When it comes to having babies (and especially with my growing baby bump these days), I find it interesting that people will ask me if “we’re done,” or “exactly how many are you going for?”
Frankly, I always feel just a little bit of surprise at questions like that, not because they’re so personal, but because life experience has shown me that plenty of people I know deal with a variety of special situations where having babies is concerned.
Planning a specific family size or even having one at all isn’t something many of us can take for granted–not at all. Sometimes, that’s especially if you’re Catholic and living your faith out authentically.
When you are living out Catholic teaching to forego contraception of any kind and embrace a Natural Family Planning method for times when you’ve prayerfully discerned a serious reason to avoid pregnancy if possible, it’s often tricky question to be asked “if you’re done.”
Since these kinds of “Are you done?” questions typically come, say, when I’m in the middle of dealing with one grumpy child while threatening another child to stay in the cart or else and also trying to check out my groceries, I don’t usually have time to give a good answer.
Blogs come in handy for collecting your thoughts about things like this, though.
So here’s the thing. Here’s what I wish I could say in response to those kinds sometimes.
I’m doing what I think I’m supposed to be doing when it comes to having babies. Actually (let’s be real here) my husband and I together are doing what we think we’re supposed to be doing when it comes to having sex.
And by “doing what we think,” I mean that we discern to the best of our abilities what God’s will for our marriage is, and then we try to do it. Because in a marriage that is faithful to God’s design–a marriage that strives to be life-giving in every way–either having sex or abstaining from it is directly connected to having babies.
Intimacy and navigating NFP and having babies hasn’t been a walk in the park for Michael and me (but at least I don’t hate NFP anymore). We’ve learned the hard way that God doesn’t promise us that faithfulness means we’ll have smooth sailing.
We’ve also learned that conception doesn’t always happen when you want it to.
And that a positive pregnancy test doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have a baby in your arms eight months later.
And that both infertility and exceptional fertility can be great crosses.
When it comes to having babies, the Church doesn’t give us black and white guidelines on what constitutes a “serious reason” to avoid pregnancy for a time using NFP. That’s because it knows that every marriage needs to make room for a third partner–the Holy Spirit.
St. Josemaria Escriva wrote that we should never make a decision without first contemplating it in the presence of God. If the Church gave us a list of black-and-white rules about when it’s OK to use NFP to postpone pregnancy, we would not be drawn as a married couple into deeper relationship with God and His will for our marriage. Also, no set list of rules would be able to do justice to the infinite variety of complex situations that can surround having children.
I am currently pregnant with my fifth pregnancy. We have three beautiful children on earth. We have one little one making his appearance this coming August. We have one tiny baby already in Heaven. We’ve planned pregnancies and we’ve been surprised by them.
And God has worked it all together for our good, even when the season is rough and my hands feel too full. It’s just that we have to wait in faith to see the good a lot of times–and sometimes we have to wait for a while.
Young married couples I’ve met often have a ‘magic number’ in mind when it comes to children. They have an idea of what they think they can handle. They have a plan. We did. Now don’t for a moment think I’m not all about prudence and planning when it comes to having babies (NFP survivor here, ya’ll!), but the fact is that life schools us in reality. I know many couples who can’t have children, who have lost children to miscarriage, or who try for years to become pregnant. I know older couples who grieve deeply in later life that they chose to not have more children. I know both young and older couples who developed conditions that mean a future pregnancy would be a severe threat to both the mother’s life and the life of the baby.
And yes, I also know couples who will admit with a tired grin that they are up to their eyeballs in babies. I know mothers of one and mothers of eight who feel many days like parenthood is making them more crazy than saintly. Still, in the end I wonder if there are not more couples these days who don’t have as many children as they want, than couples struggling with more children than they think they can handle.
I don’t know if Michael and I are done. We trust that God does, though. And we trust that He’ll not only help us with future discernment when it comes to having babies, but that He’ll also give us the grace to raise the children we have now and any children we have in the future.
We just take it baby to baby, ya’ll. Or rather month to month, since we’re already getting personal.:)
So these are some of my thoughts on having babies. And still…motherhood is such a complicated topic. To be a mother is breathtakingly difficult and unbelievably precious at the same time. My writing cannot do justice to the joys or the challenges or the complexities of it. One of the hopes we have to cling to in parenthood is that for those of us blessed with any number of children, we will one day forget much of the work of all this planting when we are reaping in the harvest.
I wonder if the scales are not tipped always in favor of joy as a parent. Because something in me wants everyone to know the blessing of parenthood. When you find something wonderful, you want to share it, right? Maybe that’s just me? Deep down, even on my worst days, there is peace to share.
It is an exquisite daily reality of motherhood for me: I can hate the struggle, but have peace about the cause.