Hey there! I found this forum through the Phelps article, and was delighted to see there is a lot of 'life after xian fundamentalism'!! Good stuff.
My name is Jo, I'm from Canada and I was raised dogmatic catholic (the original quiverfulls) and a lot of my waking up and seeing the cracks in the 'Truman Show' ceiling had to do with the way the church treated women, specifically as it related to childbearing and childrearing. I've been following the "No Longer Quivering" blog for quite some time, and I finally sat down and typed up my story for submission to that site. I'll repost it hear for your reading pleasure. It felt good to get it all out on the page:
I grew up catholic, but not your run of the mill catholic (sorry, I
can't capitalize it and I won't). We were DEVOUT catholics...
evangelical, fundamentalist catholics, and we thumbed our noses at
"Sunday catholics" as they were not living the religion the way it was
meant to be lived: daily, wholly, completely. How anyone could KNOW
something was a sin, and do it anyway, never mind go to church on
Sunday and get the communion was beyond me.
And don't even get me started on the xmas and Easter catholics. They were even worse.
let's not forget that catholics were the original quiverfulls. Catholic
families of 10+ kids was the absolute norm in most cultures and eras
that either didn't have birth control (1800s) or outlawed it (Ireland).
was an easy sell to fundamentalism, I guess. As a child, I took to it
like a duck to water, and took pride in my convictions. I remember when
we were about seven years old and preparing for our "first holy
confession" we were supposed to come up with a list of sins we'd
committed. I was seven. And an evangelical christian. I didn't sin. I
did everything god asked of me. I was a good kid. So I racked my brain
and came up with one. And I was overcome with guilt, because I was a
sinner and I knew it.
I remember making a mistake with pencil
and I was in the classroom alone. I saw a pink eraser on the desk next
to mine, and no one was there. I used it. I remember looking at the
crumbs of erasure on the paper and I KNEW I'd stolen it. I'd used it
without asking and those crumbs were the stolen remnants that I could
never return. I remember being racked with guilt. Ahh, yes. Guilt. The
mainstay of the catholic church. You don't have to control the parish
when you outfit them with the mindcontrol tools to control themselves.
time I remember playing with my friend Sabrina. We got into an argument
about something stupid and I (as a good catholic) didn't typically
swear, never took the lord's name in vain and never wished harm on
another person. Because in catholicism, THINKING it is as bad as DOING
it. So you really do brainwash yourself into not even thinking bad
thoughts. On the whole, I was very good at this. I'd been brainwashed
well, and was raised by (thankfully) loving and bleeding heart liberal
parents who instilled in me a sense of goodwill towards all. I guess I
should be grateful, I didn't get the fire and brimstone god like some
escapees did. I got the good one. The loving god who loved the poor,
the mean, the downtrodden. I know it could have been a lot worse.
I remember the words were out of my mouth before I knew it. I screamed
at Sabrina "YOU ARE A FOOL" because I didn't know what else to say.
Then suddenly it hit me. I was going to hell. I knew somewhere in the
bible it said "and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger
of the hell of fire" (Matthew 5:22). I remember running home and hiding
under the bed and crying and confessing it as soon as I could for
absolution. But 30 years later, I still remember this like it was
I wasn't one of those kids who thought I could commit
sins and then just confess them and then everything would be alright. I
was a rabidly dogmatic fundamentalist, even at a tender age, and I knew
that a lot was expected of me because I was smart enough to know
better. And I knew the rules. So the few sins that I can remember
committing as a child really really rattled me. Having to go to school
confession quite regularly, we HAD to make up lists of our sins quite a
bit and I remember that being a struggle for me. Usually had to do with
fighting with my sister or disobeying my parents, but in retrospect it
was VERY minor stuff. You are trained as a catholic, though, to
consider yourself a constant sinner and to be constantly taking
inventory and confessing your sins. It's like there is no reprieve from
this... you never stop sinning. So even when you don't sin, you have to
come up with sins to confess, so you convince yourself you've sinned
when you haven't. And if you think you haven't sinned, you suffer from
the sin of pride, so there you go. You can confess that.
there was a girl in my class named Danielle. She was the second oldest
in a family of about eight kids, each child a year apart. I remember
her mom spitting out a baby every year, and we didn't think much of it,
it was just how her family operated.
