March 27th, 2007

Your Turn: Large Catholic Families

A reader asks:
As I read your blog and other Catholic mom’s blogs, it seems like the majority of you have a very large family … I’m just wondering if the reason for it is because the Catholic Church is against using contraceptives or is it something to do with a Catholic family culture?

Both. We’ve talked about being open to life here before and I would link to that thread if the site didn’t act all weird when I try to (not to worry — we are still working on that stuff). But my email tells me it’s time to do it again.

Is everyone called to raise a large family? No. Are there good Catholic families with small numbers of children? Of course there are. Are there parents of small numbers of children who long for many more but aren’t able to have them? Plenty. Are large families a sign of God’s blessing and their parents’ generosity? The catechism says so:

“Sacred Scripture and the Church’s traditional practice see in large families a sign of God’s blessing and the parents’ generosity.”
— 2373

When Scripture and tradition tell us that children are God’s blessings, shouldn’t we want an abundance of them? Of course Catholics may, for serious reasons, limit the size of their families through the use of Natural Family Planning (Read Humanae Vitae for the details of this Catholic teaching). However, through user error and through the natural challenges of periodic abstinence, even Catholics who use NFP generally are more open to life and more open to God’s will at work in their families than others. As a consequence, many faithful Catholics do have large families. This is not a mistake. It is a tremendous blessing. And an enormous responsibility.

I sometimes meet young moms of many-babies-in-a-row who are afraid. They lie awake at night figuring their future fertile years and fearfully calculating the number of children they could potentially produce within their marriages, and they are afraid. Because it’s hard work. Because they are exhausted. Because though they want to do God’s will, they fear the details of what exactly that might mean.

To moms who feel this way, I want to say this: Congratulations. You are normal. It is completely and perfectly normal to balk at such hard work and such a daunting task. Especially when most other people you know aren’t doing it. But if God gives you an awesome responsibility, he will give you awesome graces to go with it.

And here’s one more secret fact that’s hard to see when you are in the throes of young family life: It is quite likely that overnight you will go from counting the number of diaper changes that lie ahead and crying at the very idea … to wondering if your last baby might really be your last baby and crying at the very idea. Overnight you go from fearing God’s numerable blessings and taking them for granted to longing for just one more of them. Overnight. Early on, it’s natural to feel as though your fertile years might never end. But they do. And for some of us quite human people, it’s only coming close to the reality of that inevitable end that can make us see what blessings our children really are.

Updated again: Comments are now open! Feel free to share your charitably worded thoughts, experiences, and comments below.

84 comments to Your Turn: Large Catholic Families

  • Teresa

    Someone asked at what age other women have experienced a loss of their fertility. I would say this: don’t assume or calculate out that you have 20 years of fertility left unless you are 15 years old!! I have had plenty of friends who in their 20’s and early 30’s had baby after baby, and then suddenly, no more. For some it was at age 35, others 38, others 40. And we never know when a ruptured uterus or some other medical emergency might necessitate a hysterectomy.

    I was also one of those who, married at age 25, and then had my fifth baby when the oldest was five, would wonder how I would handle it all if we kept going at that rate. But really, most, not all, but most women do slow down a bit. Partly because with age our fertility slows down, but maybe more so with more babies (and age) we are too tired for the marital embrace as frequently. It’s just easier to practice NFP at those overwhelming times. We’ve gone on to have four more children, and I can honestly say that home schooling nine kids, ages 2-16, is certainly easier than when I had five, five and under. It’s noisier and more chaotic, but I have a crowd of helpers now and another driver. What a change!

    As for that overnight change – amen to that! I did go from worrying about how I was going to prevent pregnancies in my 40’s (I had our 9th at age 41) to longing for another for the last year (just turned 43). My husband and I discussed this last March, and began "trying" to conceive again…..and much to our dismay, nothing happened for a year. That was certainly a first for us. I don’t know of too many women who very easily get pregnant in their mid to late 40’s – it does happen of course, but I don’t think it’s as easy as when we’re younger. We are blessed to be in the very early weeks of being pregnant with our tenth baby – please pray that all goes well! We are so overwhelmed with God’s goodness and blessing after waiting this year.

    Lastly, for those of you overwhelmed, and even those of you "older" moms like me, I encourage you to read a short essay by Elizabeth Foss called "Don’t Blink". It is a beautiful message about how fast these days of fertility fly away. Danielle – maybe you have a link to it? You could probably just Google it with her name.

    Blessings to all!

  • So glad to see you weigh in here, Teresa. You always provide such a clear and inspiring perspective.

  • Oh, and the link to Elizabeth Foss’s "Don’t Blink" column is here. It’s beautiful. Of course it is. Elizabeth wrote it!

  • Tanja

    Thank you. All of you. For being real. For sharing your faith journey. For showing the good, the bad, the holy. I am continuously amazed at God through the people who want to do His will. I can’t say I willingly want to do His will all the time. Especially when it comes to babies and how many and for how long and why or why not. I wasn’t raised this way. I was raised to get my degree and "be all I can be". And then God got a hold of me. Sometimes I am so grateful and other times I wish that I could put the diapers away forever and move onto the next phase of my life. And I am sad when some people say, "this is your baby season" and I think "when is this season over so the rest of my life can begin".
    I see now the real reason to raise your children in the faith. At least they will have a foundation for what it’s supposed to look like. I have 1 brother, 4 yrs younger, on purpose. We were spoiled and now I struggle with the reality of life with more than 2 babies.
    But, I will keep on keeping on. Slowly, very slowly, God is showing me that His grace is sufficient and that I too can overcome childhood impressions and grow into a holy woman. As we expect Baby #4, He has already shown me that in a small way and this BLOG has been confirmation of truth.
    Danielle, thank you so much for your ministry. You make me laugh and you make me think. And I love to laugh!

