The other day we got together with a friend of mine from high school named Andrew*, and his boyfriend, Tom. They moved out of state earlier this year, but a business trip brought him and Tom back through town recently, and we jumped at the chance to go out to dinner with them. This was one of the first times in a long while that we’d had a chance to sit down and talk with them, just the four of us. We caught up on life and work, Andrew and I clicking as well as we always have. I wore waterproof mascara because I knew I’d end up laughing to the point of tears, which, in fact, I did.
Then, when my husband and Tom went to pick up a round of drinks at the bar, Andrew had a question for me.
“So,” he said, grabbing a tortilla chip from the basket in front of us. “What do you think of gay marriage?”
The last time we hung out, this unspoken topic was not as palpably present as it was now. Even though our gay friends knew that we’d converted to Catholicism, nobody cared enough to bring up potentially controversial issues. But now, the mood in the world around us had changed. Throughout our country the issue of same-sex unions was being debated furiously; it had become a defining issue of our generation, and thus the average person was no longer allowed not to have an opinion about it. It was too weird to sit at the table, two orthodox Catholics and two men in a gay relationship, and not bring it up. We could no longer ignore the storm that raged outside the cloister of our friendship; the doors had blown open, and the rain had come inside.
I shrugged, trying to keep it casual. “I don’t think that same-sex couples getting married is the same thing as traditional marriage, if that’s what you mean.”
Andrew didn’t look surprised, but he seemed annoyed. “I didn’t realize you were a homophobe,” he said, only barely kidding.
“Oh, yeah, I’m terrified of you. I only hang out with you because you make the best dry martini in the world — but I’m trembling the whole time!”
“How can I hear your statement as anything but anti-gay?”
“I worry about what will happen to our society if everyone starts thinking that marriage is about any two people doing whatever they want. But that has nothing to do with being anti-gay.” I was afraid he was going to incur ocular damage from rolling his eyeballs back into his head so far, so I added, “Want me to explain?”
He folded his arms across his chest. “Sure.”
I immediately regretted my offer, wishing I’d promptly changed the subject to the weather, celebrity gossip, or any other subject inane enough that I could speak intelligently about it. I’m proud of being Catholic, and proud to stand by what the Church teaches. I converted to Catholicism in large part because I think that, through its moral code, it gives all humans a prescription for living a life of peace, in harmony with one another and with our Creator. I could not have converted to a religion that had doctrines that singled out one group of people in an unfair way, since it would seem illogical that an all-loving God would create such a system. But I knew I was going to have a hard time making my case; Andrew and I had such utterly different worldviews, it would be as if I were speaking through a distortion microphone that warps your voice and replaces every other word with random offensive phrases.
Before I could begin, the man and woman next to us caught our attention by gesticulating wildly in an animated conversation. They chatted happily over a shared plate of enchiladas, and each was wearing a wedding ring.
Andrew motioned to them. “You don’t think Tom and I are good enough to have what they have?”
“‘Good enough?’ It’s our insane culture that says that your entire life and personhood and soul are defined by your sexual attractions, not the Catholic Church. The Church articulates boundaries for behavior, not people.”
Andrew was still looking at them. They were in their late 20s, stylishly dressed, with golden summer tans. We could hear some of their conversation, and they seemed to be talking about a recent vacation. “I look at them, and I don’t see how what Tom and I have is all that different.”
“What do you see when you look at that couple? You see two people who really like each other, who decided to get married as a statement of lifelong commitment?”
“Yeah. Pretty much.”
“You’re imagining that they’re living life out of that Khalil Gibran poem, right?” I asked, referring to the famous verses that were read at a commitment ceremony we’d attended years ago. “The man and the woman each plan to do their own thing for the rest of their lives. There are no obligations on them outside of respecting one another and having fun. Is that about right?”
“Close enough. What is marriage if not a commitment? What else could it be about?” With that statement, Andrew had gotten to the core of the issue. This was the bulging pressure cooker where almost all of our culture’s misunderstanding roiled. I hoped I wouldn’t say anything that made it explode.
I tried for a silly analogy. “Have you ever looked backwards through binoculars?”
