Friday, August 7, 2009

Now That's One Rash Decision

At the playground yesterday, while pushing my children in the swings, I noticed a pretty, young mother approach with three very young children and a fourth on the way. Yes! I could barely wait 5 seconds to strike up a conversation.

Me: Beautiful children, they look like they're about as close in age as mine are.

Her: They're very close in age, 14 months apart, 20 months apart, and my youngest and the new baby will be 13 months apart.

Me: Awesome! That's fantastic. Don't they enjoy each other so much when they're close in age?

Her (now pushing her children on the swings): No, we're done. My husband got it taken care of.

Me: (uncomfortable chuckle, inquisitive gaze)

Her: I'm totally done with this. During my 6th month of pregnancy, a few weeks ago, I made my husband go in and get himself taken care of. I assure you we're not having any more children.

I'm rarely at a loss for words. I was at a complete loss for words.


Jen said...

I've found myself in this sort of situation a lot lately where people remark about the close spacing of my children and suddenly the conversation turns to them wishing their husband would get a vasectomy. I have tried talking about how permanent that is and giving themselves the option to change their mind down the road. I have tried saying that children are a blessing even when we don't feel like we need any more blessings - that we can be surprised how much we enjoy that "extra" blessing. It is a really hard position to come up with something to say. I will be watching this post to see what comments others provide.

Today at open gym at a local gymanstics school, I complimented a pregnant mommy for looking so cute. She replied that she was feeling good and ready to be done. We got to talking and I introduced my daughters (3, 2, & 1) and she said, "Wow. I love being a Mommy, but not THAT MUCH!" I was speechless. This was her second (the older boy is just shy of 3).

Jen said...

Oh yeah, forgot to say that on the way out of Confession today, an elderly woman stopped me & the girls and after learning their ages said, "You need to tell your husband to give you a rest. That's just too much." Again, I was pretty speechless. We were at Church!

Right Said Red said...

What an appropriate graphic!

I think it very odd that women will regularly talk to me about their husband getting "snipped" but get REALLY uncomfortable when I even mention Natural Family Planning. Anything dealing with sterilizing yourself is fair game these days and can be shared with anyone at any time. But NFP--that's too personal to even mention in public.

On another note, I have made the mistake on many occasions of engaging a women with a larger than normal family in conversation, only to discover that she isn't happy with all her kids and that kid X, Y, or Z was a "mistake." I have taken this as a lesson that I should not judge a book by it's cover, and that I might be just as likely to meet a women with 2 children who's values I share as I am to meet a mother of 4. It isn't so much the number that grabs my attention now, but the attitude of the mom!

Heather - Doodle Acres said...

It is should be considered medical malpractice in my humble opinion to do a vasectomy on a man whose wife is pregnant. There are too many hormones flowing to make a rational decision.

Mary Alice said...

Heather, I think that is a really good point, as well as having your tubes tied while in the hospital after delivery -- with labor close in mind, I did not want to think about ever being pregnant again!

Kat said...

Jen, that's terrible, I get so frustrated when people make such un-Catholic comments at Church! I know what you mean in terms of these situations being uncomfortable - it's hard to know what to say without sounding condemning, since we don't want to agree with the person's decision in any way. Unless someone is trying to start a conversation, the best response may just be silence. Sometimes I've also said things like, "Oh my goodness, I can't imagine!" in a light-hearted way. It gets the message across and focuses the comment on myself, not on the other person.

Anyone else have any ideas?

Bethany said...

I have yet to be in a conversation where someone else has mentioned their spouse's sterilization. However, happy as I am to announce that number 4 is due in February and even though my kids are not, will not be as close in age as most/all of yours, I have had people, friends even, who have "recommended" a vasectomy for my own husband. As if that's a conversation they have any part of.
My response, "I love my kids; I wouldn't have it any other way."

Debbie said...

A very sweet and dear old friend of mine (a mother of stair-step nine kids herself and ALL C-sections!) had a similar experience when she was pregnant. Her husband is a doctor and his own receptionist felt compelled to comment to her one day at the office that her own husband "had it taken care of". My dear friend said very sweetly (and meaningfully), "I'm SO sorry!"

The receptionist was then left speechless.

Jennifer Frey said...

I hear this sort of thing all the time--the I AM DONE comment from Moms and Dads. It's sad, and I am often left speechless too. I often feel like saying something would either offend the other person or put them on the defensive. So I usually say nothing.

What gets me more are the comments--which I get ALL THE TIME--about when I will be done. After my second child it seemed to me that every other person I knew was asking, or assuming that I was "done".