  • Anne

    i’m coming in a little late but…it’s been so instructive to read everyone else’s experiences.

    I’m 22, and just got married in May. We are expecting our first child in just a few weeks (!!! I can’t believe’s almost too good to be true). Many people have told us that we’re crazy, having just graduated college and being newlyweds…and most of friends say "Uh, I’m happy for you but I sure wouldn’t want to be you." But that’s ok, I know that this is God’s will for us. We desire a large family, but we try to remember that we are not in control. I pray that as I look forward to all of the trials and joys that you all are discussing I can remain as faithful as you all have been! When I think of the future and long years of possibly holding lots of babies, I’m just thrilled that God allows us this great gift.

  • Anon

    I came upon this blog by lurking and I wanted to add our situation in regards to this.

    Dh and I are converts to the faith, we converted because of our beliefs in NFP…unfortunately, NFP is good but it has not worked well for us.

    We were expecting #5 during our conversion, #6 came shortly after that and we are now expecting #7. We are in our early 30’s, financially have struggled for almost 10 of the 13.5 yrs of our marriage and get very little to no help from our family members.

    I wanted to add that while I see the virtues in NFP and the teachings, I also cannot rationalize ever in my mind having more kids. Yes it is tough when they are little but for us (and this is OUR situaiton mind you) 7 kids IS generous.

    Unfortunately, the little bit of time we do manage to find to have marital relations is difficult with the demands we already have on us, and with my cycles being out of whack, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that once this child we are currenlty expecting is born, we will use a brrier method of some sort only when necessary.

    I truly feel that way too much empahsis is placed on this to a degree…and while I think that some people have the "luxury" of remaining open to life…we , and many others for their seroius reasons do not.
    I am incredibly pro-life, and would never use hormonal contrapceptive because it could abort the baby, but for us, we are in a position where we have to do what we have to do.

    I personally will miss my kids being little (but I can help out a neighbr or friend who has little ones when I need my fix 😉 ), but I won’t miss being pg and having more and I KNOW that for certain. Like I said, people have limits…and it is up to each of us to prayerfully discern by asking God tolead us as to what we can handle and what we cannot.

    The majority of Catholic families that I know? They have 2 maybe 3 kids max. BY CHOICE. That is hard to swallow for a family like ours who values children for the gifts they are. However, being that children are gifts, I think being prudent and making sure that we CAN care for the ones we have is absolutely important.

    Anyway, I guess my final thoughts are that I dont’ think anyone should judge someone ( or feel less of a Christian) if they know they can’t handle more than they feel they can. Having a large fmaily may seem cute/fun/endearing but it is an incredible strain ESPECIALLY the older you get. I had my first at 19, it was SO EASY to be pg back then!!
    It’s does grow you…tremendously, but I also think we must live our lives as Jesus did, with BALANCE. I know for my family, 7 is our limit. Our children will learn the virtues of being in a large family but we also need to have time/money/resources to give to each of them and that is the max number we feel capable of handling…which is way more than most people ever even consider.

  • Joan

    Danielle, I think some of these comments are getting out of hand.

    I think we all agree here that all children are a gift from God. That is the most important thing.

  • CMC

    I want to commment on the last comment. I’m sorry that you feel so overburdened. It can be very difficult to live this life that Christ has called us to.

    I find it very heartbreaking, however, to learn of people who decide to take their fertility into their own hands because they believe that God has failed them somehow. This would be a huge mistake!! You are basically telling our Lord that you can do a better job than He can with your life!

    I have had 7 children in the last 18 plus years of marriage. I suffered through severe hyperemesis throughout the first 4 months of each pregnancy. I didn’t know how I could possibly get through another pregnancy after each of the previous ones. After my fifth child, I thought, "This is enough, surely I have serious reason to avoid future pregnancies." But God is so good, he worked in my heart and would eventually give me a yearning for another child. Looking back, it seems that I paid such a small price for the great treasure given to me in each one of my children. After my sixth pregnancy I had to have some surgery that (inintentionally)resulted in 3 years of infertility. I was led to believe that I wouldn’t ever be able to have any more children. I then had more surgery in hopes of correcting some complications of the first one. Six months later I was amazed to find out that I was pregnant only to have a miscarriage a week later. Two months after that I was pregnant again, and this time all went well. Now it is hard to imagine what life would be like without this last little gift from God. As I near my 40th birthday, I’m hoping our dear Lord will give me at least one more baby before the end of my fertile years. It’s so true that a person can take their fertility for granted until it’s gone.

    As for comparing ourselves to other Catholic families that may not be living out their faith, that is also a mistake. Our model is supposed to be Christ. He gave EVERYTHING, ALL OF HIMSELF, for us. Just look at a crucifix. We are to do no less with our spouse, our children, and our God. The church teaches that all forms of birth control are wrong, not just abortifacients. To use any form of birth control in the marital embrace is to speak a lie to your spouse, "I give you all of me, except my fertility." It takes away the beauty of the oneness you experience with your spouse. It says to God,"I will not serve". Our goal in this life is to unite OUR will to God’s will, not the other way around.

    To be ‘incredibly pro-life’ doesn’t just mean that you’re against abortion. It means that you are ‘for’ life. For the life that God could possibly want to give you.

    I would also add that having a large family isn’t easy for anyone, much less a "luxury". Every large family has its crosses of one kind or another. We’ve never had extra resources, and have had to make difficult choices in order to take care of our family, as I’m sure many others have had to do.

    I hope that you would look into getting more help with practicing NFP for those times that you feel overwhelmed, by possibly contacting Sara Peterson below. I also hope that you will study the Catechism and some papal encyclicals on the subject. Our church is a wise Mother who only wants to lead her children on the staight and narrow path to Heaven. We, as Catholics, don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing which teachings to follow and which not to follow. We have the sanctifying grace of the sacraments and the actual graces given us on a daily basis to help us to truly live out our faith. Praise God!!

