Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How do I put this nicely?

The topic of contraception and "how many children to have" came up again today in a conversation I had with a mom.  I've never written about my problem with having these conversations before, but I say "again" because it inevitable happens whenever I speak to a non Catholic or nonpracticing Catholic mom.  I really don't know why people have the need to talk about their family plans and means of sterilization with anyone and everyone, but they do and it bothers me.  It's not just a mom thing either.  My husband says all his coworkers who are in their baby making years talk about it a lot too.  So both men and women who are nonpracticing Catholics apparently obsess over how many kids they are going to have and how to avoid having anymore. 

I remember one particularly awkward discussion about "how many kids" at a small get together my husband and I were invited to.  There we were in the middle of yet another discussion about "should we have another baby".  One couple was undecided after having only one, the other couples said two is enough for them, some single people were silent and then there's us.  My husband and I were trying to stay out of the conversation for the same reason: we hate this conversation because we never know what to say.  I remember the stiffness in my entire body when someone asked us how many we were going to have- after being pregnant with our third.  We laughed nervously.  I'm usually the first to answer questions, but I wasn't going to say anything to his friends about this.  My husband goes, "I don't know"  and kisses me on the lips.  Thankfully one person said, "I think that is so sweet." because I'm sure everyone else in the room was thinking were were from outer space. We left soon after.

The truth is we don't know how many kids we are having.  We have as many as God wills, darn it.  There's no burden when you are not the one making the decision.  Of course it's up to my husband and I to discern God's will, but that conversation stays between my husband and God and I.   The more I think about it, the more I see how it really is a burden to be the one making such a huge decision.  It's not wonder they bring it up so often with everyone they see. They must be so torn that they are searching for answers anywhere they can find them.  This is why I really wish I could be of more help when the topic comes up.  I wish I could have told my friend today something really spectacular when she said they are not having any more kids (after two) and that her husband is getting fixed soon.  My usual response is saying that my husband and I practice NFP.  In this case, I was looking for something better to say, but after several failed attempts (in my head) I didn't end up saying anything and she moved on to another topic before I could get out my trusty old NFP line.  Oh well, that line never gets me the type of response I hope it will.  I've used that response in my old mom's group a few times after the "how many" topic arose.  I envision many eager, open moms, wanting to learn more about NFP, and how they can be more open to life. No.  No one ever asks me any questions when I use that line, they just start slowing backing away from me and start conversations elsewhere. That's when I come up with some lame excuse to leave. 

I really wish this topic didn't bother me so much and that I could embrace such opposition to my beliefs as a chance to evangelize, but I have a hard time coming up with the right thing to say.  Maybe I'm too immature in my faith, or lacking in my knowledge of Catholic teaching.   I know I have read some really good things on this topic, but when the conversation arises, I'm always at a loss for words.  I want to say something that shows I care about them and understand their situation.  I try not to be judgemental because I know how foreign these concepts are to non Catholics.   I don't blame them for not knowing any other way.  It's just that I don't know how to even begin showing them another way- besides of course being a living example.  Being a living example is all good, but I always feel like I should say something or it will look like I am silently agreeing with them.   Being confrontational is a very easy way of ending any lines of communications or friendship. So what's a girl to do?

Dear reader, please leave me a comment and let me know what you say in these situations.  Do you say something even when no one asks you? Or do you just do what I did and stay silent?  What do you say and how do you speak without sounding condescending or judgemental? 

For a much better post written on this topic, please read my NFP post I wrote last year.


Heidi said...

I'm in the same boat as you on this one...I get the question all the time from my in-laws who are all non-Catholics, and I basically say that I don't know the answer to that question. I think that it is so hard to deal with this topic because this view really is so counter cultural that those who do think they are in sole control of everything in their lives can't fathom surrendering to a greater Will than their own. Maybe just showing our willingness to welcome and cherish life will be a little nudge towards opening others' eyes. I know that in my more nominal days Life Giving Love by Kimberly Hahn really opened my eyes to God's life giving plans. Maybe it is time for me to re-read that book for a refresher on what impacted me so much to come up with a better response.

Lori said...

Oh, my! You could be opening yourself up here!

Okay, I am an old lady now (47). My dh and I have 7 fanastic children. As such, we are even more prone to "those" types of comments. Someone asks how many children we have. We answer. Then it starts- either "that is why I *am having* such and such procedure done!", or "that is why I *had* such and such procedure done". Quite often, we are left speechless. Our answer, when asked directly if we planned to have more(don't get that as much these days ;))was a straight forward "if God chooses to bless us with another".

