The Problem With Saying “Marriage Is For Babies”

As a Catholic, this is probably a super weird opinion to have. And, honestly, maybe it’s a leftover from my days as a secular feminist and it’s something I need to work through still. But either way it’s something I’m here on this blog to untangle, lucky you!

Musings of a Michigan Man is a thoughtful blog that I’ve loved reading over the last few weeks. However, one of the themes that comes up a lot on his blog and in his posts (especially the comments of the one linked above) is about how the purpose of marriage is procreation. This is a really common sentiment in the Church and — it seems to me — particularly among men. And I have a problem with it.

Hear me out! I don’t have a problem with it being true (or with Michigan Man, a guy I’d love to call a friend) — it is true. The purpose of marriage is children. The purpose of sex is children. The greatest purpose Catholics have on the planet I think is, arguably, children. But approaching it like that from the start is a little disordered and can be a bit of a turnoff for Catholic women like myself.

Turn-Offs Aren’t Great for Babies

Here’s a true gem from Scott Hahn’s book about the mass, The Lamb’s Supper, that opened this can of worms in my heart:

The various forms of sacrifice [throughout the mass and throughout the gospel] include one positive similar meaning: life is surrendered in order to be transformed and shared.

For people who don’t have a serious issue with sperm like I do, this might not be a big deal of a statement. But I’m not exaggerating when I say that hearing this (on my audiobook as I walked) stopped me dead in my tracks. I rewinded. I listened again. I rewinded. I wrote it down.

This changes everything and, (if you’ll forgive me for using you as the scapegoat, Michigan Man) it explains why the typical Catholic phrasing about marriage, women, and babies turns me off so much.

“Girl Surrender” Doesn’t Have the Same Ring To It

Growing up in the 90s (and in my formative boyfriend-girlfriend relationship), feminist power plays were the lay of the land. My mom stayed home to raise 4 kids while my dad was deployed, literally giving over her body and mind for the good of her family for years. When she looked to me, her only girl, and reflected on a lifetime of sacrifice, her motto about relationships was more like “Don’t get married!” or “Do everything you want to do in life before you get married!” because of her experience.

In my formative girlfriend-boyfriend relationships, my boyfriend wanted things from me (namely sex) and it was up to me to make the play and keep the guy by fulfilling your side of the bargain (which at the time I was very consensual about fulfilling). The more he wanted me (the more thin, more sexy, more girlfriend-like I was), the more “powerful” I was in that relationship (supposedly).

Later, when the effects of relationships like this began to dawn on me, being distant, using sex as a tool, and controlling or suppressing my feelings was the “power play.” I got really good at it, hence the blog title of Sarcastic Catholic.

Finally, we can pile on all the secular media, headlines, music, movies, and everyone else in my life who said sex was power and it’s time for women to use it. Specifically, “Girl Power!” and now “Girl’s Run the World!”

Never Surrender

The result of these forces? A girl who is not about to surrender anything.

I became a perfect example of the modern feminist: highly educated, highly opinionated, unrestrained, and loud about it (after all, “Well-behaved women rarely make history,” right?). I was anti-Catholic, pro-“spirituality and equality” and pretty much toted the party line on everything else.

I was trained to control every area of my life. I planned my education, my career, my dates, and my relationships. I was the one who said “yes,” and “no,” and I had all the power.

So when the moment came to have sex without contraception — to in every sense of the world surrender my body (for the pregnancy itself), my mind (to the pregnancy hormones and postpartum depression), and my future (my career and whatever else that would sideline as I was consumed by children) or even my life (with all those wonderful stories about mothers having near-death experiences or passing away during labor) — is it any surprise that this girl (who doesn’t give an inch in any area of her life) had a panic attack?

I’m Surrendering Now, With Caveats

Naming the problem — that’s the real power. And that’s what I’m doing week by week as I untangle these complicated emotions during EDMR counseling. I’m point-by-point identifying and replacing disordered experiences with the healing love my adult self, who has access to the Truth, Christ, grace, and everything else wonderful.