“That’s how I see our culture’s understanding of marriage: They’re looking backwards through the binoculars. They’re kind of getting it right, but because they have the thing flipped around, it’s going to entirely distort their view of things.”
Andrew sipped his drink. “How so?”
“Marriage is about new human life. All sexual morality is about new human life. From time immemorial, societies understood that people only respect human life to the extent that they respect the act that creates human life.” But when our culture embraced contraception, I continued, for the first time in human history, the sexual act was severed from its life-giving potential in the societal psyche. People began to feel like they had a right to the pleasure of the sexual act, without having to give a second thought to any new life that might be created. Not surprisingly, this tempted us to dehumanize those inconvenient lives that kept popping up out of the blue, and the destruction of newly conceived life became necessary in order for the “truths” of contraception to be upheld. As Pope Paul VI predicted back in 1968, the idea that we can and should exercise complete control over when new people come into the world could not be contained the realm of pregnancy alone, and an entire “culture of death” erupted as a result.
“Great soliloquy,” Andrew deadpanned. “So, umm, why is it that you don’t want Tom and I to get married?”
“Because marriage is about new human life. That’s what the binoculars analogy was about: Yes, marriage is about sex. But it’s about sex because sex is how new life is created — and, ultimately, it is an institution ordered toward protection and respect for new people.”
“So if you have a straight friend who’s infertile, you’d tell her she can’t get married either?”
“I said ordered toward. When a man and woman have sex they’re engaging in that sacred act that creates human life, even if none will be created in that particular act. It’s still sacred.”
“Okay, but for fertile couples, that sounds barbaric to say that they have to be trying to have babies all the time. Not everyone is as crazy as you guys.”
“That’s not what Catholics believe. Child spacing is perfectly fine, if done with natural methods. And the reason that natural family planning doesn’t lead to the same kind of cultural insanity as artificial contraception is because it’s a sacrifice-based system.”
“I’m not following. I don’t see why there’s any more sacrifice than with contraception — or, frankly, why it matters.”
I offered a brief overview of how NFP works, trying to avoid scarring Andrew for life with too many details about the signs and symptoms of a woman’s fertile time, and bumbled around to convey why abstaining during fertile periods is fundamentally different than artificially sterilizing the sexual act. “You don’t get to do whatever you want, whenever you want, even as a married heterosexual. All sexual activity must be ordered toward new human life, so there’s no, umm…” If there had been an awkwardness meter on the table, it would have exploded as I tried to elucidate this point without naming specific sexual acts ending in specific ways that aren’t licit in the Catholic worldview. I skipped it and moved on.
“Anyway,” I continued, “in this view you are constantly having to make sacrifices out of respect for what this act is all about: If you’re totally open to having kids, then there are the sacrifices that come with birth and raising children; if you’re abstaining during fertile times, you’re sacrificing. Infertile couples sacrifice by not using artificial methods like in vitro to force new life into existence. Gay men and women sacrifice by living chaste lives, as do people separated from their spouses, and people who are not yet married, or whose spouse has died. Notice that we’re all sacrificing, and that all of the sacrifices are about the same thing: love and respect for new human life, and specifically the act that creates new human life.”
“So you’re saying that gay men should never have sex?”
I hesitated. The way the question was phrased, to answer would make it seem like I see myself as some kind of moral authority. “I’m saying that every human being is called to make sexual sacrifices in the name of respect for human life. So, yeah, that would mean that a gay man would not act on his attractions. And would that be harder for him than for a single Catholic who hasn’t found a spouse, or for a person whose spouse has left him, for a married couple with a medical condition that’s not compatible with pregnancy — even for the average, healthy married couple who abstains regularly to space their kids? Honestly, I think it depends on the people. You’d be surprised at how much everyone sacrifices — not just people with same-sex attraction.”
“Great belief system you have there,” Andrew said. “Sounds like a barrel of laughs.”
“Andrew, you know me. You know how lazy I am, right?”
“And how weak I am? And how little fortitude I have in any area of life? Remember how I could never meet you guys for brunch because you met at eleven-thirty, and it was just too early to ask me to get up?”