To add to the discomfort, we have also had many miscarriages (more than we have live children), and it was emotional to hear people dismiss the gift of fertility that God had graciously given them.

I guess my only caution to you would be to try and stay gracious in your responses. But, I would *not* cringe away from the topic. I did once- I found out I was pregnant with what would have been our eighth child on earth (we lost that baby) and, given everyone's response, I became somewhat defensive- almost apologetic. Now I wish I had just smiled sweetly and said we thank God for all of our blessings!

God bless you and your precious family. Keep up the good work! :)

Vellvin said...

Totally agree!!!

Autumn said...

You should never feel comfertable in these type of conversations. You are feeling the right thing and thinking the right thing.

Teresa with lots of kids said...

I don't know how to repond either. I am not sure there is a verbal response to these situations. I have 7 children at the moment and I find that people are drawn by my husbands and mine example of married love and our children who are loved. They see this because we are happy, they see the love. Not to say that we are perfect, goodness do we have a lot to work on and lots of those ugly moments. Keep living the example people will notice, they'll realize something is missing, they will see you are happy and wonder why. Most of the time a theological explanation isn't going to go anywhere. I think its always best to turn this back on them and ask, Why not?

My mom just sent me this webcast, while it is talking about NFP and a certain author, I found it helpful as a reminder of what married life is really all about. It cites several papal documents.


Mandy said...

Sarah, I have had this same conversation many times. I almost never bring up the NFP argument, because too often I'm met with blank stares. I usually say one of the following arguments depending on the situation, and some of the arguments are secular for those who would tune out any religious arguments:

1) Oh, we could never sterilize ourselves, because it's human tendency (and definitely my tendency) to want what we can't have, and I know too many people struggling with infertility. I like to have options.

2) You know, they say the greatest gift you can give a child is a sibling, and a sibling is a friend for life. It can be challenging to have so many little ones but in the end, my kids will have their siblings for the rest of their lives, and that makes these challenging years worth it!

3) My favorite blogger over at http://simchafisher.wordpress.com/ joked in one of her posts about her husband's reply to the "How many kids" question. He says, "Well, we really like sex and we really like babies so we just don't know how many we'll have!" haha.

4) Sometimes I just say something like, "Well, babies are just so precious and such a blessing, sometimes I want as many as I can have!" and I lean down to kiss the baby. People just don't look at babies as a blessing these days.

Jamie Jo said...

Wow, Sarah! Great topic!
I'm so sorry you are struggling with this.

I get it all the time too.
I've found that people my husband talks to are more non-defensive than women I talk with. It's like if a man says it, the woman doesn't take it so personal and compare herself but if a woman says it to another woman, it's taken personal and they get defensive.

I never mention NFP, until a later discussion, and I call it Natural Family Planning. That's more for when they come to you (finally) for the right reasons. It's a gentle conversation.

I know someone who was, dare I say this, but withdrawing during the act, as their form of birth control. Now, this was a Catholic woman who didn't really understand it and why it was wrong to do that. I got more into NFP with her and it's reasons to abstain at certain times, etc....

#1 ALWAYS pray to the Holy Spirit. If you think of it at the moment that it comes up, Great! If you've only prayed to the Holy Spirit in the morning, that's great too, because then, you can be content that what was said or not said is what the Holy Spirit wanted you to say or not say.
I catch myself whispering to myself "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus" hoping to say the right words or just enough or none at all.

My usual response is an honest
"I don't know, we are leaving it up to God" and sometimes I add "He knows best how many, we are just open to His gifts."

Usually they are surprised and don't know what to say. Quite often they say "Wow, that's neat." like they've never heard of that. ANd you can also see in their eyes, kind of amazed. That's their conscience telling them it's the right thing to do.

Another question is "Are you guys having any more children?" I give a hardy, "I hope so! We don't know, it's up to God!"

My pet peeve question
"Are you guys done?"
Done? Done with what? Done being open to God's will? Done with God's gifts?

They usually don't want to dwell on it. I think it is what you've already said, it is our lives then that will change their hearts.

A simple quick line will plant the seeds.

I am often offended after having a baby, how often it is asked (by complete strangers) and I feel like, I'm holding this beautiful child in my arms, why don't you want me to have any more? How dare people say "Are you done?"

Prepare yourself, because it happens so much more with the 4th and even more with the 5th child.

Don't let it bother you, use it as an opportunity to pray for that person and brush it off.

