January 26, 2011

family planning

My friend Alisha has a great post about her feelings on having St. Gerard - patron saint of pregnant women - as her assigned patron saint for the year.  (You can have a patron saint assigned to you, too, courtesy Jen at Conversion Diary.  Check out the Saint's Name Generator.)

Reading Alisha's post reminded me of this story from my past and a new twist it has now taken.

The first seven months of L's life were very, very tough on me.  I wasn't sure if I was cut out for motherhood but I knew I didn't want any more children.  I knew that the dislike of my vocation wasn't how things were supposed to be, and I also knew that my wanting to keep God out of my bedroom was not okay.  But I also felt like an angry, exhausted failure.  So I found my way to confession with my spiritual director, telling him that I didn't feel very pro life. He asked me, "If you found out you were pregnant today, what would you say?"

"Oh shit!" was my answer.  (just keepin' it real in the confessional)

Ben was born about eight months later.

I have often joked that when I became pregnant with Ben we were recklessly having sex, but now I see it differently.  Totally unintentionally, we were letting God plan our family.  At times it seemed irresponsible or overwhelming to have L and Ben so close together because of how hard mothering L had been for me.  But now that I see my boys interact I know God wanted JF to have Ben as a big brother.  Those two boys love each other and light up when they see each other.  Travis and I are confident that Ben will help JF developmentally as much as all the doctors, specialists, therapists and tests.

God was setting the table for JF at Ben's conception, even before the world began.

(Alisha, this is not to say that I think you're supposed to become pregnant!  I'll leave that decision up to you, Jude and God.)

PS - I've heard women refer to babies such as Ben as "oh what the hell babies."  As in they knew there was a chance they'd get pregnant if they were intimate but they said, "Oh what the hell!" and got busy.


  1. long response coming up later today, tonight, or tomorrow :)

  2. Veronica - you better post it here and not just share with Bonnie in real life... I don't live there anymore, remember?

    And I have a response to your response, but I just can't articulate it now. It has more to do with my cliff hanger (well, that's what some are calling it, anyways).

  3. I feel like shouting "aiy, aiy!" like those British parliment people do when they agree with something (I think they are agreeing). Oh, wait, I'm the only one who stops longer than two seconds on that channel. They are funny. And that was when I had free cable.

    Basically, what I'm saying is I can't wait to read everyone's responses.

  4. okay, now i fear ive made this comment seem way better then it will be. and, i somewhat agree and somewhat disagree with the post, so...i dont know where im going with that thought. :)

    basically my first and biggest response is that having reckless sex doesnt necessarily mean that you are letting god plan your family. In the case of Bennet, we can now see how God did, indeed want him there for James, and I can't wait to see how Bennet and James will bond and help in each other in the future. But, now, these are your thoughts looking back to help understand God's plans for your family.

    (I have to leave soonish for preschool, so my thoughts are kind of random and not organized and we certainly will overlook all grammatical/spelling errors :) i thought i'd have more time to write this but i dont, so while 1 child is gone and one is asleep i'm trying to write what i can :) )

    i think i become emotional about this topic because i really think that at least for our family, god WANTS us to use NFP, as opposed to not using NFP and just having sex whenever and not knowing if a baby will come. i know this doesnt mean you bonnie, since you and travis do believe in nfp and sometimes use it. ;)

    But, there are lots of FOCUS people and a bunch of epiphany people that do not use any form of nfp. and yes, they do have babies about every 2 years or less. once, one of them 'explained' that to me as 'Well, don't you think god already has your family size planned out?' I took that personally because yes, He knows how many children the Herr Family will have and how many the Engstroms will have and what not. But, at this point in my life I firmly believe that God does not want another Herr child in our family for a while (now who knows what 'a while' means, but you get the point).

    I think when people have this mindset of 'god will give us a baby when he wants to so there's no point in trying to plan with nfp' that they are taking out the aspect of free will. God knows how many children we will end up with, but He doesnt choose it for ryan and I . We discern through prayer and talking when we believe God is calling us to bring life into the world again.

    I also think that this mindset is weird because I almost feel like it's testing God in a way. Like, if Ryan and I thought we were not supposed to have a child right now, but did not use NFP to prevent a pregnancy, then wouldn't we just be saying "God, I'm probably fertile now, so chances are I will get pregnant. But, it's your decision, so I'm going to risk it and hopefully let you do your miracle thing to let us NOT be pregnant."