“I have had to make plenty of sacrifices for this concept.” I told him about the DVT, my blood clotting disorder, the never-ending medical bills. “I’m not Mother Teresa in the streets of Calcutta or anything. A lot of people have it a lot worse than I do — ”
Andrew was laughing at me having used “me” in the same sentence with “Mother Teresa,” agreeing under his breath that, indeed, I am not Mother Teresa. I ignored him and continued. “Listen. Do you think that I would have gotten myself into a belief system that involves sacrifices if there weren’t a huge payoff?”
“What, does the Pope give you a pot of gold?” Andrew was on a roll.
“Ha, ha,” I said dryly. “Look, I can’t tell you what it would be like for you or any other gay man to live a chaste life. I have no idea what your sacrifices would be, and would never for a moment dream to tell you that it would be easy. But based on my own small experience, I will say this: When you get your sexuality in line with respect for human life, you get your soul in line with God, who is the Source of human life. And there is more joy there than you could imagine.” I told him about all the priests and nuns and monks who are some of the most joyful people I’ve ever met, pointing out that for thousands of years there have been large segments of society that live awesome lives without sex. I described some of the chaste single people I know who do more good for the world in a day than I do in a year. “Our society has forgotten entirely that it is perfectly possible not to have sex. Not only possible, but can even be a great thing.”
“I need a drink,” Andrew sighed, craning his neck to see if Tom and my husband were back from the bar.
“You’re not convinced?”
“You mean am I all anti-gay-marriage now after listening to your little speech?” Andrew look to the ceiling, as if appealing to the gods to help me with my ignorance. “Uhh, no.”
I didn’t expect that he would be; it certainly would have made for a weird dinner if Tom had returned from the bar to have Andrew say, “Tom! I just spent five minutes talking with Jennifer, and have decided that our love for one another would be most perfectly expressed in a chaste way! Let’s be celibate!”
“Do you at least believe that when I say that I don’t think gay marriage is a good thing, it’s not coming from a place of homophobia?” I hoped that my face expressed the depth of my concern for our friendship.
He didn’t respond right away. The silence that passed between us was palpable and heavy, as if the culture wars over human sexuality had become a physical thing that stood between us. Finally, a smile spread across his face. “You’re not homophobic. You’re just crazy, and have evidently joined an anti-sex cult!”
I laughed. “Okay. I’ll take that.” I started to make the case that Catholicism is actually quite pro-sex – so much so that it’s the only organization left in the world that demands that we respect it — but it seemed time to let the conversation drop.
The guys returned from the bar, and Andrew and I turned our attention to them. “What were you two talking about?” Tom asked.
Andrew didn’t miss a beat. “Jennifer was just agreeing with me that that shirt makes you look like you got drunk and raided Barbara Walters’ closet,” he quipped. This prompted a long and loud debate about Tom’s sartorial preferences, which would eventually end in our server announcing over our shouts and howls of laughter that the manager had asked us to please keep it down.
At the end of the evening — way too late, as always — we all exchanged hugs and promised that we’d do this more often. I watched Andrew and Tom walk away, holding hands, and prayed that I hadn’t done a totally terrible job of articulating my beliefs. I hoped that, if nothing else, he understood that there is no contradiction between me being a faithful Catholic and a close friend of his. I have converted to the religion of the crucifix, a belief system that promises joy in exchange for losing it all. Most people don’t want to sign up for that. I get that. I hope they consider it, for their own sake, since their lives would be better if they did — but it doesn’t change how I feel about them if they don’t. As the guys disappeared down the street, I hoped Andrew knew how much I loved him and Tom, and I hoped they still loved me too.
* Andrew and Tom’s names have been changed. Also, to save you from having to read thousands of words of hemming and hawing and talking around the issue, I have condensed our conversation, made both of us sound more articulate than we actually were at the time, and included elements of discussions I’ve had with other gay friends. In other words: This is meant to convey the gist of my recent conversations with dear friends who are gay, and is not meant to be a piece of journalism with precise accuracy as to how every word was spoken.
Oh, and I’ve done my best to express Catholic thought on these issues, but keep in mind that I’m a random woman with an internet connection, not the Pope. If I accidentally wrote anything that disagrees with what he would say, go with him, not me.
