Skip to comments.Wanted by the Fertility Police
Posted on 10/24/2001 9:08:40 PM PDT by Brian Kopp DPM
Crisis - June
Wanted by the Fertility Police
By Mary Walsh
At the pool last summer I met a mother of a three-year-old and a five-year-old. She started talking to me about my two youngest girls, Patricia and Kathleen. Slowly, she realized that Brian, the four-year-old boy bobbing up and down with great delight in the three-foot end, was also mine. When Maggie, my seven-year-old, came swimming up, I could see the fear in the woman's face. "Four!" she gasped, then repeated, "Four." Then Michael came back from the diving board. "Good heavens!" she exclaimed. "You have five?" I replied, "Well, actually, I have six. Christopher is not here. He's at a friend's house today."
Six. She was stunned. I tried to help her out: "Really, it's not so bad. We have a lot of fun, especially at the pool in the summer." Six. She was still stuck on the number. When she came to, she told me that she and her husband were "thinking about having another child," but they were not yet sure if they would. When I told my husband about the incident, he joked, "Did you tell her you have to do more than just think about it?"
This is only one of the many run-ins I have had with the people I call the fertility police. OK, so I admit it: I am jaded. Over time, I have become accustomed to the rude comments, "the glare," "the stare," and the "How could you possibly take up my airspace?" attitude from people with no more than two kids. Any mother with more than two, or with children close in age, knows exactly to what I am referring: that look of condescension that says, "Don't you know what causes that?"
One of my favorite movie scenes is in Cheaper by the Dozen (1950), when the father of the twelve-child Gilbreth family refers to those "piddly little families with five or six children." (In another great scene in that movie, the local Planned Parenthood representative flees the Gilbreth house in shock.) I guess that with six, I have one of those piddly little families, though most people I meet do not seem to think so. It is no secret that most people today think that managing more than a couple of children is darn near impossible. Contemporary culture is quite fond of ignoring the Creator and hence forgets that "with God, all things are possible."
Lectures at the Grocery Store
My first two children, Michael and Christopher, were both born in May, Christopher on our second wedding anniversary. Needless to say, encounters with the fertility police were frequent. The fertility police can be either well-meaning or downright rude. An encounter with them can be as simple as a shake of the head or as complex as lengthy inquiries about the proximity of the children's birthdays or unsolicited advice about the most effective methods of contraception.
One place where I frequently run into the fertility police is the grocery store. There, one woman called me crazy. Another nearly fainted in the soup aisle while I was shopping with my daughter Kathleen, then a month old. This distraught woman insisted on telling me what it was like to be the mother of not only a newborn but also of a three-year-old boy (the "curse" of the human race, as she put it). When I told her I also had a three-year-old son and six children in all, she started muttering to herself, "Six children, six children, six children...," and made a beeline away from me. She did not utter a peep to me in the cereal aisle.
Being open to new life and not cooperating with the contraceptive mentality of today's culture makes a Catholic parent a walking sign of contradiction. Apparently, seeing a family with more than two children causes a searing jab in the consciences of some people who had considered the issue of whether to have more children moot. Why else would complete strangers tell me their darkest secrets about using birth control, along with their reasons for avoiding having another child, some even graphically describing "cutting and burning those tubes"?
My sister has a friend in Pennsylvania who is a mother of five. Her husband works as an engineer for a behemoth company. When he announced to his coworkers that he and his wife, both Catholics, were expecting their fifth child, the fertility cops started trailing into his office to read him the riot act. He responded with, "Hey, man, I get my marching orders from Rome." They were shocked by his response, and didn't bother him again.
My sister's mother-in-law, Martha, would probably have been classified as certifiable today. She and her husband were married at age 35 and subsequently blessed with five daughters and four sons in ten years. Martha's husband, a World War II veteran, probably never imagined that God had this in store for his life on December 6, 1941, when he was sent out of Pearl Harbor on a submarine the day before the Japanese bombed it.
