Nicole Grech relates her experience of being Catholic and pregnant before marriage when she was only 20. Eventually, she got married in the Catholic church. “I honestly didn’t want kids at the time. What I wanted was a career. I felt unprepared for what was happening.”
“When I looked at the pregnancy test, I thought… this is not possible”
I clearly remember looking at the pregnancy test stick. My period was more than 7 weeks (plus) overdue. I couldn’t believe my eyes. My boyfriend, Jefflyn, and myself were only 20 years old at the time. We had everything planned for our future. Jefflyn had just graduated from his degree in Psychology and started a new job with children who have severe autism, whilst I was working full time as an LSE and as a vet assistant part-time. I was also studying at the same time. We never expected that I would be pregnant!
We were not prepared for this unplanned event. Apart from our jobs and studies, we were also preparing for our big day. We were planning to get married within a year and a half. In fact, we had just paid the deposit for our reception and were waiting to start getting our apartment ready. I remember looking at the pregnancy test and feeling numb. What are we going to do with the kid? What will people say? It was hard.
At the time we didn’t believe in providence. We believed in working hard to achieve results. Although we believed in God, we didn’t have the faith to believe that things would turn out well. It was a difficult time. However, through this experience we learnt to cling on to God.
“My mother was hurt. I think she felt betrayed”
We decided to tell our parents immediately. Jefflyn’s parents were happy. My family reacted in a different way. My father was surprised but he didn’t take the news too badly. He said that we weren’t the first couple to find ourselves in this situation. Moreover, he encouraged us by saying that together we would still make it work. On the other hand, my mother was hurt. I think she felt betrayed. We still do not speak about what went through her mind on those first days. Even after all these years, it still hurts.
Some people said: “Why would a ‘good girl’ like you do something like this?”
Some comments that people passed, didn’t help. In the following few days, before the first hospital appointment, we were burdened with people asking why a “good girl like me would do something like this?” They seemed to think that I was infallible. These comments became more frequent as the pregnancy progressed. Sometimes people would stare at me when I couldn’t hide my pregnancy anymore. Many people suggested that we shouldn’t say that we were not married in order to hide the reality that our child was conceived out of wedlock. They felt that we had done something wrong. I don’t think the word ‘wrong’ can be applied to a pregnancy. We made some choices in the wrong time and the outcome made us feel stranded because we needed to change our plans. Yet luckily, others believed that we would make a great couple.
“I honestly didn’t want kids, I wanted a career”
Abortion was never an option for us. Apart from our religious beliefs, we believe that killing a preborn child in the womb is one of the saddest, most immoral things there are out there! But before the first appointment with the gynecologist I did consider, for some fleeting moments, the possibility of giving up our child for adoption. Honestly, at that time I didn’t want kids. I just wanted a career. My plans were to continue studying, not to raise a family. I was quite happy with Jefflyn. Moreover, I was afraid of how I would face the world since I am a Catholic and became pregnant before marriage.
“The idea of adoption dissolved as I heard the strong little heartbeat”
The idea of adoption dissolved and never came back when I heard the steady, strong little heartbeat during our first prenatal visit in hospital. I could clearly see a little body with tiny legs, toes and feet on the ultrasound. I cried so much then. The human shape was very obvious. I immediately fell in love in the most sudden and intimate way possible.
I wish I could say that from then on, things just fell into place. They didn’t. The ultrasound showed that I was 10 weeks pregnant; almost at the end of the first trimester of pregnancy. Money was tight at the time. Medical appointments and baby items are expensive. Moreover, with our wedding coming up, a new home to sort out and payments to continue my studies, we found ourselves with our backs to the wall.
“She reminded me of how many people had suffered to have what I had received unplanned”
Little did we realise that God had already been helping us and that his providence was never ending. Even though I had to stop one of my jobs, our friends and family gave us a lot of support. Some helped us with words of encouragement: “you’ll be great parents”, “don’t worry you will manage in some way or another.”
One day, an ex-colleague who had spent years trying to conceive and many days bed bound to bring the pregnancy to term, took me aside and encouraged me not to hide my pregnancy. She told me that I was carrying someone precious and a treasure for the world. Moreover, she reminded me that so many women had suffered to have what I had received unplanned. “This baby is a gift from God”, she said. “Do not be afraid.” Her comment led me to contemplate; “Why am I feeling so angry?” Suddenly my outlook changed and providence started pouring in, in the form of push chairs, a cot, diapers….
“When she was born, her grandparents soon forgot all that had happened before her birth!”
Our beautiful little girl was born just as summer started and schools closed. I had a long but easy labor. We were lucky to have wonderful staff helping us at hospital. The grandparents soon forgot all that had come before the baby’s birth and were supportive throughout labour and birth.
“I remember how angry we were when the priest said that our daughter could not be baptised with the other babies”
The biggest blow was yet to come. This would test our faith and our maturity; our faith in God and even in the people around us.
