Disobeying the Pope in the 60's

‘Disobeying the Pope in the 60’s’
By Irene Murray
My husband and I lived in Hartford on the third floor of an apartment building off Farmington Ave. in the mid-sixties when we first married. We had both dropped out of college and were feeling our way along in a new relationship, both of us products of Roman Catholic upbringing and thus, basically pretty obedient and rule following young people. In July of 1964 our first child was born and there were plenty of challenges and changes associated with that turbulent time for us at a time when many rules and roles were changing in the greater world around us.
Quite honestly, most of those societal changes were peripheral in our lives, my husband (this refers to my first husband) had found a third shift job at Traveler’s Insurance Company, he took the bus to work since we initially did not own a car. Later, we purchased our first car, a brand new 1965 Blue Volkswagen; after all we were entering the ‘middle class’. I was at home with our son and most of my days were consumed with the new duties of wife and motherhood.
Our first son had been born with a low birth weight, his breathing was slow to start apparently and there was some concern about his overall functioning. I had gotten my pre-natal care at St. Francis Hospital and I recall two things from my stay there vividly, first that I had to sign a paper that said that if there was a choice between myself or the baby living, that I would give permission for them to save my baby. I remember hesitating when thinking about signing that paper but I used ‘denial’ that such a thing would happen to push through that barrier and so I signed without objecting. The other vivid memory came when one of the doctors came to my hospital room a day or so after our son was born and told us that he might have some kind of ‘retardation’ but we might not know about it until he was as old as 5 years or so. I cried of course and then somehow put that to the side of my brain, again a type of denial, I couldn’t deal with such a possibility.
As it turned out, our son had to remain in the hospital longer than I did until his weight and functioning improved. When he did come home, he was a fussy baby with projectile vomiting and colic like symptoms. Of course, the fact that I was overdressing and over feeding him did not help the situation. I won’t ever forget the kind visiting nurse who visited within the first month and taught me many basic strategies that brought relief to all three of us.
By the time our son was 5 months old, I found that I was pregnant again. We weren’t using regular birth control; rather we were half-heartedly trying to use the ‘rhythm’ system. Shortly after finding out I was pregnant, two things happened that changed something inside me for the long run. First is that I went to a new obstetrician whose views were that the mother was the key to a healthy family. He immediately asked me if I wanted to go on ‘birth control’ after this baby was born.
I remember struggling with this decision since I had been raised a strict Catholic but at the same time to be a questioning person makes for a difficult inner dialogue. In the first month of my second child being born, I made the decision to go on the ‘birth control pill’.
At that time my husband and I had been attending mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph on Farmington Ave. in Hartford. We did not go every week, partly because this was our first chance to make our own decisions about attending church and we were experimenting with our lifestyle. I did feel compelled to go to confession (as it was known then) after I started to use birth control since I knew it was against church rules. I remember sweating and feeling horrible when I confessed that I was using birth control. The priest was upset with me and told me that I had to stop using the pill and go back and use the rhythm method.
Right then and there I thought, doggone it, the Pope is not going to come and take care of these kids if I am committed to a mental institution and I made the decision to never confess to using birth control again. I knew somehow that God understood and would forgive me.

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