Saturday, January 17, 2009

Unspoken Longing

I've been deeply moved lately by the number of times I've heard young wives--both secular and Christian--speak along these lines: "My husband and I are going to wait another 3 or so years before having a baby, until I've finished X and had a chance to do a little Y. And my husband doesn't want a baby until we're in our 30s anyway, although he'll be a wonderful dad someday. But if we got pregnant of course we'd be happy and we'd go with it. Actually, I'd probably go through the motions and cry for a day when I found out and when we were telling everyone, and then I'd flip out and be so thrilled, and we'd just re-plan our lives around a new little bundle of joy. Then it would basically be an 'accident' that we got pregnant so nobody could scoff at me."

What a beautiful sentiment and interior longing expressed. But sad as well. Women's liberation and cultural expectations that we inherited from our mothers' generation have done us a disservice in this regard. We're young and in love and newly married, and we feel a strong drive to begin the high adventure (as the "G" family wonderfully put it in their Christmas letter) of parenthood in our youth, with our beloved young spouse, while we're energetic and passionately in love. But it's been so impressed upon us as women that we're selling ourselves short to become mothers right away. So without really understanding, we follow the abstract cultural norm of "waiting a while"... but with the deep down feeling that it would be the happiest "accident" of a lifetime if a baby should come along.

Thank God for the Catholic Church, for its steadfast teaching on openness to children. What a comfort to know that God's will is for my husband and me to happily, eagerly follow that deep longing for children, and to be so encouraged in this by the Church. We're called to abandon ourselves to His plan for our family, so that the norm is openness to children from Day One of our marriage, and the exceptions are the times of spacing between babies. That's true freedom! The planning isn't on our shoulders, because what a burden it must be to carry the responsibility of planning your family the "wait a few years" way. We don't have to make excuses for our natural longing for a child or speak of it as an "accident" to protect ourselves. Instead, our Church assures us that parenthood is our primary path to sanctity, so that we can imagine the saints and angels rejoicing with each new annuciation in our family.

18 comments:

kathleenob said...

Love love this post. Waiting years before welcoming children in a marriage makes me think these couples should consider whether or not they are really ready to receive the sacrament of marriage, because the primary end of that sacrament is procreation. Couples I know who want to wait believe they have serious reasons (need to finish my PHD or hubby needs to get a job), but maybe they should postpone their wedding. I bet some people will disagree, but it might be better for their future if they are able to enter married life fully, giving themselves totally with the joy of being completely open to new life. Covenanted Happiness: Love and Commitment in Marriage by Cormac Burke is a lovely book that discusses the real benefit to beginning a marriage with Children when love is fresh and new. Anyway, just an opinion and a plug for a great book on marriage. Love your blog, you women are all inspiring. You make me want to get on my elliptical and have more babies, but you won't convince me about slow cookers I think they are disgusting!! Just kidding!

JSullivan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JSullivan said...

Amen! We were "unexpectedly" blessed to have our first a year into my graduate studies. It was rough, and required a lot of juggling to allow me to finish (fortunately the school was very accommodating, and even offered me a job so I could afford to support my wife and new child), but it was absolutely worth it.

Elena said...

What a wonderful post. We were 'accidentally' blessed with twins in our first year of marriage and haven't looked back since. When discussing this with friends many of us agree that the baby who 'came to soon' actually helped sort out a lot of real and potential relationship problems in that first year as we had to really cling to one another as we became parents. Praise God for our fertility. As a friend of mine says, each new baby is a job promotion from God.

Catherine said...

Beautiful thoughts. We conceived our first child just 3 months into our marriage and would almost certainly have been preventing pregnancy had we not recently been received into the Catholic church. This special boy is on the autism spectrum and is truly one of God's greatest gifts to us and our family!

Joanne said...

I have been thinking about this so much lately, since we are expecting our third in May and will have our fifth wedding anniversary in July. The thought of waiting never occurred to us, both because I always was Catholic and my husband became Catholic the year that we got married AND because we were not young when we got married. In fact, I was already of 'advanced maternal age' when we got married! Our third will be born when our oldest is almost four, and our second will be 16 months old. Our son is autistic and that, of course, presents its own challenges, but three under four would be challenging regardless I'm sure.

What is so disappointing to me, and what occurs to me a lot these days, is that it doesn't seem like we know anyone who is open to life in the way that we know we are supposed to be. The reactions that we've gotten from our *family and friends who are Catholic* are sort of horrible.

Last night in church, our Priest spoke about the FOCA and how we are all going to write postcards to our representatives to let them know how much as Catholics, we oppose this act. I was glad to hear him speak of it, but I am so disappointed, week after week, that he makes no mention of natural family planning, artificial contraception, or procedures like in vitro fertilization. He has never even spoken about what the Pope has recently said about it.

