I love children. I grew up in a family with a lot of them. Eleven of us to be exact.
There are many things I loved about growing up in a large family, we looked out for each other, we spent hours playing together, and when we worked together jobs were accomplished quickly.
From a young age I was taught that women had one calling in life, to be good wives and mothers. God had created us to be the helpmeet of our husband, serving him and doing everything we could to make his hard life easier. Children were a blessing from God, and really the supreme calling of women. After all “women would be saved through childbearing.”
A woman who could not have children was a sad empty sort of person, and women who chose to avoid having children were the worst of all. Women who rejected motherhood in favor of anything else (be it career, missions, or even health) were the worst kind of selfish, their life was pretty much without meaning.
Even women who limited their number of children were rejecting God’s will for their lives. There were no reasons to delay having children, or to space the arrival of children. God would provide whatever you needed, whether that was resources/income or reserves of strength and patience, so there really were no valid reasons to prevent from having as many children as your body would conceive. Some families within the Quiverfull movement took the value of having children so seriously, that they would wean their babies early so that they could increase the chance of being able to conceive again.
Natural Family Planning was not acceptable. Families that spaced their kids, even naturally, were not trusting God. I remember my parents pointing out a family that had used NFP to space their children and was now struggling with secondary infertility. “See? They never should have messed with God’s plan, now they had to live with the consequences of not trusting God.”
My interests were carefully tailored by my parents. Nursing was too career oriented, and there was no way I could raise a large family and work outside of the home, my focus needed to be in the home. When I was interested in taking a culinary arts course (because of my love of cooking) I was told that it would be a waste of time and money because the fancy food I learned to cook would have no place on a family table, and I would never be running a restaurant. Actually any college education would be a waste of time, and would only feed the career mentality that we were trying to avoid. I was allowed to take courses in teaching violin, because that was something I could do from the home and that could come in handy someday if my husband needed me to make some money.
I got married, and I was still living in this mindset. When I miscarried our first 2 babies, I felt that I was failing my calling as a woman. I felt horrible for my husband, how could he have known that he was marrying a sub-par producer? Was God angry with me? What was I doing wrong? What if I never carried a baby to term? What would I do?
Eventually, our firstborn arrived, and I felt a sense of relief, my body was working! When our second baby arrived 14 months later, I was happy and proud, and tired. But everything was going so well! Our babies were beautiful! I worked hard to make sure they were well-behaved, because I knew that people would be watching for any reason to criticize our growing family, and I was determined to prove them wrong.
By the time our third arrived, I was questioning the Quiverfull mentality. Yes, children were a blessing, but they were also a responsibility. I no longer felt that caring for my children’s physical needs was enough. I wanted to enjoy them, revel in their childhood, spend time with them. I wanted to make sure I had the time and energy to be there for them when they wanted to talk about things, to encourage them and build them up.
Now that I’ve wrestled with the Catholic teachings on sexuality, I no longer think that naturally spacing children is bad for families or marriages, or evidence of a “lack of trust” in God. I feel that there are valid reasons to delay pregnancy, space your children, or even limit the number of children you have. I love how the church’s teachings embrace life fully, the conception of life, but also the living of life.
Now that I am open to spacing or limiting our children, I am faced with a new set of questions.
To date, we have never used any form of birth control including NFP. I am currently pregnant with our 4th baby, and I couldn’t be happier. On the one hand, I love being pregnant. I love feeling the baby move inside of me. I love meeting a whole new person when they are born. I love watching my children grow and learn. When I think about “being done” my heart aches. I would miss this.
The idea of “spacing” makes sense to me, I want to be there for my children, I want to care for my body.
And yet, I question myself.
I still have the old voices that tell me I will be haunted by ghosts of children never conceived. That my value and purpose is completely tied to producing and raising children, what would I do if I delay conception? Without a baby arriving every 18-24 months I would be useless.
I also have questions about who I am, now that I am starting to realize that my value and purpose is not dependant on how many children I can produce, I wonder what else I may discover about my interests and goals. I will write about that in Part 2.