  • nina murphy

    I want to add to what CMC just posted, which to me was beautifully and compassionately put. Living this life that we are called to is not easy. It is walking with Our Lady and Jesus along the Via Dolorosa—not all the time, not every day, but as a general truism, our lives are a vale of tears and suffering, punctuated by moments of joy.

    Jesus, I think, fell three times to reassure and comfort us—He knows what we are going through and how burdensome it is, what a sign of contradiction we are trying to live. None of us mothers who have accepted many children, or who have conceived and lost babies, or have longed to have biological children but have been asked to carry the cross of infertility, are without understanding of this hardship and pain. I am more and more discovering that most women who are open to life are struggling with some great cross—if it be physical afflictions, children with special needs, high-risk pregnancies, difficult marriages, critical and unsupportive extended family members or neighbors…none of us are immune. We all are sharing in this together and suffering in the Body of Christ. And the Cross, as much as we want to put it aside, is necessary for salvation. It is our hope. It is very powerful, and your sufferings, struggling young mothers, are showering graces down from heaven upon yourselves and all whom you love and upon the world. I have been there, I am there, I am still open, I am still struggling. But it is worth it!

    Be not afraid to open yourselves to the "unimaginable". Nothing is impossible with God. I never would have dreamed I would be able to cope with 8 difficult, painful pregnancies, births, and post-partum periods, 2 losses, a scary and heart-wrenching high-risk pregnancy and premature birth, 2 children diagnosed with chronic diseases with no cure, that require daily vigilance and work, and a myriad of other challenges and trials. I certainly am not cut out for it, nor is my husband. But God has done it, and we have taken it, one day at a time, with His grace, and we are HERE, and we are well, and all is well—we are so blessed. He has not abandoned us, even though He allows us to feel the heart-piercings as He did His own mother.

    Each child is so precious. Each child has changed the dynamic of the family so much in so many wonderful, unexpected ways. We marvel daily at how much we love and enjoy #8 and can’t imagine life without his presence in our family. And because we are receiving the sacraments and pushing on…day by day, and trying to stay close to God and the vision He has for families (with lots of prayer from good people!), we are going to make it. He will not abandon us!

    And you will make it, too, if you embrace the plan for marriage (as hard as it will be sometimes…) and throw yourselves in Our Lord’s Arms, and trust; and not disobey and allow the evil one to convince you that controlling conception and birth equates with or assures happiness and peace. We will always have the Cross. And sin will only bring more misery and complication to our lives. It will not make things easier. We have come this far; we must persevere to the end, and not give up!!! Be not afraid!!!

  • Anonymous

    Just a thought here kind of late in the comments but maybe someone can answer this:

    If the Catholic church believed so strongly that NFP is the ONLY acceptable means of contraception for the members then why isin’t it mandatory for every engaged couple to be married in the church to attend NFP classes? (just like premarital counseling/precana/engaged encounter?) Why aren’t they having them at every church atleast once a year? If our priest had even once mentioned this to us and asked us to attend a class we would have. As it is I bet none of my close friends that are catholic are practicing NFP in fact it’s sad to say but most of their husbands have had vascetomies! I have wanted to ask friends and other moms at our church and catholic school about NFP and how it works for them and if they even use it but it seems so personal and no one every openly talks about it – except in blogs. How many of you would go up to 10 people that you know and ask what they are doing? It just seems to me if it was that important in our church and we weren’t supposed to make our own "free will" choice that God gave us the priests, catholic schools, pta moms and everyone else would be talking about it and encouraging others.

    Just my thoughts.

  • Teresa

    Oh, dear Anon, pregnant with your 7th child and feeling you most certainly can’t handle any more – I feel your pain!! We probably have very different circumstances and may live many miles apart, but I have been in your shoes with regards to how you are feeling right now. Pro-life that I am, cradle Catholic who firmly believes in the Church’s teaching on sexuality and fertility, still, when I was pregnant with my eight child and in great physical agony, called a Catholic friend and asked her to convince me why I shouldn’t have my tubes tied after that baby was born. I was up to my neck in children, the workload was exhausting, and I was absolutely convinced I couldn’t handle any more children. My dear friend let me cry on her shoulder and comforted me.

    What I want to say to you is that you probably DO have very valid reasons right now to postpone future pregnancies, and maybe to never have a baby again. I trust that you and your husband prayerfully consider this issue, and you have been VERY open to life in bringing forth the seven children that you have. It is no one’s place to judge whether you have serious reasons to avoid conception, even for an undetermined amount of time. I know the overwhelming feeling that you have; it is a lump in the throat, it is a crushing weight on your back, it is those words that echo in your head "I can NEVER do this again" – whether it’s the being pregnant itself, or the almost impossible task of caring for the children you already have.

    But lastly, I would also implore you to stop there – you haven’t sinned yet. You have simply come to know yourself and your limits. The sin comes in when you take charge of your fertility with artificial means, means that are outside of God’s plan for sexual love between a husband and wife. I encourage you as CMC did to contact someone in the know about why NFP "hasn’t worked well for you". There are some great NFP teachers out there who most likely can help you figure out how to make it work.

    Not quite sure I agree with the writer who said that our lives are mostly about the "vale of tears and suffering – punctuated by moments of joy". That’s a pretty depressing outlook to me!! No offense to that writer – sorry. I just tend to prefer the Joyful, Glorious, and Luminous Mysteries to the Sorrowful, although I fully agree that suffering is a part of our lives. So dear Anon, awaiting the birth of your seventh, perk up, cheer up, and realize that God has a specific plan for you and your family, and it is not the same plan that he has for your neighbor or anyone on this blog. You have been very generous in bringing forth life; look at the nobility of that and bask in the glory of that, and don’t stain it by throwing in the towel in terms of the moral way to regulate conception. I’m in your corner and I’ll be praying for you!

  • Anon

    Anonymous, unfortunately, we live in time where it takes one STRONG bishop with some extremely holy priests to require NFP training. We need to pray for priests – I can’t imagine how hard it is to be scrutinized for every single thing said (or not said) and to be responsible for the religious upbringing of an entire, often hostile, congregation.

    Like you, I grew up in a diocese where I’d never even heard of NFP but was luckily married in a diocese where instruction in it is a requirement for marriage prep.

    To echo CMC, we cannot turn to other Catholics to see if we are making the right choices – we have to turn to Jesus. Thank goodness for the Magisterium and the solid teachings found in Humane Vitae and dozens of other encyclicals!

  • Jacqui Sweeney

    I think large families are wonderful.I was born 16 and 18 years after my brother and sister..Same parents..Praise God I had a cousin,nephew and niece to play with..My sister loved me like a secong Mom..I have 3 children..What concerns me with large families is affording to take care of them financially..Jacqui from NH

  • SQ

    My favorite scene in "The Passion" is when Jesus hugs his cross. It looks like he is relieved to carry it.

    This is something to contemplate – the cross the Lord gives us brings salvation and joy. We have to have faith. Dying to ourselves brings eternal life!

    And the crosses we give ourselves? They make the salvific cross harder to carry.

    Let’s face it – for some, me included, NFP is a cross. But there is joy in giving our fertility to Him, the Author of Life. He will not let us down. We must turn our fear into trust. He has given us some wonderful saints to show us the way – St. Gianna is a perfect example! He makes all things new!

  • PM

    Thanks for your reply anonymous:

    "I know of no careless charters or spur of the moment babies that have resulted from SERIOUS reasons – but many children that have been the result of a sudden realization that the previous avoidance reasons seem trivial compared to the marital embrace and new life."

    I guess we have had different experiences. I do know NFP couples who had a spur of the moment baby (babies)because sometimes in the moment their judgment is different or their personailities are such that careful charting is about impossible for them and with many small children and little time for intimacy to start with, celibacy isn’t a healthy option either. Their health or the health of their family is not good. I have not done careless charting or spur of the moment baby myself so it’s not coming from a personal perpsective.

    "I am not sure what the implication is with this – are you saying that it is debatable whether it is prudent for a couple to use birth control if their cycles are nearly impossible to chart? And that the only option if they refuse birth control in that case is to resort to forced celibacy? "

    I never meant to imply that the Catholic Church would condone birth control under any situation. Just expressing a reality that needs to be considered.

    "I understand your frustration because there is so much information to digest between the Creighton and Sympto-thermal approaches… but birth control is never an option"

    I didn’t intend to express any frustration. I’m not frustrated at all right now. I know it is hard to read emotional inflection online. I just wanted to add my observations and experiences to the discussion as they are different then what others have had. An again I never said birth control was an option in the eyes of the Church.

    As for God never giving us more than we can handle. Well, again sometimes I have seen life give people more than they can handle. I have never been quite able to reconcile the 2.

  • anonymous

    Do any of you have a spouse that doesn’t want any more children?
    Unfortunately, my husband, though Catholic and from Mexico, has embraced the "2 kids" idea that is prevalent in our culture here. He doesn’t understand about being open to life, though I’ve tried to explain it to him. I DO have a lot of serioius medical issues and maybe we do have reason to avoid pregnancy, but I don’t want to put a number on how many children we will have. Please don’t judge but instead pray for my husband, if you would. Thank you. And thank you, Danielle for your blog – it’s very refreshing!

  • anon

    The Church’s teaching on contraceptives is very clear. It is not open to interpretation. You must be open to life and for sufficient reasons may abstain to space children. Many people have sufficient reasons. However, one has to re-evaluate this on a monthly basis. Things change from month to month and year to year. Due to our own concupisence (sp?) we must prayerfully discern God’s will for us. If one questions whether or not they have sufficient reason, one must seek guidance from a faithful priest who follows the teachings of the Holy Mother Catholic Church. We are blessed to have been given the gift of our faith and must preserve it. It is hard to swim against the secular tide in which we live our daily lives. No, we are not called to continue to to have more children if that would cause us to not be able to adequetly perform daily duties with the children we have already been blessed with. However, it is very important to realize that things can change. That is why we must re-evaluate on a constant basis and not become complacent. We must always remember to stay in a state of grace by frequent confession and frequently receiving the Holy Eucharist so that our intellect is not clouded by the world, the flesh and the devil. So, yes, we must use our "brain to "think"" but we must also take care of our brain, so to speak, due to the effects of Original Sin.
    On a more personal note, I am 32 and have 3 children ages 4,2, and 3 months. I have had anxiety issues since I was 17. After my 1st child I had pp anxiety and depression. I wondered if I wasn’t called to have more than one child because of how I felt. I thought there no way I could do this again and have another child to care for at the same time. But, time went on and I got better and grew stronger as a parent. I felt called to have my second child 2 years later and had very little effects of the pp issues I had had previously. Again, we felt called to have another 2 years later. This time was my worst. However, by God’s Divine Providence, my husband got a surprise 5 week paternity leave. Again, I was scared because of the intense anxiety and panic attacks. This time I knew I needed help. I got on medication, prayed extra, extra hard and I got better quickly. In the throes of it, I made statements that he was our last, etc… I wondered how in the world I could be open to life again. It was a dark time. My husband agreed with me. Is is hard for my to even write about it. I received guidance from my priest. We both ended up admiting we said things in the throes of it that upon reflection we knew were said out of fear. I prayerfully submit these fears to God as well as ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. We must remind ourselves constantly that with God we can do anything.
    I also wanted to touch on the spouse thing. My husband is a non-practicing Catholic. That is also very difficult. However, he is respectful of my faith and goes along with NFP. He is pro-life, but does not see a problem with barrier methods due to the fact that they are not abortifacients (sp?). He does not understand the whole issue with Onanism. I pray constantly for his full conversion and embrace of the sacrements. I am blessed that he does not press the issue because he knows my faith. He often puts a number on the number of children we will have. Then I often say only God knows that number and has not revealed it to us yet. We have pressure from everyone in our family to limit the number of children we have. Again, it is hard to swim against the secular tide.
    This is such a hot topic which really stirs ones passions, but we must remember that we are not called to live by our emotions but by what God commands.
    I apologize for rambling, but I hope I made somewhat of a possible contribution.
    I will say a prayer for all of us who struggle to find God’s will in our lives.

  • anonymous

    anon, I am not sure if you were addressing me, but if you were, I certainly never said we were contracepting. I only asked if anyone else had a similar circumstance and to NOT judge but please pray for my husband. Thank you.

  • I will add something that I discovered through the emotional consequences of giving into secular dr.’s and having a tubal ligation (I was told I had no other choice because of serious medical problems) and the healing of having a tubal reversal. Anonymous has posted that life gives us more than we can handle and her difficulty with reconciling that with what God calls us to handle. I completely understand where she is coming from, I’ve been there in deepness of that question/concern/frustration etc..etc.. I will share what I’ve come to understand. God truly does not give us more than we can handle. We do! Life doesn’t, we do! I saw how I had to expand my mind to an understanding of the spiritual. If I am overwhelmed, is it really by the children or by the other burdens I have laid upon my plate. Such as committments, expectations etc.. These come from me, not life, not God. He gives me the grace to handle each new baby, the grace to fall in love with each new life and a peace that comes from fully trusting him. I can get bogged down in my own failures and overwhelmed by my own expectations, but then I remind myself that this is from me…not God!!! Perspective is a powerful weapon in fighting societal influences. Not everyone is called to have a large family, after all Jesus was an only child. When called to have a large family or a small family, the key is being open to life. Each has its own cross to bear, those crosses ARE bearable though…we just have to remember to not put more on ourselves than what God has asked us to carry.

    In peace,

  • Jen

    I think that the discussion here has been very good. I just wanted to add two things which I haven’t seen addressed. As I was reading my Family Foundations magazine (March/April, available to members of CCL) I can across a few quotes that I wanted to share. First, from an article entitled "Open to Life" by Gregory Popcak, comes this quote of St. Josemaria Escriva, "God in His providence, has two ways of blessing marriages: one by giving them children; and the other, sometimes, because He loves them so much, by not giving them children. I don’t know which is the better blessing. In any event, let one accept his own."

    I found this idea to be very enlightening as I never would have thought of infertility as a blessing (esp. when my husband and I were having problems conceiving with our first). But it is true, infertility can be a blessing as it can form us into better people. Similarly, children can be a cross… when we don’t feel able to have another, when pregnancy is hard or dangerous, when we or the child has a chronic health problem, or even when you just have a personality conflict with that child.

    The point is that children are both a blessing and a cross; our blessings in this life are crosses too, and should all be accepted lovingly from God. (And if anyone figures out how to do it all the time, let me know 🙂 )

    One more thing about infertility: Popcak article is all about the ways that we can be open to life, by having more children or by adopting them. Couples who struggle from infertility or those who have a serious reason to avoid pregnancy should consider adoption as a means of adding to their families.

    The second quote from the same article was this: Sirach 16:1-3, "Desire not a brood of worthless children, nor rejoice in wicked offspring…One child can be better than a thousand: rather die childless than have Godless children."

    I just love this quote as it puts things into prespective, numbers aren’t as important as your ability to raise them into Godly people. I think that it requires prudence and discernment to determine where the limits of your ability are in this area. No one should determine ahead of time, "I’m going to have X number of children" whether that number be 1 or 10. You have to evaluate each month/year etc., "can I take care of another child now?"

    The last thing that I wanted to point out is that NFP is very difficult for some people. Whether is be problems with abstinence or problems charting. The culture today is not supportive of NFP couples. For those with trouble abstaining I would seek out the help of a good spiritual counselor, esp. if the problem comes from a pornography addiction.

    For those with problems charting, I’d like to suggest several things. First, look at your nutritional habits. The foods that you eat effect your fertility and your ability to read your bodies signs. I would suggest taking a look at Marilyn Shannon’s book "Fertility Cycles and Nutrition" and consulting a nutritionist to help you make changes in your diet to improve fertility and ease of charting. (the book is available from the Couple to Couple League, at

    Next think about what medication you are taking. Certain medications can effect fertility…allergy medicines for example dry up the mucus sign and can make charting muscus very difficult. Check with an CCL teacher and/or an NFP aware doctor for more information. (I’m a CCL teacher, so if anyone wants to email me, feel free)

    Lastly, anyone experiencing fertility problems will want to check out learning the Creighton Method of NFP as it is taught by nurses and doctors (most of the time) and they are trained to diagnose and treat variety of problems. They may be able to help you to get your cycles in line so that you would be able to chart, and trust that your charting is accurate and effective for delaying pregnancy.

  • To the anonymous folks: For the sake of clarity, might I suggest using a name other than "Anonymous" in your posting? You can still be anonymous if you like, but make up a first name or sign yourself "Concerned" or "Wondering" or "My Kids’ Mom" or anything that distinguishes you. That way people might respond to your comments and newcomers to the conversation can figure out what they are talking about.

  • KH

    So many comments; so little time! However, I’ll cut to the chase and add two words that I haven’t read yet: Fertility Monitor. If you want more information about your own fertility – and want to use that knowledge in whatever way you choose – get one. I’ve had over 9 years of 100% predictability with mine, used in conjunction with one of the more traditional NFP methods. A fertility monitor is a part of NFP. Most people don’t use them because most people don’t know enough about them, but I think that should change. It will help you if you’re looking to see when you are most fertile and it will help you if you’re looking to avoid pregnancy. What could be bad?

  • anon-Beth-the 32 yo with 3 kids:)


    Please know that I certainly was not addressing you. I hadn’t even read your post until AFTER I posted mine. I can relate to your post because that is what I deal with with my husband. I struggle very much with it because I feel very much alone with everything concerning the faith and passing it on to our children who are all boys (so far!). I also would never judge him for that. Or you. Honestly, we are all in different places in our path to holiness. My husband refuses to even go to mass with me much less lead us in a daily family rosary. So, I take the 4 yo, 2yo and 3 months by myself every Sunday to the Traditional High Latin Mass which is about 1.5 hours long. Have cried many tears. Literally. I get embaressed when the boys act up because I can’t handle it discreetly as other parents would because I have to clumsily take the whole clan out to deal with any one of them. The infant carrier, the baby, the blanket, the enormous purse, the book bag, the books, the 2yo, the 4 yo. I feel like I am distracting everyone and I just want to cry. And sometimes I do. I would never, ever judge your husband. I will pray for him as I do my own husband. I try to offer up all my little sacrifices throughout the day for his full conversion and and embrace of the sacrements. Oh, it is hard because I worry constantly about his eternal salvation and those of my children. My boys look up to him and want to copy everything he does. Which is a wonderful thing in most areas except concerning the the awesome Catholic faith. The statistic concerning boys who go to church on Sunday’s with only their mother who grow to be regular church goers is only like 2%. I can’t remember the name of the study but Steve Wood refers to it a lot in his talks and stuff. I am also starting to pray to St. Rita a lot as well. Also, I have had to deal with people judging him and my family and I for this. I have had to defend him. And it hurts A LOT! Please pray for my husband, my family and myself and I will do the same for yours.

  • anonymous 35-y-o w/ 3 kids

    Dear Anon-Beth-the 32 yo with 3 Kids:)

    Bless you for persevering in your faith despite your husband’s lack of it right now. I will join with you in your prayers for your husband, and all husbands (including mine)who do not *yet* realize the splendor and beauty of the Catholic Faith. I posted much earlier on how my husband doesn’t feel he can handle anymore so we use NFP to avoid conception; I almost wish it didn’t work so easily for us!

    I empathize with you completely and have also been there, taking the kids to mass by myself, defending his absence, etc. I dream (and pray to St. Rita a lot, too) of us all going together as a family and my husband being on fire for the Faith. Actually, during Lent there have been 2 times when he has joined us–at least sitting in the same room and listening–for praying the rosary–what a glimmer of hope, I was giddy all day!

    I have also read the articles/statistics on how important the father’s influence is on the faith of the children (as opposed to the mother’s) but please don’t let that discourage and dishearten you (I used to and sometimes still do). I don’t doubt that is makes a huge difference–but I also think (and pray) that a loving example by a mother does not go to waste! Just continue to incorporate our BEAUTIFUL Faith into little areas of your day, all day. You are probably with your children more time than your husband (by nature of being home with them while he works, I know I’m presuming) so don’t doubt that your constant influence can and will instill a deep love for the Faith that you have.

    As with our fertility and everything else, we really have to trust that God is working it all out for our good and working on all of us at His own pace….isn’t this so hard? and that is the journey we must persevere on. I certainly don’t have the hang of it yet and have my good days and very bad ones in believing and trusting in this.

    St. Rita, pray for our husbands, and all of us!!

  • PM

    "Anonymous has posted that life gives us more than we can handle and her difficulty with reconciling that with what God calls us to handle. I completely understand where she is coming from….God truly does not give us more than we can handle. We do! Life doesn’t, we do! I saw how I had to expand my mind to an understanding of the spiritual. If I am overwhelmed, is it really by the children or by the other burdens I have laid upon my plate. Such as committments, expectations etc.. These come from me, not life, not God. "

    I think it was me PM you were thinking of. You certainly added wise words about what we place on ourselves and the choices we make and how we carefully need to choose our commitments. So we need to prayfully consider what we have placed on ourselves. However, it goes deeper than that.

    When I look at the cricumstanes and trials that some human beings go through that are more than they can handle I really do not believe that God looks on them and keeps giving them things to see how much they can handle. We live in a fallen world and sometimes things happen in our world that are too much for us to bear that are not a result of how we choose our priorities but go beyond that and sometimes people break.

    I guess it is up for grabs has to what we mean when we say "more than we can handle" Is it more than we can handle when it literally kills us? Or when the strain in our marriage is so great that our spouse leaves or commits suicide? Does the mother is Africa dying from AIDS have more than she can handle? Do her orphaned children? Is it more than we can handle when we can’t give our children adequate spiritual, emotional and physical attention? I just wonder what we mean when we say more than we can handle.

    I worked with an 80 year old woman once who was institutionalized after the birth of her 7th in state hospital for the rest of her life. When I worked with her she used to carry around a baby doll. I am sure always somehow knowing where she left off in life. I suspect she had post partum psychosis and never recovered. Was it God that gave her more than she could handle? Is is because of the choices she made? No, it was the time and a lack of knowledge of mental illness and just the result of lving in a fallen world.

    I understand that the quote "God doesn’t give us more than we can handle" works in some situations. But when the vastness of the world’s sufferings and situations are looked at it doesn’t suffice because I don’t believe God is the one "giving" all this stuff out.

    He is however there embracing the poor and broken and those living in the midst of evil.


  • PM

    PS, In regards to the fertility monitor. You can also buy ovulation predictor strips (by themselves) that will indicate the hormone surge 24 to 36 hours before you ovulate. You have to remember that sperm live up to 5 days so you can’t use it alone but together with another method is useful (like the other poster said) You can buy these on EBAY (the strips) very cheaply as well as pregnancy tests. They are the matchstick kind but that is what the doctor’s offices use.

