Special Feature: Breeding like Rabbits by Ardyce C. Whalen
Ardyce Whalen treats readers to a narrative that is at once a moving drama and a scathing indictment of how Catholic doctrine encourages “Breeding like Rabbits” among its followers. She shows how, for many families, the only thing that's going forth and multiplying are the hardships they face due to carelessness stemming from a lack of family planning, a concept that’s discouraged by many in the Church.
“I wrote this book to show the hardship placed on a young, married, Catholic couple, especially if the husband is in the military,” Whalen says. Her narrative shows how decrees from the pulpit prove woefully inadequate for the realities faced by many families. The novel’s protagonist, Britt, strives to be a good Catholic but also wants to plan her family, rather than just “take what comes.” This clashes with the restrictions on married life demanded by Church law, which she finds impossible to abide. The resulting mental and physical strain taxes her, but what’s worse is the strain on her marriage.
Whalen depicts the fundamental disconnect of the Church “fathers” who cannot understand the circumstances faced by one such as Britt, for they are not husbands or fathers and no amount of theological training and lofty platitudes can prepare one for such realities. Aside from that, none of those behind these decrees have the experiences or perspectives of those such as Whalen, because there’s an obvious lack of women in the Church’s hierarchy.
“Humanae Vitae was proclaimed in 1968, allowing only two methods of birth control,” Whalen explains. This is depicted in the narrative, as well as how damaging the Church’s stance on 'human weakness' is, for it puts unrealistic scrutiny on young men while stating that contraception might lead them to lose respect for women to the point of considering them 'mere instruments of selfish enjoyment, and no longer his respected and beloved companion.'
Through Britt’s conundrum and frustrations, Whalen shows how those behind this doctrine have no idea what a husband feels when his wife denies him when she, in turn, isn’t keen on breeding like rabbits. A woman worn-out from child-bearing might not care when her husband, frustrated from all the arguments, strays and seeks to satisfy his urges elsewhere. Paradoxically, by denying contraceptives, the doctrine ends up causing the deterioration of marriage it sought to prevent. In short, these well-meaning yet high-minded concepts turn out to have very real consequences that are all too obvious for lay-people who have to deal with the realities of relationships (as opposed to being completely detached from it due to the nature of the priestly vocation).
“It enraged me when Pope Francis declared to reporters on the plane as it was returning from the Philippines, that Catholics do not have to ‘breed like rabbits,’ adding that they should practice responsible parenting,” Whalen says, revealing one inspiration for the novel and its title. “Father, we would all like to do that, but sometimes it's just too hard—so I decided to write what I felt, hoping that it might cause others to ponder this dilemma.”
Reviews and What Readers Say
" Early feminist thought had definitely not reached rural Minnesota in the 1950s. When the boyfriend of Britt Anderson, Ardyce C. Whalen's central character in "Breeding like Rabbits," decides to leave Minnesota and join the Navy, Britt defaults to "woman's role"--she quits college, signs up for a secretarial course, and gets married. To her Lutheran parents' horror, she also converts to Catholicism and (you got it) begins to "breed like a rabbit"--five times. Repressed, oppressed, controlled by her husband, the Church and her raging fertility, Britt becomes increasingly homebound, undermined, and frustrated, until she stands up for herself and returns to college for a language arts teaching degree.You hear some autobiographical resonance in this novel. Whalen has a BA in Language arts; she raised five children, and was a teacher for several years. Judging from this novel, feminist thought has definitely reached her part of the world... "
― Christine Wald-Hopkins, Arizona Daily Star Review--Sunday edition
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Ardyce Whalen earned two bachelor’s degrees (education and fine arts), and a master’s degree in communication at the University of North Dakota. She taught Language Arts at the junior high, senior high, and college level. She has had non-fiction published in “Central States Speech Journal,” “Gifted, Creative, Talented” (magazine), and feature articles in a local newspaper, “The Town Crier.” She and her husband retired in Tucson, where she won second place in the East Campus 2011 Writing Competition, personal Narrative category. Retirement has meant golfing for her husband and time for Ardyce to read, write, paint, and seek a truth that made sense to her.
Finding her truth was never easy, not even during her growing-up years on an isolated farm in Minnesota. The vivid memory, when she was eight years old, of being severely scolded by the pastor of their family church for wearing fingernail polish. He told her that only bad girls painted their nails, and did she want to be a bad girl? The thought of the encounter is still painful. It made her think and set her on a truth-finding path that still occupies her mind and spirit.