Last year, I clicked on a financial advice column on the MSN Web site just for fun. It featured an article on the biggest financial mistakes people make. I could not resist taking a peek, since I am always on the lookout for ways to save money. The venomous words "having too many children" jumped off the screen at me. The article said that one or two children were bad enough; that children are extremely expensive and time-consuming; that the problem with having a third child is that the parents often want to have a fourth; and that four children are just too many. Children, one of the greatest joys of married life, the symbol of love between a husband and wife, were summarily dumped into the bin of financial mistakes.
Unless a woman is lucky enough to have a pro-life doctor, the joy of finding out that another child is on the way is usually tempered by the impending grief the expectant mother encounters at the obstetrician's office. "Oh, boy," she thinks. "Here comes another lecture from Dr. Fertility-Is-a-Disease." Thankfully, there are some wonderful pro-life doctors, but their offices can be few and far between. Those of us who do not relish the thought of delivering a baby in a car prefer to stick closer to home. That, of course, has its price. Sometimes the comments of doctors and nurses are unreal. "Do you want your tubes tied before I take out the epidural?" "Is this one it?" "We need an adult activity center in the county, so adults will have something to do at night."
Obstetricians and hospital staff should be overjoyed to have the business, yet they persist in their negativity to- ward large families. Luckily, my doctor has gotten used to the idea that my Catholic faith actually means I will not use contraception. I am sure he is puzzled, but at least I do not have to deal with his lectures. Obstetrical staff, however, is often worse than the doctor. The "look" alone is enough to wither healthy houseplants.
The contraceptive mentality of our culture has trickled down even to our children. A fourth-grader in the CCD class I teach asked me when I was pregnant with my daughter Maggie if I was "going to keep it." "You already have two," she said. This little girl was ten years old, and she already thought two children was enough. How sad it is that many children today see love limited in this way. Children learn most of what they know from their parents; thus, it is vitally important for parents to give their children a proper upbringing in the culture of life.
My children are always so thrilled to find out that a new baby is on the way that they can hardly stand to wait. Seven months (we break the news when I'm about two months pregnant) is just too long. Their anticipation of visiting Mommy and the new baby in the hospital fills them with joy and excitement. When the baby comes home, we have a "zero party" to celebrate his or her original birthday.
Cultural opposition to large families, while nothing new, is especially intense today. Even when I was growing up, the neighbors teased my mother, calling her "Mrs. Rabbit" because she gave birth to the five of us in seven years. Though we have had our share of spats like any other family, we are tightly knit. Family closeness is not something that can be bought or sold, but it is one of the most precious gifts you can have. I thank God for the gift of my big family.
Sometimes the flak large families receive comes from those who should know better: grandparents. Some mothers and fathers are actually afraid to tell their own parents that another baby is on the way. For heaven's sake, it is not as if they were unwed teenagers. Responsible sex used to mean being married; now it means using a pill or a condom.
Flak can even come from Catholic natural family planning (NFP) advocates. For example, my friends Adele and Ryan were on vacation with their seven children. At Mass on Father's Day, as they left the pew, a man shoved an NFP brochure into Ryan's hand. Which one of their beautiful children did this man think should not exist? Was it any of his business to suggest that there was something wrong with their style of "family planning"?
In our society, if a woman chooses to abort her baby, the pregnancy and fetal destruction are private matters between only the "woman and her doctor." If she has the baby, her decision becomes public property: How closely are your children spaced? Do you intend on having more of them? Are you going to have your tubes tied?
One of the reasons for this hostility toward large families is a failure to trust in divine providence and the graces of the sacrament of matrimony. Even many Catholic NFP-users are so caught up in managing every temperature and trace of mucus that the big picture becomes lost in a blur: Every child, "planned" or not, comes into the world through the grace of God and is part of His plan. God will not give you more than you can handle, and He will always be there with abundant graces to help you.
There are many misconceptions about large families, and most of them spring from the pervasive anti-child attitudes of our culture. Some of these misconceptions are:
You cannot love more than two children.
Your numerous children will not be able to attend college.
It takes a fortune to raise more than one child.
Parents of large families do not have any private time.
It is impossible to raise a large family in 2001.
