In defense of “another” baby
(Note: this is not a post claiming “there’s never a bad time to have a baby.” Hopefully if you’ve read more than one thing I’ve written over the years, you’ll know that’s not where I stand. End painfully necessary disclaimer.)
I have fielded a lot of comments about the timing of this latest little bean. I guess for good reason. For anyone who’s just tuning in, I’m 7 months pregnant with baby number 5. My oldest turned 7 last month, we just bought a house in a crazy expensive real estate market, and my husband is not a doctor.
Neither my husband nor I necessarily dreamt of a humongous family when we got married, though if pressed, Dave will say he anticipated probably having “five or six” which is rather on the largish side, if you ask me, while I anticipated “having kids” in the same way I anticipated that I would one day finish college and get a mortgage. So it’s not that I had a specific number I was hoping/dreaming for, or even that I was particularly looking forward to motherhood with any kind of instinctive longing, just that it’s something I assumed would happen if I got married.
(Please don’t get me wrong, I see my beautiful sisters who are struggling to have a baby, and I am achingly aware that our fertility is a gift and I for sure love my kids and am thrilled to be their mom. I’m just trying to set the stage for where younger Jenny came from, and it wasn’t from a place of dreaming about being a mommy, naming my future children, or even discussing how many of them I hoped to end up with one day.)
We got married in the Catholic Church, and so we took our vows to heart when we promised to accept children lovingly from God and raise them according to the law of Christ and His Church. Growing up in families of 6 and 7 kids, respectively, we had a preeeetty good idea that if things worked as intended, barring any unforeseen medical circumstances, marriage = babies. And we were on board.
(Sometimes when people cock their head at me in utter disbelief that I’m having number 5, the knowledge that I am myself the oldest of 7 puts them at ease. “Ohhhh, that makes sense; you’re from a big family yourself.” I mean, I guess it does? Anyway, if my kids ask one day why they have so many siblings, I’ll just pat them on the head and tell them I wanted to make their trips to the grocery store less socially awkward, should they themselves decide to raise a small army.)
Still, all this to say: I did not set out to have a big family. I love each of my sweet children with a love I wouldn’t have believed possible, but they were very much received as gifts – sometimes surprising ones – and have not necessarily come about as the result of meticulous and strategic planning.
Our approach to NFP has its seasons of meticulosity, for sure (postpartum period, I’m looking at you) but we also have plenty of months where we’re having the vv stereotypical (at least according to marriage prep classes) “where we at?” conversations about avoiding vs. being ready to conceive. I want to tell you it’s marriage building and exhilarating and totally! fulfilling! on an existential level, but to be honest, it can feel a bit more like crunching the numbers during our monthly financial summits when we’re plugging numbers into Every Dollar.
An imperfect analogy, because sex is a little more meaningful than budgetary allocations, but it can still feel very much like a process of drilling into the “numbers,” so to speak, and weighing resources versus expenditures.
For example, is my mental health in a place where pregnancy would be safe and prudent? Is his? Are we trying to hit some serious financial goals that would best serve our entire family if we focused on them for another 6 months? (Note: I don’t think finances are a great yardstick by which to plan one’s family size. But temporary, short-term goals like getting out from under a large debt or saving for a down payment on a house might make postponing pregnancy a wise decision for a season.)
Usually though? I don’t find ordinary financial matters to be sufficiently compelling to merit identification as “grave reason,” at least not in our marriage. We’re not talking “can’t keep the heat and lights on” finances here; more along the lines of “would like to go on a decent vacation and pay private school tuition” circumstances.
Obviously every couple has to discern this for their particular family, but I think overall, as a culture, we tend to veer much, much too conservatively in the “I can’t afford a(nother) child” direction.
Are babies expensive? Sure. They can be. But everything in life is about making choices and having to leave other options behind.
And I can’t think of anything I’d rather have – including a smaller mortgage and a more reasonable grocery bill – that is more valuable than the 5 little souls in our care.
I don’t say this to downplay grave financial stress by any means. (Should I write that in all caps? Because I know someone is going to come at me with that very accusation. Hashtag you can’t please ’em all.) But many of us who identify as middle class Americans are, in fact, wealthy beyond most of the world’s (and much of human history’s) wildest imagination.
The thought of having another child is often depicted as being fraught with hair-pulling stress over calculating the rising cost of higher education and travel soccer fees, making adjustments, of course, for 18 years of inflation (at least, to read much of what the media and popular mom blogs on Pinterest have to say about things), but in fact it’s hardly possible to plot out exactly where you’ll be as a couple that far down the road.
