by MICHAEL OTTO
Pope Francis may have ventured where angels fear to go last month in raising the issue of responsible parenthood, but one Kiwi family is unafraid to share their distinct experience.
Michael and Rebecca Loretz of Avondale in Auckland have nine children aged between 20 years and 15 months. And all of them were born by caesarean section.
So their ears pricked up when they heard reports of the Pope’s comments during an in-flight press conference after his visit to the Philippines.
Francis spoke of a woman he met who was pregnant after having had her first seven children by caesarean section. He reportedly rebuked the woman, asking if she wanted “to leave seven orphans”.
“That is an irresponsibility. [That woman might say] ‘no but I trust in God’. But God gives you methods to be responsible,” the Pope said.
He added: “Some think that, excuse me if I use that word, in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood.”
Michael and Rebecca said they love the Pope and don’t want to say anything against him. But Michael admitted that, when he first heard the reports of Francis’s statement, he took to social media to express his concerns.
That’s because Michael and Rebecca, both aged 43, don’t think they have been irresponsible in any wayin having their family.
When they were first married, they thought maybe four children would be a good number to have.
Their first two children required emergency caesareans for different reasons — the first because of the baby’s distress, and the second because of an umbilical cord around the throat.
In those days, Michael and Rebecca explained, it was usual for hospitals in New Zealand to tell women who had had two caesareans that they should do likewise in future pregnancies.
The couple did a lot of research on the topic, and read academic literature.
They discovered that, while there are increased risks in repeat caesareans — such as uterine rupture — the overall risk level, on average, didn’t seem overly large. And they read that most anticipated complications can be managed.
“So we thought, well, it is fine to continue, and that is what we did up to child number six,” Michael said.
But then, in hospital, Rebecca reacted to a spinal block and went into a cardiac arrest for
about 20 seconds.
She survived and the couple’s sixth child, Beatrice, was delivered safely. But the episode
gave the couple cause for much reflection.
“We thought maybe that is where we will stop,” Michael said. “So we started Natural Family Planning, and it worked for quite a while.”
He admitted he and his wife became “a little lax”, because they were getting older and expected that their fertility would be dropping off.
For several years there were no more pregnancies. But then babies seven and eight came along.
Hospital staff again warned of the risks of repeated caesareans.
But Rebecca’s surgeon told her that her uterus after the seventh child was only moderately scarred and advised that, if they wanted another baby, the risk would probably be no greater than previously.
In due course, the eighth delivery went off very smoothly.
The couple thought they were used to parenting by this stage and another child would always be welcome.
But after this the warnings increased. Doctors warned Michael: “Don’t play Russian roulette with your wife’s life.”“Our thinking at that stage was that is probably enough, because we were getting old,” Michael said.
They discussed their situation with priests, because they still wanted to be as generous as possible with God, and weren’t sure that their situation was serious enough to use Natural Family Planning.
“In discussion with priests, we accepted that there is a serious reason, because there are risks,” Michael said. “We were not getting any younger, the kids may have had no mother, and so on. So we decided we would use NFP again.”
But, to their amazement, they found themselves expecting their ninth child in their early forties.
This baby, Philomena, was what the couple called their “miracle” baby. There were severe complications. Those included doubts over whether the unborn child could survive, because doctors thought she was implanted in the either the cervix, or caesarean scar tissue.
There were also heightened risks of bleeding for Rebecca.
Despite strong advice to terminate the pregnancy,the couple refused any treatment that might harm the baby while she could still be alive.
Further scans revealed that she was not implanted in a hopeless place, and could grow “upwards”.
So they decided to take a leap of faith and, after much worry, a healthy baby was delivered just after 30 weeks.
Michael and Rebecca say their devotion to St Philomena came as a great consolation during this time. “We did a novena to her every day of the pregnancy.”
But doctors told them nothing could be done to save Rebecca’s uterus, as the placenta had gone through it and the uterus had also become attached to the bladder. An emergency hysterectomy was performed.
But the couple is still “open to life”. “If someone wants to give up their baby and that sort of thing. We have actually offered once,” Michael said.
He admitted that people criticising large families irritated him, but he has become used to it.
“I have been accused of being the reason why the polar bears are finding it hard to survive. Why are my taxes paying for your children [people ask]? All of that. And many variations on that theme.”
So given the family’s history, the Pope’s comments caused surprise. “The Pope was right on just about all the things he said that day, I think, apart from the fact that he called that woman irresponsible,” Michael said.
“Because, she is not objectively irresponsible. There are circumstances in which she might have found herself in that situation without being irresponsible.
“And the Pope is right that God provides tools to know about your fertility, and those tools are useful, they are. Generally useful, but nothing is 100 per cent.”
Michael said the Pope probably believed
the woman he used as an example was “right at the end of the normal curve”, and he probably felt safe in using that example.
But Rebecca noted that their family is not “at the end of the curve either”. She recalls reading of cases where women had up to 14 caesareans.
Of course, there is an element of trust in God in all this, the couple noted. They are pleased Pope Francis subsequently reiterated his appreciation of large families. At an audience at St Peter’s Square soon after arriving back in Rome, Francis said: “It gives me consolation and hope to see so many large families that welcome children as a true gift from God.”
A Vatican official also told media that the Pope was “truly sorry” for any “disorientation” his remarks may have caused. The official said the Pope was “a bit surprised” his words were not “fully contextualised”, with respect to Humanae Vitae and the encyclical’s teaching on
Michael and Rebecca said they are in no doubt the Pope does value large families. Francis comes from a family of five children himself.
The Loretz family is grateful the Church has always supported large families too.
“The Church is our ally — it still is,” Michael said.
An article in a peer reviewed journal studied by Michael and Rebecca Loretz cited a World Health Organisation Review published in 2005 which stated: “For women with a history of
previous caesarean section, the prevalence of uterine rupture was in the region of 1 per cent.” The review also noted the much lower prevalence of uterine rupture in developed countries than in undeveloped ones. Murphy, Deirdre J, “Uterine Rupture”, Current opinion in obstetrics & gynecology, 2006, Vol.18(2), pp.135-40.
by MICHAEL OTTO