Thursday, April 7, 2016

Pro-life, open to life, mom of... two

I’m a stay-at-home-mom with two children—and I’m thirty-six.

I confess that I have felt sad, jealous, and positively un-Christian when someone announces another pregnancy, another “surprise,” or an ultrasound that shows two little babies, two heartbeats.

What kind of witness is it to have two children?

Jenny recently posted about the cross-shaped vocation of marriage and children—a whole bunch of children. Blythe had a surprise #7. Grace had five little cherubs back to back to back. Kendra hosted a party for 300 with Mary Jane on her back and seven other children running around Gramblewood (which had no kitchen).

When people ask, “Are you going to try for more?” I go this awkward route of: “We’re never not trying,” or “It’s up to God,” or “We would always welcome more,” which kind of looks like we’re infertile, or contracepting, when really I’m breastfeeding and my body wants to do one thing at one time. And who wants to get into that with a mom at the park?

After giving birth to my second, my doctor couldn’t understand why I didn’t want contraception. “But you could ovulate before your period comes. you know that, right?” she said, and then: “If you’re Catholic, there’s an NFP class, but I don't know how that’s supposed to work before your cycle starts.” Yes, Catholic. No, contraception.

“I would be so excited to have a surprise pregnancy,” I told her. She did not look impressed, or convinced. She looked doubtful and worried about me.

But I probably won’t ever be surprised by pregnancy. I’ll decide to wean because of only so many years left, and I’ll have my Wondflo’s restocked, and the dreaded two week wait will commence. And I’ll pray.

The thing is, I like a challenge. I’d like to struggle with being a joyful witness to ever-new life. Instead, I’m trying to accept having two children, while hoping for more, while practicing contentment. A girl and a boy—the American dream, but not the Catholic one.


Too bad those words can’t flash over my head in neon lights.


I have to remind myself that I can’t change the past, and I can’t get those child-bearing years back. Ever. My priest told me to pray for other women—that they be abundantly blessed, that they have more children, healthy pregnancies, blessing upon blessing for their families. I also tell young couples, “Don’t wait to have children. You never know. There’s never a ‘right’ time.” Because you never know.

I think most of us want to choose our cross. Pick your poison, as they say. You have two options, neither of which are great, but, hey, at least you get to choose. And that would mean having control.

The day before I moved to Ethiopia a young woman said, “Thank you on behalf of humanity,” for giving up “everything” to work in an orphanage. I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard. She saw it as a cross, but I was thrilled to be going back to Africa.

I didn’t care about days when there was no running water or electricity, or living without the internet, refrigeration, or my old Honda Civic. I appreciated the weight of water in a bucket, carrying it home to wash my dishes, avoiding wasting even a drop. It was perspective, it felt right to me—if this was a cross, I would gladly carry it.

And now I’m married, and Catholic, and wondering why my cross can’t be running to Safeway because I feel nauseous and I’m late—instead of thinking of dwindling fertility and lost youth. Because if I had my choice of crosses, I’d take the kind that wipes snot on my shirt and throws a fit because the woman at Costco didn’t draw a lion on our receipt.

Our contraceptive culture makes so many assumptions. The children you have or don’t have are your choice. You have two healthy kids, you’re sleeping through the night, why would you start all over again? There’s a clear starting line and finish line. You know when you’re ready, and you know when you’re done.

Being open doesn’t make sense. It’s not empowering; it’s humbling. You’re not choosing a cross to take up; you’re being given one—in the form of many little people relying on you for their every need, or waiting hopefully each month and then facing disappointment and fighting off despair.

Both paths are hard. Both are crosses. And both can only be taken up through openness to life—what comes and what does not. In the end, they are both paths to sanctification. As St. Thérèse of Lisieux said, “Let us go forward in peace, our eyes upon heaven, the only one goal of our labors”—be they actual labor pains, the manual labor of a job, or labor of the spiritual variety. They are all channels of grace, ours for the taking.
Photo Source: By Sean McGrath from Saint John, NB, Canada (Maternity Curves) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons