Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, guest post, large family, Living Humanae Vitae, Marriage, motherhood, NFP, pregnancy, Suffering

Suffering, surrender, and seven boys: {Living Humanae Vitae part 2}

May 21, 2018

I’m honored to introduce you to these next contributions to the Humanae Vitae series – their story is both extraordinary and unusual, and has the potential to open a dialogue about a rarely-discussed aspect of NFP; namely, that NFP is optional.

Not optional as in “one of a variety of options for managing your fertility,” (as Catholics we believe that contraception is immoral – see CCC 239) but optional as in “there is no compulsion to practice NFP at all.”

In fact, some couples choose to place their fertility entirely in the hands of Providence and live out a radical openness to life. I’d like to introduce you to one such couple today.

When Morgan first contacted me about contributing to this series I was blown away, not because her story was “too intense,” as she told me many people have found it, but because it reminded me a bit of Sts. Zelie and Louis Martin. (Morgan disclosed that both she and her husband only ever wanted to enter religious life, but found that God was calling them to something else entirely.)

This is their story. Their story won’t be everybody’s story, and that’s okay. NFP is a beautiful discipline that, when used for right reasons in the right way, is completely in line with the Church’s teaching.  I am immensely grateful to be able to avail myself of it. We are free to make discernments using NFP, and we are free to accept the gift of children coming as they may, according to our discernment of God’s call for us. Because every couple is unique, family stories can unfold in very different ways. This is a story, though, that gave me a lot to think about.

———–

My husband Joseph and I met while we were freshman at the University of Notre Dame and were married after our junior year. We knew from the start that NFP was just not for us and that we wanted to welcome children as they came.

Our oldest son, Thomas, was born right after our graduation at the end of our senior year. Our next son, John Patrick, was born a year and a half later, and our third son, Andrew, was born a year after that.

Andrew was born very sick, but no doctor was able to diagnose him. He relied on feeding tubes, had developmental delays, would turn blue with breathing trouble, and was the fussiest baby I had ever encountered. With three boys in three years and our closest family members a 10-hour drive away, we were lost and completely stressed out.

So many nights were spent holding a screaming baby that was turning blue while we would meditate together on the suffering of our Lord. Never have I felt closer to Our Lady of Sorrows than I did those nights at home or in the Pediatric ICU.

When Andrew was one, we found out we were expecting baby number four. Even though our life was seemingly filled to the brim with chaos, it never even crossed our minds to avoid a pregnancy, nor did we ever think to be afraid of welcoming more little souls into our family.

Boy number four, Philip, was born healthy. When he was six months old we found out we were pregnant with number five. Right before our fifth child was born, Andrew took a turn for the worse and was once again admitted into the ICU. The following week our fifth son, James, was born even sicker than Andrew, and two days after that Thomas, our eldest, lost the ability to walk.

In a span of 10 days we had one child in the ICU, a baby who was born with the expectation of needing life support within days, and now suddenly our oldest son was found to have a mass in the marrow of his femur.

James and Andrew ended up both being fed by feeding tubes, needing breathing assistance, and taking more medications than I can possibly remember.

Thomas ended up not having cancer, but still has to has scans every so often to check his leg. I always thought I would be in a convent being called to prayer by bells. Instead, I found myself cloistered with infants and being called to prayer by screams, alarming feeding pumps, machines alerting me that a child has stopped breathing, or nightly seizures.

I was not spending my days adoring Our Lord in the Eucharist, but I did and do get the beautiful chance to serve Him in these children and their many needs!

For the first time in our marriage, I told Joseph that maybe we should learn NFP and try to avoid getting pregnant just until I got the hang of taking care of two kids with severe medical needs, homeschooling, and life in general. We weren’t totally at peace with the thought of NFP,but decided we would go ahead and learn.

By that time James was seven months old, and right after we decided to learn NFP we found out baby number six was on the way.

In a way, another pregnancy was a relief. The idea of using NFP did not bring us peace at all, and surrendering to the will of God will always bring peace. At the same time, I was terrified that this baby would also be sick.

I wasn’t sure if I could handle everything, and I knew putting the kids in school was not an option because Andrew and James were just too susceptible to even the most minor things. We’ve had ambulance rides and ICU stays for the common cold, ear infections, and runny noses, etc; school and the germs that it brings was simply not an option for us.

Matthew was born healthy in the midst of so much chaos. James and Andrew had nearly 20 hospital trips that year, and it was during that year that we were given some hard news: no doctor in the world had ever seen the disease that the boys have, and therefore there was no treatment, no cure,and no research.

I distinctly remember getting that news in our front yard on the phone. The first thing I did was call my husband, and the next thing I did was put a frantic call in to our beloved pediatrician.

The pediatrician gave me words that I so needed to hear at that moment and would come to really shape our outlook. He told me that Our Lord is doing a beautiful thing in asking us to trust Him over and over again. What a gift that no one in this world can help us; we can do nothing but rely on the Divine Healer.

His words have become something that we have meditated on over and over again.

What does it really mean to trust in God and hand over our family to Him?

What does it look like to radically surrender completely to God?

Well, right now it means that baby number seven is on the way.

That is seven boys in eight years. We haven’t prayed for a healthy baby, even though we know there is a chance this baby will be sick. The only thing we have been praying for is that the will of God be done, and that we are open to all of His gifts and graces. God is so incredibly generous in His giving,if only we allow ourselves to receive them.

Our story would be different if there were financial concerns, health problems for one of the adults, or an inflexible work schedule. However, with our lives right now, the only way we have found that we can respond to our call for holiness and openness to life is to set aside our fears and give a “Fiat”.

Our children might not live as long as most, and they certainly take more care than most other children, but they have the same beautiful immortal souls and are made in the image of God.