    Plus, I think that although abstinence totally sucks sometimes, I do see how it helps our marriage as opposed to never stopping when we have the urge.

    too much? too graphic? not make sense? well, sorry, i'm a horrible writer. i was hoping my super smart and talented hubby would respond last night with my thoughts so I wouldnt have to. :) hoepfully he still will so that he can explain what i was talking about. :)

  5. Veronica, I pretty much agree with you 100%, and now that I read your comment and reread my original post I see that I should have worded myself differently.

    I will continue to joke about "reckless sex" because that's what we were doing. We weren't discerning anything when we concieved Bennet, but I really believe that if we would have been practicing NFP (charting and praying) then we would have felt called to create Bennet.

    I think that even in times of abstinence (as long as it is done in prayer - and probably with some good spiritual direction) I am letting God plan my family. NFP done right is letting God plan a family.

    Believe me - there's a lot of abstaining going on at our house right now!

    Lastly, the couples who dont' chart and just take the kids who come, well I see them as having discerned that that's what they're supposed to do. Just like I've discerned that right now we should have a break. I don't think they trust God more than I do, and I hope they don't judge me. And hopefully it's not a test. It should be a confidence that they have already discerned that God wants them to do this and so they are trusting that He will open and close the womb as He sees fit.

    Does all this make sense, V?

  6. makes total sense. and i knew what you meant in your post. i just have come across this topic a lot lately and just am not fond of when people insinuate (sp?) that reckless sex means your following Gods will. It CAN mean that but it does not guarantee that. and, also, i think sometimes other young couples (not that we're old, but we're all hitting the 5 year mark soonish! Whoo hoo!) dont understand how difficult having such closely spaced children is. Yes, it's wonderful, the children play, learn about Christ together, and are best friends and hopefully will continue to be best friends. but, it also sucks majorly most of the time. :) you get what im saying im sure. :)

  7. I will continue to giggle about "reckless sex" and will consider an actual response, but will need to first clear it with my editor :)

  8. Love it all :)

    I think the whole topic of NFP and family size gets sorta hot-buttoned. I suppose that makes sense - like the way you diaper, where you live, how you spend your money, what you feed your family, etc etc etc, when you find something that works for you, you want to shout it from the rooftops.

    But unlike diapering/food/location, there's a discernment requirement (well, obviously you CAN try and discern those things, and it's probably prudent... but it's still different than helping create a new being).

    I like Veronica's point about that comment, though - hearing "Don't you trust?" or "Can't you handle it?" or "Don't you know how to use NFP?" or pretty much anything like that takes it out of the realm of what God is saying to your personal family and spreads it into some universal truth that there is some answer people are "supposed" to do. It'd be nice if more people could say "I love how God brought us such peace with nmoasmwaea" rather than "Hasn't God brought YOU peace with agnmoweamgeaamwe"

    I think your post toes that line very well, Bonnie :) I love looking back and seeing God's plan, often where it made zero sense while living in that moment.

    And as for Alisha's comment... My patron saint for the year is St. Catherine of Genoa, the patron saint of infertility, AND WIDOWS. I hear you on anxiety as to WHY THE HECK WAS THIS SAINT CHOSEN FOR ME???

  9. Thank you for writing about this, and thank you especially to Veronica for your comments.

    I'm really wrestling with this right now because I want to leave my fertility in God's hands, but my husband does not want any more children. Ever.

    I know God has more children planned for me, but I don't know when or how. God and wants me to be patient, but I feel so heartbroken most of the time.

    I think this will help me next time I talk to my husband. I usually just say we need to leave it up to God and trust Him, and then my husband says something like "But by that reasoning I shouldn't wear a seat belt in the car, I should just trust God" and then it ends the conversation.

    I guess I just figured out that we need to discern God's will and then do it, both in and out of the bedroom. We don't sit at home and say "Well if it's God's will that I help my neighbors, God will bring them to my door" We feel called by God to do something, and then we choose to do it of our own free will. When we make the right choice God always backs us up.

    It might help us a bit for me to say "I think God wants us to CHOOSE to have more children." At least it will make me seem a bit less legalistic.

    Thanks for your great blog, I always include James and your family in my prayers.