"You're not having any more, right?"

"You have the perfect size family, you should stop."

"You guys are getting it out of the way early, huh?"

etc., etc. I usually just say nothing to these comments, or I just smile and say something vague. I find people's presumption in this respect incredibly annoying, but I also find that expressing that annoyance doesn't make it better.

So I, like JM, am usually speechless. Maybe there is a better way....

Maria said...

I also have these types of conversations on a regular basis due the the close spacing of my three - soon to be four - children. While some moms I know find it very annoying to have strangers ask such personal questions, I figure there isn't anything more interesting in life than bringing new lives into the world. Marriage, pregnancy,'s the true "stuff" of life that we all share in common. So I'm not surprised I get lots of comments, questions, and, yes, unsolicited advice.

Usually, I just share the joy my husband and I (both the eldest of seven children) have in being part of a large family and how we want that experience for our children. Of course, I try to be realistic, too, and sympathize with the tough realities of parenthood. I do have one snappy response to the never-ending comment I get at least once daily, "Oh my, you have your hands full!" I always reply with a smile, "Better full than empty!"

Nori Coleman said...

This is how my conversion began. I had my two kids and people were pressuring me to get my tubes tied. So I thoughti wouldgo alongwithit and mentionedto a co-worker that I wanted my hubby to get snipped. Well ,she was a great Catholicand said, " I could never ask my husband to do that, it is against God." Bingo, I little light bulb went off in my head . the statement was so counter cultural and I was excited to hear something contradict the status quo. The ball started to roll from there. I asked her what she meant and she began to explain Humanae Vitae to me. I was hooked and 12 years later I have had 8 more pregnancies later. Three miscarriages and five full term babies that are here with me on this earth. So, be notafraidspeak the truth in charity, and maybe you will be the reason for manymore soulswho will be open to life!!

bbullio said...


I agree with you. We should not be afraid to speak the truth, in charity of course! I have two here and two in heaven and people still feel compelled to tell me how perfect it is that I have my boy and my girl - assuming that I am finished. I make sure they know that if God wants to bless, we are open and grateful for His gifts!

I also am never too shy to strike up a conversation (with anyone - friends, strangers, men, woman, catholics, atheists) about NFP. I figure, if their asking I'm open to talking about it (I'm not a very shy person in general :). I think it is important that we are witnesses, not only in our family size and attitude about it, but also through our words. This is an area in which the faithful are sadly, extremely under catechized and I believe it is our job to spread the good news! I believe that NFP is good for all families, not just Catholic families and I'm not afraid to say so.

If there was an official spokesperson for NFP, I would really want the job :)

Mary Alice said...


What a grace that the timing was such, that your friend spoke up before you had the surgery, and that you were receptive to listening.

I know many others whose conversion began with learning about the Church teaching on contraception, which, ironically, is a stumbling block for so many cradle Catholics.

Joanne said...

Hoo boy, I always just tell people that we're Catholic and we don't use artificial contraceptives. I mean, once the conversation is opened for something as personal as how many SOULS you are going to bring into the world, I figure all bets are off and it may as well be good news.

I am a very forthright person, about NFP and also about how HARD I find my job. I do my fair share (and probably others' too) of complaining, but I really do feel like it will all work out just fine because God is on our side. I share that with everyone who asks me - and EVERYBODY asks me. I live in the midwest, maybe that's why people talk so much to me? I literally couldn't count how many people asked me if I was DONE when I was pregnant with my third. She is only 16 months younger than my second and I am of 'advanced maternal age' (41), so maybe that's why there was more of it, but man it is exhausting. With my first two, I had them at the closest hospital to my house, which was not Catholic. With the third, I decided to go to the Catholic hospital, which was further away, but TOTALLY worth it to not have to talk about birth control for the second half of my pregnancy.

I am not always sure of God's plan for me and my husband, our house is getting small and my hair is getting grey, BUT I am so, so happy that we have our Faith and are living it. I see such misery in contracepting couples (some in my own family) with regard to how many kids they're going to have, and I'm glad we are avoiding it. That's what I tell people.

Juris Mater said...

Jen, Heather and MaryAlice, what you point out is what totally knocked me down--we've all felt overwhelmed during pregnancy, exhausted and lifeless and confused about how we'll deal with the reality of another child. And then when the child is born we're showered with unexpected blessings and graces, objectively, truly and deeply happy. Making the decision to permanently sterilize DURING an overwhelming pregnancy seems so sadly rash and impulsive. And as you all said I was so surprised that she cut right to the chase. We'd only been talking for 60 seconds. Thanks for the discussion here, because I really can't sort in my mind through how to deal with a conversation like this. Part of it is the permanence of sterilization. What do you say to someone who's already done it? And it's also very hard to hear a mom talking like this in front of her children. It's OK for our children to know we're tired or drained, but this takes it to a new level.

