How can I be "Open to Life" when "I'm Done?"
Many couples, whether it be after their first, third or sixth child come to a point where they decide their family is complete. We are ready to do new things we couldn't do with little ones, or perhaps we've maxed our finances and stress levels. Therefore, we've decided to not have any more children. BUT we're a couple who follows God's desire for us to be open to life and not use contraception or sterilization. Our only choices are abstinence and Natural Family Planning. (And we all know the abstinence thing ain't happening.) How can we be "open to life" when "we don't want to have any more children?" In this situation we ask ourselves "Why is it so hard, when we've done the right thing all along? Am I now being closed to God's will by not wanting any more? Why can't I have surgery when we're so certain? NFP was great for conceiving children, but how effective is it at avoiding pregnancy?"
These are great questions, all which I myself have pondered before and after each pregnancy. All eight pregnancies, including two miscarriages and five cesareans thus far. There is much that the church and its teachers have to say about this. But sometimes hearing from someone who's experienced this battle can provide the support you need to be confident about your choice to let God take charge of your family and be at peace with whatever may come.
In the beginning, many are not charting. They're not necessarily trying to get pregnant or not to get pregnant. For many, it just happens when it does. Obviously there are many who struggle with fertility, and others who postpone pregnancy until after certain goals are met. Then there are those like us who forget that we can have control over our passions when the time isn't right. The main point is, in most early marriages, the couple wants to have a baby. It's not a complicated decision at this point.
It was just months after she was born I yearned to have a child that was born of our married love. To be able to share the good news with others. Using the basics of NFP we had learned at our engagement retreat (which is not enough by the way) we followed my cycle to try to conceive. My cycles kept getting further apart, as far as 70 days and no pregnancies. But finally God knew it was time for us to have a son. At the ultrasound, I found out that I was a whole month further along than I had thought. Before I knew it I had two children, a girl and a boy. Many commented on their beauty and what a complete family we were. Complete? Really, with just two children? I grew up as an only child until age 9, we adopted a newborn sister, and then when I was 15 my mom had my brother. My husband just had a brother 16 months younger than himself. I wanted our children to experience near aged siblings that would become playmates and lifelong friends. I did not feel our family was complete. After two cesarean deliveries, my doctor thought it wasn't wise to consider more births. At that young ages of 22 and 24 I didn't take the time to ask and research about VBACs and I didn't take more classes on NFP to space out my children as needed to heal. I simply felt ignorant and powerless about what I should or shouldn't do.
Young couples need proper guidance by faith abiding couples in their parish and family. It's good to have that mentorship early on so a couple has a place to confidently go when they are not sure what to do. They need to hear that no person can advise them how many children is enough and learn how to respond to people who dismiss their calling to parenthood.
Some time went by, and I did become pregnant again only to loose him in the 6th week. No one had ever taught or talked about miscarriages, and the lack of support and information threw me into my deepest depression. After beginning therapy and anti-depressants we decided that it was best to give up on the idea of more children, at least for now. Armed only with our basic knowledge of NFP, we just tried to avoid fertile times. That joy of anticipating a child turned into a deep sorrow and it became harder to be intimate because of constant worry. It was very hard on our marriage and our faith. I was in a state where I didn't want to confide in God, and to me, His will stunk.
Couples, before you get married - go to a Natural Family Planning class offered by your clinic or church community. It will tell you so much about your body's natural cycle of fertile and infertile days. Know that there are support groups for infertility and miscarriages. You're never alone in this.
Now just a few months later, during one of those emotional, make-up sex moments… we got pregnant again. I was on anti-depressants and felt unconnected to my body and emotions. It was only days after I realized I was pregnant that I miscarried again. With me in a dazed state, it seemed clear to my husband that we had to become better at this Natural Family Planning or give into the world's methods of contraception. Something had to change. I'll just say we didn't get to the research fast enough, because just a month later we were pregnant again.
So here we are, pregnant with our third child, fifth pregnancy. Fortunately the hormones helped balance out my disorderly thoughts and we were joyful once again. Therapy was a huge help. When our daughter was born, we went right off to NFP training for breastfeeding mothers and follow-up classes together to avoid pregnancy. It seemed the right thing to do because we were now at three cesarean deliveries, increasing the risk of rupture, and I was on medication. Three children, we felt complete, and life was fun. We were finally pulling our marriage together. Yet, all the while, the doctor kept discussing tubal ligation and other contraceptives. I wasn't prepared and he advised me to seek my priest's advice "in this situation" thinking there was some loophole to our faith for "someone like me." The following posts came after speaking to friends, priests, and researching.
