Family planning for the Christian couple has many challenges. It’s not a simple thing, and it ultimately has to do with opening your heart to the work of being a family, big or small. The infertile couple, the overly fertile couple, the couple that contracepts because they aren’t sure what they should do… it’s never easy. I have been very blessed by the wonderful children God has given me, and I am not in a huge hurry to have more children at this time, because when my husband and I talk about the idea of adding to already larger than normal family, it can feel overwhelming. But…I do so love babies…
The Catholic Church says to be generous and open to life, but also responsible, at the same time. Is it responsible to have more children when it’s already difficult to care for the children financially or psychologically? The church says in these situations there is reason to use Natural Family Planning (also called the Fertility Awareness Method) to define the womans fertile times in order to avoid pregnancy. There seems to be some misunderstanding that everyone who is Catholic must use NFP, which is not true. Only couples who feel that there is serious reason to avoid pregnancy should feel inclined to use it. Otherwise, have babies at will! The more the merrier!
My pattern thus far has been: to find out I’m pregnant and after a moment of….. wow…. I become filled with joyful glee, and eagerly await the new baby. Have the baby, nurse the baby, watch the baby grow, enjoy the baby very much………..while at the same time feel overwhelmed and swear I never want to have another child as long as I shall live. Then, about two years later decide that babies aren’t so bad, and actually I wouldn’t mind having another one……… then I find out I’m pregnant and REPEAT:) This has happened many times, and I’m sure it will happen again. I do wonder sometimes if this pattern is something other couples experience. And I also wonder how much of the swearing I’ll never want to have another child as long as I shall live portion of the cycle has to do with my husband. He always feels challenged and seditary when holding a baby in the larvae phase, have him chase a two year old and they are off to the races.The baby phase can wear on our relationship when I am become wholly consumed he can feel left in the dust…we want to do things in right order. I want to do what God is calling me to do. I want to serve the Lord with my whole life, all the time! If enjoying time with my husband isn’t near the top of the list of priorities, how can we expect to have a happy home? That being said, each and every time we have conceived a child, he has been overjoyed and incredibly supportive and gracious, and patient through all the ups and downs of pregnancy, birth, and care-taking.
There are many facets to family life, with the childbearing years sometimes being viewed as the more challenging years, and….I would disagree! I think the years of making babies are far more rewarding than trying to let go of the young adults and watch them turn into whatever it is that they eventually become. There is so much less control when they are older. And I can imagine that letting go is an art form in itself, like getting into the right position in labor, it never feels quite right, it’s challenging and it’s a lot of waiting and praying. I do savor the moments I get with my children, because I see how fast the time flies, and I think that is another reason why I sometimes want to avoid having more babies, I want to really be there for my teenagers and young adults. I fear that as I go through the pregnancy and all-consuming first years of the new babies life I will in turn not be present enough for the older kids. I will be so wrapped up with keeping another tiny human alive that they will be neglected or turn into some type of child laborer. Even now, sometimes at the end of a long busy day, I wonder if I said anything at all other than commands to the big kids ….”Go get your sister…” “Can you flip the laundry?” “Can you help me with dinner?” , “Get ready for Irish Dance!” ….etc…….I sure hope they don’t remember their childhood as a collection of chaotic moments of service to their family. I hope they remember the fun, the silly babies, the laughter, all tthe crazy moments, the tears of joy and the times when we felt like screaming and instead cracked a joke. I hope they see our family as something that worked.
Because that’s what it is, really, isn’t it? it’s survival. Survival is SUCCESS! Someone said that to me recently, and I agree. Sometimes we have to stop and count our blessings and realize it is all going to be okay, and call it good.
Sometimes we need to lower our expectations enough to see that keeping the family alive is a great expectation, and we are not super human, we are only doing our best, and especially when we are open to life, we can’t have “it all,” whatever that means. When you are open to life, you care more about people than you care about things, and therefore the “things” aren’t often what many would consider ideal. The thrift store approach to purchasing clothing and furniture, the thrift store approach to…..everything! You want shabby chic ha! We got it. Well.. we definitely recycle! The inability to have family stay over for a few nights while they’re in town, because literally every nook and cranny has a bed or a person, or a bunch of….stuff… in it. Um, we’re really sorry, we have to put you up in our….camper. Yes, the back yard has a classy feel if you’re into…. camping.. and tent’s are also available at no extra charge!
