Thursday, 30 May 2013

Changing The World: One Diaper At A Time.

The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral -- a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby's body.... The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God's creative miracle to bring new saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other human creature. God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation.... What on God's earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother.
(Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty) 

 The Candies Foundation is a "non-profit organization that works to shape the way youth in America think about teen pregnancy and parenthood." Their current campaign sees them designating May as "National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month" and asking tweeters to join them in using the hashtag #noteenpreg. Take a look at the campaign ads:

Think school sucks? Wait till you have a baby!
Because what kind of loser has a crib like that? Boooring!
Nah. A baby buggy isn't going to pull the chicks like your dad's Mondeo.

Of course! Everyone else is "changing the world" 'cept you baby mama.  

What a horribly misconceived campaign.
If the objective is to discourage feckless irresponsible parenting it fails miserably in my opinion. The message is pretty clear: Motherhood sucks.
This is the way they aim to 'shape the way youth in America think about parenthood': A buggy is a naff alternative to a cool set of 'wheels', and changing diapers is a dead end job for losers.
How does one 'change the world' anyway? Getting pissed in nightclubs? Becoming a rockstar? Having a string of 'partners'? Driving a nice car? Going to university?
Are these foxy poster girls and boys 'world changers'? Really?
 Personally I can't think of anything more 'world changing' than raising the next generation.

 Am I advocating for teenage motherhood? No, although frankly I can think of many things way worse than teen motherhood. Some of the most wonderful and devoted mothers I've known have started out young.
 In my opinion the problem worthy of tackling is not "teenage motherhood" but a collapse of the ideal of marriage and family life. Instead of appealing to base, consumerist instincts couldn't we give young people a beautiful vision of family life to aspire to?
 Instead of stigmatising young mums by ad campaign (yuk) couldn't we honour the dignity and value of motherhood?
Couldn't we help young men to envision themselves as noble and sacrificial husbands and fathers rather than players with a 'cool set of wheels'? Couldn't we?
It seems to me that what started out as a noble intention to remove the stigma suffered by 'irregular' families has seen the slow toppling of the ideal, that of a mother and father, committed to each other and to the children of their union, in a permanent bond of marriage.
Is it not possible to hold out marriage as a 'gold standard' for children without stigmatising those who through death, divorce or abandonment are raising children single handedly? I hope so.
But this campaign badly misfires on all fronts. Stigmatising teen mums by advertising campaign is nasty. Demeaning motherhood is a crappy way to encourage young people to wait until they are able to parent responsibly.
Teenage mothers are not "The Problem". Really. Age is not the problem. Fecklessness, cruelty and selfishness is the problem. Josef Fritzel was no spring chicken.
Let's be honest, the #noteenpreg campaign isn't about teenage pregnancy at all. It's about the cost to us of supporting mothers on state benefits.
  Here's a delightful article about an orthodox Jewish wedding between two teenagers. If she has a honeymoon baby I don't think anyone is going to be tut tutting about #noteenpreg. Why? Because they're married, they have lots of family support and they have plenty of money. So we don't have to fret about them being benefit scroungers. Because that's the bottom line here: Money. Because It's the economy stupid. Always.
 The truth is, there is nothing weird or bizarre or antisocial about teenage mothers. What is weird, antisocial and bizarre is our selfish, materialistic, hedonistic, me first, individualistic, lonely, anti natal, child fearing, commitment phobic, infantile culture, for whom the giant, atrophied, wet nursing teat of the State has become Big Mummy.
What is weird, antisocial and bizarre is our dismantling of the gold standard of marriage, the flattening of the family and the concept of the child as being either a quick jump in the queue for a council flat or the perfect cherry on the cake of the finished life.
Instead of this shallow, materialistic flummery we should be offering teens a vision for the beauty of family life and the good of marriage. How? By modelling it. Babies don't need fancy cribs and cool wheels, they need parents committed to them and to each other. We all need to grow up and start showing our young people how to live by example. Vacuous ad campaigns won't do that for us.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Dear Barbara

Barbara and Jonny

Happy Birthday Barbara.

