My answer to “Do you want more children?”
When people see me out and about with my four young children, one of the most common questions I get is, “Do you want more?” (Or, more accurately, “DO YOU WANT MORE?!?!?!?!“)
I’m never sure what to say. “Yes” doesn’t sound quite right. Our fourth baby in four-and-a-half years is only eighteen months old, so I can’t say that I’ve spent a lot of time yearning for another baby lately. In fact, I’ve never really been a baby person. I’ve never had that moment other women talk about of holding a newborn and thinking, “Oh, I want one!” On the other hand, “no” doesn’t encapsulate what I’m feeling either.
I’ve thought about this a lot over that past few months, and I eventually realized that I have such a hard time coming up with the answer simply because it’s not the right question. Here’s why:
6 reasons why “Do you want more?” isn’t the right question
1. It’s not all about me
When I used to think about pregnancy and babies, I wouldn’t think a whole lot further than the first couple years of new life and how it would impact me. My first thoughts would be along the lines of, “But I don’t feel like being pregnant!” or “I don’t want to deal with all the work of the baby period!”
Thanks in part to my conversion and in part to watching my children grow, I’ve since had the epiphany of realizing that those high-maintenance pregnancies and fussy newborns are actual human beings! I know this sounds crazy, but I had a total mental disconnect where I kind of forgot that all the adults I know and love were once fetuses and newborns themselves. I hadn’t internalized the fact that a new pregnancy will lead to a full human being, just like me. Now that I get it, when I evaluate when and if to have more children, I try to remember to consider the life of the potential new man or woman as much as I consider his or her impact on my own life.
2. It’s not all about what I want
One of the biggest revelations of my conversion was this:
Doing what I want ≠ Happiness
All my life I thought that if I could just spend enough time meditating on what I feel like doing and then amass enough control over my life to go do it, I’d finally have lasting happiness. I was shocked when I found out that that assumption was wrong. I was more shocked when I realized what is the path to lasting happiness: serving others.
I used to think that if I could just hurry up and stop having kids so that I could get back to living “my” life, I’d be happy. Now I see that, not only is serving others the right thing to do, but it’s the only path to joy and peace. So the ideas of not having more children vs. having more children aren’t all that different: either way, I’ll be sacrificing and serving.
3. I don’t have a crystal ball
Usually the “Do you want more?” question is stated as a long-term proposition: Do you want to have more children, ever? The scope of that question dizzies me. I’m 33. I likely have at least 10 years of fertility left. Even if I did feel absolutely, 100% certain that I was not up to having another child right now, I have no way of knowing how things might change even a month from now, let alone a year or ten years from now. God has yet to reveal a detailed, 10-year plan for me; heck, I can’t even seem to get him to give me a 10-day plan!
4. It’s important to have a “wholeness of vision”
Toward the end of his life, Sheldon Vanauken sought out the daughter whom his deceased wife Davy had given up for adoption when she became pregnant at 14. He ended up becoming close to the now-adult daughter, named Marion, and it profoundly affected him. Vanauken wrote:
I glimpse what [John] Donne meant in saying that any man’s death diminished him. I should be diminished if half a century ago Davy had clutched at the straw of abortion. And all the folk who have touched or shall touch the lives of Marion and her children and their children-to-be would be diminished.
The quote is from this must-read article by Chuck Colson, where he talks about having a “wholeness of vision.” Though he’s specifically talking about abortion there, I think that seeking that wholeness of vision is critical whenever we evaluate the possibility of new life. I have no idea how things might play out in my life or in the world around me. I can’t imagine how differently a new child might fit into our family two, three, four or more years from now. I can’t fathom what God might plan to do with the next human soul that I help bring into the world.
One thing that my blog readers have help me understand as I transitioned from a contraceptive to an “open to life” mentality is just how rapidly things change with children. Right now my kids are 6, 4, 3 and 18 months. When they’re 12, 10, 9 and 7, things will be different; and at 32, 30, 29 and 27, they’ll be more different still. I’ll be in a new place in my life; our family dynamic will have evolved. It would be unwise to make a long-term decision about whether or not to add a new person to our family based on the narrow view given to me by this moment in time.
When I have bad days it’s tempting to say that I simply couldn’t handle another kid any time in the indefinite future; it’s tempting to go into hyper-control mode and adopt a completely “closed to life” mentality. But then I think of Vanauken and Colson’s words about having a wholeness of vision. I imagine our Thanksgiving dinnertable 20 years from now, and I remember that the only important thing I’ll leave in this world is the love that I shared — and I’d be wise to make sure I don’t miss any opportunities for that.
5. I’m not good at knowing what I want; I’m terrible at knowing what I need
As I said in #2, I learned the hard way that what I think I want is often not the path to lasting happiness. Similarly, what think I need and what I actually need are two different things. And never has this been more true than with children.
If you had told me five years ago that I’d have four children today, I would have assured you that I simply couldn’t do it. No way. I don’t have the right temperament. I’m the most impatient, selfish introvert I know. I would have assured you that it would be a disaster for all involved. And yet having four closely-spaced children has been a blessing in so many ways. Not only do I have the pleasure of being the mother to these precious souls, but it’s caused me to learn and grow in ways I never could have if things had played out my way. Though I didn’t exactly plan to have four children so close together, it turned out to be exactly what I needed.
6. I’m not afraid
I’ve written before about how I’ve noticed a great fear of life in our culture. It’s understandable: there’s so very much that can go wrong in the process of having children. From pregnancy (or adoption) complications to health issues for the baby to increased grocery bills to college tuition costs, there’s so much to worry about when evaluating the prospect of new life. It’s tempting to say you don’t want to have more kids simply out of fear of all that could go wrong!
As longtime readers know, we’ve had our own challenges in that department: When I was pregnant with our second child, about two weeks after I saw the truth of the Church’s teaching on contraception, I was diagnosed with a life-threatening blood clot in a major vein. It turns out it was caused by a rare genetic clotting disorder that’s exacerbated by pregnancy. My doctors told me I couldn’t have any more kids. Then, when that second baby was five months old, I got an unexpected positive pregnancy test. We were drowning in medical bills from the last pregnancy. We didn’t have insurance that covered pregnancy. The medicine to prevent clots would cost us $900/month. We didn’t even have our own house; we were living with my mom at the time.
That experience was one of my first encounters with that old saying that “every baby comes with a loaf of bread under his arm.” I first heard a version of that adage from a friend who grew up in a family of seven children in abject poverty in Mexico. Despite the fact that they never had enough to eat and were too poor to own even beds or blankets, she insisted that God sends down special assistance for every new baby. As God guided my family through our own time of difficulty, I was stunned by just now true this is. And I learned the lesson yet again when I had another unexpected pregnancy the next year.
It’s an exaggeration to say that I’m not ever afraid of welcoming new life into the world anymore — but I certainly have a whole lot less fear now that I’ve seen how powerfully God works in the lives of couples who are open to life.
So that’s the answer I’d like to give next time I’m asked, “Do you want more?” (Though, knowing me, I’ll probably just laugh awkwardly and slink off.) It’s worth noting that this doesn’t mean that I throw all caution to the wind when it comes to the possibility of future children. We use Natural Family Planning while remaining “open to life” (you can read about what that means here). We decide on a month-to-month basis whether we think right now would be a good time to have another baby — and there are plenty of times that that answer is “no.” But I’m always aware that, when it comes to new human beings, it’s about so much more than what I want.