We were on a rare family outing to Costco the other day when I was reminded of just how different the world is when we're outside of our church bubble.
Normally the only place we take all 4 kids is Mass, where we're greeted with a chorus of "You have your hands full!" or "You're so blessed!" or "You have a beautiful family!" or (my favorite) "Aw, it gets easier!" with a knowing smile.
John Paul and Cecilia were both sitting in the cart, happily munching away on cupcake liners full of hemp seed (worst. sample. ever) when we spotted another sample cart! Andrew, wearing Mary Claire on his back in the Ergo, was in another aisle. I had Elizabeth in a wrap on my chest and was pushing the (very full) cart with John Paul and Cecilia when I heard it:
"Are they ALL yours? You look so YOUNG!" In that incredulous and slightly disapproving tone.
"Yup. And my husband's in the next aisle with the other baby!" We grabbed our sample and kept moving, not needing to start that conversation.
I get that I look 17 (or maybe older by now??? One can only hope!). And John Paul looks older than 3.5, so maybe it does look like I started having children when I was 12 and am shamelessly flaunting them around the prepared foods aisle at Costco. But really, is it any of her business, this lady serving carnitas in paper cups, how old I am or whether ALL those children are actually mine?
I was so tempted to answer, "No, we borrowed a couple of babies just to look impressive!"
But is this really the mentality of the outside world? The strangers who don't already KNOW that I'm Catholic, 26 years old, with 4 children under the age of 4 and no end in sight - am I going to keep getting this judgment from them for the rest of my life?
I had another conversation with an older man, a father of adult twins with another high-school-aged child. He found out I had twins, as well as a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old and of course, I got the inevitable question:
"So, are you done now?"
Done? Um... No. I explained to him that our family still didn't really feel complete, that I was only 26 and couldn't see stopping already, and then I pulled the Catholic card.
That usually helps people understand - all I have to say is, "Well, we're Catholic." And I get the knowing head nod, the inevitable reference to the Duggars (yes, I'm on pace to have 20 children by the time I'm 42. I have a feeling we will have slowed down a little by then...), and the conversation moves on:
"So what does your husband do?"
Because I'm a part-time public school teacher. I'm not raking in the dough, but I love what I do and, right now, it's the perfect work/home balance for me. So now they're thinking, "Well let's hope her husband makes a lot of money so at least they can AFFORD all these kids, right?"
"He's a lawyer."
In that knowing tone of voice, as though "lawyer" is the magic word, the fantastical solution to raising all these children. It's okay for me to have more than 2.5 children as long as my husband makes a good living, right? I don't tell them he doesn't make the "typical" lawyer salary they probably envision, that right now I have to work or we wouldn't be able to pay off student loans and still have health insurance, and that our children are the least of our expenses!
But still, why does the perception that we're "well off" give us permission to have a large family? What about those families with 3 or more children where the dad is in graduate school, or he's a teacher, or (heaven forbid!) BOTH parents work? Is it unacceptable, irresponsible even, for those families to have more children than society arbitrarily deems as acceptable?
This is where I think secular society fails to understand the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception, on sexuality, on the value of family. We're not all out here trying to repopulate the planet. Yes, some of us may be well on our way... But it's not like I'm trying desperately to procreate because I think that's what God wants! And my financial status, or anyone else's, should not give you license to judge whether or not I can have another child (or several more).
I should not have to justify my choice to have more children. Just as I don't look at your perfect 2.5 children and ask you WHY you're not having any more (it's absolutely none of my business - how am I to know whether you're infertile, or suffered from several miscarriages, or simply do not have the mental stability to raise more children than you have).
We, Catholic couples who follow church teaching, are simply allowing God to do His thing. If He sees fit to bless us with children, we accept them lovingly and with complete trust. We're not out to put barriers between our love life and our fertility. I had a pro-life Christian friend in college who was about to get married but wasn't ready to have children, so she was going on the mini-pill because, she told me, "That way if God REALLY wants us to have children, the hormones aren't so plentiful so we could still get pregnant anyway, right?" I wish I had had my wits about me and could have explained to her that yes, breakthrough ovulation is more likely on the mini-pill, as is fertilization, but the pill won't let implantation occur in most cases, effectively aborting her baby (because the MOMENT that egg and sperm meet, that's when you became YOU).
We don't put up as many barriers as possible and tell ourselves that, "Hey, God is all-powerful, so if He REALLY wants me to get pregnant, I'll get pregnant!" No, we allow our natural love lives to occur, abstaining when not trying to conceive, allowing the ultimate decision to be God's.
So yes, I may be 26 years old with 4 children already. And yes, I very likely will have more children. And yes, my next car will be a cargo van. But please, trust that God has given us these children knowing full well that we can handle them. Some couples may have one, or ten, or none at all. But we're all ready to accept the next gift of life that God gives us. And the answer to your question, for at least the next 20-some years, is going to be:
"We're probably not done yet. We're Catholic."