Love, however, does not divide or subtract with more children-it multiplies. A new sibling not only receives the love of his or her parents but of all the other siblings as well. Mother Teresa once said, "How can you say there are too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers." With her ability to speak from the heart and pierce like a sword, Mother Teresa knew that it is impossible to be a good parent and remain selfish. Putting the good of your child ahead of your own needs requires commitment and sacrifice.
I do not spend wakeful nights worrying about how to put my children though college. If college is in God's plans for them, I am sure we will find a way. There are loans, scholarships, and good old-fashioned diligence. The evils of the day are sufficient unto themselves, and it is fruitless to spend countless hours in worry. Time is better spent working out God's plan for us and helping our children discern His plan for them.
It does not take a fortune to raise children, either. They may want designer clothes or the hottest toy, but they certainly do not need them. In fact, we can teach our children valuable lessons about priorities and detachment by telling them the reasons why we do things.
For example, my husband was talking at the dinner table-where great conversations originate-with our two oldest sons. They were remarking on the fact that I buy everything on sale. "Do you know why Mom buys everything on sale?" my husband asked. "So she can stay home and take care of you and teach you." They were amazed: "Mom loves me enough to stay home with me" is the message they received. My husband and I do not feel the need to buy lavish accoutrements because we are already giving our children the best of our time, talent, and resources. We do not have to bear the guilt that many other parents feel today for dumping their children in day care or dropping them off at an ex-spouse's house, and then compensating them with new toys or exotic vacations for having wrecked their world.
As for private time, there's always the shower. Sometimes I am able to stay awake for a few hours after the children go to bed-and sometimes I put on my jammies right after them. But even when I don't have a lot of time to myself, I don't care because I know there will come a sad time when I will no longer hear the pitter-patter of little feet. There will be no more requests for drinks of water, infectious giggling, or midnight whispering about the day's events. Likewise, there will be no more arguing over who sat in whose spot on the couch, who drank the last of the chocolate milk, or who wrecked the greatest Lego creation since last week. Nor will there be any more "creative cleaning," in which my kids jam half the possessions of a Third World nation under their bunks. So I am content to recognize that there is a time for everything and to cherish their childhood while it is here. Parents do not always see their efforts pay off immediately. It may take years, but every good deed, wiped nose, tied shoe, changed diaper, answered question, and story read will form a child who grows secure in love and faith in God, a soldier of Christ.
All big families are as unique as the individuals who make them up, and thus, there is no perfect way to run a large household. One thing is for certain: Parents, in order to survive, will mellow as they have more children. I never fully understood the concept of picking my battles until I had children. Really, the fate of the world does not depend on whether a toddler takes a bath in a mud puddle: Clothes can be easily washed. Naps, however, are important for both mother and child, so I insist on them.
Surprisingly enough, parents with more children tend to be more organized. Families with eight always get to Mass before us, and we arrive before those with three. (I guess we need a couple more children to be truly punctual.) I love the magnet I once saw on a friend's refrigerator that read, "Cleaning your house while your children are growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing." I do what I can for the day, and of course, my older children are a big help. If the house is not perfect by twilight, it is OK. We live here.
It is not impossible to raise a large family. First and foremost, we do not do it by ourselves: We do it by the grace of God. When people ask me how I manage, I often try to lighten the conversation by saying that I do not manage the children-they manage me. What I should say is that God has given me the strength to fulfill my vocation, and He will strengthen you to do yours. "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of" (that comes from another of my favorite movies, The Bells of St. Mary's).
There are lots of little ways to cut costs: Buy on sale, plan your meals according to the grocery store specials (but do not become neurotic about it), buy clothes after the season for next year, go to library book sales, shop early for Christmas, and ask St. Anthony to help you find things that you need.
No Such Thing As Too Many
Dear friends of mine, Dave and Kathleen, are truly heroic people. When I met Kathleen, she and Dave had three children of their own-two daughters and a son-and had just adopted two sisters who had been in their foster care. At the time, her oldest was five, the next was four, and the other three were each seven months older than the next. Dave was transferred to Thailand, and they lived down the street from an orphanage. Soon after, they adopted a seven-month-old boy who was thought to be physically and mentally disabled, but all he needed was a family like Dave and Kathleen's to love him. Later, they adopted two sisters who had been beaten by Mommy and Daddy No. 3, and a twelve-year-old girl whose Thai name, Pan, meant "no name." Her new name is Claudia. Then they adopted a seven-year-old boy abandoned at a construction site and rescued by a Catholic priest. The priest had heard of this American family and asked them to take in the little Cambodian boy. Last, they adopted Yimmie, which means "Smile" (she was with them only 18 months because of red tape that prevented her adoption). Kathleen calls her family her "little United Nations."