Their lives are worth the sacrifice no matter how long or short they are— how can we not say yes to that?

For our family, being open to life means also being open to pain, suffering, and to death; but, really, it means that for everyone, just in different ways.

I asked Joseph if he had any input for our story and he said, “Well holiness requires a magnanimous soul. That is all we are doing, trying to give as generously as the God who gives to us.”Every day the Prayer of Generosity is prayed in our house; may God give all of us the grace to be generous to each other, our children, and to God Himself!

Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve, to give and not count the cost, to fight and not heed the wounds, to toil and not seek for rest, to labor and not ask for reward save that of knowing I am doing your will” – St Ignatius

14 Comments

  • Reply Monica Devine May 21, 2018 at 5:35 pm

    Heroic. Just heroic. Blessings.

  • Reply Abbey May 21, 2018 at 7:25 pm

    I had just one child who was in and out of the hospital for 16 months during cancer treatment. This blows my mind. The stuff we can do when we rely on God! xoxo, Morgan and Joseph!

  • Reply Martha May 21, 2018 at 7:41 pm

    Wow. Blown away by God’s grace. I’m saddened for their sufferings and at the unfortunate thought of what many who do not have faith might say disparagingly about such a humble, faithful couple (and even what some who do have faith would say, judgmentally). They do indeed remind me of Sts. Louis & Zeile Martin! Their example helps to put my poor excuses for hardship into perspective. As Mother Teresa said, God must trust them a whole lot! 🙂 May God continue to bless them with the gifts of love and life and His graces in abundance. And, if it is in His will, may He grant their children good health and (hopefully long) lives knowing the holy charity by which their parents trusted God, who loved them into being each day.

  • Reply Ava May 21, 2018 at 8:14 pm

    I am going to remember this powerful witness every time I see or hear the St. Ignatius prayer (our pastor loves reciting it). God bless your family!

  • Reply Maria May 21, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    Such a beautiful, powerful witness, thank you. Two of my seven children were diagnosed last year with a rare degenerative genetic disease that has no treatment options currently. At first we were terrified of getting pregnant again, I gave away all my maternity clothes and many baby items. While another affected child does not terrify me any more, we do feel that the prudent thing for our family is to use nfp to avoid pregnancy for the foreseeable future. I have much respect for Morgan and Joseph and will pray for their family and am grateful for their example of radical trust in God.

  • Reply jeanette May 21, 2018 at 10:55 pm

    “What a gift that no one in this world can help us; we can do nothing but rely on the Divine Healer.”

    Beautiful story of trust, and beautiful thought. Worth saving and sharing with anyone who is feeling helpless about difficulties…that would be all of us at one time or another in life!

    Thank you.

  • Reply Colleen May 22, 2018 at 7:39 am

    As someone with seven healthy kids, I can not even imagine the stress and overwhelmingness of having sick children in the family. You guys have such a great outlook of faith and trust! I know NFP isn’t something that sits right with you, but if you change your mind as the demands of your family change, the Marquette Model is the easiest to learn. We should always always always be open to life, but sometimes Mom and Dad need a break between babies or the sick children need more care, and just know that God gave us our fertility cycle as a gift. You don’t need to feel guilty for it and He didn’t have to plan it that way! I’m not telling anyone how to live their life, and this couple is heroic in what they are living out, and I pray that they can find a healthy, happy, peaceful rhythm of life. God bless you and your seven boys 🙂

  • Reply Diana May 22, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    Hey! I know her! We were briefly neighbors about 5 years ago. She showed up on my doorstep with banana bread (I think) and later invited us over for a meal with our newborn and their 3 boys. I really miss having her nearby! What a beautiful witness!

  • Reply Elizabeth May 22, 2018 at 7:35 pm

    Thank you for your beautiful story and witness to life! We have been experiencing what it is like to have a sick child now with our sixth and are still open to life, but very scared of another child at the same time. It is so hard to travel to doctor after doctor searching for answers, esp where we are living it involves many hrs of driving/flying just for appointments. Your story brought tears to my eyes, God bless your family

  • Reply Colleen May 22, 2018 at 7:46 pm

    Morgan your faith and your family are beacons of light in this world, thank you!!

  • Reply Kate May 23, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    Thank you for sharing your incredibly beautiful story. You and your family and your sweet boys are in my prayers. What an incredible witness you are to the gospel. I have 2 boys with health issues and your story has encouraged and blessed me, God bless!

  • Reply Virginia May 23, 2018 at 7:47 pm

    Jenny,
    Thanks for posting this story, my husband and I have decided to stop using NFP too. It just wasn’t for us and frankly we didn’t like it. However, around here NFP is the only way to go as a Catholic and heaven forbid you don’t use it. And if you don’t, you will have an unsuccessful marriage and family. So untrue. So thanks again!

  • Reply Carrie May 23, 2018 at 8:15 pm

    Dear Morgan, I was parenting my four healthy children this afternoon and began to feel a little sorry for myself when their antics started wearing me down physically and emotionally. Then I remembered your story (that I read last night) and St. Ignatius’ prayer. You inspired me to be a better mother (person) today. Thank you! Also, thank you for being a voice for those who just don’t feel “right” about using NFP to space births. Deep down, I don’t either. Although we are currently using it and I think it’s licit in certain circumstances.
    Jenny, I’m a huge fan of your writing and of you. It is comforting to know there are other people out there who I can relate to!

  • Reply B May 25, 2018 at 8:58 pm

    Morgan, please pray for me. I am a mother to five boys and often throw myself an enormous pity party about how hard it is to keep them alive some days, but your story shows me so many things about the falseness of that. Thank you for sharing.

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