(And man-o-man can I say these sessions are working? I am nowhere near finished, but I can already see a big difference in my day to day ability to process emotions and in my sex life with my husband).

I’m learning to surrender now, and it’s really showing in my relationship with my husband. I still have caveats that I need to clear out in order to fully submit to God (and I still haven’t worked up to having sex “to completion” yet), but I am heartened by the progress I’ve made in just 5 or 6 weeks of working at this.

Still, at the end of the day, I completely understand why I and other women today don’t want to hear from a man of God that “marriages and women are meant for children,” even though it’s true.

What I want to hear — what resonates with my spirit, even if it’s semantics — is that “Our love will be so overflowing and mutually self-sacrificing that we will be transformed by having children together.”

Side note: We’ve even started replacing how we talk about sex around the house or in jokes or in TV shows with Truth-oriented language, which is so corny but really helps me differentiate between what my husband and I do and the lies that come from the world. For example, instead of “doing it” and “boning” it’s “mutual, self-sacrificing love,” and “making love,” etc.

Because it’s not as simple as “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage.” It’s “first comes love, then comes Christ’s love in your marriage, then comes mutual self-sacrifice and self-giving, then comes a baby.”

To leave that part out tells a story of power, not of surrender and transformation; a story where the man has the power and the burden falls on the woman, and that’s simply not true.

There’s so much more to this story, but that’s as far as I can dig into right now without composing a novella. I’d love to hear thoughts from women and men on this topic, because I know I’m not alone and I know there are some who disagree with me!

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12 comments

  1. Mary

    When God called me to enter the Catholic church, that was one of my first questions before I started RCIA- contraception. I listened to our RCIA director who told me it takes time to truly understand and accept this teaching. I told her I am an all or nothing kinda girl so I’ll pray about it and go from there. Two weeks later I was at my obgyn’s office getting my IUD taken out.
    I too have a lot of the same thoughts and attributes you had. I was a feminist, control freak, very involved in pro-choice, women’s rights I can do it all blah blah blah. That was until I hit my 30’s got married, had twins and then another baby 13 months later and then three years after that found all my answers in Christ (as a feminist practicing Jewish girl).
    The ultimate trusting of God didn’t come for me until I got rid of the contraception, that’s trust, at 38 with three kids under 7 and a full time career as an attorney. It is an amazing abandonment of self for Him. It is the greatest lesson I have learned thus far from Christ.

    • hannahjeankahn

      That’s so inspiring, Mary, thank you for sharing! This teaching that took me a while to digest — it wasn’t until we were in NFP courses that I considered what using contraception said about my marriage; my husband and my’s relationship; and my feeling about “being in control of my life.” You’re so right when you say the ultimate trust can come in the form of the dialogue about birth control (especially for women, I think).

  2. Reclaiming the Sacred

    I like so much of this! 🙂 This is great! Where do I even start?

    As soon as you said, “The more he wanted me (the more thin, more sexy, more girlfriend-like I was), the more “powerful” I was in that relationship (supposedly)” – it hit a cord.

    That is a HUGE part of I think what causes me to cringe in regards to marriage. I was the girl who was thrown into those games in one way or another. I was shown that when I was thin, sexy, with blonde hair, etc., etc., that men wanted to give me the world! I dated one guy who literally said to me, “you better look good tonight. I am taking you out with my friends.”

    I saw from a young age that the more “benefit” I provided (looks, bragging trophy rights, etc.), the more I was “loved.” When I slacked or fell back, attitudes changed. My freshman year, I died my hair this dark shade with a purple cast to it – I loved it! My fraternity boyfriend instead bargained with me to go back to blonde. Some years later, when I put on weight and looked plain, an ex-boyfreind (Catholic!) would call me up asking if I would have an affair – but not date! I guess the bragging rights had flown out the window.

