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(LifeSiteNews) — Low risk pregnancies with no complications have never been a prerequisite for having a large family. Many agree, children are a blessing but it is also common opinion that women who have passed their 35th birthday or who have difficulty with child birth and pregnancy should not continue having children. Strong objections to high risk women continuing to have children come from misinformed Protestants and Catholics alike who believe that we are stewards of our own bodies and that this stewardship outweighs the Church’s teaching that we cannot use contraceptives or sterilization methods even in the most serious of cases. This thinking is supported by a medical establishment that uses studies to persuade high risk women to limit the number of children they have. Despite these strong objections, being open to life in difficult situations teaches couples to trust in God and strengthens their ability to deal with loss. Yes, childbearing is a perilous journey but the joy of raising many good children and passing the faith on to them far outweighs the worries and disasters that sometimes accompany it.

When I was pregnant with my third child, a boy, I developed severe preeclampsia. He was born via c-section at 32 weeks and weighed 3 pounds and 5 ounces. I didn’t want to have a c-section because I was only twenty-two with many years of childbearing ahead of me. The doctor assured me that I would not survive labor and there was no other choice.

With my fourth baby, another boy, the doctor supported me in my desire to have a natural birth after cesarean. As this was against current hospital policy, I wrote an appeal letter to the hospital. When the hospital denied my request, my doctor, a maternal fetal medicine specialist, also addressed this issue at a hospital board meeting. I never had a chance to go into labor however as I again developed preeclampsia and this baby boy was delivered pre-term via c-section.

Doctors often use a one size fits all sort of approach to advising women on matters such as the number of c-sections that are safe or whether it is wise to conceive a child after the age of 35. Studies are done and are used as guidelines that help doctors and patients make decisions regarding their health. The “doc knows best” era is behind us however, and we must weigh their advise against our own instincts and religious beliefs.

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When my fifth child was born via cesarean, the pressure was very high to get a tubal ligation. Three c-sections is all that is recommended, I was told. If you keep having c-sections, the placenta will grow into the scarring on your uterus. Both you and your baby may die. What will happen is you will end up in a teaching hospital. The doctors will need to clamp off the major blood vessels that flow to your uterus and remove the baby and then the uterus. This is the most dangerous surgery in obstetrics. Enjoy the children you have and make sure you are there to watch them grow up.

After this pep talk most women in my generation would sign on the dotted line. I promptly declined. I sincerely would rather have died than offend God by committing a mortal sin. I moved to another state shortly after this and had a fourth c-section in which the obstetrician said that the uterus looked healthy. My husband and I did our best to space babies but we never felt like we should put off having more children indefinitely. So babies seven and eight came along. After my sixth c-section the doctor said that it would be important to deliver many weeks early so that no unnecessary strain would be placed on the uterus with future babies. In addition to this concern, preeclampsia although not severe persisted through all my pregnancies and was alarming. In part one of The Dolorous Passion, Anne Catherine Emmerich has “a detailed vision of all that had happened to herself.” She thought the vision was of some other nun and is recorded as saying, “It is shameful indeed for me to complain, for she has a far heavier burden to bear than I have.”[1] In her humility, she never dwelt on her own sufferings. This example helped me tremendously in accepting hypertension in pregnancy and I did indeed have a friend who suffered much more than I did from the same condition.

Being open to life provides the opportunity not only to trust in God, but also the ability to deal with loss. Women who repeatedly have problems during pregnancy learn to trust not only God but also their doctor. This is hard to do, but in the end there is a complete helplessness on the woman’s part and the doctor is the one who is trained to handle the tricky situation. Doctors need our prayers. Prayers that they will make good decisions. Prayers that they will be prayerful people. And prayers that they will skillfully perform operations. Women who experience complications during pregnancy also learn to be their own advocate. The state of pregnancy is increasingly regarded in very low esteem. I believe this is true especially of older mothers of large families. Nurses who worked before and after abortion was made legal have reported that within their own ranks those who were pregnant were no longer treated with the same respect as before the legalization of abortion. Gone are the days of rest and put your feet up. Bedrest is rarely prescribed. A pregnant woman’s concerns are sometimes blown off by the staff at the doctor’s office. This is due to a lack of respect for women in general and pregnant women and babies in particular. So patients must learn to be their own advocates and follow age old prescriptions for ills. I’m thinking of bedrest in particular. A doctor once told me to take it easy. I had no idea he meant rest on your left side most of the day and drink lots of water.

After the confirmation that my uterus was quite fragile I had my first miscarriage. It was a missed miscarriage and I bled a lot. The doctors were very good to me. The ER doctor told me that he needed an ultrasound to be sure the baby was no longer alive before he moved me to a big hospital for a procedure to stop the bleeding. He said he would never forgive himself if the baby was still alive. I thought that was wonderful. He was unwilling to do the operation however, because of my multiple c-sections. In the end, I suffered a lot of pain and bled a lot. I was so thirsty as I waited and waited to be transferred to a bigger hospital. Eventually I was given a blood transfusion. This experience gave me a glimpse into how Our Lord must have suffered from thirst during His crucifixion due to blood loss.