Can I still say that?

You would be 65 years old today if you'd lived. The night you died, quite by coincidence, I had taken your old address out of my Amazon account. It was there because I bought you a kitchen bin once ( ha! Long story) but you'd moved since so it seemed pointless keeping it. I thought I'd maybe email you to ask you for your new address, imagining that it would be cool to surprise you with a bunch of flowers for your next birthday.

And then, just before shutting down for the night, I checked my Google Reader. And I learned that you had gone.

At first I was confused. Your new post said " In Memory of Barbara Curtis". I hadn't seen the posts informing readers that you'd been taken ill and wondered, hoped, that this latest post was perhaps some waggish post by you, contemplating your own mortality or something. Or something.

I shouted then, I can't remember what, maybe it was just "No!". But I didn't cry.

I got up, turned off the computer, got into bed and just lay there in the dark saying "Barbara is gone" Over and over again. After a while I tried to pray, but the same three words kept intruding into my prayer. "Barbara is gone".


In the morning those three words were still playing a loop in my head and I went to check your blog again, hoping that there had been some horrible mistake.

I didn't cry until then. And I'm crying now thinking about you, and all that you did for me and how many chances I missed to show you how much you meant to me. I was sure we'd meet someday. I hoped you might even travel to London and I could take you and Tripp on a tour of my city.

I was pretty sure you'd live into your nineties, still mentoring young mums, railing against political iniquities and grabbing life by the tail when you were a great great grandma of many.

You were simply too big, too busy and too full of life to die at 64.


You know what you did for me. I can't share it all here. It's too sad and sore to rake over that period. But when I was in a pit of despair and shame you were like a gentle mother to me. A tough talking, no nonsense woman who could cut the feet from under the proud and the mean, you had a heart that was as soft as butter for the broken, to whom you were the tenderest nurse.

You knew what it felt like to sorrow over your sin. You'd been there yourself and with incredible honesty and generosity had shared your mistakes and messes with your readers in hopes that we could learn from you.

You mentored so many mothers. And we shared your pride and delight in your beautiful family.

How exciting it was to watch Maddy in the X Factor, to follow the preparations for one wedding after another, the Thanksgiving meals and Christmases and the fabulous photos of all the Curtis clan together, the grandchildren getting bigger each year! Samantha's adoption journey, reading about the younger boys, the 'Downzers' as you affectionately called them, and how they were doing, their camps and theatrical exploits and trips to Washington. We got to share in the big rollicking ride that was your life as a mother of many, and it was beautiful and inspiring.

Then there was the news of Hatty, your beloved daughter in law, as she very bravely fought cancer and the pride you felt in Josh who was such a faithful and loving husband throughout her illness. We worried for her and hoped and prayed for her. And now, within six months of losing his mother, poor Josh has lost his bride too.

So Tripp, the other half of you, the rock of a man with whom you built your extraordinary family and to whom you were so proudly devoted, is moving through the days without you. Little did anyone think last year that father and son would be widowers together today.

Grief and loss is fearful. I dread to think about how it must feel. And yet it is part of the common human experience and something that, in time, will touch us all, if we live long enough.

Thinking about Tripp and Josh reminded me of this 14th century poem which I came across in an anthology of Irish writing . I was 15 at the time and a stranger to bereavement. But it offered me a powerful glimpse into the savage loneliness of death.


On the Death of his Wife

Muireadhach Albanach


I parted from my life last night,

A woman’s body sunk in clay:

The tender bosom that I loved

Wrapped in a sheet they took away.


The heavy blossom that had lit

The ancient boughs is tossed and blown;

Hers was the burden of delight

That long had weighed the old tree down.


And I am left alone tonight

And desolate is the world I see,

For lovely was that woman’s weight

That even last night had lain on me.


Weeping I look upon the place

Where she used to rest her head,

For yesterday her body’s length

Reposed upon you too, my bed.