There’s an article out in the Washington Post this week that’s been getting a lot of buzz, titled Young Catholic women try to modernize the message on birth control. In it, Post writer Michelle Boorstein explores the issue of how modern Catholic women perceive Natural Family Planning, and highlights some voices that say that NFP could use some “rebranding,” so to speak.
As it turns out, I am one of those voices! I was reading the article, and came across this paragraph:
The new movement’s goal is to make over the image of natural family planning, now used by a small minority of Catholic women. But natural family planning, which requires women to track their fertile periods through such natural signs such as temperature and cervical mucus, is seen by many fertility experts as unreliable and is viewed by most Catholics as out of step with contemporary women.
I thought, Hmm. I disagree with that. I certainly don’t see NFP as being out of step with contemporary women! Then I read this quote from some Catholic woman, who obviously didn’t know what she was talking about:
“[NFP] ends up being this lofty, ‘Isn’t every baby a precious blessing?’…Meanwhile, you have one kid with colic [and] some 2-year-old pulling on your pants. It just doesn’t resonate. There needs to be a modernizing.”
Aaaaaaand then I re-read the quote, and realized it was from me.
As the old adage says, “Reporters don’t have the space to fully quote the ten-thousand word, hour-long conversation you had on the phone in which you detailed all your nuanced opinions, so you’d better make your points clearly and concisely or else you might be very surprised by the words that are attributed to you in print.” Well, maybe that’s not an old adage, but it should be. Someone cross-stitch that on a pillow for me, because it’s a guiding principle I need to remember.
I didn’t mean to sound dismissive of the concept that every child is a blessing, and when I referred to NFP messages not resonating, I was thinking only of certain materials I’ve seen that take a very idealistic approach and don’t spend any time addressing the real struggles that can come with parenthood and discernment about child spacing.
The more I think about it, though, the more I think that to some extent this kind of miscommunication is inevitable, because the way secular society understands human sexuality and the way the Catholic Church understands it are so vastly different.
When I re-read the Post article and some of the resulting commentary, I noticed undercurrents of the idea that NFP is the Catholic version of contraception. Most of the posts and comments I read took for granted the following ideas:
- Babies are, by default, burdens to be avoided
- People are entitled to engage in sexual activity without having to think about the possibility of new life
- Parents can and should control their fertility with as much precision as possible, only being open to children when they are absolutely sure they are completely ready
Thus, even when people are sincerely seeking to understand the Catholic understanding of NFP, the questions sound something like:
- How does Catholic teaching help women avoid the burden of babies?
- How does Catholic teaching allow couples to engage in sexual activity without having to think about the possibility of new life?
- How will Catholic teaching allow parents to control their fertility with as much precision as possible, only being open to children when they are absolutely sure they are completely ready?
…And we end up completely missing each other.
I’ve used the analogy before that the contraceptive worldview is like saying that loaded guns can be used as toys as long as you put blanks in the chamber; in contrast, the Catholic view says that guns are not toys, and should always be handled with grave respect. Now, to continue with that analogy, in these latest chats about Catholicism and NFP, folks are seeking to understand the Catholic viewpoint by asking which kind of blanks the Church recommends using when playing around with guns. These kinds of questions are bound to lead to misunderstanding, because they are borne from an entirely different understanding of what a gun is in the first place.
The Catholic understanding of human sexuality (which, it’s worth noting, was shared among all Christian denominations up until the 1930s) is that the sexual act must never be severed from its life-giving potential, neither physically nor mentally. The Church teaches that we must never, ever forget that it is through this activity that we co-create human souls with God; to act as if we have the right to enjoy the pleasurable aspects of sex without being open to any new life it might create not only disrespects this most sacred of acts, but it sets us and our future children up for tragedy. This does not mean that people must actively try to have a child with every sexual act; it does mean, however, that if they really, really, really, really cannot have a baby, they should not engage in the act that creates babies.
Thus, the Church’s “rules” about the boundaries of sexual activity are not arbitrary restrictions concocted by the guys in the Vatican; rather, they are an owner’s manual for the human body, handed down from God himself, based on an accurate understanding of what human sexuality and the creation of new life is really all about.