(Anecdotally, we’ve found that as our expenses have increased, so has our income. Sometimes miraculously so, as in a pair of reimbursement checks showing up the second to last day of the month. Or an unexpected bag of like-new clothes in all the right sizes. God does like to show off, when the occasion arises. And giving is good for both the receiver and the giver. We tend to forget that.)
Secondary to the financial objection, I hear from plenty of parents who “don’t know how we do it” and “could ever handle more than _ number.” My answer is always, honestly, yeah, I didn’t know either, until I started doing it, and yes, you probably could. Parenting gets both more intense and, like with any well-practiced skill, more do-able, the more you do it.
Plus, they do tend to entertain each other. I’ve noticed a horrifying uptick in sibling violence when my two eldest are in school and the 2 and 3 year old start scrapping like feral hyenas. You can bet there are some afternoons I’m counting down the hours until school lets out and my kid count doubles, because in some backwards, heavenly arithmetic, very often 4 is easier than 2.
And finally, there’s this: I’ve yet to meet a parent who has told me they wish they’d had fewer children.
I’ve never seen anyone’s eyes glaze over in that dreamy, far-off gaze into the distance and heard them whisper “if only we’d never had Tommy, we’d have that Disney timeshare by now.”
But I’ve met lots (and lots) of middle-aged and older moms (mostly moms) at Costco and beyond who confide to me how much they wished they’d had more kids. And 90% of the time, they follow that admission up with “but I couldn’t have more because of my cancer diagnosis/I had to have a hysterectomy/my husband said 2 was enough/I didn’t think we could afford it.” And my heart breaks a little each time, because their longing is still fresh, the grief is still real, and more often than not I find myself embarrassed by my cart that is overflowing (sometimes literally) with blessings who share my last name.
All this to say, in a world where so many people want babies and can’t have them, and where there are so many who suffer from a lack of love, isn’t it a grand thing to bring another little bearer of light into the universe, a human candle crafted in the very image of the Creator, shining in defiance of the darkness? (And yes, fostering and adoption are also beautiful, holy vocations. And this post is not about those vehicles of parenthood.)
You can’t tell me I’m not rich. I know we’re wealthy beyond my wildest dreams. It just doesn’t look like zeros in my checking account. More like noisy, sticky upturned faces around the dinner table. Costly, yes. And worth every penny.
Thank you, Jenny. I am a lifelong Catholic (also a revert), age 33, engaged to marry a wonderful, non-Catholic (Yet. Maybe? Praying for the Holy Spirit to take the lead on that one!) man in June. I’m the oldest of five kids myself and have not, in fact, ever wished I had fewer siblings either. I just sent this article to my fiance and told him I thought this is a beautiful way to look at children. We are both open to children, and will raise them as Catholics, if God so blesses us.
Dear Anna, I just wanted to share with you my experience.
I’m 33, married with a non Catholic, non baptized man. But he printed to support our children’s education in the Catholic faith. He is open to life, that doesn’t mean it’s easy for him. We are expecting our third baby. It’s amazing how children are God’s ways to get people closer to Him. My husband blesses the table with then, says their night prayers and goes to mass every Sunday…
He respects the Catholic Church bit still doesn’t believes. With my children we pray for “dad’s heart.. let it get close to You every day”..
I learned that I have to live my husband as Jesus loves him. So one day he will be able to know Jesus in me. I’ll pray for your marriage and your husband’s conversion. 🙂
Wow! Thank you so much for sharing your story and for your prayers. My fiancé was baptized as a child in the Lutheran faith and went to church then as well, but he hasn’t done that as an adult. Like your husband, he goes to Mass with me, and also like you, I pray for his heart. I will be praying for your family as well! Congratulations on your newest baby!
You just get me and of course made me cry once again! May God continue to bless your family.
I can totally get behind another baby.. but another pregnancy!?!? I really wish God could have just gone with the stork concept because the final weeks of this 5th pregnancy has me marveling at my momnesia and my ability to forget how hard these last weeks are! And I’m positive when they hand me this baby I will forget again.. 😂😂
Jen @ Into Your Will
I think about this very topic alllll the time (still debating a blog post about it, ha). My youngest is 15 months, and this is precisely the time we’ve gotten pregnant every time. Same age of our youngest, same time of year…it’s kind of weird. (Except it’s cool cuz we get to have one big birthday bash for the 3 boys. But I digress.) This time, we have more reasons than ever to postpone but there’s still that little nudge that’s says, “But isn’t it all worth it?” The tiny bank account, the sleepless nights, the high risk pregnancy, a dozen other things that most people would probably agree and say yes, you DO have plenty reasons to avoid a pregnancy. But it’s hard to look at my precious boys now and know they’re here exactly because we were willing to open our hearts one more time.