The level of humility it takes to become a person who WANTS children, is a high level. It takes a high threshold for pain, mess, and hair. Yes, there is a lot of hair in my house, in the shower, in the sofa, on the floor, it’s everywhere. I had to hire a great young lady to help me clean, just so I can keep the hair at bay. The hair, and everything else. The everything else is so varied, it deserves a description. Today when I cleaned under the sofa I was literally only able to throw away the dirt. The rest of it is so…precious, because…. I happen to know where all of it should go! The tinker toys go in the school room, the pens and pencils go in the schoolroom, the beads that click together and I initially really loved but now often feel tempted to vacuum up, go on the toy shelf. All three brushes, and the 7 hair rubber bands go in the hair drawer, also known as the “junk drawer.” When you have that much hair in your household, the hair drawer is all encompassing.
When approaching the reality of an “open to lifer” you must expect the unexpected. Unexpected mess, children running through the room screaming at the top of their lungs, throwing up in the middle of the night, repeatedly being late (a lot) and, always, unexpected beauty. The milky smile of your nursing baby, the walk in the neighborhood searching for fairies, the sunlight seeping through the curtain and falling all over a table filled with great food and amazing little people. The people part is what is amazing. The babies turn into people. It is hard to believe. Our eldest son just turned 21……. Yes, twenty one, the legal age. A true adult. Maybe not quite in practice, but in numerical order, he is a grown-up. One can only wonder what many things he will do with his life, who he will marry, the children he will one day have- beautiful babies all his own, and the talents and gifts that he has will change the world. It’s truly worth all the pain and difficulties, and extra hair. Truly.
So although the business of babies isn’t maybe on your top ten list of things to do….that’s okay. But, maybe now you’ll understand a little better when I tell you, I’m living open…. open to life.
Nice post! I love the line….”And I can imagine that letting go is an art form in itself, like getting into the right position in labor, it never feels quite right, it’s challenging and it’s a lot of waiting and praying.” As someone who is more in that phase of my life I can tell you that is very true. Yes, large families provide for a very rich life…..and not just for the parents, the kids too benefit so much. Every brother or sister connects each of them more solidly with the family, the domestic church!
it all is rewarded in the end… just thinking of my own childhood- y own siblings – our jokes about our parents; and in the end, we do remember the love we shared – the truth we lived – the family we are…. and all the craziness is adorably loved and part of the fun …. may God fill the lack we leave with his abundance …. ❤ life is happening and if we open our arms to it – we can only receive the grace it brings ❤
Jen, if you were not living in a place where you had lots of support and lots of good second hand stuff (not to mention abundant food and clean water and access to first-rate medical care) things would be much, much harder. Having more children when one already has their hands very full may not be so much about being “open” as it may be about choosing to believe that somehow everything will work out well. You can call that trusting in the Lord or you can call it being naive or just taking a chance or not planning. My experience of a number of families with lots of kids (though not all) is that the relationship between the parents by default became such a low priority that it got broken beyond repair. In the end, that doesn’t seem to be much good for anyone except as an example of what not to do. The idea that proper prior planning somehow negates faith is silly – it’s a rule of good managment for business, family life and life in general that proper prior planning prevents poor performance. Preparation for successful married / family life is one of the most neglected areas of modern human existence and just surviving, I think, is not a real measure of success.
I think you’ve articulated this well. I love all of my grandchildren but I’m not in any hurry to have more. I want to be able to spend time with each of them, something my grandparents didn’t do because they were “old.” Equally important though is that I want my children and their partners to have healthy, happy, “consciously loving” relationships that are mutually satisfying, open and honest. Time cannot be manufactured out of thin air and, in the end, time is all you have to give your loved ones.
Jen, this may be the best written article I’ve read on this subject, and it left me very touched and encouraged! Thank you fir sharing your heart, and I agree with you on every point! Much love, Donna.
I think you may have had the same mother as me because I also learned the lesson that “People are more important than Things;” this is JP2’s lesson of Personalism in a nutshell! Could we ask for a better admonition over and against the consumerist mentality which pervades our lives?
Keep it real and never question your trust in the King.
Thanks for the good thoughts! I did get some feedback from some friends who are struggling with infertility, and plan on writing about that next. It is really key that we support all sizes of families!! xoxo