  10. Is that the Liz and Amanda S. that I know - because if so, I kinda feel like I'm back at our old morning mom's group. Ah.

    I agree with Bonnie that hopefully the families who don't use the method at all have already discerned that that's how God wants it. And I agree with Liz and Veronica that yes, we can't expect God's will for our families to all look the same. Why would it?

    Jude and I have often thought in the secret of our home, "Why does it seem like having 4-5+ kids suddenly makes your family 'more open to God's will' or 'better at trusting Him'? What if we continue to discern and feel like our 2 girls is all that God has called us to? Are we in some way inferior?"

    Now, I'm not saying we're only having 2 - don't misinterpret, I'm just raising the question and confirming what some have said - our individual families are responsible for praying, discerning, and following the will of God, whatever that looks like, and must do so with the best intentions and resources (like the availability to a spiritual advisor).

    And yeah Liz, I like your whole line, "It'd be nice if more people could say 'I love how God brought us such peace with nmoasmwaea' rather than 'Hasn't God brought YOU peace with agnmoweamgeaamwe' " a whole lot and something that I'll always try to remember to do, as long as I can keep those pesty spiritual insecurities at bay.

    But if anyone does ever want to challenge the Landry family's ability to 'just trust God,' I have a nice real estate story to share with them... ;)

    Gosh. I miss you ladies and I'll be lifting intentions on your behalf up to St. Gerard - those pregnant, trying to get there, or those trying not to...

  11. I think I understand the points you ladies are making, but I still find it extremely hard at this point in my marriage to consider NFP as necessary. Perhaps that will change in the future if God puts a significant obstacle in our life. I am scared of having children very close in age and being completely overwhelmed sometimes. I guess I just take things one day at a time and realize how short my life really will be and how fast my kids will grow up. I have heard so many mothers say after there 4th or 5th child that it is soo much easier because the older ones can help. I heard in a sermon once a priest who often sees in large families that sometimes it is number 11,12 etc.. that ends up taking care of their parents in their old age instead of putting them in a retirement home. Of course we all strive for heaven but what if we do go end up in purgatory? How comforting to know many of our children and grandchildren are praying for our souls to be in heaven. I think there are rare occasions when having sex is being reckless like a medical reason.

  12. I hesitate to comment, becuase it is hard in a form like this when you do not have the background history of who you are addressing.
    Alisha, and others - I just want to say it is normal and OK to feel scared and overwhelmed! The church does not teach us to procreate like bunnies, but we are called to responsible parenthood. What that looks like for each family can be entirely different - it is for you as a couple (family) to prayerfully discern. There are many pros to large families, but that also does not dictate how close they need to be together. There are some cons (financial, health, emotional, mental) etc that can be very valid reasons for couples to not have larger families. The Holy Family had one child.
    You also need to take into account the being of your partner, if they are not ready or have reservations. Our prayer was often something like this: "God, I am scared and overwhelmed at the thought of another pregnancy. If it is your will for us to have another, please change our hearts and bring my husband and I on the same page. Until then, we will consciously not take part in that act that brings about this responsibility for which we do not feel at all ready. Let your will be done in our family and change our hearts if that is your will for us to have another."

    Another time in our family life I had a prayer like this "God, I GET why people don't want more kids. If you want us to have another, please let it be sooner than later because this no diapers, no nursing, getting to actually sleep and do activities thing is very nice" and of course we conceived the next month - willingly from both of us.

    I just want to point out that it is our human nature, and God gave us our human nature, to be scared and overwhelmed. You can not look to what other families are doing for what is best for your family. God has a very different plan for larger families and smaller families. Pope John Paul II said "Families, be who you are"

    Family Foundations had a nice article about larger families a while back - one line stuck with me... when a family was asked if they always wanted to so many kids they said "No, we just took one child at a time." That is really all God asks you to do... one step, one year, Lord willing - one pregnancy/child at a time.

    Pray for peace and discernment and for your family to follow God's will. We are have a very special role in His plan, even if it is very different from what others experience.

  13. I’ve been contemplating a response to this entry and A’s and L’s. I find myself writing and rewriting, checking my spirit, praying, checking my spirit some more. It appears that things I’ve thought and written have, at times, sounded both judgmental and condescending – I don’t want to be either.

