At the pool last summer, I met a mother of a three-year-old and a five-year-old. She started talking to me about my two youngest girls. Slowly, she realized that the four-year-old boy bobbing up and down with great delight in the three-foot end was also mine. When my seven-year-old came swimming up, I could see the fear in the woman's face. "Four!" she gasped, then repeated, "Four." Then Michael came back from the diving board. "Good heavens!" she exclaimed. "You have five?" I replied, "Well, actually, I have six. Christopher is not here. He's at a friend's house today."
She was stunned. I tried to help her out: "Really, it's not so bad. We have a lot of fun, especially at the pool in the summer." Six. She was still stuck on the number. When she came to, she told me that she and her husband were "thinking about having another child," but they were not yet sure if they would. When I told my husband about the incident, he joked, "Did you tell her you have to do more than just think about it?"
This is only one of the many run-ins I have had with the people I call the fertility police. Over time, I have become accustomed to the rude comments, "the glare," "the stare," and the "How could you possibly take up my airspace?" attitude from people with no more than two kids. Any mother with more than two, or with children close in age, knows exactly to what I am referring: that look of condescension that says, "Don't you know what causes that?"
Being open to new life and not cooperating with the contraceptive mentality of today's culture makes a Catholic parent a walking sign of contradiction. Apparently, seeing a family with more than two children causes a searing jab in the consciences of some people who had considered the issue of whether to have more children moot. Why else would complete strangers tell me their darkest secrets about using birth control, along with their reasons for avoiding having another child, some even graphically describing "cutting and burning those tubes"?
One of my favorite movie scenes is in Cheaper by the Dozen (1950), when the father of the twelve-child Gilbreth family refers to those "piddly little families with five or six children." (In another great scene in that movie, the local Planned Parenthood representative flees the Gilbreth house in shock.) I guess that with six, I have one of those piddly little families, though most people I meet do not seem to think so. It is no secret that most people today think that managing more than a couple of children is darn near impossible. Contemporary culture often forgets that "with God, all things are possible."
My sister has a friend in Pennsylvania who is a mother of five. When her husband announced to his coworkers that he and his wife, both Catholics, were expecting their fifth child, the fertility cops started trailing into his office to read him the riot act. He responded with, "Hey, man, I get my marching orders from Rome." They didn't bother him again.
My sister's mother-in-law, Martha, would probably have been classified as certifiable today. She and her husband were married at age 35 and subsequently blessed with five daughters and four sons in ten years.
Last year, I clicked on an MSN.com article about the biggest financial mistakes people make. The venomous words "having too many children" jumped off the screen at me. The article said that one or two children were bad enough; that children are extremely expensive and time-consuming; that the problem with having a third child is that the parents often want to have a fourth; and that four children are just too many. Children, one of the greatest joys of married life, the symbol of love between a husband and wife, were summarily dumped into the bin of financial mistakes.
Unless an expectant mother is lucky enough to have a pro-life doctor, the joy of finding out that another child is on the way is usually tempered by the flak she encounters at the obstetrician's office. "Oh, boy," she thinks. "Here comes another lecture from Dr. Fertility-Is-a-Disease." Thankfully, there are some wonderful pro-life doctors, but their offices can be few and far between. Those of us who do not relish the thought of delivering a baby in a car prefer to stick closer to home. Sometimes the comments of doctors and nurses are unreal. "Do you want your tubes tied before I take out the epidural?" "Is this one it?" "We need an adult activity center in the county, so adults will have something to do at night."