It has been my desire for a very long time to fill up a house with children. Anyone who knows me well is quite familiar with this dream of mine. I (usually) enjoy the happy chaos of a home teeming with life -even though a certain percentage of each day is just chaos, minus the "happy". After growing up with a tiny extended family, I pined to have a house bursting with bustle and noise, especially over the holidays. Whenever I'm around large families, it just feels so right. The relationships, the activity, the intensity, the fullness....it has always been inspiring to me to witness the way that large families work - both when the children are young and when they are grown. I want it. I totally get that it is a lot - A LOT - of hard work and sacrifice. But I think nothing is more worth it. I didn't sign up for the wide and easy road - I set my cap toward the path that is narrow and difficult.
So I'm surprised and sad to find that I feel a little embarrassed, even ashamed about being pregnant this time around. I've never felt that way before. I'm happy to be pregnant. I feel awkward about telling people. Why? I don't really know. I don't think it's because of the close proximity in age of this child to Joseph. Rich and I have always been pregnant again by our babies' first birthdays. This child is no closer in age to Joseph than Joseph is to Bernadette. The only reason there is a little more space between Bernadette and Maria is because we lost a child in between. I've never felt at all sheepish about having children close together before. So the rapid succession of baby to baby is not the culprit.
But if it's not because the kids are crowded so close together in age, I'm struggling to find the reason I feel so uncomfortable when I tell others I'm expecting again. Maybe it's partly because this is the fourth child. We're officially out of the "normal" range now. Even worse, we're shamelessly enlarging our carbon footprint, the only universally acknowledged mortal sin in the religion of the modern age. But that's not really enough to make me feel so awkward about this pregnancy.
I know my feelings are partly because we don't, like, actually have a job yet. But that fact is far more pressing in light of the three children who are already actively incurring expense - this new baby will be breastfed, cloth diapered and attired in siblings' hand-me-downs - in other words, practically free for at least six months. Plus, I have a totally foolish trust in Divine Providence, based on the rock-solid history of His unfailing generosity over the past 33 years of my life. So that isn't really "it" either.
I think a big chunk of my discomfort arises from fear of judgment....either of my choice of family planning method or for my ability to competently use it. I'm afraid that others will sneer that NFP is unreliable - or that I clearly don't know how to use the method properly - or that I have a reckless disregard for the responsibility associated with childbearing. Or possibly all three of these things. It's totally unnecessary and inappropriate for me to have to explain myself before the public eye on these points. But sadly, I'm realizing that this fear is the biggest cause of my restrained way of sharing my delightful news with others. I guess these fears do nothing so well as they betray my pride and lack of humility. Dang it.
These uncomfortable feelings have been immensely aggravated by some of responses we've received since our secret became public. The four grandparents in question were absolutely beautiful about the news. The youth here have likewise been fantastically enthused about our tidings. With few exceptions, our close friends have celebrated this new life with unhesitating and sincere joy. But there have been a lot more "restrained" reactions, even from faithful believers.....
So - was this intended?
Are you happy about this?
Are congratulations in order - or condolences?
How did that happen?
Oh my gosh. How are you going to handle this?
Are you okay with that?
(Rolling eyes with uncomfortable giggles)
(Mock faces of horror and dismay) et cetera....
Others have simply not responded to the announcement. At all.
Over the past few days, the Lord has given me just enough grace to finally recognize that most of the responses above have no ill-will behind them. To the contrary, most come out of sincere concern and interest in the good of our family life. I completely understand that....now. No one ever said that babies were all rainbows and butterflies. There's no point in pretending there isn't a certain amount of additional pressure or exhaustion that another little one will add to the mix. But no one ever responded like this when my girls were on their way. These recent reactions dampen the joy of announcing something that otherwise delights me. They embarrass me. They leave me feeling like I need to explain myself - like very personal information is being demanded of me. And I deeply regret that on many of these occasions, I've tried to explain things that really ought not to be.
When I saw two pink lines on the pregnancy test, I was thrilled. Nothing impinged upon my happiness. Within minutes though I foresaw that comments would come - and that they would cloud the early days of my pregnancy. So for the first time, Richard and I opted to keep our pregnancy a complete secret for a few weeks. For most couples that may be standard, but it was a first for Rich and me! That decision gave me enough time to simply wrap my heart around the new child the Lord had blessed me with, free from any fear of censure. And I did. I wrote a little note to my unborn child, jotted down some appealing names, contacted a midwife, prayed in thanksgiving, bought prenatal vitamins - all the I've done in the early days of my previous pregnancies but, for the first time, I did them covertly. And actually, I enjoyed the secrecy - immensely. It was a sweet, lovely secret to have. Then - in the middle of a talk I had been asked to give to some high school girls up at the local Catholic high school - it slipped out. A "pro-life moment" arose - and that was that. End of secret pregnancy. Beginning of awkwardly public pregnancy.
Honestly, even if I was devastated by this pregnancy, responses like some I've received would do nothing but discourage me further. If I was struggling to come to terms with this life, I would be desperate for encouragement & support, for others to help kindle in me the joy and hope that I would need in order to persevere. But I'm not struggling to be glad- and these responses sting for a different reason. I had been praying for new life and am awed that the Lord has seen fit to entrust another little soul to my care. But I feel a little sorry for this baby - the first child of mine who has not been automatically and universally celebrated, welcomed and embraced with joy by the world at large. I wonder what will happen if I miscarry this child, as I did miscarry my little Christopher, as I did almost lose little Joseph. Will the eye-rollers and condolence-offerers secretly feel it was for the best? Even worse, what if they say it aloud? Thankfully, thus far, my daughters have not witnessed any of these dubious reactions about the sibling they are so excited over. What would Maria think if she heard one of these comments? Mama, is that person not happy about our new baby?
Looking back over what I've read, I realize I need to clarify that (except for perhaps a few pointed silences) no one has been hostile about our news. Not at all. Yes, there has been an uncertainty from others ... is this good news? and yes there has been an unsettling freedom in openly prying ...was this a mistake? and yes, a widespread assumption that the answer to the latter question could only be a resounding yes! But once people have ascertained that I am indeed glad, they have been quick to be glad with me and I am very grateful for that. I guess I'm just wishing that a new life was automatically seen for the gift that it is - at least among those who worship the One who shapes each new soul. I wish that the standard reaction to new life was unconditional joy. I wish that the very hard work and sacrifice involved in raising lots of little ones was not seen as such an undesirable burden (even if it is not something to which all feel personally attracted). I certainly wish that among Catholics, continued openness to life -even in not-so-cushy circumstances - would not come as such a shock. And mostly I wish that I was the kind of woman who didn't undercut the realization of these desires by looking so darn apologetic when acknowledging this new life.
So....with uncompromised excitement - free from all traces of embarrassment - I want to start again:
We have another child on the way!
(and, almost as beautiful -
I should be totally done with all morning sickness before the Epic Journey homeward!)