God bless you Sarah.
Try to always be positive, you came from a larger family, use that as your example of how wonderful it is to come from that kind of environment.

Jamie Jo said...

Whoa! That got really long.

Katie said...

I totally agree. First, I have been shocked at how open people are about their husbands getting "snipped", etc. It shocks me that people are so open about htose things and that people are so blatant about saying "NO" to children. I often wonder what kind of message that sends to the children they do have. "Oh, no we have enough children. I cannot handle more." I wonder what they children might feel about themselves if they hear their parents saying things like that.

I get the question about if we will have more all the time and mostly because I have all boys. I just say, I would love more children and if God blesses us with more we would be so happy. I also try to really highlight that I love life with boys. They are fun, wild and add so much energy to life.

I think that most of the time the best we can do to encourage a culture of lie and helping others being open to life is being open to life ourselves and being joyful. My husband and I have used NFP since we got married, so it is often hard for me to verbalize what a great thing it is . . . I do not know any different. I think the most powerful testimonies come from couples who used contraception and have stopped and use NFP . . . their stories are remarkable and the transformations in their marriages are beautiful.

Renee said...

I'm nearly 47 and still stumble in these conversations. I don't want to come across as judgmental but at the same time I want folks to know I don't agree

Allison said...

Sarah: Asking someone these questions is just plain RUDE. I like the way your husband responds. I mean, if this were a close gf and you were having one on one conversation, sure it might be appropriate to share your "plans."

But to me this is as inappropriate as someone asking you about the last time you had intercourse. MYOB.

We were blessed with two children. We really wanted more and most people didn't understand that. I heard "One and done. Two, we're through." "But I guess you want one more so you can have a girl, right?


noreen said...

I feel for you Sarah that you're going through this. I wish I could say I understand, but truthfully I can't. I'm on the other end. I have one child and the reason we do not have more, is known only to God. We've been open to NFP and have done nothing to prevent becoming pregnant. I hear all the time, "Why did you only have one child?" "When are you going to have another?" I went through many years were that was a painful sensitive subject.

I still get teary when I think about it. My usual response would be something like "God has blessed us with one child and we're open for more if He so chooses." And sometimes when I felt defensive I would say, "That was God's decision not mine."

In either situation, it feels like a judgment and somehow, I failed the test. I've prayed long and hard on this issue and have come to accept this is God's plan for me. It wasn't easy though.

Katie Rose said...

i usually say that i want four kids but then follow with that it is in God's hands.
you make an interesting point though that this should be a private matter. i tend to ask people more than i should about this topic. i do at least try to encourage being open to life when people respond with we are done. but, maybe i shouldn't be asking in the first place. have to think about that.

Sarah Harkins said...

Thank you everyone for these thoughtful and wise comments. My husband and I learned a lot from your experiences and I, for one, will memorize a few of these lines so I won't be stuck next time.

Noreen, I'm sorry for what you are going through. As Catholics, we have to be sensitive to the "other side" as you have explained. Thank you for the reminder not to judge others who only have a small number of kids. I would never ask why someone who is a devout Catholic why they only have one or two kids, or why they don't have any after being married for five years or more, but in our secular world where it seems that everyone is using contraception to avoid having kids, it is easy to fall into assumptions. Noreen, you remind me and all of us, not to assume or even ask why. It is being unsensitive an even unchristian when we do so. Seeing so many of my friends and family who have fertility issues has made me realize how sensitive I need to be on this subject as well. Thank you for sharing.

noreen said...

Thank you for your kind words Sarah. In a way, though we are on the opposite side of the question about how many children do you have?.. we are facing judgment. I really don't think the women who've asked me what I was waiting for and the like, meant to be insensitive. But MY prickly heart on this subject was wounded. I'm better now when I'm asked that question but it was very hard for a number of years.

If I were you, I would rejoice in the blessing of so many children. You are truly blessed!

Elisa said...

I usually say: "I don't know...one at a time!" or if they express sorrow at me having 3 boys and no girls, and they assume I'm not having any more, I always say: "Maybe next time!" I don't want to preach at anyone, but I do always want to clearly state that I'm always open to having more children.

Jessica said...

Sarah, I appreciate this post so much! I always run into the same problem. My response is usually along the lines of "we're open to having more." I, too, get really bothered by people sharing their sterilization stories. I don't feel like that should be public knowledge and it fills me with sorrow when I think of all of the people who have said an outright "no" to life. It makes me want to kiss my babies and thank God for the gift that they are.