Aug 17, 2016
Openness To Life - More Complicated Than We May Think
Two years ago, I was expecting my eleventh child. I was so excited at the thought of one more baby, secretly even praying for twins! I was almost forty-five and assumed it was probably my last chance. I was also a little worried. I had had some early losses, including my ninth child's twin, so I knew that pregnant didn't necessarily equal baby to hold in my arms.
At ten weeks, on August 17, I started to miscarry. It was my first "real" miscarriage with the contractions, the bleeding, the waiting. I had wonderful friends who walked me through it, through text messages and through prayer. Giving birth to ten healthy children did not prepare me for this new aspect of openness to life, when things no longer played out the way I expected, no longer meant a baby in my arms as a wonderful reward for letting God plan my family. Instead, two days later, I held my tiny baby, still enclosed in her sac, in the palm of my hand, and I mourned for my baby, and for the past when babies came easily, and came healthy.
A friend posted the other day that someone told her that having ten kids is "heroic", and in many ways, it is. But my friend added that there are different paths to be heroically "open to life". My friend and I both had the path of many babies, sometimes maybe a little closer than we would have planned, or arriving at times of financial or emotional stress. Life has been full of love and, often, of chaos. It is a life of constant vigilance and giving, of tears and worries in the dark, and yet more than our share of moments that make our hearts swell with happiness and love and gratitude.
But there are other paths, and even the path that my friend and I followed can take a sharp turn and lead into a much harder place. Many of my friends, women that I have shared this journey with, are now at that age where nothing is certain, nothing is like it was. Our contemporaries are "done" having children and moving on. But we persist in giving our bodies and our lives to God, knowing that at 40-something, that often means miscarriages or babies with health issues, or just that little disappointment month after month as it seems more certain that our youngest child is, in fact, our youngest child. And we give that sadness to God as well.
There is the path of those who cannot conceive, and the path of those desperate for a large family who only have a few, and the path of those who conceive yet lose baby after baby, filling the heavenly choir with those babies they desire so deeply to hold themselves. That seems the hardest path to me, a constant roller coaster of hope and worry and sadness. And yet, those moms remain faithful and heroically open to God's plan, even when it hurts. Each woman has to lay her hopes and expectations at the foot of the Cross and beg for the mercy and the grace to accept the life she is given.
Because I have a large family, women with smaller families seem to feel the need to explain why they have the number of children they have. I understand this. In Catholic circles especially, there can be the perception that the large families are the holier families, because their openness to life is visible for all to see. The women with a couple of kids, or no kids, are heroically embracing God's Will, too, but because of our contraceptive culture, they can be looked at suspiciously as some wonder why they don't have more children. They can be hurt by the sweeping comments about small families, assuming that it is always by choice. And so, the need to explain, to be validated, just as we with large families need support when the culture at large attacks us for having too many children.
I truly believe that God's plan for each family is meant for our sanctification. For reasons known only to Him, He allows crosses of different weights and size, tailored to each one of us for us to embrace and grow closer to Him. I often joke that my natural tendency is toward laziness so God gave me all these children to keep me from turning into a couch potato! I tell those young moms who are worried because the babies aren't coming fast enough to relax and enjoy their families just as they are. I tell the moms of one or two to embrace the gift of being able to give so much time and attention to their children. Each of our crosses are real, but we need to be careful not to fall into a perspective of "the grass is always greener" also. Having ten children can be quite limiting, in terms of time and money and logistics, and I do at times lament what we "can't do" or when I feel stretched and worry that I am failing these kids. And I know that, on the other hand, there are moms who see my children so happy with each other, my girls singing together, my big kids helping with the little kids, and those moms feel a sadness too.
In the end, I come to the same conclusion I always come to, we need to plant ourselves firmly at the foot of the Cross, dying to our own desires however good they are, and embracing God's plan for our families. And we need to show mercy and love to each mother we encounter because some crosses are obvious, but many are not, and we are all journeying to the same place where He will make all things new and we will see the fruits of our faithfulness.
As I always tell my kids, it is not about this world, keep your eyes on your true home.