Thanks for writing, as always.
I think about that a lot: no older person ever says they wished they didn’t have as many kids as they did. Only more:)
It really is a great privilege to be a mother of many.
I really needed to read this. Oh and also I’ve read your post on motherhood and mental illness at least 3 times in the last week. We just found out that we are unexpectedly expecting baby number four. Our oldest is 5 and in the process of being diagnosed with ADHD. I’m an anxiety and depression sufferer and I had just *finally* found a med that worked for me which I promptly had to go off once I got the positive pregnancy test. I feel this pressure (internal probably) to make sure I’m telling everyone how excited we are so as not to sully the name of catholic NFP using married couples everywhere. And I am happy. But also it isn’t entirely the truth. I’m afraid to admit to people that I’m pregnant and also struggling with all these things because in my mind I’ve imagined that they will be thinking something along the lines of “welp… shoulda used birth control.” I’m having a really hard time with it. The thing is, I know that I’ve had some level of these feelings during all of my pregnancies. I can remember utterly breaking down when I was pregnant with our first and thinking I definitely wasn’t ready. And I don’t think you really can be. I know I’ll be looking back at myself 8 months from now and having a hard time imagining ever feeling like this. But for now I’m holding on to that idea that God will provide the grace we need, but not necessarily before we need it.
Praying for you, Melissa!!
Obviously you determine what you’re comfortable sharing with others, esp overly curious strangers, but I think personally if you shared your struggle honestly it SUPPORTS a culture of life. “Yes this was a bit of a surprise and I struggle with anxiety and spend pregnancy trying to accept what’s coming, but every time I look back and think that?” I think people need to hear that it’s ok to take time to accept a pregnancy, or to have two or 5 or 10 feelings about it AND STILL be supporting of the sacredness of life. Prayers for you as you navigate all of this!
I’m praying for you Melissa – I’ve been there! Thank you for sharing your story with us.
Beautiful! Very well said.
Yes on all points! I have 5 wonderful children. Had I started sooner would I have had more 🙂
Now I have 10 grandchildren. The 3 older children each have their own familes now – 4, 3 and 3.
Was it easy? Not all of the time. Did I feel ready for such responsibility? No. Did I worry about what other folk thought – somethimes yes! Than I realised that much of the negativity coming my way was actually the envy of others for my good fortune. So I started to pray for them, and I noticed that the negativity eased off.
Raising 5 has been a roller coaster of a journey, and it isn’t over yet. Some day, when the dust settles I might write a book about raising adult children(lol). But for now all I can say to the young mums out there is ride that roller coaster. I have had periods of serious depression, physical illness for myself and my family and yet I am here now to say it was all worth it.
So good, Jenny. I also am the “have kids like I will someday have a mortgage” camp. Still crazy to look around and see 4 of them lol
“my husband said 2 was enough”… we are there. My mind has been right where yours is, but how do you convince a husband? I spend my days wishing for a NFP accident, but it has yet to happen and it’s probably not the best way to go about this. Like another comment above, we are at the point where our youngest is the same age where we got pregnant again (2.5 years for us), but my heart ACHES for another. He says he took his vows to heart, as well. He lovingly accepted the children God gave him, and we’re raising them in the faith. But I guess now he is not open to any more gifts? He’s also not open to a ‘where we at?’ conversation. Because I should know where “we’re” at. Although there is no “we.”
All I can do right now is pray.
Yes, pray for him and make sacrifices for a change of heart. I have heard from plenty of women (including Kimberly Hahn) for whom this was a real point of contention early in their marriage and things ended up shifting down the road. God can work with anything! And I definitely concur that an NFP accident is probably not the best way to go about it, haha (though Lord knows we’ve had a few of those ourselves.) I will pray for you too, thank you for sharing with us. I would also specifically put St. Joseph on the case – he’s an amazing intercessor for our husbands, and he seems to always listen.