I am so glad that I have this website to go to and to know that I have Catholic sisters our there who are practicing their faith in every way, it means a lot to me. So thanks!

margaretjdmom said...

JoAnne,

Keep the faith! Go back and reread church's writings on this subject and you'll feel so much better. I hate to plug the same book again, but Cormac Burke's Covenanted Happiness was lifechanging for me, and I was already a practicing catholic following the church's teachings on marriage and family.

Regarding other's reactions, I have been on the receiving end of that sometimes too. At certain times with the announcement of a new baby even NFP going catholics were quick to respond with "I can't believe that happened to you" or "wow why did you do that?" I think that sometimes people forget their manners temporarily and there's an underlying fear of the cross. Heck, I have got that too a lot of the time. Nobody likes to see someone they love going through a difficult challenge, so its a natural human reaction for people to say dumb things when confronted with something they don't readily understand. Just know you've got the graces from the sacrament of marriage to do your job and be the best wife and mother!!!!

catherine said...

"Instead, our Church assures us that parenthood is our primary path to sanctity, so that we can imagine the saints and angels rejoicing with each new annuciation in our family." Beautifully said! Thank you for this post.

Juris Mater said...

Thank you Kathleen and Margaret for mentioning Cormac Burke's Covenanted Happiness. Lifechanging for me as well, after already being a practicing Catholic totally sold on openness to children. Seriously, if you haven't read this one and you have an extra $10 for a book purchase and a little bit of reading time, this book is a great treasure for the soul and a life changer. This and Fulton Sheen's "Three to Get Married" are beyond amazing.

Some of you mentioned what a great gift it is to be a part of this Catholic sisterhood that we all share (all you readers and contributors). I've been walking on air with gratitude for that in the last couple of days--God has impressed on me so much what a gift and a blessing this is. You all solidify my faith and my devotion on a daily basis, and I am nothing short of eternally grateful.

Joanne, congratulations on your baby on the way! And Elena, that quote "each new baby is a job promotion from God" is fantastic! I've been looking for a way to express that for a while now without being hopelessly cheesy, and you hit the nail on the head there : )

One more thing, I'm sorry for whatever extent I generalized to suggest that ALL young married ladies have a secret desire for babies right now and wish they had an excuse to have them. Not all, but several that I've come across recently... enough to leave an impression.

Anonymous said...

I have to say, I read this with a bit of frustration. My husband and I have been married for about 2 and 1/2 years, and we have yet to welcome a little one. Not by our choice, but we have yet to be blessed by God in this capacity. It is difficult because I have faced the greatest judgement by my Catholic friends who simply assume we are contracepting and keep asking the question over and over, "When are you going to have a baby"?

We still have a very full marriage, definitely open to children, but trusting in God's plan for us. We feel deep in our hearts that God will one day show us the way we are to care for children, whether it be with our own natural children or through adoption.

I don't feel by any means that we haven't been "promoted" or that we have been overlooked by God. Quite the contrary! I believe that we need to take a fuller look as to the paths of holiness. We have been able to really serve the Church in a variety of ways that have been a true blessing to us. We are focused on what we can do for the Lord, not on what just isn't possible at this time.

I recently completed teaching at a local Catholic high school filling in for a Theology instructor who was on maternity leave. I was really able to teach and bond with my students on a variety of levels, and I have been able to take some of these kids under my wing, so to speak. I am by no means saying that I wouldn't have been able to do this if I were a mother, but I feel this is just a unique way I have been called to serve at this time. I feel in many ways like a foster mother or a big sister to these kids, and I have been able to show them to God through our Church. It may not be typical, but I assure you, I know in my heart that this is part of God's plan for us. I also believe that as the saints and angels rejoice for all of your growing families, they also rejoice at my family made through our marriage and all those we have welcome in, though not by typical means.

I never ask for anyone to pray for babies for us. Although children would be a much welcomed and tremendous blessing, I pray that God's will, not ours, continue to be done, and I know in my heart one day He will show us how we are to parent.

My husband and I have adopted the prayer from Fr. Mychal Judge, the FDNY chaplain who passed on 9/11...

"Lord, take me where you want me to go
Let me meet who You want me to meet
Tell me what You want me to say
And keep me out of Your way."

Even though I realize that we live in a difficult age where many people are not open to children and we (my husband and I) are not the "norm", I ask that we take a step back to perhaps see that God may not be making all families to look alike, but they still can be holy too.