Back to the Post article, I love it that Michelle Boorstein brought up this topic — almost seven hundred comments later, it certainly seems to be something people are ready to discuss. I wish I had been able to articulate my views more clearly, but I think that, at this point, miscommunications are going to be inevitable. For over thirty years, the culture has been drifting further and further away from the ancient understanding of human sexuality, to the point that the contraceptive worldview had become something that the average person would never even think to question. But things are changing now, and the tide is beginning to turn. Folks are seeing that contraception has not solved the problems we were told it would solve, and has in fact introduced a whole host of new problems. For the first time in decades, there is serious discussion in the public square about the fact that contraception just might not be the cure-all solution it was supposed to be. We have a long way to go in the process of unraveling this issue, and, in the meantime, I’d imagine that there will be plenty more misunderstandings. But I am thrilled that the discussion has begun.
Now that I’m visibly pregnant, I get asked more and more often for a detailed plan of how many more children I’ll have and when I’ll be “done.” Much of the time, “Congratulations” is swiftly followed by one of the following questions:
- “So, is this the last one?”
- “How many more are you going to have?!”
- “When are you going to be done?”
These are usually well-intended statements, expressed out of a concern for me. An old friend whose youngest just started kindergarten said to me the other day, “I don’t know how you hang on not knowing when you’ll be done with the baby phase. Aren’t you just dying for the days when you don’t have to deal with sippy cups and strollers and wiping noses?” She pointed out that it’s so much easier when all of your kids are old enough to do most things for themselves. “You don’t want to spend the rest of your life changing diapers, do you?” she wanted to know.
In terms of my bad character traits, my selfishness is surpassed only by my laziness. Also, though I love my babies and toddlers, I connect better with older kids. I’m not a “baby person” and always breathe a sigh of relief when each kid turns four. And I’ve been changing diapers every day for six years now — much of that time with three kids in diapers at once. So yeah. My gut reaction is that it sounds pretty nice not to have to deal with all the extra work that babies and toddlers require.
But to buy into that mentality, the idea that I would be happier and my life would be better if I could just do whatever I want all the time, would be to fall back into the spiritual morass I found myself in before my conversion to Christianity.
As I’ve said many times before, one of the most shocking truths I discovered when I converted to Christianity was that autonomy is not the path to happiness. The golden calf that I spent most of my life worshiping turned out to be a dead idol. I always thought that the secret to a fantastic life was to optimize on getting as much autonomy as possible so that I could do whatever pleased me, whenever I felt like doing it. Boy was I surprised when I found out that that kind of life left me amused but not deeply happy, and that the only source of real happiness — of joy — is God. And you only need to glance at a crucifix to be reminded that God is the God of self-sacrifice.
Through Christianity, I discovered the secret formula for that fantastic life I always wanted: be other-focused at the macro level, and self-focused at the micro level. Of course we each need to make regular time for rest and relaxation — and women especially need to be careful not to run themselves ragged by never taking time to recharge their own batteries. But the overall purpose of life is to serve. And the closer you get to God, the more he’s going to set you up with opportunities for some serious self-sacrificial service.
So that’s why, as lazy as I am, I kind of shrug when people ask if I’m anxious to be done changing diapers. With what I’ve seen of the Christian life so far, I presume that as soon as my last kid is out of diapers, God will simply send more opportunities for intimate, challenging service my way. Maybe one of our parents will become ill and need us to take care of them. Maybe a relative will need to move in with us. Maybe we’ll be called to take in foster children or volunteer with the homeless. Heck, given our current track record, I wouldn’t be surprised if our oldest children start having kids around the time our youngest is finally potty trained — and then a whole new cycle of diaper changing will begin again!
“Changing diapers” has become the ultimate symbol of the sort of intimate service that leads to a lack of autonomy — which is probably why our culture makes people feel so anxious to be done with it. It’s also why I’m ambivalent about it: it’s just another form of service, which is what the Christian life is all about. So maybe it won’t literally involve Huggies and baby wipes, but yeah, if I am to make the most of my time here on earth, I do assume that I’ll spend the rest of my life changing diapers.
- My answer to “Do you want more children?”
- On being tired
- Admitting that I can’t do it all…or even half of it
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.