Prayer prayer prayer prayer prayer. It really does help. My husband was done after we had one… and it took so many tears and so much prayer for his heart to open up to our second child. Again, after that child he was done… and I went to prayer again. We wound up having a third child. For the last two years his response has always been, “We said we’d like three and we have three. That’s IT.” I have prayed and God has known my heart so well… We don’t breach the topic because we should know where it’s at, but the other day I did. We had gone out with all 3 and it was particularly trying (we have age gaps of 6y and 4y between kids) and I came home and said, “You know you’re right. I can’t think of adding another child (and age gap) to the children we have. I feel DONE.” And God (and my husband!) surprised me. He said, “I realized that is a decision I cannot make. Like you sometimes I feel done sometimes I want not only one but many more. As now I am open to have more kids but that is a decision that God needs to make.” Jaw. Hit. The. Floor.
It’s SO SO SO hard. Believe me, I hear your pain and feel it. Pray your heart out, and although I don’t know your name, I’ll be praying for you, too.
Put the Green Scapular under his mattress and pray the simple prayer that goes with it every day. Our Lady will take care of it. My husband was done at 2 and we have had some difficult, but necessary conversations over the years including ones about him impeding my ability to live out my faith. Now we are at five and counting. God bless you and keep you.
Thanks Jenny for having the courage to write this. I must admit reading your 5th’ announcement I did feel envious of the supportive parents and siblings you and your husband seem to have. After reading all the comments above, I realize I should be grateful for a very supportive husband on matters such as this. I hope this pregnancy changes their hearts – soon. Prayers for those continuing to carry life with or without family support.
It’s such a helpful discussion to hear! Thank you for opening it. I would add that the doctor part isn’t really the best measure of financial comfort. Maybe a statement like “we aren’t the Gates or Trumps” would more accurately describe people with wealth such that money is never a problem. My dad is a doctor and worked five jobs through medical school while my mom stayed home and their kids arrived (all five of us)! While in his middle years–late 40’s? 50’s?–he certainly reached a level of financial comfort, not when he had five little kids and was going through many years of specialist training and solo practice. Throwing that out there. Love your writing as always, sister!
great, great point Nell! My beautiful SIL is an ER doc and is buried under a mountain of student loan debt, so you’re right to point that out – definitely more a hyperbolic figure of speech, since being a doctor in this increasingly hyper-regulated market is only getting harder (and more expensive!) xoxo ‘
p.s. save me a linen dress in case the chromosomes line up right in December 😉
You bet, girl!!
This. Thank you, thank you! Had so many similar experiences when pregnant with my third – at 42. The number of moms on the playground who got misty-eyed and confided that their husbands “didn’t want” or “wouldn’t let them” — not to mention the mom who burst into tears and told me her husband had himself sterilized and she found out while going through his mail one day. More women need to be empowered with the information and encouragement you share here.
To second your point: The priest at our parish always asks people who are generally not open to life for various financial reasons or other excuses: “What would you give in exchange for your last child? A bigger house? A new mercedes? A longer vacation?” And inevitably, every parent responds “Nothing.” Which goes to show how utterly priceless each child and human life is. Nothing compares to the gift of a child.
I get what that priest is saying, I do. But sometimes it’s just not that simple.
I’m thinking of friends of mine. At one point, they had one compact car, lived in a small apartment, and stretched Dad’s salary as best they could to stay out of debt while Mom stayed home. No vacations, smartphones, etc. They were told by their pastor that postponing a third child until they could afford a down payment on a car that could fit three car seats was “selfish.”
That’s not selfish. That’s complying with local laws! Nor is reserving money for another child’s education, therapy, or other needs, or many of the other financial reasons a couple might discern as just for postponement.
I do appreciate the general idea behind this post, but I always feel compelled to clarify that “grave reasons” is a mistranslation of Humane Vitae. http://www.hprweb.com/2008/03/humanae-vitae-grave-motives-to-use-a-good-translation/ The Vatican’s translation uses the term “serious” rather than “grave” and the Catechism uses “just reason.” I think the mistranslation of “grave” has a very strong connotation that can make couples feel unnecessary guilt and pressure if they are not popping out babies one after the other unless they are on food stamps or suffering from mental illness.
Reading this was like reading my life, I have 6 kids & my oldest is 7. Last 2 are twins, when they were born I had 6 kids & my oldest was 6. People’s reaction to that was hilarious. I’m 30 years old, & sometimes it scares me to think how many more children I could have. But I just have to remind myself that this is God’s plan, my husband & I LOVE our big family and see each one of our babies as a gift from God. God’s so good to us, he just amazes me. Our 4th baby got kissed by the Pope in Philadelphia when he was just 4 weeks old,
Another huge blessing. Did I mention all were c-sections?