Yesterday that smiling face

Upon one side of you was laid

That could match the hazel bloom

In its dark delicate sweet shade.


Maelva of the shadowy brows

Was the mead-cask at my side;

Fairest of all flowers that grow

Was the beauty that has died.


My body’s self deserts me now,

The half of me that was her own,

Since all I knew of brightness died

Half of me lingers, half is gone.


The face that was like hawthorn bloom

Was my right foot and my right side;

And my right hand and right eye

Were no more mine than hers who died.


Poor is the share of me that’s left

Since half of me died with my wife;

I shudder at the words I speak;

Dear God, that girl was half my life.


And our first look was her first love;

No man had fondled ere I came

The little breasts so small and firm

And the long body like a flame.


For twenty years we shared a home,

Our converse milder with each year;

Eleven children in its time

Did that tall stately body bear.


It was the King of hosts and roads

Who snatched her from me in her prime:

Little she wished to leave alone

The man she loved before her time.


Now King of churches and of bells,

Though never raised to pledge a lie

That woman’s hand - can it be true? -

No more beneath my head will lie.




Happy birthday dear friend. I bless the day you were born. Thank you for all the good you did and all you tried to do. You were a fierce champion for mothers and children. You used your talent for communicating to advocate for motherhood, especially for those mothers of disabled children who found in you an inspiring and encouraging friend.

I owe you more than I can say and I'll never forget you. May the Good Lord be merciful to you and make His face to shine upon you. I will continue to pray for you, and for the family you loved so dearly. Please pray for me.




Friday, 3 May 2013

Looking after orphans and widows in their distress

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress" James1:27


In addition to their regular vigil at Whitfield Street, The Good Counsel Network are now running an additional daily outreach at Mattock Lane in Ealing. Consequently the number of women they are helping to choose life for their unborn babies is greatly increased. The support that they are offering to women is vital and life changing. Their work is a real act of faith as they commit to supporting these women, trusting that God will supply all their needs.

Last year I met "Lina" a young Eastern European woman who had attended a debate on "Anti abortion protestors and freedom of speech" organised by BPAS at the Conway Hall in London. She had been in the audience hoping to contribute her own experience, but had felt daunted and hampered by her poor English, so in the end said nothing but listened with growing frustration to the clever arguments for "choice" which seemed insensible to the situation which women like herself find themselves in.

The baby which she had brought along with her was about 7 months old. She told me that when she had become pregnant her boyfriend had quickly abandoned her. Her employer then let her go and she was left with no means of paying her rent. She wasn't entitled to benefits in this country and while she would have been given an abortion on the NHS, if she went ahead with her pregnancy she would have had to pay for any obstetric care she recieved. She was literally faced with destitution unless she "chose" abortion.

She told me that she went for counselling at the Marie Stopes clinic in Whitfield Street and explained her situation. The counsellor listened and then bluntly asked her " So how are you going to support yourself and a baby?" She explained that she didn't want an abortion and felt that if she could just have some help to get through the next year that she would be able to manage.

The counsellor's response was simply to offer her an abortion. Feeling defeated and believing that she had nowhere else to turn, she made an appointment.

As she left the clinic she bumped into a counsellor from the Good Counsel Network who offered her a leaflet and said that they wanted to help her and her baby. She was amazed that right outside the door had been the help that she had been seeking all along. It would have been so easy for the Marie Stopes counsellor to say " we can't help you with your needs, but see that lady out there? she's standing there waiting to help women like you. Go talk to her and see what she can do for you" But of course that doesn't happen, because " that lady out there" is stealing Marie Stope's business. So much for "choice" from Marie Stopes.

With the help of the Good Counsel Network she continued with her pregnancy and when I met her was back on her feet.

We both became tearful when she told me that she looks at her baby every day and weeps to think how close she came to losing her.