Kat said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thank you for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate hearing your thoughts, especially towards the end when you say "I ask that we take a step back to perhaps see that God may not be making all families to look alike, but they still can be holy too." Absolutely! There are seven builders for Building Cathedrals, and each of our families looks different. Some of us have children that are very close in age, others are further apart in age; some of us homeschool our children, and others of us send our children to school outside the home; some of us work part-time, some of us do lots of volunteer work, and others of us can barely imagine committing to activities outside of the home at this particular moment in time! What I'm trying to say is that I think each of us would absolutely appreciate your sentiments! The work that you do with high school students is invaluable and you're right, it is much harder to fill the role of "mentor" for other children when you have children of your own. Not impossible, but certainly much more difficult. Like you, we were open to having children from the beginning of our marriage, but we did conceive right away and so our path has looked different from yours. There have been times when I have been frustrated that I haven't been able to do more volunteer activities, but like you said, God has a path for each of us!

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post and comments. I remember when I was in the thick of my childbearing years and very often, acquaintences and friends alike would say privately to me "I wish I could have another baby, but my husband/wife absolutely refuses." I think we have to remember that not all "negative" comments come from bad places. Sometimes there is a longing that can't be fulfilled.

I'm 42 now and have been trying to have another baby for some time now. If it doesn't happen, I'm ok with that. If it does, you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be on the receiving end of much wonder, disbelief and shock. But that's ok, it's my life not theirs that concern me.
Jennifer

Another Anonymous said...

Anonymous (the first one), my husband and I are in a similar boat- married two years now and childless due to medical circumstances, not by choice- and addressing questions from well-intentioned but tactless acquaintances is an ongoing challenge. Many thanks to you for your insightful thoughts, and to JM for her excellent post.

When fellow parishioners ask when we'll have kids (not knowing our circumstances, as we're pretty private) I've finally just started answering "*God* knows" and leaving it at that with a smile and a shrug. And when coworkers praise our "prudence" in not having children yet, after they helpfully explain how important it is to start off marriage with at least five childless years, I mention we like children enough that they're welcome whenever they show up. It always seems like a fine line, figuring out how to avoid compromising our values, and yet also maintaining good boundaries.

So, it's good to have a brief respite from it all by reading JM's post and all the comments. And thanks for the reminder, Anonymous, that this stage of our marriage is fruitful in its own way.

Bethany said...

I have been thinking a lot about this post. And I thank you for reflecting on it.

My husband posted above; our "unexpected" first pregnancy came as a sign of joy and happiness for him. But for me, at the time, I had succumbed to societal pressures of what is expected of women. In my father's own words at our wedding "Now don't do anything stupid like get pregnant right away." was my mantra. Of course, I was young and naive when we got married. I wasn't on birth control not because we were Catholic (I had only been Catholic for a year and half and I disagreed with that tenant of Church teaching) but because I didn't know any better. I mean I knew unprotected sex could lead to pregnancy, but I guess I figured getting pregnant would be okay because we were married, it never occured to me that we would conceive our first child on my 22nd birthday, 6 weeks after our wedding (we never took a honeymoon). When we found out on Christmas Night I just cried. And I cried for two or three days. (By that time I was two months pregnant but I had no idea) When I saw the doctor a couple weeks later I was starting to come around to the idea. But I was afraid to tell my parents (can you blame me?). So I made my husband who called them and told my mom, whose response was "Well that's not good." My husband incredulously responded with a "Yes it is!" As he handed the phone over to me and watched in anger as my parents berated me on the phone telling me how disappointed they were in me for allowing this to happen, why wasn't I more careful? After my son was born (5 weeks early after complications with toxemia) I couldn't imagine having another child. In fact it wasn't until our oldest was almost two years old that I even considered the idea of possibly having another child.

Eight years have gone by since I found out I was pregnant with my first child. We have two more children and we are haphazardly trying for number four. We have accepted responsibility for living our faith more fully than we had in the past and we find ourselves more in love with Christ, the Church and each other. I love all my children and after that first couple of years when I listened way too hard to what society expected of me and way too little to what God expected of me, I find myself enjoying the unexpected pleasure of answering God's call to motherhood in this way. I realize that my family and even most of my friends may never understand why this is important and why it plays such a pivotal role in our relationship.

A friend said observed several months ago, that perhaps the lack of children in people's lives lead them away from the Church and religion in general. There is something about having children, the awe and wonder that a parent has for their own, that allows for the "leap of faith" needed to believe. For as scared as I was when I found out about our first pregnancy and as hard as those first couple of years were, they prepared me for a journey deep into my faith that God was calling me to. I ache for those who long to have children, who have been lead astray by society, because I think it ultimately expresses a longing for a deeper relationship with God for some, and the start of relationship for others.


I'm sorry for the length.

Kat said...

Bethany, your thoughts are simply beautiful, thank you so much for sharing!

Juris Mater said...

Another Anonymous and Bethany, so beautiful. Thank you all for sharing your lovely thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Wow. For a group of holy Catholics, you ladies live quite the judgemental life! You cant understand why anyone would have different beliefs or behaviors from your own, and thus you judge.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought there was only one day of judgement and that judgement is done by none other than God himself?

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