Can I get an Amen?

In 1973 whilst sitting on the hardwood floor in her parents living room on Oakleaf Street, my best friend Renee shook in terror at the creepy critters that attempted to lure Kim Darby down the stairs in the made for television movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. I balked at her fear, told her they were not real and she was being ridiculous for thinking they could appear in her small home.  Although not quite seven years old,  I was a bright enough child to realize those little guys were fictional, made for television. They did not frighten me.

The monsters I was more likely to be frightened of were demons and related evil spirits. As a Recovering Catholic I am fairly certain this fear was deeply implanted by Holy Name of Jesus Roman Catholic Church and the associated teachings doled out by its nuns every Sunday at catechism. My family believed in the devil and therefore movies like The Omen,Salem’s Lot, and Poltergeist made quite an impact. Creatures in costumes were not frightening but people, humans, they were terrifying beyond measure. Real evil lay in our fellow human beings. Evil was found in the pedophile next door and the wife beater down the street. Monsters like that frightened me regularly.

As a Catholic, I was taught to distinguish between physical evil and moral evil. Physical evil is simply a lack of perfection. Blindness could be considered a physical evil because it prevents sight and limits person’s physical abilities. This is not to suggest that the blind person is evil, rather, the blindness itself is evil due to what it does or limits in the person. Moral evil is the bigger challenge. Moral evil, or Sin, is the lack of perfection of the human will. It is considered evil because it is contrary to Gods will. Moral evil is voluntary. The greater the sin, the greater the evil it produces. In other words, the more the sin fails to correspond to the will of God, the more evil it is. It obviously follows that some evil acts are worse than others.

In my Catholic family, sex outside of marriage was a sin (read: moral evil).  I not only had sex outside of marriage but I conceived a child from that sexual act. Sex was for procreation not enjoyment. Having sex for purposes other than procreation (say, pleasure) outside of marriage was evil. Think the Bad Seed Times Two. Seventeen years of Sunday catechism coupled with my primary socialization at home, made it clear. I was evil. I had permitted the devil in my heart (and clearly, my vagina). I had become a monster to my family (and frankly, even to myself) and all who believed like them. The instant that sperm met with my egg I was transformed. The mask of pregnancy would take on a very different form for me.

Evil Begets Evil

I was deeply conflicted. I did not feel evil yet by all accounts I was. The few people who knew looked at me strangely, backed away, or asked rude hurtful questions. Even my boyfriend viewed my pregnancy as my fault, my problem, something bad I did. What I had created (or eventually would) was a situation that was profoundly immoral and malevolent. Classic case of moral evil, at least so the “good” people told me. What I personally felt was that I loved my boyfriend, he loved me and in doing so we produced a child, no doubt a child that would also be loving and wonderful. How could that be wrong? How was love wrong and evil? How could an unborn child be loathsome? What kind of God makes a being in his own image and has it born with original sin? How low is God’s self esteem for goodness sake?

I never asked those questions, voiced my objections, to those that judged me as my religious teaching ran deep. I was wrong. I needed to be punished and nothing good would come from my pregnancy.

Penance

The Catholic Church teaches that sacramental confession requires three acts on part of the penitent (person seeking forgiveness from God). These three acts are contrition (sorrow for the sin you committed, confession and satisfaction (or penance, doing something to make amends for your sins). In my early catholic days, my confession and penance were most often limited to entering a creepy closet sized room alone. I would wait for the priest to slide the screened window open and then I would I would ask him for forgiveness, tell him the date of my last confession and eventually what I have done wrong since I last confessed. Prior to my pregnancy my sins included things like “I slapped my sister”, “I stole a quarter from my mothers’ purse” and “I had mean thoughts about a bully at school”. Once I confessed my wrong doings to the priest, he would order me to kneel at the altar and say a certain number of prayers for a certain period of time. I usually went and sang songs to myself or made up stories rather than recited my assigned prayers.