Jefflyn and I believe in someone bigger than ourselves. We wanted to baptise our little girl a month after her birth, so we talked to our parish priest about baptism, as is the custom in Malta. We were astounded, angry and left speechless by what we were told. The priest agreed to baptise our daughter. However, since we were Catholic and the child had been born out of wedlock, we would have to baptise her in a private ceremony. We were to have our daughter was to receive the sacrament of baptism outside the regular parish ceremony because of the circumstances of her birth. I felt so hurt. Why was my daughter being treated in a different manner? She didn’t choose to be born out of wedlock. In our circumstances, this arrangement felt like an extra burden. We felt that our daughter was being blamed for something that she had no part in.
Another attitude which hurt was that I was held to be solely responsible for our daughter. The priest expected my boyfriend to move out of the house. We were already living together so that Jefflyn could help with our daughter. His support was also important for me since I was still studying. I know that this wasn’t ideal but we were close to getting married. Moreover, Jefflyn and I felt that we were both responsible for the child. I felt that the priest was omitting my boyfriend from the picture. By doing so he was also taking away his responsibilities which came with child bearing and rearing; responsibilities that my boyfriend was very keen to carry with love and sacrifice.
“We knew that God had a merciful approach towards those who do not choose well”
We knew that God had a merciful approach towards those who did not choose well. So we refused to believe that what this priest was saying was the teaching carried by the whole Church. Therefore, we decided to look further. We found refuge with another priest who welcomed us with open arms. He assured us that, since our daughter was still the fruit of love, we would not be excluded from a normal baptism. This priest was willing to baptise our daughter together with the other babies. He left it up to us to decide whether we wanted this or not. Ultimately, we decided to have a private ceremony. However, the reason for choosing to do so was ours and based on different grounds. We decided to have a private and more family oriented celebration.
I know many people who moved away from God and from the Church because of encounters with priests who were similar to the first one we met. Some attitudes and comments can stir so much hurt and anger. Any life, brought forth under any circumstance, is a life given to us by God: One to treasure and to rejoice in! I think it was the Holy Spirit who elevated our maturity and helped our stubbornness prevail despite those comments. Yet for years later, that encounter kept me back from fully living my Christian faith. Those words kept haunting me like a shadow, at the back of my mind.
“Working with the Jesuits gave me a better understanding of the human world”
Fast-forward to a few years later… I am currently working in a Jesuit School. Here, I finally started to let go of my anger and immerse myself thoroughly in God. I fell in love with the Jesuits’ way of thinking. Through their spirituality and way of living, I have found myself again. I have also matured and gained a better understanding of the human world. At my work place I have spoken openly about being Catholic and pregnant outside marriage. Yet, it seems that, the Jesuits are not concerned much about what happened before. What matters to them is who I am now. What really matters are one’s core values.
The Jesuits have taught me to look beyond religion and one’s background; to somehow look deep within the soul of a person. They work with what there is now, rather than what happened in the past. So much so, that I have been given many opportunities to continue to grow in my career, and to learn and mature both as an employee and as a person. At school, I was entrusted to help in The Eucharistic Youth Movement; as a leader to a group of thirteen-year-old boys. I have also been asked to travel abroad with the boys, and to accompany a Jesuit in a voluntary work experience with 6th formers for two weeks in Ireland. In a few words, I have never been despised because of my past choices and circumstances.
“Now I understand why the Church still preaches not to have sex before marriage”
Nowadays, I understand why the Church still tells couples not to have sex before marriage. I understand the dangers of being left alone as a single parent to bring up a child if the other parent gets cold feet. Although it is not impossible, it is very difficult to raise a child single-handed. It is difficult even if the parents stay together, as in our case. The change and impact on the relationship is so big that you have to have a good foundation in the relationship for it to work. There is also the added financial strain. I must admit that six years into our marriage, our house is still a ‘works in progress’; we still have no doors.
Yet, at the end of the day, being Catholic and pregnant before marriage has only been a positive experience in our lives. It was not easy, but surely a positive one. Both Jefflyn and I have matured. We have kept on working on our marriage, to be stronger as parents and as children of God. We try to respect each other and to not blurt out feelings . And when we start to go astray we help each other to focus on the priorities. Two years into our marriage we planned to have our second child. This time it was a boy.
“If you are facing an unexpected pregnancy, do not give up!”
This experience made me realise that we are all human; we are all prone to make mistakes. It wasn’t the end of the world after all, even if some people made it feel like that.
If you are also passing through an unplanned pregnancy, do not give up! Hope! It is hard, but look beyond the obstacles. We have friends who are single fathers and single mothers and who have still managed. God always offers a helping hand to those who pray or ask for it! If you have found a wall in front of you, turn your gaze. The answer may be somewhere else! There are people who are willing to help even if they are not part of your family. Life finds a way!
Catholic and pregnant before marriage
Podcast by Uyen Vu
Photos of Nicole and Jefflyn Grech by Christina Gatt
Links For Unplanned Pregnancy Support:
– Heart Beat International
– LifeLine Crisis Pregnancy Free Services, Malta
– Support During & After an Unplanned Pregnancy to Mother/Partner/Family, Guzeppa Debono Home, Gozo, Malta
– Hope, Crisis Pregnancy Awareness, Floriana, Malta