Lina is just one of the many, many mothers supported by the Good Counsel Network. They are invisible to pro choicers who prefer to believe that every woman who crosses the threshold of an abortuary looking for help is fully exercising "choice".

These mothers and their unborn children are the "widows and orphans in their distress" that our culture turns away from. Instead we offer them death. And the crowning insult is that we call it "choice" and expect them to celebrate the privilege.

If you want to help the Good Counsel Network to offer them life, please read this email which I received today and consider what you can do to build a culture of life in our city.



Please come on Good Counsel’s Annual Wandsworth to Wapping Sponsored Walk.

We are in urgent need of raising funds. Yet again this year we have broken all previous records for the number of pregnant women, planning to have an abortion, that we have counselled. This number has been rapidly increasing every year for a few years now. This means that we have been graced with the opportunity to counsel more Mothers than ever before and with the help of God save a greatly increased number of innocent unborn lives. This is very happy news, but means that our finances are stretched further than ever before.

When we are counselling women in order to help them to choose life for their child we offer them all the emotional, practical and moral support which is necessary for them to have the confidence to continue with their pregnancy. The emotional and moral support can take up hours of our time but in general does not cost very much. The practical support is much harder, and can include accommodation/help with rent, direct financial help to provide essentials such as food and clothes, legal advice, travel assistance to get to doctors/midwives appointment etc. etc. This is a huge burden upon us but it is vital that we are able to continue to offer this to all of the pregnant Mothers we see.

To give you an example of the work we are doing, this very morning we have seen two couples who were both definite in their decision to have an abortion. Both of these couples have left having changed their mind completely... One of these couples was a young married couple from Hertfordshire. They have very little money, and have to live in a very small studio with no kitchen and a bathroom which is shared with the restaurant which is beneath their home. They hadn’t intended to have a baby yet and were really worried about the future. They also knew their current accommodation was was not at all suitable for a child. They met one of our counsellors who was able to show them God’s plan for this child and convince them that Abortion is not a good choice for their child and also for their own future. They then visited our centre where we were able to give them a safety net for when the baby is born in case they are not able to afford better accommodation or provide the basic necessities for their child. This safety net, which we have committed to, is what gave them the confidence to continue with their pregnancy, and they left happy in their choice to choose life for their baby. As she left she said “This morning I was going to kill my baby but now I really hope it is a girl, do you think God will think I am asking too much?”

As you can see it is vital that we can raise the funds necessary to continue to offer this “safety net”. Our next big fundraising effort is our Annual WANDSWORTH TO WAPPING SPONSORED WALK which is approx. 13 Miles long and is on Saturday July 20th (starting with Mass at 10am and finishing at approximately 4pm with drinks and refreshments) and we want to get as many people as possible to join us and raise sponsorship for our lifesaving work. For more details please see our website

For our Facebook event page click here

To let us know you want to come and to get your fundraising pack please reply to this email with your contact details and we will send a fundraising pack with all the important details to you and keep in touch between now and the big day.

Thank you in advance for your support.

God bless

Conor Carroll

Good Counsel Network


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Saturday, 6 April 2013

Blogger Comments: Apologies due!

I've just published a bunch of comments that had slipped under the radar. I can only assume that they fell  into spam and I happened across them just now when I was tinkering with my Blogger settings.
Sincere apologies to those of you whose comments were so belatedly published. Like most bloggers, I LOVE getting comments and  feel awful that I left some lingering in comment limbo.
I'll try to be more vigilant in future!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

"Edith's catsitting instrucions"

We had planned to spend Easter weekend at Ampleforth where the community of St Aeldred were running a family retreat. I spent most of Thursday packing and preparing and then, when Pat got home, we realised there was a problem with the car. the rear lights weren't working. We didn't feel safe driving all the way up to Yorkshire sans rear lights so we decided to postpone our departure until the following morning, hoping that we could sort it out before we left.