It often appears to the worldly that people who accept children lovingly from God are a few cards short of a full deck. Contrary to popular opinion, however, large families know they have something of great value. Remember the parable: A man buys a field for an outrageous price, and everyone thinks he is crazy. But in fact, he knows there is treasure buried on the land. The world may not understand the value of every human child God sends to us, but we do if we are willing to open our hearts and minds to trust completely in Him.
While raising children is not always easy, most things in life that are rewarding require much time, effort, and commitment. Children are irreplaceable, and no material thing or vacation could ever compensate for not having them.
Michael, eleven, has a heart of gold and is always helpful and kind. Christopher, ten, is his brother's best friend. Maggie, nearly eight, is a tomboy (no surprise considering she has two older brothers) and the Pied Piper to her younger siblings. As the middle child, Maggie is a conspirator with the older boys and a ringleader with the younger children. Brian is five and keeps us entertained with his infectious laughter and silly antics. He enjoys his big audience. "I love home," he often says (I would not trade that compliment for all the tea in China!). Patricia, three, is our little redheaded princess who craves nail polish, tea parties, dolls, and going to the store. Kathleen is 18 months old and thoroughly enjoys her walking and discovery skills. Her smile lights up the room. She loves to sing in church but thinks all the hymnals there belong to her, and consequently, she scowls at anyone who picks one up.
Without my beloved husband, of course, I would not have these beautiful children. He is my cavalry riding to my rescue at the end of the day. He keeps me calm and helps me focus on God's big picture for us. I know that fairy tales are not supposed to come true, but we'll be married for twelve years in May, and all I can say is that he truly has been my prince.
One of the questions that newlyweds most often hear is: "Will you have children, and if so, how many?" I used to say that I wanted six because I figured it would keep the fertility police at bay for a while. Now my husband and I are expecting our seventh child in November. How many children will we have in all? Only God knows the perfect number for us.
Mary Walsh writes from Fredericksburg, Virginia
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"The children of one's youth are like arrows in a quiver, blessed is the man whose quiver is full."
I find this an odd statement, considering how very, very few Catholics actually have large families anymore. As a matter of fact, most of the large families I know are protestant homeschooling families. (And I know of some large Catholic homeschooling families, as well.)
I find this an odd statement, considering how very, very few Catholics actually have large families anymore. As a matter of fact, most of the large families I know are protestant homeschooling families. (And I know of some large Catholic homeschooling families, as well.)Depends on what the meaning of
I'm 44 and I would love to have another!! We have 3 sons - ages 18, 14, and 10.
...which is just what all the 'watermelons' really want -Because they are Commie Red on the inside and Enviro-Green on the outside...)
Three home schooled children, desperately hoping for more! They are now 9, 7, 5. Always thought we'd have two more before our "baby" would be 5, but all in God's providence.
I see you haven't met our Catholic home schoolers group yet...
We belong to both the general Christian home school group as well as the Catholic home school group. Likewise we've attended state meeting for both. I gotta admit that at least here the Catholic homeschoolers are out procreating their protestant counterparts ;-)
Anyway, I have three and that's enough for me. I want to do one on one stuff with them, it's already very challenging to find the time. I'm happy with three, and so is my achin' back, to hear that we won't be having any more. Sometimes I feel that longing, but it goes away quickly. :-)
Like the carpender said to me, "You want it a third of an inch? Awright, show me a third of an inch on this here rule."
While we actually do exist, I continually lament how many are not. I currently am serving as an obstetrical anesthesiologist, and refuse to do elective terminations -- the flack I take from my colleagues is huge. I just wish physicians would remember the original oath of hippocrates "I will not procure abortion..."