(Note: this is not a post claiming “there’s never a bad time to have a baby.” Hopefully if you’ve read more than one thing I’ve written over the years, you’ll know that’s not where I stand. End painfully necessary disclaimer.)
I have fielded a lot of comments about the timing of this latest little bean. I guess for good reason. For anyone who’s just tuning in, I’m 7 months pregnant with baby number 5. My oldest turned 7 last month, we just bought a house in a crazy expensive real estate market, and my husband is not a doctor.
Neither my husband nor I necessarily dreamt of a humongous family when we got married, though if pressed, Dave will say he anticipated probably having “five or six” which is rather on the largish side, if you ask me, while I anticipated “having kids” in the same way I anticipated that I would one day finish college and get a mortgage. So it’s not that I had a specific number I was hoping/dreaming for, or even that I was particularly looking forward to motherhood with any kind of instinctive longing, just that it’s something I assumed would happen if I got married.
(Please don’t get me wrong, I see my beautiful sisters who are struggling to have a baby, and I am achingly aware that our fertility is a gift and I for sure love my kids and am thrilled to be their mom. I’m just trying to set the stage for where younger Jenny came from, and it wasn’t from a place of dreaming about being a mommy, naming my future children, or even discussing how many of them I hoped to end up with one day.)
We got married in the Catholic Church, and so we took our vows to heart when we promised to accept children lovingly from God and raise them according to the law of Christ and His Church. Growing up in families of 6 and 7 kids, respectively, we had a preeeetty good idea that if things worked as intended, barring any unforeseen medical circumstances, marriage = babies. And we were on board.
(Sometimes when people cock their head at me in utter disbelief that I’m having number 5, the knowledge that I am myself the oldest of 7 puts them at ease. “Ohhhh, that makes sense; you’re from a big family yourself.” I mean, I guess it does? Anyway, if my kids ask one day why they have so many siblings, I’ll just pat them on the head and tell them I wanted to make their trips to the grocery store less socially awkward, should they themselves decide to raise a small army.)
Still, all this to say: I did not set out to have a big family. I love each of my sweet children with a love I wouldn’t have believed possible, but they were very much received as gifts – sometimes surprising ones – and have not necessarily come about as the result of meticulous and strategic planning.
Our approach to NFP has its seasons of meticulosity, for sure (postpartum period, I’m looking at you) but we also have plenty of months where we’re having the vv stereotypical (at least according to marriage prep classes) “where we at?” conversations about avoiding vs. being ready to conceive. I want to tell you it’s marriage building and exhilarating and totally! fulfilling! on an existential level, but to be honest, it can feel a bit more like crunching the numbers during our monthly financial summits when we’re plugging numbers into Every Dollar.
An imperfect analogy, because sex is a little more meaningful than budgetary allocations, but it can still feel very much like a process of drilling into the “numbers,” so to speak, and weighing resources versus expenditures.
For example, is my mental health in a place where pregnancy would be safe and prudent? Is his? Are we trying to hit some serious financial goals that would best serve our entire family if we focused on them for another 6 months? (Note: I don’t think finances are a great yardstick by which to plan one’s family size. But temporary, short-term goals like getting out from under a large debt or saving for a down payment on a house might make postponing pregnancy a wise decision for a season.)
Usually though? I don’t find ordinary financial matters to be sufficiently compelling to merit identification as “grave reason,” at least not in our marriage. We’re not talking “can’t keep the heat and lights on” finances here; more along the lines of “would like to go on a decent vacation and pay private school tuition” circumstances.
Obviously every couple has to discern this for their particular family, but I think overall, as a culture, we tend to veer much, much too conservatively in the “I can’t afford a(nother) child” direction.
Are babies expensive? Sure. They can be. But everything in life is about making choices and having to leave other options behind.
And I can’t think of anything I’d rather have – including a smaller mortgage and a more reasonable grocery bill – that is more valuable than the 5 little souls in our care.
I don’t say this to downplay grave financial stress by any means. (Should I write that in all caps? Because I know someone is going to come at me with that very accusation. Hashtag you can’t please ’em all.) But many of us who identify as middle class Americans are, in fact, wealthy beyond most of the world’s (and much of human history’s) wildest imagination.
The thought of having another child is often depicted as being fraught with hair-pulling stress over calculating the rising cost of higher education and travel soccer fees, making adjustments, of course, for 18 years of inflation (at least, to read much of what the media and popular mom blogs on Pinterest have to say about things), but in fact it’s hardly possible to plot out exactly where you’ll be as a couple that far down the road.
(Anecdotally, we’ve found that as our expenses have increased, so has our income. Sometimes miraculously so, as in a pair of reimbursement checks showing up the second to last day of the month. Or an unexpected bag of like-new clothes in all the right sizes. God does like to show off, when the occasion arises. And giving is good for both the receiver and the giver. We tend to forget that.)
Secondary to the financial objection, I hear from plenty of parents who “don’t know how we do it” and “could ever handle more than _ number.” My answer is always, honestly, yeah, I didn’t know either, until I started doing it, and yes, you probably could. Parenting gets both more intense and, like with any well-practiced skill, more do-able, the more you do it.
Plus, they do tend to entertain each other. I’ve noticed a horrifying uptick in sibling violence when my two eldest are in school and the 2 and 3 year old start scrapping like feral hyenas. You can bet there are some afternoons I’m counting down the hours until school lets out and my kid count doubles, because in some backwards, heavenly arithmetic, very often 4 is easier than 2.
And finally, there’s this: I’ve yet to meet a parent who has told me they wish they’d had fewer children.
I’ve never seen anyone’s eyes glaze over in that dreamy, far-off gaze into the distance and heard them whisper “if only we’d never had Tommy, we’d have that Disney timeshare by now.”
But I’ve met lots (and lots) of middle-aged and older moms (mostly moms) at Costco and beyond who confide to me how much they wished they’d had more kids. And 90% of the time, they follow that admission up with “but I couldn’t have more because of my cancer diagnosis/I had to have a hysterectomy/my husband said 2 was enough/I didn’t think we could afford it.” And my heart breaks a little each time, because their longing is still fresh, the grief is still real, and more often than not I find myself embarrassed by my cart that is overflowing (sometimes literally) with blessings who share my last name.
All this to say, in a world where so many people want babies and can’t have them, and where there are so many who suffer from a lack of love, isn’t it a grand thing to bring another little bearer of light into the universe, a human candle crafted in the very image of the Creator, shining in defiance of the darkness? (And yes, fostering and adoption are also beautiful, holy vocations. And this post is not about those vehicles of parenthood.)
You can’t tell me I’m not rich. I know we’re wealthy beyond my wildest dreams. It just doesn’t look like zeros in my checking account. More like noisy, sticky upturned faces around the dinner table. Costly, yes. And worth every penny.