Debbie said...

I've known at least one couple who made that rash decision and then had the unthinkable happen: a child died.

Fortunately, they took the opportunity to examine their lives and tried a reversal. When that didn't work, they adopted a child.

I've known several couples who've had reversals done without a pregnancy resulting. But it is obvious to all who know them that they have received great graces from the reversal procedure.

If only someone had talked to them before they had the sterilization done!

Catherine said...

My wise pastor once counseled me thus when I came to him very distraught over a relative beginning IVF. What could I possibly say to them? He reminded me of the parable of the wheat and the tares and encouraged me not to confront them (who were not Catholic, not even religious) because it would be quite likely I would pull up the wheat with the tares.

I hadn't walked in their shoes (infertility), so my words could only sound condemning. Father told me to be grateful for and encourage what was good in their motivation (the desire to have a child) and then just pray for them.

I have also followed that advice in situations like you encountered, Juris Mater. I assume there is some good in their motivation to stop having children (couple needs more time together, mom realizes she needs to care for herself, adequately provide for their current children), find common ground there (because I can relate to all those reasons!) and, like you did, affirm the beauty in the children they have.

Anonymous said...

I've had people volunteer that kind of information and once I listened to the Holy Spirit and said, "That is so sad! What if you change your mind and didn't you know that vasectomies can cause prostate cancer?" A friend of mine once said about the pill, "why would I want to shut down an entire system in my body? there's got to be consequences to that."

Mom of 2 said...

Thank you for adding:
"I have taken this as a lesson that I should not judge a book by it's cover, and that I might be just as likely to meet a women with 2 children who's values I share as I am to meet a mother of 4."
I have the opposite situation of many of you. I have two children -- 1 boy and 1 girl. Most people assume that we have the "perfect" or "rich man's" family -- I've heard all those many times. We fit in well with the general culture of family expectations. We were also "congratulated" when our daughter was born because we could stop now -- we had both.
And this also embarrasses me as a Catholic when I see large families. I feel as if I constantly feel a need to "prove" I'm really Catholic.
For many reasons -- including medical -- this is the family God has given us. I'm now 42 and have had to come to terms with the fact that this is His plan for us.
But I remind myself that at 19 (before marriage) I was told I might not be able to have children and -- without fertility drugs or procedures -- we do have 2.
I'm embarrassed when people talk so much about being "done" or their surgeries. I know my (non-Catholic) SIL cried after her surgery (while in the hospital after delivering her 5th child).
Anyway, from one Mom of 2, thank you for recognizing that I might actually share your values and truly wonder, lovingly, at your beautiful children.

Jennifer Frey said...

Having some more time to reflect, I now think that the best response in all of these situations--JM's is just an instance of a much broader contraceptive phenomenon--is to have a few stock lines that one can use in each case. I think these responses should speak "charity in truth", but in a way that does not put people on the defensive, and that invites further conversation/question if the other party is interested in pursuing the topic. Remaining speechless, which is usually my MO, is not the best option, because it is a failure to witness to Truth-- a missed opportunity. Nori's post brings this fact out most dramatically.

As for what these pithy, truthful, non-offensive responses might be I still have no clue! But I'm sure they exist, and it would be good if all of us NFP Catholics gave it some thought.

Anonymous said...