Then one day it was
neighbourhood news. Mrs. C. (Danielle's mom) had had her tubes tied.
The whole neigbourhood knew it. It was big news. I must have been
around 10, and I remember asking my mom what 'tubes tied' meant. She
explained to me that it's when you undergo a medical procedure so that
you can't and won't accept anymore blessings and children from god. She
told me it was a mortal sin, and that catholics were NOT ALLOWED to
ever do this, and if you did it you were going to hell. You HAD to
accept as many children as god gave you if you were married and
catholic. There were no exceptions. I understood. I likely didn't even
know what sex was or how babies were made, I just knew you HAD to have
as many as god gave you. That much was clear. She told me Mrs. C. was
catholic and had done this willingly, so it was quite likely she was
going to burn in hell for eternity.
And yet in our own family,
there were just the two of us -- my sister and I. Am was born 9 months
to the day after the wedding, and I was born a year after that. Mom had
medical problems and had had a hysterectomy when I was about 9 or 10. I
remember my mother going on and on and on about she couldn't have
anymore children after the surgery. She seemed oddly happy about it,
like she was bragging. It honestly never dawned on me that there were
no kids between me and the hysterectomy. There were ten mysterious
years where she never got pregnant, and I never thought to ask why not.
That came up much much much later.
I vividly remember the conversation about Mrs. C. That explanation of
what a tubal was coloured my opinion for years to come. It was a sin.
Plain and simple. A bad and sinful decision that destined a woman to an
eternity in hell.
It also never dawned on me to question where the father was in all this. Why he didn't get to burn in hell, too.
when I was 17, I worked in a movie theatre. I often worked a split
Sunday shift -- matinee from noon to three, and evening from 6:00 to
10:15. I was a typical teenager, sometimes getting up at 11:30 AM an
racing to the theatre. One day, I did just that and missed breakfast,
and lunch, too. By 3:00 PM I was famished, but I knew I had to fast an
hour before communion and mass didn't start until 4. I had to go to
mass. I'd never missed mass in my life. I had to race to the church,
then race back to work my evening shift, and I knew I wasn't going to
get a chance to eat at all, and I couldn't take it.
was going to go for supper and he offered to buy. I told him there was
NO WAY I could go, I would miss mass. I said I was catholic. He told me
he was catholic too, and he missed mass all the time. Of course, the
judgmental fundie in me immediately put him into that class of "not
real catholics" but then something strange happened.
The hunger overtook me. And I agreed to go for supper.
say that every civilization is five missed meals away from complete
anarchy and I believe it. You saw it with Katrina. It was about noon
the following day after the flood when the guns came out. My tolerance
for hunger is a lot lower. I had missed two meals at that point, and I
was willing to throw away my soul for a meal.
You know what is
funny, if you'd have told me that morning that I was never going to go
mass again, I wouldn't have believed you.
But that's what
happened. I missed mass. I went to supper with my friend. At the end of
the day, I knew I'd committed a terrible sin. I'd WILLINGLY sinned,
too, which is worse than accidentally sinning. I'd chosen to not keep
holy the sabbath, I'd chosen to miss mass for the first time in my
life, and I felt (in my black and white world) that I was done for.
That was it. I guess I wasn't catholic anymore. Real catholics wouldn't
choose food over church. Real catholics don't choose sin. And in my
mind was a category of people who were weak, and sinned from weakness,
and I wasn't one of them. I was strong. I knew better. So my sin was a
complete and utter disregard for the church, for god, for everything.