My teenage pregnancy sin was not a venial sin. Rather, it was mortal (in more ways than one). This means it was committed with full knowledge, was a grave matter and was committed with deliberate and complete consent. While I had not committed murder, did not steal, defraud or bear false witness, I had surely dishonored my mother and father and I had sex outside of marriage. This was considered a grave matter as specified by the Ten Commandments. A few prayers at the overly ornate oak altar of Holy Name of Jesus were not going to be sufficient penance.

I never confessed. I was too fearful of doing so not to mention I was not entirely convinced I had to. The cracks in my Catholic outer shell had started way before this time yet the confusion I felt over my pregnancy was staggering. I was not evil. My child was not evil. The act that created her was not evil…even if all around me and several years of religious teachings told me so. Without sorrow (contrition) there can be no forgiveness. I was not sorrowful. I was terrified.

My evil plan was to take my evil self and the bad seed growing inside me away from those that believed otherwise.

My plan failed.

Deliver Me Lord from Evil

When my plan to run away from home and care for my child alone failed, adoption entered the picture and was presented as my only option, or in religious terms, my redemption.

Catholics consider redemption to be the restoration of man from the bondage of sin. The primitive catholic girl inside of me, the one fighting her burgeoning atheist Gemini twin, believed in redemption. I wanted redemption. I wanted it for me and most importantly, for my child. I desperately wanted to save her from me, from poverty, from all the bad things I, the evil sinner whore, would bring into her life. Under this agency, I gave in to the idea of adoption even when every cell of my body resisted it. I truly believed that adoption would save my child from becoming an evil monster – like her mother before her.

Years later I would learn that the Latin Vulgate for redemption is redemptio. In this Old Testament this means a “ransom price”.

Ransom indeed.

Amen

The word amen, in the New Testament, is considered a declaration of affirmation, a concluding word for prayers and hymns. I had hoped that my reunion would grant me my amen. By that I mean affirmation and conclusion and maybe even some validation.

 I wanted to know my child. I wanted her to know she was wanted then and now. I wanted to give her everything she asked and deserved. I want to right a wrong, to heal wounds, to introduce brothers to sisters. I wanted to hear her voice, touch her hair, and hear the unique tone of her laugh. I wanted to know that my child is not evil.

Yes, evil. Adoption promised me that it would save her from evil. Did it work? Was she a kind person? Or had I let a monster loose in the world? Had she been cured of the evil in her genes?

Laugh if you must but know that it is true. I had an overwhelming, often obsessive need, to know that my child was not a demon. To this day, I don’t know that she is or isn’t but I have recently found comfort in the words of physicist and Nobel Laureate, Steven Wienberg. Steven says “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

As I have let go of my familial religion, I believe it time I let go of the teachings that remain. I got the girl out of the church but can I truly get the church out of the girl? As I continue to try, I am going to assume my daughter is a good person. Since I don’t know her, I don’t know this for certain, but I am going to try to believe it. For not doing so, is to fall prey, once again, to the religious and adoption lies.  I am not going to question if adoption “worked” or cured her for the very suggestion, at least now, is preposterous to me.   If, when, I meet her, I will know.

Amen.

8 Thoughts.

  1. I could have written this piece. I was not Catholic but LDS(Mormon). Some of the things are so similar. You have taken my jumbled mess of thoughts and turned them into a beautiful post.

  2. I was raised a Catholic girl as well although I am seven years older. That means that my strictly religious parents were also influenced by Vatican II. Pregnant at 16 in 1976 by a boyfriend I adored until he split the scene completely, I was not ashamed of having sex with him at all. For a short window of time, in a very liberal diocese, there was some acceptance and openness of our human nature in general. But upon learning of my pregnancy my parents took me to one of our parish priests immediately to begin the process of “handling” this family crisis in a more traditional way.

    The priest was kind enough in his manner. He told me that I had been chosen by God to provide a baby for a good Catholic couple who could not have a child “of their own.” Wow, you’d have thought it was some kind of special honor blessed by the Lord. I told him I didn’t know about his God, but mine would never choose to have me suffer my entire life to provide a baby for someone else. What kind of God would that be? I was adamant I was keeping my baby. Then he asked if I’d like to confess my sins. I simply said that I was truly sorry for anyone who would be hurt by this situation. Little did I know the monumental scope of the statement at the time.

