home with my toddler daughter full time was the earned income credit (EIC), a refundable tax credit for those with low to moderate incomes who have children. We were thankful and so relieved the day my husband did our taxes the April after our first was born, to discover the large refund we would receive because we had a child. When we were open to having our daughter, we did not know that this sort of thing even existed. This kind of assistance helped us survive my husband’s graduate school by helping us meet our basic needs. We budgeted extremely carefully, sought clearance deals for everything that was not food, and because of these assistances were able to live on our low income. In fact it was because of our careful budgeting and the last EIC check we received after my husband was employed full time that we were able to purchase our house.
Before my eldest was born, I remember being in much distress about her changing table. I envisioned a dresser/changing table, but as I shopped for them I could not find one that we could afford. I confided in a friend about it. She told me that she knew of a place where we could possibly find one for free. It was a Catholic mission, run by a lay woman with the help of other lay people, which provided meals to homeless and shelter for some people, and among some of the things they gave away were baby items. My friend got back to me; they had a changing table that I could have for my baby. It was a very humbling experience, walking into this mission, and having them give us this free piece of furniture. I am sure we could have scrounged together money somehow for one, or simply used the floor, but instead we were given this gift in our need. It was not the dresser that I envisioned, but one with open shelves, so I bought some baskets on sale for my daughter’s clothes and diapers. We still use this changing table today in our nursery, three children later. It is a reminder to me of the charitable pro-life people who knew how to support a mother in need with no questions and with great love.
These programs and these people full of love for a family in need made our lives better, made our lives more livable. They allowed us to make our ends meet during a time of national recession and on our small income. And while we never would have considered taking the life of one of our children due to our economic circumstances, others in a similar situation may have felt that they had no choice.
The Millennials that I know are realizing that while anti-abortion legislation is good to limit access to abortions, there is more that needs to be done. We pro-lifers can still help women and families in this way: we can find the pro-life organizations who help pregnant women, donate, volunteer, and pray. We can reach out to women in our communities. We can make it easier for pregnant women to afford their children. We can show them love. And, like our bishops have told us, protecting human life is a very grave issue, and we must form and follow our consciences even when we know that we might lose. Conversion of heart takes time.