I was no longer catholic.
don't remember the following weeks or months. I do know that I never
went back to church, and my mother was devastated. My sister had long
stopped going and I was the good catholic daughter, the one who would
never 'lose her faith'.
And truth be told, I hadn't yet 'lost
it'. I was still fundie in my brain and in my heart. I still believed.
I just didn't go through the motions of a catholic, because the
scrupulosity I suffered from wouldn't allow me to be a half-catholic.
It was all or nothing, and I couldn't do the all, so it had to be
Flash forward about a year. I was living on my own in
my first apartment, I was 18, and working full time in an army surplus
store. I remember talking to my sister who was then 19, on the phone. I
remember it like I was in a tunnel when she told me the news.
"Did you know mom had her tubes tied after you were born?"
told her she was mistaken. It was not possible. Mom would not and could
not have committed a mortal sin because that would have meant that she
chose hell over heaven. I didn't believe it. I told Am the story about
Mrs. C., and what mom had said. She told me to call mom and ask her
I did. My mother and I had a HUGE blow out arguement. It
was true. She had had her tubes tied after I was born. I remember
calling my mother every name in the book. I remember my mother sobbing
and trying to explain herself. I remember her story held ZERO weight
with me because it was excuses, excuses, excuses and god didn't accept
excuses. Either you were catholic or you weren't. Either you sinned or
you didn't. You didn't get your tubes tied and call it 'a mistake'. A
mistake is when you slip and fall. Scheduling a surgery then going
through with it is not a mistake. It's a decision. A conscious decision.
spun a fantastic tale about how after she was married and got pregnant
almost immediately, she was happy. She wanted kids, lots of them. She
said my father was quite sex-obsessed though, and wanted it all the
time. She had gone to a priest, and he told her that it was her wifely
duty to put out and give her husband sex whenever he wanted it. That's
what she'd signed up for when she got married. Further, the priest told
her that if she refused him and he masturbated, his sin of masturbation
would be on HER shoulders and therefore HER sin because he didn't have
to masturbate if not for her denial of him.
She said after Am
was born, she suffered post partum depression and was suicidal. Dad
wanted sex all the time and she had an infant in diapers and didn't
think she could cope with another one so soon. She begged a priest to
allow her to go on the pill but he said no. She must accept as many
children as god would give her in the time frame that god wanted.
went on the pill anyway. She said she was on it for six months after Am
was born, and every single day she took it, she knew she was committing
yet another mortal sin. Each day was a sin.
She stopped out of
guilt. Went to confession and BEGGED for forgiveness. And got pregnant
with me almost instantly. I am your garden variety catholic guilt baby.
I was born, the same scenario repeated. Dad wanted sex all the time,
mom was suffering with post partum, and now she had two babies in
diapers. She was suicidal but not allowed to go on the pill or refuse
her husband sex. She said she went on the pill anyway, and it was a
hellish time in her life. Never during this time was birth control ever
discussed and never did my father offer to leave her alone, never mind
offer to wear condoms or get a vasectomy and be the one to commit the
sin and go to hell. Never once. It all fell on mom.
I'm not sure
of the timeline, but after I was born and after all that, she had the
tubal. She told me that she begged god for forgiveness, begged the
priest for forgiveness, but that she knew she'd committed a mortal sin
and she was probably going to hell, but what was done was done all all
she could do was beg god for mercy every day. She believed god was
merciful. I told her if god was that merciful, there would be no rule
about tubals being a mortal sin... everyone would be having one, then
going back the day later to confess and receive absolution. He couldn't
possibly be that merciful. These were mortal sins we were talking
about. I was gobsmacked she'd done it.
I reminded her about what
she'd said about Mrs. C., so many years after her own tubal. She said
she coped the best she could. Tubals were still sinful. Mrs. C. still
had committed a mortal sin, just as she had. She was unwavering in her
staunch attachment to the dogma.
