I had a strange conversation today. About family size, naturally. These happen to me all the freakin’ time. I was at the park with the children and an older couple is on the path walking toward us. He says, “You have three, so it can’t be that bad!”
I reply, nonplussed, “No, not at all.”
She says, “Do you think you need two more?!?”
“That would be all right.”
The two of them crack up, “Oh ho! Oh ho!” as if I’d said something kinky.
Maybe they think I don’t know what causes it. It seems to be a common assumption.
Yeah, people are weird. But more and more I feel like the weirdo, because I DON’T have a plan. Even among NFP-ers, it seems like more and more I’m hearing about spacing children far enough apart for optimal physical and psychological health, being responsible for the sake of the environment, how learning NFP should be required before marriage, etc. etc. This feels like buying into the freak-out culture. It all makes babies sound so dangerous. I don’t have a target number of children. Never did. We’ve never charted, but been just fine with a general awareness of how my body works and what it looks like when babies are likely to happen. We never had an unexpected pregnancy or anxiety about achieving pregnancy. Breastfeeding has kept me infertile for at least a year after each baby. When I was really depressed after moving the second time last year, I couldn’t deal with the idea of being pregnant just yet. So my husband gave me a little space during the fertile weeks for a few months. Now we’re back to letting nature happen. It just hasn’t been rocket science for us.
I realize that we are very blessed in this. I definitely understand that sometimes a more, shall we say, technical approach to the marital embrace is helpful for those who struggle with infertility or who really need to avoid pregnancy but don’t have such obvious fertility signs. That said, the way we’ve handled things in our marriage, not micromanaging our fertility, has been the normal way of things for millennia. Now of course it’s super, super, weird. People don’t know how to process the information that I don’t know how many children I want to have.
Here’s the thing. NFP isn’t magic. Contraception isn’t magic. The nature of sex is to make babies. So it can never be ruled out all together, even if one uses some kind of contraciption. That “openness to children” part of marriage is permanent. Neither are we guaranteed a child when we want it. So here we go procreating with reckless abandon. But really, it is highly unlikely that I will have ten kids. I’m almost thirty. I have about ten to twelve years of slowly declining fertility left. I had three children in eight years. So mathematically, I will probably end up with a large family but certainly not Duggar-sized. Financially we can provide much more than most people around the world, even if that might not include a college education. (I’m a drop out, myself, so don’t try to convince me college is necessary for life!) We are healthy and the first three kids are doing all right thus far! We really enjoy our family. As far as I can see I don’t have any reason to worry about having “too many” children.
But is there really any such thing as “too many” children? Mother Teresa of course famously said that’s like saying there are too many flowers. But really, if we do have that big family and then suddenly become poor, or have major illness strike, or some other calamity, would we regret having them? Is a child something that, by its nature, we ought to resist? Should we be worried about having another one?
That’s crazy talk. And yet here we are. The basic assumption that it’s responsible to avoid pregnancy is just a hidden source of anxiety, to my thinking. Because a child is now by default a *bad thing*. As aforesaid, the nature of sex is to make babies. So the thing that is meant to unify the husband and wife in a profound way is now a source of this *bad thing*. So sex is now kind of the enemy. Sounds like a miserable way to live. And if you read this kind of news at all, you know that American couples really don’t have sex all that much! How can this be good for anybody?
We also avoid the potential for regret that we didn’t have more children. As far as I know, there haven’t been any scientific studies on this, but I have met enough older ladies that have expressed regret at not having grandchildren or wished that they hadn’t prevented having more themselves. (Yes, really! People tell me this stuff!) This regret at what might have been is real.
So what happens when we give up the idea we can and ought to control exactly when we have babies? You might think you ought to avoid pregnancy, then break your leg in a ski accident and discover you’re actually carrying twins. You might have to rely on friends to take care of you when you are on bed rest and then have a preemie. You might end up childless, to your complete surprise and disappointment. All true stories of people close to me. They all have peace in their hearts.
So what if we just acknowledge that some things are just out of our hands? Make our peace with not being in control of the Universe? That we are not gods?
What if we just entrust it all to the one who is God? Trusting that He will work it all out for our good?