Used with author’s permission. Originally published in “The Society of Honor by Joe America”, on Mother’s Day, May 13, 2012.
Once upon a time there was a woman with 14 kids. She was Catholic, living in the Philippines. The woman’s doctor said, “Madam, you have severe high blood pressure, and if you have another child, there is a good chance you will die.”
The woman was only 46, so this frightened her. She did not want to die. She said to herself, “My family needs me. I do all the cooking and caring for the kids, all the laundry and cleaning. The older children must go to school and work in the rice fields to help buy food. They need me.”
She said “I’ll talk to the priest and I’ll talk to the lady down at the family health clinic and I’ll talk to my husband. I need to work this out.”
The priest was in the church most evenings, so she paid him a visit that evening.
“Father, the doctor said I will die if I have another child.”
The priest, a young man of perhaps 40, dark haired and intelligent looking, stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Well, Child of God, you have two choices. You can stop having sex, or you can be very, very careful about when you have sex, so that you don’t get pregnant again.”
“But Father, my husband is very aggressive. He works hard during the day and he likes to play at night. I don’t think I can control him.” She smiled to herself, because she loved her husband very much, and she liked to play at night, too. It somehow made their struggles seem less burdensome.
The priest folded his arms and frowned. “Well, Dear lamb,” he said. “You must explain to your husband the danger. I’m sure he loves you and he can hold the earthly taunts of the Devil at bay. That will be best for you.”
The woman frowned, too. “But Father, I’ve had 14 children, and each one is precious to me. Certainly God must know that I cherish these lives. Would He not understand that I would be thoughtless toward my children if I risked another birth? Would He not allow me to use birth control methods that are available at the health clinic?”
“My Dear, in is sinful to take a life that way, to deny a child the right to be born. You would bear God’s wrath for eternity.”
“Even if it cost me my life, Father? And left my children without a mother?”
“I know it seems harsh, precious lamb. But God cannot be predicted like that. And He cannot be denied. You must place your faith in His hands, and He will protect you and your family in heaven, for eternity. The open door is through Our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
“Father, I don’t mean to be argumentative. But it seems to me that either way is not natural. It is not natural for my husband to abstain. So I must ask him to do what is not natural. It is not natural if I use a birth control device. That is sinful. You say that I cannot do that.”
The priest rose from his chair and placed his hand on the woman’s shoulder. A look of infinite patience crossed his brow “My Dear, it is completely natural to give oneself to God. That is what Jesus did when he sacrificed Himself for us.”
The woman thought for a moment, then rose from her chair.
“Thank you Father, for your kind counsel.”
“You are most welcome, child. May God bless you and your wonderful family.”
The woman left the church.
She turned right and walked down the street to the Health Clinic.
She entered the small, green concrete building, chipped and worn. An elderly nurse sat at the desk working on papers.
“Do you have any free condoms?” the woman asked the nurse.
The nurse smiled. “Of course.”
A plastic bag filled with protection swung from her hand as she walked home. Somehow, she felt more secure.
“How strange”, she thought, “to feel safe with sin.”
She soon arrived at their small house. She knew she must put the rice on the fire soon, for the evening was drawing late, and her children were already boisterous and noisy. When they were hungry, they seemed always to fight.
But first, she needed to talk to her husband.
She found him out back at the rickety wooden table under the mango tree, relaxing and playing with the baby. A Coca Cola bottle with brown liquid other than coke sat on the table, open and half gone.
“Hi, my love,” he said with a big smile as she approached. He tucked the child under his arm where it cooed happily.
The woman smiled back and handed him the package of condoms.
He glanced inside the bag. “Ah, what is this dear troublemaker?”
“Well, Love, the bad news is that I can’t have any more children because of my blood pressure. The good news is that I’m going to take very good care of my precious family, for they are most surely a blessing from God. I’ll start with dinner, and your turn will come later.”
And so she sacrificed herself.
Joe America is a retired American banking executive living in the Philippines with his wife and son. He writes about his cross-cultural experiences in a blog called “The Society of Honor by Joe America”.