    As science advances I think it will be easier for couples that have difficulty with NFP to determine their fertility.
    We are way ahead of what our mothers and grandmothers had already.

  • Karen G.

    To "anon" with 7 kids who says they will use a barrier method of contraception after this child is born:

    I feel so bad for you. Please don’t give up. I will pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet for you tonight. I think you’ll feel even worse if you use contraceptives because you know they are wrong and they will damage your relationship with God and your husband in ways you could never imagine.

    Would all who read this be willing to pray a Chaplet too?

    Jesus, I Trust in You!

  • open to life at last

    To anon who is expecting #7
    You seem to be unopen to the possibility of more children after #7 is born and I can certainly understand because I felt the same way after only 3 children. But I urge you to prayerfully to reconsider this stance as I have learned the very hard way how damaging this attitude is in so many ways. I was not open to God’s will after #3 and although we did not use any abortifacient or permanant means to prevent pregnancy, my attitude alone robbed me of the peace, joy, and patience of surrender during my precious baby’s infancy and toddlerhoood. I had no idea that my attitude would affect my mothering but it most certainly did. I would do anything to reclaim that precious time and live it again differently. I prayed and prayed for God to soften my heart and finally, after 3 years, contrition and repentance came along with an "overnight" heightened ability to revel in the precious moments with my children. Instead of merely surviving "babyland" (as I call it) and hurrying it by, I actually want to slow it down. This is no small miracle. I have not been called to have more children yet and you may not ever be called after this precious #7. 7 children IS indeed very generous!!! Don’t be discouraged by the people around you! I just wanted to warn you of the ill effects that a closed-to-life mentality can have on all of your relationships not just your marriage. I would not want you to grieve the loss of "present moments" with your baby as I have. God bless you! You are assured of my prayers.

    Jesus, I trust in you!

  • Joan

    To Open to Life at Last:

    Let’s pray that people become open. I have always been "open to life" even though I know my circumstances would not have been ideal to have another child. Due to varying degrees of stress, we all feel "unopen" sometimes. With prayer God can open our hardened hearts. I have been there, and am now resolved to the fact that if another child is in my future, so be it. Only God knows what is really in our hearts.

  • I came back because I was curious to see the direction this thread had taken and there are some really beautiful posts here!

    Kathryn, I especially appreciate your wisdom about how what overwhelms us usually comes from our own choices rather than from God. Thank you.

    There are also two posts I want to respond to:

    PM wrote: "We also should be honest and say (much to an NFP instructor’s dismay) that it is not possible for all couples to effectively use NFP. I know that that is highly debatable. Some couples are faced with the decision of celibacy through their fertile years. How does this effect their married life? "

    Now you know that I am an NFP instructor so what I say is probably suspect ;), but in the hundreds and hundreds of charts I have seen I have not found ONE woman who really and truly could not use NFP at all. I have met a few women who had *some* cycles that were uninterpretable and for whom the abstinence necessary to be confident about avoiding pregnancy was sometimes on the order of months rather than days or even weeks (and this is hard, no question about it), but I haven’t found anyone for whom NFP just plain wouldn’t work at all.

    What I have found many times is that, unfortunately, a lot of NFP instruction is not adequate for women who have cycles way outside the norm and that such women need to be aggressive about finding qualified, experienced NFP teachers to help them sort things out. So anyone reading this who thinks that NFP can’t work for you, please email me and let’s make sure that there hasn’t just been a misunderstanding or a failure of instruction somewhere!

    But I also have to point out that for most of human history, really up until the last century, celibacy was the only option for the overwhelming majority of couples who had a very serious reason not to conceive. Both NFP and contraceptives have been around in one form or another for thousands of years, but none has been particularly effective and most have not been particularly well known until the 20th century. And even today there are no small number of couples do find that they must remain celibate for a good portion of their marriage either because of medical conditions which make the marital act physiologically impossible, because their reasons for avoiding pregnancy are SO serious that they cannot tolerate ANY chance of conceiving whatsoever – something that neither NFP, nor any contraceptive nor even sterilization can guarantee (even if the latter two were not gravely immoral) or because they believe they must avoid pregnancy, but are uncomfortable with the idea of NFP for some other reason.

    NFP (periodic continence) is a mercy for couples who have serious reasons to avoid pregnancy and yet live in a time and place where they are bombarded with sexual imagery nearly constantly, where the pressure to resort to contraception and sterilization is almost overwhelming and where there is virtually no support to be found for avoiding pregnancy through total abstinence. But the ability to freely engage in the marital act throughout the whole of a marriage is not a given for anyone and while the loss (or serious restriction of) a couple’s ability to do so is a hardship and a privation it does not automatically damage or destroy the marriage.

    I agree with you that there are couples who seem to have serious reasons to avoid pregnancy, but for whom either charting or abstaining very difficult because one or both spouses have temperments or personality traits or even addictions that make it so. And I do think it is possible to be selfish in one’s "openness to life" if that "openness" isn’t really openness at all, but a refusal to exercise self control or delay gratification for the genuine good of one’s spouse or family (the classic, extreme example is the woman who is known to have a condition that will likely be fatal if she becomes pregnant, but whose husband, over her objections, insists on freely “exercising his marital rights” anyway). But I think we need to scrupulously avoid assuming that any specific couple is being selfish or irresponsible by having another child at a particular time. Sometimes what looks like a complete disaster to our eyes really *is* part of God’s plan because He can see the big picture where we cannot – St. Joseph did nearly divorce Mary over Christ’s conception after all.