My seventh c-section went well, even though my son was four weeks pre-term. After this baby, I had my first stillborn. This was a horrible experience. My baby had died in utero and I could not deliver because I had had too many c-sections. The decision was to have the baby removed through the birth canal and this was done at a teaching hospital in a large city. While consulting with the surgeon, he alerted me to the fact that if the placenta had grown into scar tissue the surgery would be dangerous indeed. I had several appointments that day and a final appointment with the surgeon after the other consultations were completed. After the first appointment, the surgeon had a nurse give me a patient packet. As I left the office, I opened the packet. I was furious when I discovered it was an information packet about 2nd trimester abortions. I did tell the surgeon at the final appointment of the day that I was not having an abortion, we wanted our baby to live but it had died and it was wrong to treat me like I was seeking an abortion—it was decidedly not the same thing. He snatched the packet from me and half-embarrassed said, “She gave you the wrong packet.” I was still angry that evening and didn’t want an abortionist to remove my dead baby. I called the priest and told him I would just stay home and wait for the baby to come. He gave me good advise. He told me the baby was dead and I needed to go and have the surgery because it was the safest thing for me. I hated the thought of all this and still feel nauseated thinking about it. But Father was good and he came and gave me Last Rites before surgery since it was to be a dangerous one. That gave me much comfort.

Another thing we learned during this sad time is that when a hospital says the remains must be automatically cremated, that is not true. We called a fellow parishioner at this wonderful parish who was the president of a funeral home. He told us that the baby did not need to be cremated. So we told the hospital no, we wanted the remains to be released to the funeral home. All involved at the hospital acted as though this was a foreign idea, but the baby’s body was indeed released to the funeral home. We then had the baby buried in a cemetery in another state because we were away from home. In order to cross the state lines we needed to carry a document stating that we carried a non-viable fetus. I hid this as much as possible from my other children as it was so demeaning.

Now when telling well meaning but not entirely pro-life people how difficult pregnancies and sad outcomes are easier to accept when living an open-to-life marriage, they are quick to say that they believe that we must be stewards of our bodies and that under such circumstances, surely it is best to stop having children via sterilization or other morally illicit means. The teaching magisterium of the Church comes to our aid on this one and humility dictates that we trust in the wisdom of Holy Mother Church. Our faith is increased when we trust without full assent of our intellect. For Catholics who struggle with this they should pray for humility and faith. It is sad that those who have left the Church or have never been Catholic have no loving mother as they are orphans out in the world using their Bible and favorite preacher to piece together a belief system. What an unfortunate way to weather life’s storms.

About a year after my first stillborn, my tenth baby was born via c-section. This baby boy was born during covid lockdowns and with very little to do. It was another successful c-section but the surgery took quite a bit longer than a usual c-section. About three years after he was born I was pregnant again but unfortunately with placenta previa. Now this is never a good diagnosis as the placenta implants over the opening to the birth canal. With multiple c-sections this diagnosis is quite bleak as the chances of the placenta growing into and even through the uterus and invading other organs is 67 percent[2]. This is how my child bearing years came to an end—as foretold so many years before—in a teaching hospital undergoing a life threatening cesarean hysterectomy with repair of the invaded organs. My baby did die and we buried her in a cemetery near our home. I was treated like a queen at this teaching hospital as I was in a labor and delivery unit and not a family planning unit.

I’m sharing my story because I wouldn’t have done a single thing differently. I knew the baby was dead before the doctor confirmed and even though I was sad, I had no feelings of guilt or anger. Just sadness. From a most unlikely source, a saying kept coming back to me. “Life is hard.” Les Schwab of tire industry fame wrote that in his book Pride in Performance and the simple way he accepted disappointment always stuck with me. Les was from a different era. Pain was an unavoidable part of life during his time. He was a teenage boy during the depression and a young dad during World War II. For my generation, our lives are pretty painless all things considered. But, we have the Church to remind us that there is as S. L. Emery in The Inner Life of the Soul calls it: “A Mystery of Pain: The glad octave (Christmas) closes with the painful rite of circumcision, when the foretold name of Jesus was given to the infant Savior. We pause, and think, and gradually it dawns upon our astonished minds that Mary must have consented to His suffering; as she never did anything contrary to God’s holy will, and as God wills only what is good and wise; pain must have been the choice of the Infant Jesus.”[3]

In the days I was hospitalized awaiting surgery as many surgeons had to be involved in my case and the perinatologist needed time to come up with a plan, I thought of my other children and how much it would impact their lives if I didn’t come home. I was very consoled in the thought that if God required that I give Him my all, I could not have given Him any less. Now I am grateful that He gave me this little bit of pain. My thought process was reminiscent of a beloved Robert E. Lee quote: “Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less.” I did my duty like a good soldier of Christ.

Most women from my generation would have stopped having children after preeclampsia showed up repeatedly. Most women from my generation would not have had 9 c-sections. But I’m a Catholic woman and I was happy to turn my fertility and health over to God. I was better prepared for the sadness of losing two babies because I had placed my trust in Him all throughout my childbearing years. There is purpose in pain. Modern man tries to avoid pain at all costs. I’m sharing my experience so that other women who have been treated like continuing to have babies one high risk pregnancy after the other is reckless and irresponsible know that I don’t think it is reckless at all. Not all outcomes are favorable outcomes but if you live your life in accord with God’s will the outcome will be pleasing to Him.

I’m currently editing a book with the working title, The Perilous Journey Many Mothers Travel. I’m inviting women with experiences similar to mine to submit their stories to be included in the book. You can contact me on my website via the contact form:


1 Emmerich, Anne Catherine, and Religious of the Order of St. Augustine. The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Charlotte, North Carolina, TAN books, 2004.
2 Clark, S L et al. Placenta previa/accreta and prior cesarean section.” Obstetrics and gynecology vol. 66,1 (1985): 89-92.
3 Angelus Press, and S. L. Emery. Traditional Catholic Daily Planner 2024. Saint Marys, Kansas,Angelus Press, 2023.
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Kathleen Bowen is a wife and homeschooling mother of ten children. She began in 2013. As her children have grown, they’ve taken her down the path of Catholic moviemaking. Her family’s 5th film is currently in pre-production.