Wondering Wednesdays: How Many?

The wonderful Maggie has started a weekly posting called “wondering Wednesday” where she asks a question, usually rhetorical, sometimes also positing possible answers.

Her post this week, “What’s wrong with wanting a big family?” is great and firey, two things I can always count on getting from her posts!

Here’s my somewhat related contribution to Wondering Wednesday:

How Many?

This is a question that every family, and especially every woman is asked at some point. How many children do you want to have?

If we’re honest, most girls think about this as adolescents and young adults, many years before we’re even married. It seems that to each young woman, there is a “magic number” when it comes to children. It’s funny to me that a girl will (often) “decide” how many children she wants before she’s even married, as though her future spouse’s thoughts on the matter are basically irrelevant. Now I’m not saying I didn’t basically plan my wedding when I was 15 and had no clue who I’d marry. It’s just funny, that’s all.

Anyway, my wondering today is two-fold:

(1) How many children will our family have? and (2) Why do other people feel like it’s their business to ask us how many we “want” as though we would send back any who arrived that we didn’t?

Obviously, our family is just starting out. We have one baby in heaven, and another on the way. My fertility is, oh let’s say, a bit of a challenge. We are both under 30, so it would seem that there are probably close to ten years or so of child-bearing left for us.

I try not to think about it too much right now, since I am pregnant and want to just focus on *this child*, but before I was pregnant, I would often wonder what our family size will ultimately be. I’m sure I’m not the only woman who wonders about how many children she will bear, though I sometimes I feel like I’m one of a small minority in these United States who doesn’t come away from that wondering with a concrete answer in mind.

To me, I don’t see how someone can know how many children they “want”, until they see how many they have. I mean, if I have 6 children, am I going to tell people I only “wanted” 3? Well, no of course not. If I have 6, then I want all six. Period. Sidenote: I’m not saying people shouldn’t use NFP to space their children in a reasonable way (though I know there are some people who do say that — I’m not getting into it here!). What I’m saying is, choosing whether or not to welcome a child is a decision that should be made monthly, or if avoiding, should be revisited at least every few months, to discern if avoiding is still God’s will for the couple. (end sidenote)

You know, I used to tell people that I thought I’d like to have four children. And I would love to have four children. Or two. Or seven. I think I chose four as an answer because it’s the highest number you can give the average person without being looked at like you’re certifiably insane. I mean, what kind of person wants to have six kids, right? Obviously only some ignorant woman, right? (please note my sarcasm here).

Now I’m diabetic and so pregnancy is a high-risk affair for my body. I guess I doubt I’d be able to have six or seven pregnancies without exacerbating my disease. But that doesn’t mean I won’t have six or seven children. It just means they may not all come out of my body.

The point I’m laboring (ha ha) to get to is this: After struggling for a year to get pregnant, and not knowing if I ever would, I don’t see how I could ever answer the question, “How many children do you want to have?” in any way other than, “As many as God wants to give us.” If there’s one thing that struggling with fertility will teach you, it is this: ultimate control over one’s fertility is an *illusion*.

The verb in the above sentence is “give”, which nicely explains how a child is a gift, and not a possession we “have” like a handbag.

I have no idea how many children God will bring into our lives, either through bodily conception or through adoption, but I do know, right now, that I want them all. Whether it’s two or ten (but heaven help us if it’s ten!).

What I have a harder time understanding is why people who are only tangentially involved in your life (or even not at all) seem so interested in knowing how open your heart is to children, which is essentially what a question like, “How many children do you want to have?” seems to be really asking. But what makes me wonder even more is, why you get a smile if you say two, and a scoff if you say six?

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  • http://joyinthemorning-joy.blogspot.com/ Joy

    I think partly because you can’t fully grasp the involvement of parenting until you are ~ so people assume one will change their mind about a large family once they start parenting and are scoffing at perceived innocence/ignorance ~ and at some level we’ve become a society that holds two kids (one of each sex) as the ideal and what EVERYONE wants.

  • http://musingsofacatholiclady.blogspot.com Michelle

    There’s a great quote I ran across and used in this post (http://musingsofacatholiclady.blogspot.com/2009/10/what-do-you-want-what-does-god-want.html ).

    You know some of the things I have had said to me. It’s nuts! I loved this topic for Wondering Wednesday though…both yours and Maggie’s!

    PS: I”m awfully sorry for pasting the link to my post on your comment box…but how is it that people can use a hyperlink in a comment box? I don’t know how to do it.

  • http://nowealthbutlife.com Rae

    “As many as God wants to give us” is my answer too, but for slightly less holy reasons. It is more of my way of saying “why would I have a concrete answer to this, and if I did, why would you think that I would tell you?!”

    That said, I really agree with you. And I think that you have an excellent attitude. Wait and see!

  • http://www.rebecca-feelmylove.blogspot.com Rebecca

    I think I’m going to do my own post on this topic, but I love the way you answer the question with “as many as God wants to give us”.

  • http://thatmarriedcouple.blogspot.com/ That Married Couple

    I think Joy’s answer is pretty on target, especially for us first-time mothers. I think once you have a kid or two, though, you clearly know what you’re getting into!

    My answer to this question is usually a “large” number, and often if the same person has asked before, I’ll keep bumping the number up – “I think 8 would be great!” “I’m leaning towards 10” and so on. I figure that way, if we end up with less than that, the other person will just be relieved 😉 (Also, since everyone knows we use NFP, I would rather them think we intentionally are having tons of kids instead of thinking that the method doesn’t work!) But I think I probably should start responding with “As many as God gives us” more often – that’s really more accurate!

  • http://www.jennalynnpresto.blogspot.com Jenny P.

    I’ve really appreciated your honesty about your fertility here on your blog. It’s been encouraging to me as my husband and I follow a similar path. It’s hard to say “as many as God wants to give us” when you fear the answer may be zero — as I’m certain you know.

    Thanks again for sharing.