    These topics on family planning, child-spacing, mothering, and the Catholic faith can become very tense for me mainly because they are the things I struggle with the most in my life. I really appreciate all the posts regarding every family and every situation being different. God’s call on our lives is a personal call and one that cannot be plugged into some mathematic formula with a perfectly neat answer.

    I hesitate to share because many of my experiences have not been fun and pleasant ones.
    I understand the not wanting to be pregnant. I’ve had 3 surprise pregnancies. They each in turn brought me a lot of joy, but also a lot of brokenness. What I’ve realized is that through the brokenness and pain, GOD forever changed my life, one baby at a time until I experienced a true conversion. I couldn’t have had that conversion without the pain. Looking back, I see God setting the table for many things in my life, but what I’ve also realized is that I many times I set the table myself and made a horrid mess in the process. God had to take that mess and “make do”.

    We are co-creators with God. He has given me a free will. He has given me a fertility cycle. I, as a Catholic woman, must honor and respect all of that. I often times said the same prayer as Anna (since the birth of S.) “God if it your will for me to have a baby, you’re going to have to change my heart.” What I’ve gotten in return is a wonderful sense of contentment, joy, and peace. I can finally look at my family and say, “God this is GOOD!”

    That was years and years in the making. Many times I’ve said, “These closely spaced boys will be the DEATH of me!!!” My experiences of making sure a high schooler got to and from school activities with a grade-schooler, two toddler boys, and an infant in tow were HARD. So, I do tell moms slow down, give yourself a break. It’s not a race to holiness. Holiness doesn’t come from the number of children you have or how closely spaced they are or if you have done the most perfect job at ecological breastfeeding that your children come at wonderfully spaced intervals, without ever needing to employ the use of NFP.

    The practice of NFP to avoid pregnancy is HARD! Abstinence is HARD! I must deny myself the marital act during the only period in which my physical body is receptive – THAT’S HARD!!!!!!! But it can also be a time to grow in virtue and virtue is worth it!

    There is prudential judgment in family planning, and part of that prudential judgment comes from recognition of the world we live in. This isn’t the “1850 living on the prairie” life anymore. We find ourselves in a world that is less labor intensive and more capital intensive. So, we all find ourselves needing to readjust (the Church too!). All of our children are “worth it”, but sometimes we are restricted by the “can we afford it” (mentally, physically, spiritually) question. I think it’s also important to come to a true APPRECIATION and UNDERSTANDING that some are called to have a large family and some are not. Our job as ubers is NOT to assume that if a family has one or two children that they must be contracepting, or infertile, or self-absorbed materialistic jerks who aren’t open to life, or aren’t trusting God. Maybe, just maybe, that is what God called them to.

  14. So, right now it's 72 degrees outside.
    Sure none of you want to move down here?

    Great stuff ladies, really great stuff!

  15. My saint for the year is St. Helena, patron of empresses, so I have instructed my family to call me Your Royal Highness. ;-)

    I think sometimes judgment about child spacing comes from people who have been blessed with easy-ish pregnancies and easy-ish children. Each month in Phase II I think about my last pregnancy. It was really tough, with morning sickness up to 30 weeks (generally manageable after about 12, but even manageable throwing up is a drag) and a nasty injury in the third trimester to a pelvic ligament. If someone has never had more than a flicker of nausea, I think it can be hard for her to imagine what it's really like to be glued to the couch while your house disintegrates around you and the laundry propagates itself like bunnies on Clomid. (Hey, I have just had a genius idea: NFP for laundry! Can somebody get working on that? Because my laundry definitely has serious reason to abstain this month.)

    Right now this question is very much on my mind because I will turn 41 this year and the window in which I could have another baby is closing. Also, goofily, because I had babies in '96, '99, '02, '05, and '08 and so OBVIOUSLY I'm supposed to have another one in '11. I'd better get busy, right?

    Except...my plate feels so full right now. My husband agrees: it doesn't feel like the right time to say yes. Five is probably it for us.

    I think. Probably. Maybe? I just don't know.

  16. I love the Saint Generator..although I haven't chosen a saint for the year yet. My husband and I were just on the website and kept clicking "New Saint" over and over again and learning about all these cool people that we hadn't heard of before! It was exhilirating! lol..Gotta love being Catholic =)

    P.S. Sorry this comment is a little off topic from the post. I am just working on starting a family! Great post though =)

  17. This is a great conversation, now I added all the links of those of you I know to my blog. :D