I am 8 1/2 months pregnant and I recently took my 2 daughters (2 1/2 and 16 months) to the store for groceries the day after we got back from a week long trip. And they were really good the whole time (2 hours of me dragging around that heavy cart), so I was surprised when our checkout lady turned out to be a really interesting piece of work!
I get up to the checkout lane and she says “are they both yours?” (meaning the girls) and I said yes, she said “so how many will you have total?” (nodding towards my belly) and I said “this will be my third”. She said “Oh, that’s nice, 3 is a good number.” (So far, so good, I get this all the time.) Then she continued “A good number to stop at.” (ok, where is this going?) “I think it’s a shame how people have to many kids that they can’t take care of. I know this lady who comes to the store who keeps popping out a kid every year and I keep asking her why the father of her kids isn’t providing for them since she gets so much welfare every month. Its disgusting how people take advantage of the system and have 7 kids and rip off the rest of us taxpayers (um, is she saying that this ladies kids shouldn’t be fed? And doesn’t she realize that even if this lady is on welfare, most of her 7 kids will be taxpayers someday?) I was just standing with my mouth open at this point, I had no idea what to begin to say, she was basically warning me not to have anymore kids. Then believe or not, she continued! “And my friend I was telling you about (friend? Yeah right!) she always says stuff like “oh it must be nice to be able to buy ‘xyz’, and I always say if she would stop mass-producing kids and get a job like the rest of us then she could afford to support her kids and buy stuff that she wants.” (At this point I was just thanking God that I was paying for my groceries with cash, I would have hated to have to whip out welfare after that spiel!) I still didn’t say anything really, I was to shocked to be getting this lecture in the first place, and I know that it wouldn’t do any good anyways. I dread to think what she would have said to me if I had come up the line with 6 or 7 little kids! Or if I had told her that I grew up in a family with 11 kids and I'm not planning on being "done".
What do you say? Why are people so viceral to large families? I've never had to be on welfare, but I am glad that it is available for families that need it regardless of whether or not they make "good" choices.

Jennifer said...

Right Said Red- Thank-you for this comment, "It isn't so much the number that grabs my attention now, but the attitude of the mom!" This is a statement that I truly believe in. I have four kids and I am the spouse of a soldier. When I was pregnant with my 3rd, my husband was gone and not expected to return until the new baby was 10 months old. You wouldn't believe some of the comments I got from people. People that knew me/us well, too. I was going to have 3 under the age of 4 and no husband, so everyone thought we made a "mistake" or that we were crazy. I started telling people with the most enthusiastic of voices that it was going to be GREAT and then I would add with just as much enthusiasm that it was all about my own attitude.
If a mother goes into her 2nd, 3rd, or 4th child thinking about how awful it is going to be, then it is probably going to be pretty awful for her. I can't imagine thinking like that about a new life. You don't have any idea how easy or hard it is going to be until you actually have the baby. You might have to readjust your skills a bit, but I can assure you it is not as difficult as others think it is going to be.

Moira said...

My first reaction to this post was that this mom of 4 was just SO TIRED of hearing comments about her family size that she just wanted to be done with the conversation as fast as she could. She had no idea that she was going to encounter someone who thought it was wonderful that she was pregnant again, after 3 close births! That is a truly rare circumstance as previous commenters have attested.
If it were not for our faith, would we have the courage to continue to embrace baby after baby and pregnancy after pregnancy? Probably not! Because we do all know how hard it is, and the extremely strong social pressure against it.

I also agree that it is unethical from a medical standpoint to perform a vasectomy on a man whose wife is pregnant, and probably at least for the first year post-partum. Between the hormones and the weariness, we women do not always think very clearly at those times!

Jen said...

Just wanted to say that after several days of reflection and having an acquaintance boast of her husband's upcoming vasectomy, I have decided that my MO in the future is to state specifically that the Church teaches against sterilization and that I support that teaching. Finally, to say that I have also found the Church's teachings on life issues challenging as I have faced both infertility and "super" fertility having 3 children (born one at a time) in 33 months. Having had that experience, I can say "It's hard to know what the future holds or what we're capable of doing until we're doing it." Also, one last line I like to use is a reply to people saying, "My you have your hands full." I like to remind myself and the person commenting that this is a blessing by saying, "And my heart is full, too."

Jen said...

Just wanted to say that after several days of reflection and having an acquaintance boast of her husband's upcoming vasectomy, I have decided that my MO in the future is to state specifically (in a charitable way, obviously) that the Church teaches against sterilization and that I support that teaching. Also to say that I have found the Church's teachings on life issues challenging myself as I have faced both infertility for a few years and then "super" fertility having 3 children in 33 months. Having had both experiences, I can say "It's hard to know what the future holds or what we're capable of doing until we're doing it."

Also, one line I like to use is a reply to people saying, "My you have your hands full." I like to remind myself and the person commenting that this is a blessing by saying, "And my heart is full, too."

Jeanne Stark said...

Sigh. I am 46 now. Some of them just don't understand.

We have tried for 11 years to have kids. We just got through 10 weeks of classes and are now going through some type of home renovation so to tolerate the homestudy.

Some just don't understand. But then many of us don't understand that everything made in China goes to abortion because China is NOT pro-life. The USA owes a TON OF MONEY THAT WE recycled to THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT.

In other words, it is getting to the point we already pay for abortions overseas. Remember Made in China is made in... think about it. They are not like us in their economy.
Keep praying.