    And even when we know from the people themselves that they believe that God is calling them to avoid pregnancy, but are having great difficulty with NFP, they – like people for whom holding a job or remaining faithful to a spouse or resisting same sex attractions or avoiding pornography or gambling or drugs or any number of destructive behaviors is very difficult – need prayer, practical support and (sometimes) guidance, but they also need to have their human dignity affirmed and NOT be told that because they are ‘special cases’ from whom nothing better can be expected contraception or sterilization aren’t really so bad for them (I’m not saying that this is what you were suggesting, but it is certainly something I have heard suggested).

    Immoral acts are not immoral because God arbitrarily decided it would be so, but because these acts HURT PEOPLE – always the people who do them and usually other people as well. Contraception and sterilization may *seem* like a perfect solution in some cases, but they can never do more than enable immature, harmful behavior or tendencies and in the long – especially in the eternal – view this is never a good thing. This life is not all there is.

    And to anon whose DH doesn’t want more children:
    This is a hard spot to be in, but it’s also one I have seen turn around many, MANY times. Prayer is of course the main thing (and, yes, of course I will join you in praying for your DH), but another very important thing is to avoid any bitterness or anger over your DH’s resistance to having more children. Love and appreciate him as well as you possibly can and do everything in your power to make your home life as peaceful and joyful as you possibly can. Love softens hearts and opens them to the promptings of the Holy Spirit like nothing else can!

  • Jen

    As a mom of 3 children under the age of 5 I am often told by some inconsiderate people that I must be sooo busy and similarly..crazy. My husband and I just smile and refain from telling these busybodys how difficult it was for us to ever get going in the first place. We were married 6 years and through 1 miscarriage before our 1st was born. Every child is a gift and those who see them as a burden need to remember all the wonderful carefree things children do everyday without thought. Like singing at the top of their lungs and only speaking 3 words of the song clearly because they don’t know any of the other words. God bless those who are open to God’s blessings.

  • Paula M (PM)


    "Now you know that I am an NFP instructor so what I say is probably suspect ;), but in the hundreds and hundreds of charts I have seen I have not found ONE woman who really and truly could not use NFP at all. I have met a few women who had *some* cycles that were uninterpretable and for whom the abstinence necessary to be confident about avoiding pregnancy was sometimes on the order of months rather than days or even weeks (and this is hard, no question about it), but I haven’t found anyone for whom NFP just plain wouldn’t work at all."

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I find it truly remarkable that you have had 100% success rate in the teaching of your clients. That all of them have been able to use the method effectively. As a health professional myself who teaches individuals I can only dream of being that effective. I pray that all the women who truly do just need proper or more instruction will be able to find such passionate instructors as yourself.

    But you are right I am suspect:) I would find it highly unlikely that an NFP instructor would ever acknowledge that someone could not use NFP. I am just not able to discount easily the personal encounters I have had with other couples who say otherwise. Nor can I chalk it up to that they just need to see a better teacher and get more instruction.

    And also interesting was the note that celibacy isn’t harmful to the unitive aspects of marriage. I see couples who recognize that it (celibacy) is not healthy so much so that they feel it is a better choice for them to place the life (or rather the mother’s life) at risk with an unplanned pregnancy than carry the burden of celibacy.

    I would not place a judgment on someone’s else’s decision.
    Although my heart goes out to some families and I worry about them. I would rather provide them support in whatever way I can.

  • Laurette (formerly anonymous with-the-Mexican-husband-who-only-wants-2-kids)

    To Beth-32-with-3-kids:
    Just wanted to apologize for assuming you were writing to me and jumping to conclusions – the very thing I asked others not to do to ME. Sorry…
    BTW, curious about how many of you type at your computer while holding your littlest one? I imagine all these mothers with babies in their arm while trying to type with one hand 🙂

  • Paula-

    I think perhaps I need to clarify!

    I have never yet taught a woman from whose chart, once she had been instructed in keeping a chart and had done so for a reasonable period of time, no clearly infertile days at all could be identified.

    But this isn’t the same thing as a 100% success rate in the use of NFP!

    Some couples struggle with remembering or being motivated to keep a chart.
    Some struggle to interpret the charts.
    Some struggle with communicating their intentions regarding pregnancy or their state of fertility or infertility to their spouse.
    Some struggle with abstaining when they cannot be confident that they are infertile.
    And every once in a while a baby is conceived even though the couple has kept a perfect chart and followed the guidelines for avoiding pregnancy perfectly (though I’ve only actually SEEN this happen once).

    So, no, I’m definitely not claiming that I have never met or taught a couple who found NFP too difficult or distasteful (as I indicated later in my novel of a post) or who experienced a genuine surprise pregnancy – only that I have never met a woman for whom NFP was PHYSIOLOGICALLY impossible.

    You wrote: "I see couples who recognize that it (celibacy) is not healthy so much so that they feel it is a better choice for them to place the life (or rather the mother’s life) at risk with an unplanned pregnancy than carry the burden of celibacy.

    I would not place a judgment on someone’s else’s decision.
    Although my heart goes out to some families and I worry about them. I would rather provide them support in whatever way I can."


    Just as there is no official Catholic list of circumstances in which couples may morally avoid pregnancy, there is no list of situations in which they MUST.

    The only absolute with respect to family planning is that contraception, sterilization and direct abortion are never, ever morally justifiable and may never be condoned or encouraged (again, because far from being supportive, these are profoundly destructive acts and do not guarantee that a pregnancy will not occur anyway). Beyond this the matter is entirely between the couple and God and if they believe that God is not calling them to avoid pregnancy despite seemingly serious reasons to do so, I would never presume to disagree.

    On the other hand I have met or heard from no small number of couples who have told me that celibacy, while sad and sometimes difficult and not something they would have wished for, is not always the ultimate destroyer of marriage that the world would us believe that it is.


    There’s a picture of me and my current littlest NAKing (Nursing At Keyboard) here: