There is an essay written by Charles Lamb in the 1800s that suggests the origin of the pig roast. The current (very odd) debate on access to reproductive resources for women led me to reflect my upbringing in a whole new light. As a person born in the 1960s into a Catholic family who lived in a Catholic neighborhood, the church was a part of our existence. Fridays were meatless at home, at school, at sleep-overs, and at McDonalds after sporting events. Church on Sundays was required and attendance was kept (or so I was told). The “Protestants” in the neighborhoods were watched for suspicious behaviors (skipping church to read the Sunday paper, eating meat on Fridays, not being in church on Good Friday). These behaviors were discussed within the neighborhood and may have been reported to a higher authority. It was always unclear to us who the “Protestant Pope” was and how to contact him but we were certain that our parents were handling that end of the interaction.
I remember distinctly a discussion I had with my mother regarding one of my neighbor’s mothers. I was somewhere around 7 years old and my neighbor and her brother were going to be staying with us for a couple of days because their mother was going to be checking into the hospital for what I now know was a hysterectomy. I was worried about the woman, both because I knew even at that young age that the hospital was no place to go if you were well and also because of my mother’s clear unwillingness to discuss the health problem except in very obtuse terms. My friend’s mother did well, came home several days later, and nothing more was said of it.
I recalled this episode when contemplating the implications of the Catholic Bishops’ ultraconservative stance on contraception. My friend’s mother clearly had no medical illness. In retrospect she had a career, did not enjoy the stay-at-home mom life, and wanted to limit her family size to two children. She was not able, under the rules at the time, to request hormonal contraception. She found a physician willing to rationalize an extremely invasive procedure in order to allow her to continue to hold her head high in the community (although as I recall everyone knew what had happened).
98% of Catholic women report use of hormonal contraception at one point during their reproductive life. Contraception, pregnancy spacing, and pregnancy planning save women’s lives. 58% of women report using hormonal contraception for reasons other than pregnancy prevention, such as irregular periods, heavy periods, ovarian cysts, or acne. I am often write for these medications for these indications, discussing the side effect of pregnancy prevention. I do not ask these women whether they are proscribed by their religious beliefs from having hormonal manipulation resulting in temporary infertility. I am only happy that they are not requesting to have their womb ripped from their body in an effort to accomplish control over their reproductive health. It is surprising to me that given the lifesaving potential of increasing access, influential people (Catholic Bishops, candidates for the Presidency of the United States) are suggesting that additional barriers to women’s access to these medications be erected.
In the essay, Charles Lamb speculates that Bo-bo, the main character, discovered the forbidden deliciousness of roasted pig by accident after a house fire. As roasting pig purposefully was illegal, the rate of house fires after the “sows farrowed” in this town became very high and surprisingly enough these houses almost always were found to contain a succulent pig. Catholic women of my mother’s generation discovered that obtaining a hysterectomy for trumped-up symptoms would result in no further pregnancies.
“Dissertation upon Roasted Pig” ends with the judge ruling that pigs caught in fires were fair game. Gradually the fires were confined to fire houses, and the town was no longer engulfed in flames on a regular basis. I can only hope the Bishops (and others) are as wise.