This morning was…well, let me back up. We quit preschool yesterday (and that’s a whole other post) and then went on to enjoy a fairly idyllic, sun-dappled pumpkin patch sort of day, so we all know what comes after that.
This morning, after very unwisely staying in bed with the baby while the dropouts watched an hour of SuperWhy, we proceeded to test the acoustics of every living area in the house and then the garage and then reheat the same cup of coffee three times. Which is not the same thing as drinking three cups of coffee, unfortunately.
So we went to the library.
There’s something magical about watching your kids interact with educational, unbroken toys in a somewhat civilized manner and knowing that you, the taxpayer, earned it. And that you won’t be the one cleaning up, because for some reason the public scrutiny makes them more helpful.
I’d settled into the feral children’s corner with my massive stroller after a fruitless search for an outlet to plug in ye olde laptop, whose lifeblood had been siphoned by SuperWhy. Alas, this was to be a non-working trip. (Why no outlets in children’s section, librarians?)
It turned out to be fortuitous, because no sooner had I settled in to nurse Luke then I met a unicorn. Another mom sidled up to me, baby strapped to her chest, and watched as her daughter and Evie exchanged fake fruit and Duplos and magnet tiles. She smiled and asked how old Luke was, and after I told her she asked what number he was.
“He’s my fourth,” I smiled, bracing for the gasp/smile/blink that almost always follows, but instead she smiled and pointed to her little passenger and said “same here!”
See? A unicorn.
(And I know plenty of other families with more than a couple kids, it’s just that I’m either related to them or they go to our parish or are in some way affiliated with the Catholic or Mormon church. So to meet someone totally organically, in a public place? Totally magical.)
We talked for a half an hour, easily, covering everything from naughty toddlers to nursing to not losing weight while nursing (lies, lies I tell you) to homeschooling to letting your dog eat all the crap off the floor under the highchairs to being really, really happy to have all these kids, because it’s totally worth it. They’re totally worth it.
It was pretty great. And I was seriously refreshed to just meet someone and be able to connect with them as a fellow mom and not have to answer a litany of questions about planning and birth control and life goals and sex.
Until right before we parted ways.
Casually, oh-so-casually, almost as a preprogrammed afterthought, she turned and asked me as she was preparing to leave,
“So, are you done?”
Oh, here we go.
“Well, I don’t know. We’re open, so it’s hard to put a definitive cap on family size.”
She smiled, “yeah, I know what you mean. That’s what I say too! But I told my husband, you need to make that appointment or we’re going to have 5 kids. So it’s on him now. I can only control myself, after all.”
Her friend nodded her head in understanding, “we only have two and I have been telling him the same thing! Gotta make that call and get in for your vasectomy, babe. Tick tock.”
They looked back at me expectantly, waiting for me to chime in.
Here’s the thing. I’m pretty good on paper when it comes to articulating what I believe and why, but actual interactions in real life? Those can be tougher. I don’t want to scare someone off, and I’m well aware of the need to “earn the right to be heard” before jumping in deep with someone about delicate topics, however readily they raise them.
But I’m also never not going to be shocked when a perfect stranger starts talking about her husband’s vas deferens. It’s just so weird. No matter how many times it happens, it always, always catches me off guard.
I guess I’m old fashioned like that?
I cleared my throat and volunteered this feeble tidbit, “well, it’s kind of cool that your husband isn’t eager to have it done, most women I hear from say that their husbands are the ones applying the pressure to stop having kids, and they’re usually sad about it.”
She tilted her head to the side thoughtfully and began to nod. “Yeah, I know he would love any kid we had, no matter how many.”
The conversation wound down as she and her friend collected their stuff and started to move toward the exit.
“I’m sure I’ll see you here all the time,” she threw back over her shoulder.
I smiled and told her I hoped so. But we didn’t close the deal. No numbers were exchanged, no phones whipped out to collect names or emails.
My hands were full of baby so I’m telling myself that was the reason, but I couldn’t help but feel a little sad as they walked away. And a little lonely. Not because I don’t have my own village – I do, and it’s thriving – but because I felt acutely the empty weirdness of our culture, the piercing normality of discussing one’s sex life and reproductive choices with strangers. And that the default answer to “are you done?” is, “yes, of course, and here’s when I’m scheduling the surgery to disable that part of my body that will make certain of it.”
How did we get here? And what should I have done differently in my interaction with her, I’m asking myself still, hours later.
She was happy. She had a good marriage, a beautiful family, and a husband who was willing to build that with her. And she still wanted to pursue sterilization. Because it’s what one is “supposed to” do in our coldly civilized world. And because she has been lied to and convinced that it’s best for her marriage, for her future. Too risky to live otherwise.
But wait, I wanted to ask, don’t you want to see what might happen if you continue living this story out the way you have been? And aren’t you nervous that there may be unintentional side effects to severing sex from procreation so permanently? Do you think it will be good for your sex life as a couple? Do you worry that there might be a reason humans weren’t designed for all-you-can-eat-buffet-style sex?
But of course, I didn’t say any of those things. And I wonder if anyone ever will say them in a way she might be willing to hear, might be able to hear.
Because we’ve been told so many times that our marriages can be good in spite of our fertility, that life can be comfortable and happy and manageable even though there are a couple kids hanging around…
But only rarely do we hear, if we hear it at all, that the thing we’re all supposed to be the most afraid of might be a good thing, after all.
That our fertility might actually be a significant reason why our lives are as beautiful and as joy-filled as they are. Messes and bodily destruction aside.
That it’s a gift.
That some couples – more than you might realize – would do almost anything, and often times do, in pursuit of the very thing you’re trying to protect yourselves against.
That’s what I wanted to say, but I lacked the time and the finesse and the relationship to do so.
But I hope somebody does say it to her one day. Before it’s too late.
And I long for an increasing recognition of this reality that our world seems increasingly blind to: that fertility is a gift, that our children are not the obstacle to our happiness and marital harmony, but more often the cause of it, or at least a significant occasion for grace and joy; and that life isn’t merely a series of contingencies and risks to be managed and shut down.
And that it’s okay for the plan to be “there is no plan.” At least not the kind of plan the world expects you to make.