It was after this new streak of confidence that despite our best efforts, God made a way for us to conceive a fourth child, a son. This was a most joyful pregnancy because we put all our trust in God. We put aside fear, anxiety and past notions. Putting all our trust in God's plan for us, and the miracle of God bringing us this child, we couldn't be happier. He was conceived because we were intimate just before signs of ovulation had occurred. We followed all the rules, but God made a way.
Would you believe it happened again!? When he was two, God blessed us again! Sometimes in marriage, when you are truly open to life, and you're truly "excitable," you just say to your spouse in the moment - "If we're meant to get pregnant again, tonight's the night!" And you're at peace with whatever comes. At this point it didn't seem so impossible to have a large family as all our friends were in the same boat and doing fine. At four we simply had a starter family, and now with five we were experienced parents. Some told me it gets easier after five. (I'm still trying to figure out why they say that?)
Now I must say, after five children, we realized we were maxed out for energy and parenting. Being open to life had a new meaning. It wasn't easier, it was harder. It wasn't about the multiple cesareans. It wasn't about the lack of space or craziness in our household. It became financially stressful to consider more children, and as a mother I felt at my limit. Last year I took a real grasp on my health issues and made some big changes. We started looking forward to having children growing up and not having to worry about a baby's needs. Homeschooling took up a lot of time, and dividing time amongst 5 children was often a challenge. We sold and gave away a lot of baby clothes, toys and maternity items. It was just this spring I was confident that God smiled at our family and understood we were okay with moving to the next phase of our family. I was okay that I had had my last baby.
Couples reach this point at some time. As we get closer to 40 years old, we realize that we'd like to retire with children out of the house. We create new goals including vacations, education, careers, social and more. It is not selfish to move into this phase. It's a natural part of maturing and spending your time doing things you love to do as a person and as a family. At this point, being open to life doesn't mean getting pregnant. It means not changing your body by any artificial means that could prevent God from inspiring new life. Again, you need the confidence that God is in control of our lives and His way is infinitely better than our own.
Because of the changes in my diet and thyroid supplements, my cycle was getting a little harder to chart. It wasn't predictable as before. But I had confidence in the rules of NFP for avoiding pregnancy. After years of charting, I got a really good idea how it works. I look back today and saw I did take a risk during a logically fertile time (thick mucous one day, followed by 4 days dry, intimacy, then a return to fertile signs with a peak day). So while NFP is 99.9% effective when followed correctly, God takes that .1% chance and can make it happen. God's mysterious ways have lead to my current and eighth pregnancy with our sixth child.
"We were done!" I cried. "God, give me the peace I need to accept this pregnancy as your will, as it is certainly not mine." I've cried in the arms of my husband, trying to add humor to let go and be happy. "Good thing we just bought a nine passenger Suburban!" This was not the plan we had. "Where's the baby going to sleep? We've sold so much!" I've prayed for reminders of joy this will bring to our family. "The kids are thrilled! They're already discussing names, like Yoda and Leia."
Anyone who makes plans that go awry are certain to be disappointed for awhile. Being pregnant when you do not want to be can bring horrible thoughts and feelings, but do not despair! Seek God! Because when his GRACE takes you beyond those ill thoughts, YOU CAN FIND JOY! You can make a new plan!
Writing this at six weeks pregnant, while there is much newfound joy, there have been moments of uncertainty. In those moments, I cry out to God for guidance, peace, grace, wisdom, and patience. All I can do is trust in God. He hears and answers me with one word.
What does it take to be a good parent?
What does it take to accept unwanted pregnancies?
What does it take to move past infertility and miscarriages?
What does it take to manage a large family?
Where does this love come from?
GOD. Because GOD IS LOVE.
He inspires it, we feel it, we share it.
"Do not be afraid, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, surely I will help you; Surely I will uphold you with my righteous hand." - Isaiah 41:10
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you…" - Jeremiah 1:5
"Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward." - Psalms 127:3
"Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world." - John 16:21
"But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." - 1 Timothy 2:15
All my love,