    I was not one of the girls who went away. I stayed in my Catholic High School and my parents insisted I attend Mass every week. It was during those months that I broke down. I was an excellent student and a “good girl” who had fallen – and the campaign began to deny my admission to my junior year of high school. It didn’t happen, but teachers ridiculed me and it was pretty unbearable. It was like living “The Scarlet Letter” the year after my class read it in English. The students, on the other hand, were pretty great, but they just wanted it all to be over and things to go back to normal. It was hard for them to watch a friend and classmate be ridiculed by teachers, parents and other adults – they were supposed to care for us, not persecute us. Ultimately, I wasn’t equipped to fight my parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles, neighbors, parishoners, teachers, doctor, nurses, and the ex-priest social worker who handled my son’s adoption beating me down. I was a just-turned-seventeen-year-old alone in her fight without an advocate of any kind. There were lies and abuses by the social worker (CSS) and medical “care” providers(Catholic hospital, too), and, in the end, my father told me my punishment would be to place my baby for adoption. I don’t suppose it ever occurred to him he was placing his infant grandson, his first, in permanent exile by doing so.

    I was punished and my son was punished – the losses unfathomable.

    I met my son right before he turned 30. In his very first letter to me he told me he “was decidedely irreligious.” Perhaps the hypocrisy and cruelty of the religious retribution that separated us had permeated his being in utereo.

  3. Suz, this line says it all… “I got the girl out of the church, but can I get the church out of the girl”

    It’s something I struggle daily with. Yes, I have left, (I’m a recovering evangelical) but yet at times I notice my judgements, and the way I was brainwashed has not left.
    It’s a daily fight.

    Thanks for putting it to words.

  4. “The word amen, in the New Testament, is considered a declaration of affirmation, a concluding word for prayers and hymns. I had hoped that my reunion would grant me my amen. ”

    This relates to what has been circling in my brain lately, gives a name of sorts to it. Is my reunion my “amen”?? Should I be embracing this amen? My prayers were answered ~ Christopher got the great parents, had the great childhood, he didn’t hate me, didn’t feel abandoned. I was somehow able to go on with my life, despite the loss of my son to adoption. Granted, so many things were effected by the loss of him that weren’t so good but despite all that I have a pretty great life. So instead of continued grief over the loss of my son to adoption, should I celebrating this amen?

    • Susie – Hmmmm. I dont know. Only you can know. I dont know if “celebrate” is ever a good word in adoption or any kind of reunion – even if there are positive aspects of it – it diminishes the negative, no?

      Clearly in my situation, my Amen was supposed to be knowing my daughter, meeting her, reconnecting, finding out she is not a demon after all. That same analogy may not work for you. Very personal situations.

      You also sound like you might be bordering on Adoption Reunion Survivor Guilt. Run away from that border quickly ! See this post for what I mean Adoption Reunion Survivor Guilt

      • No… not really what I meant. In celebrating the amen, it would be celebrating the fact that I now KNOW (not just hope) that my son got the promised great parents and life. It would be celebrating that despite living in the hell that is life without my firstborn, I do have a pretty great life. It would be celebrating having a relationship with Christopher (even though it’s mostly silence on his part).

        I mean… Nothing will ever take away the loss. Nothing can ever bring back the motherhood stolen by adoption. I can’t change it, so why continue to… acknowledge and feel it? Shouldn’t I be concentrating only on the good that I do have and try to forget the loss that I can’t do anything about?

        I don’t know. Putting all of this pondering in writing here has me realizing that I’m in that weird head-space again where the kool-aid is looking pretty good… *sigh*

  5. I think the Catholic Church has a real issue with sex and all the policies flow from that. My daughter was not brought up in the catholic church for all the reasons you set out. She has, however, taken a number of world religion courses in university. She will speak objectively of catholic iconography when faced with Jesus on the cross or the Virgin Mary. It seems funny to me but that objectivity is the way it should be. Great post. As someone said above, you have articulated things I felt but have never been able to put in to words.

    My son sat in foster care for ten months, unbeknownst to me, because the rules said (also unbeknowst to me) that he had to go to a catholic family and there were none who were looking to adopt..

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