There were other complicating factors too. We don't have enough room in the car for all our family and so my oldest son was going to take the train. Son no.2 needed to come back early because he was catching a flight to Denver on Monday for the first leg of his Big Gap Year Adventure. By Friday morning we realised that the cost of the trains for the boys, coupled with the urgent car issues, and the necessity of truncating our weekend in order to get back in time for Dominic to pack for his travels were presenting obstacles insuperable and we decided to cancel Ampleforth and plan for Easter at home. It was more than a little disappointing.

Our luggage stayed in the car for almost the entire weekend before we got around to unpacking again. I felt so disheartened. The younger children had been really excited about the prospect of a weekend away.

In all my preoccupation and busyness I hadn't noticed that Colmcille had prepared a little info pack for our friend Edith who was going to be staying in the house during our absence and taking care of our cat Brian. All neatly presented in a folder complete with helpful pictures of cats and Easter bunnies. Colmcille is full of sweetness and optimism and it does my heart good to stumble across these little things he busies himself with when I'm not looking. I especially love the little tip he leaves for Edith as a "token of thanks".

Sometimes my children make my heart hurt with love and happiness. I wish I could bottle these days and keep them forever. Everything passes. He'll be a man soon like his older brothers and all these things will be a sweet memory. This is why I want to blog. To capture the moments that make my heart sing with gladness and gratitude for my darlings. The sweet pulse of my heart.

Packing list ( with Sniffers)

Thursday, 10 January 2013

A letter to my MP regarding same sex marriage

Following the request of Archbishop Vincent Nichols that we should make our objections to these proposals known to our MP, I have sent the email below to Angie Bray MP for Acton/Ealing. I was spurred into action last night when a friend forwarded to me her own email on this matter. So I thought that maybe some of you would also be inspired to do likewise.

Those of you who would like some further reading on why this issue is so enormously critical and how the equality argument is a fallacious red herring may want to read this Catholoc Voices Briefing paper:

I emailed our MP at this address:
Her website is here:
For those of you elsewhere you can find your MP's contact details here:

I encourage any of you who haven't done so yet to make your feelings known to your MP.

I don't think it needs to be a long letter, in fact shorter letters are probably much better. No doubt our MP's hardly have time to be reading through multiple explanations of the ins and outs of this issue.

If you don't have the time yourself, a simple letter asking them to defend the current definition of marriage would suffice.

I am posting my letter here, not because I think it's in any way a model letter. There are so many things to say about this issue and I decided to just stick to a couple of points. But I'm hoping that it might galvanise some readers to do likewise.

Lets send a message to our parliamentary representatives that we are taking note of where they stand on this issue.

Dear Ms Bray

I am an Acton mother of six children whose ages range from three to twenty two years old.

I am a life long Labour voter who voted Conservative at the last election on account of Labour policies which I felt were harming the family and as a natural consequence of that, harming children and young people, upon whom the future of our society depends.

I am now realising that the party I thought would work to restore the respect and support which is owed to the most fundamental and critical cell of society is, in actual fact, now deepening the harm that has been done to it.

The fact that this is being imposed upon us with no mandate whatsoever, without any prior manifesto commitment, and without heeding the numerous petitioners against is beginning to feel as though we have a government which believes itself to be ruling by divine right.

Since when has any government had an interest in formally ratifying romantic love between persons?

Marriage has been properly understood to be uniquely deserving of societal recognition precisely because it is the union of a man and a woman which is apt to result in the next generation.

And we know that growing up within the stable bond of marriage between its mother and father provides the best possible environment for any child.

Redefining marriage weakens societal respect for the family because redefinition hinges solely on romantic love between persons and disregards the prime needs of children to be raised with both their parents.

Marriage is hard, and our divorce rate more than attests to this. I believe that over romanticising marriage and overlooking its conjugal nature is a terrible mistake and a symptom of a rather infantile generation that has failed to grow up.

Past generations understood that marriage was about more than themselves. This generation is in danger of losing sight of this.

The government appears to be compounding the error.

I hope, for the sake of future generations, you will defend marriage and resist attempts to redefine it.

Yours sincerely