She said she was so happy when
she'd had the hysterectomy becasue now she was no longer sinning... had
a legitimate reason to be barren.
That was the day I lost my religion.
was a slow thaw, and I think another full year passed before I realized
that I was officially now done with the religion and with
I remember telling her a few years
later that any god who would damn her to hell for choosing to be a
mother to her existing children instead of dead or suicidal or mentally
ill in the name of children not yet born... well that god could kiss my
ass. Any god who could put a woman through this -- and millions of
women, worldwide... EVERY SINGLE WOMAN on this planet has had to make
reproductive choices, and that god, in essence was banishing them ALL
(except for maybe a few dozen quiverfulls) to hell. That god could kiss
And never mind that the men were all conspicuously
absent from all this. The men never had to make the childbearing
decisions. They never had to put their soul on the line. Dad could
refuse to get a vasectomy and mom could have kids until it killed her.
Or she could choose to get a tubal and get to go to hell. Those were
her options. Dad got sex as often as he wanted it. And got to know he
was going to heaven in the process.
When I was 19, and still new
to freethought, I moved to Toronto and met a woman named Angela at my
new job. She was 40 and full of life and the coolest person I'd ever
met. I asked her if she was married or had kids, and she laughed
HEARTILY and said, "Hell no! I had my tubes tied when I was 22. I never
wanted marriage or kids."
I remember thinking, "You can't do
that. You can't just CHOOSE to have no kids." I kind of understood
tubal ligations for (non-catholic) women who were done having kids, but
to have NO kids? NONE? To never be a mother? I didn't get it. It didn't
Around that time I remember waking up. It was like your
first bite of chocolate. You think to yourself, "This can't possibly
TASTE THIS GOOD. It can't possibly!"
I didn't know life could be
about choices. I never knew you could CHOOSE LIFE, choose your own
life, choose to be authentic and true to yourself, and that sometimes
that means choosing to never be a mother, because you were born to
follow a different path. I never knew any of that until I met Angela.
wanted another bite of chocolate. I wanted what she had. I wanted a big
smile on my face, lotsa friends, a funky nightlife, lots of good
nights' sleep and no guilt, no harassment, no bullies telling me that
if I did or didn't do this or that, I was going to burn in hell for
I wanted to write, hike, travel, socialize. I wanted a job, money, the satisfaction of knowing I was beholden to no one.
I also knew I didn't want children. I knew that was the life for me. It was a calling of sorts. A vocation.
was 26 before I was able to get my own tubal ligation. Doctors love to
tell young women that they might "regret" having tubals, yet they never
ever tell them they might regret having children. When I finally got
the referral to the gyno (after years of asking around), I was 26, and
I was so terrified he was going to send me packing, I prepared a
manifesto. I wrote up four full pages of why I didn't want kids. I
listed financial, spiritual, family history of alcoholism, mental
illness... I rambled on and on. In the end, when I got to the office,
the doctor asked me a few cursory questions. One was that I was
currently living with a guy who had three kids who came around on the
weekends. He made some blanket remark that my mothering instincts were
fulfilled (as if having none at all was not possible) and signed the
I think it's positively sick that the vast majority of
people only think you are complete as a person when you have children,
or at the very least, children in your life, but I was grateful enough
that if that's what he needed to believe to tie my tubes, then fine. He
could believe that my mothering instincts were fulfilled. I was never
any kind of a mother to those kids, but he didn't need to know that.
mother and I are still very close, but we argue about religion A LOT.
She's still staunchly and dogmatically attached to the ideas that she's
touted her whole life. It's funny, because I joke around and tell her
since we both have had our tubes tied, I'll see her in hell, and she
laughs and takes it in stride. She still believes god is merciful. I
still believe my life is awesome since I ditched that god.
(Picture is of me as a child (far left) with my family. We had a priest over for supper and it was a BIG deal, and my mom made a cake with a crucifix on it. LOL)