    When I lived abroad, I saw married men in very wealthy establishments who would tell me how much they loved their families, and their children, but that there was nothing wrong with a little cheating! Would I amuse them? I saw people who seemed like such great guys, going after the “selfish” end.

    So to hear, “marriage is for babies” is almost, in a strange way, like saying, “women are for pleasure.”

    It feels objectifying, even if it could have a higher, more noble end.

    And that is just it – in marriage, there is always that risk. That the noble will be lowered to the base. Maybe more “naive” women do not see that, but I do, and it is cool to read someone else who gets it too. 🙂

    Thanks for the interesting post! I could comment a lot more, but I better stop. I have been rambling in comment boxes too much lately.

    • hannahjeankahn

      I’m so sorry about your experience with those guys! When we get those experiences over and over again (and I have my fair share of secular/religious guys who have said or done nasty things) it’s hard to not let it override what the Church says is true. But if anything, I think all of this is evidence that it’s the individual relationship with Christ that counts.

      If we focus on each other and what everyone’s doing, all we see are lies and hurt and abuse (Even from people who are trying to do the right thing). But if everyone tuned into the Church’s vision for it, then we’d each individually course-correct and it would be easier to have the same definitions for things.

      For example, when I explained this post to my husband about not wanting to hear “marriage is for babies,” he was genuinely confused. He had simply never thought of the process of childbearing/”marriage for babies” objectifying, whereas it has always seemed that way to me.

      But if I make sure I bring myself closer to the Truth outlined in the Theology of the Body, and he tries to do that, too, this language of objectification wouldn’t happen anymore. We’d both be talking about the same thing from the same perspective. It would be more like where Michigan Man is coming from, from the perspective of “…. but bearing a child IS the greatest thing in the world/the greatest compliment or achievement!” Which I think is true but often goes unsaid in the world’s thoughts and actions.

      As it is, I don’t know what to say about dating and marriage. It’s so hard to see men act the way they do (like the stories you mentioned) and not walk away completely discouraged. But I also believe that conversion is only ever a moment a way — so you never know what moment a man will wake up and pick up his cross to be the man God meant him to be, or vice versa for us! But in the mean time, God does ask us to ignore every insult and injury and keep seeking him. Maybe by trying to focus more on that rather than what the world/misguided people are doing is where the peace is.

      (But caveat: to be fair, this would be VERY HARD for me if I were dating! I am much more likely to get frustrated/vocal about all the bad behavior and let it affect my actions and attitude. Maybe that’s one of the many reasons why God lead me to be married at this time in my life!)

      • Reclaiming the Sacred

        Thanks for the reply!

        I think we have to give MM some kudos for entering into a debate with two women such as us! 🙂 We are definitely women with a voice! 🙂 He is a bit outnumbered, and has held up well.

        I posted a comment to his most recent post on his site. I think it also addresses some of the things that you mentioned above.

        You are right in that we have to look beyond the faults of others, very good point. I think that, if anything, my experiences taught me a lot, and helped me to look much deeper than I might have otherwise. Some might say I look TOO deep, but in many ways my experiences have helped me to better define my notions of love, and have lead me to the belief that true love is far more complex than we understand.

        When we remove any and all benefit from love, we begin to see the more clear picture, and that ultimately leads to God.

        But yes, those experiences are not easy to go through at the time. Thanks for the reply!

    • hannahjeankahn

      Hey Rosie — I checked it out, and thanks again for inviting me to share my thoughts! Fertility (natural and man made) is always going to start discussions.

      Reading the post, I’m very interested in where people think those limits should come from. As a Catholic or a Christian, we think those limits clearly come from God. But as an atheist or agnostic, people think those limits come from different things. Some think there should be no limits, others think “common sense” should be the limit (which is arguable and relative), and others have their own idea of what limits are.

      So… endless discussion, for sure!

      • EnglishRosiee

        Hey! Thanks for reading. Please can I be a pain and ask you to copy paste this comment under the post so others can read it and form a discussion. Think your perspective is really interesting.

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