Monday, February 15, 2016

Just Another NFP Rant

I don't blame my midwife. She's looking out for what's best for her patient, and she's unintimidated by awkward conversations. (I suppose you'd have to be.)

Usually she waits until after the baby's born to bring up contraception, but this time she asked at my 32-week appointment:

"So, have you thought about birth control?"

I get it. We've had FOUR surprise babies in six years. Obviously our birth control of choice (natural family planning -- Billings method) isn't working the way we expected. (The one baby we did plan came with a twin. If that's not enough to make you throw your hands in the air and forego all future attempts at planning anything, I don't know what is.)

She focused on the financial concerns of more kids, which surprised me.  She knows I dealt with postpartum depression after the twins (who wouldn't have?) and that my body is tired. I thought, for sure, she'd focus on the need to rebuild emotional and physical reserves.

The truth is, the financial side of large families doesn't bother me. I understand that limited resources are being split among a growing number of needs. But if I choose to prioritize more family over annual family vacations, why is that a problem? I believe even poor kids can grow up happy, healthy, emotionally stable, mentally strong, and most importantly, kind.

Life in large families can seem not-so-glamorous compared to the marketed best practices of family life in our society: one room per child, one phone/laptop/iPad per child, annual family vacations, biannual technology upgrades, and an approach to parenthood that emphasizes its life-changing irreversible inconvenience over any inexplicable desire for building up future generations.

Should only the wealthy or most financially secure have children? Does having money make someone inherently more loving, more patient, more committed, more naturally endowed to be a good parent? Sure money can buy good resources, but it still can't buy the love or attention of a parent.

It's so easy to get excited about a first or second baby born into a certain income level with employer-sponsored health insurance. But incomes are fluid and health insurance fickle. Why judge a child's potential success or happiness on the stability of his or her parents at a passing moment in time? What if the poor kid has a special gift for laughter, and it doesn't bother her that much to miss back-to-school shopping each year? What if the rich kid born to a trust fund and sports-themed nursery becomes so self-centered that he accidentally kills four people while driving drunk and his actual defense is affluenza?

Convenient as it may be, money can't buy happy, functional kids, or happy, functional families. 

But the truth is, I am frustrated by natural family planning. And I'm frustrated with the Catholic Church for teaching against contraception. It's not that I think they're wrong. I completely agree that contraception is harmful to women and to marriage and to society. (And I can trace how each of our children has been a blessing to us in their unexpected arrivals!) But I also think that many young children can be harmful to women -- especially when she doesn't have the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical support to carry the load. (I know the Catholic Church doesn't overtly teach families must have a million children. But for those of us who really suck at NFP, it's kind of a consequence of being married and Catholic.)

Simcha Fisher describes Natural Family Planning perfectly: It's the worst possible method, except for all the others. (Follow that link if you're a Catholic who's frustrated with NFP. It won't solve all your problems, but you'll feel better knowing you're not alone in the world.) 

The Catholic Church has never seen poverty as a character flaw; if anything it's elevated to a virtue. Even Jesus chose to be poor when He walked among us. 

But I feel like we're in a Catch-22 with our faith. Why is it so many examinations of conscience ask parents if we're providing a Catholic education for our children, yet Catholic tuition isn't accessible to most large families? Sure we can always homeschool (which also takes significant financial reserves and mental capacity), and yes, there's so much more to a Catholic education than attending a school that happens to share property and a budget with the local parish. But there just seems to be a disconnect between teaching that children are a blessing, yet not helping families with all these blessings. All these blessings.

I actually cried (like gross cried, in front of strangers) on the first day that I attended a women's Bible study at a local parish that offered free childcare. It had been such a long time since being around other women without my children, and for someone with this many little kids, childcare or babysitting really is a luxury. As a result, spiritual formation and the sacraments become luxuries too.

I don't have answers. But honest dialogue is always a good place to start.

Not Rich Kids. But Mostly Happy.

"Settling Down To Have Kids"

I know God speaks. Some people get dreams, or visions, or special inspiration in prayer.

We get babies. Like modern-day carrier pigeons, when God has a message for us, it arrives via newborn baby.

The Lord tries to show me his direction in other ways -- through prayer, unsettled circumstances, back-of-the-mind wonderings. The proof is all there, his clear direction inspired through my own pen in old journals. (ie - "Lord, this job doesn't seem to fit." "Because it's not what I have for you. Quit your job." "Oh, I couldn't do that.")

Apparently I'm slow to listen and slow to action. You know what requires action and a complete re-evaluation of life? A new baby. 

One baby turns your life upside-down, a second baby stirs it up again, twins slow it to a stop, and you would think a positive pregnancy test nine months into twins would absolutely shut it down. 

But for some reason, this #5 baby caught us with the surprise emotion of joy -- not that we weren't joyful with the other kids, but this baby didn't come with the usual accompanying mode of panic.

I had just started a new job at the boys' school. We were thrilled to be able to afford great Catholic education via the employment discount. We finally finished our DIY sprawling deck across the back of our perfectly kid-proofed home, in a city of good friends and close family. Wally's work was stable and enjoyable. We had arrived where we always wanted to be!

And yet, this positive pregnancy test made us realize things were changing again. And the funny thing is, we were excited about it. 

In November, Wally accepted a new job in a new city. In December, we sold our house. In January, I quit my job. Now we're in this really uncomfortable season -- perfectly timed for the waiting room of Lent -- hoping to close on a house in Houston soon, living in different cities until then. And anticipating a most joyful Easter, the whole family together again and welcoming into our arms, the little baby who started it all. 

The phrase "settling down to have kids" is a misnomer. You picture the white picket fence, stable finances, neighborhood baseball games. We had the same goal as everyone else: we'll have kids when we're ready. 

Thankfully, we suck at Natural Family Planning, so when God wants to get our attention (and we're just not listening), He can send us another carrier-pigeon baby. 

As Jim Gaffigan (5 kids, 7 years, 2-bedroom apartment) describes the reaction he gets in public, "Oh, that's one way to live your life." 

Picture Source