I heard it again yesterday. The words that make me cringe a little, terrible though that sounds. But, it's not from disagreement. I cringe from something else.
It was midafternoon, and my son napped on the sofa while I scrubbed countertops and listened to an online Catholic radio program. A caller had eight children. Eight, God bless him. God blessed him. He asked his question, suggestions were offered, and then, before he hung up, the talk show host said, “Thank you for saying yes.”
To what? As the discussion entailed nothing requiring assent, one could only surmise that it was a yes to life. To God’s plan for his family. A yes to as many children as God saw fit to give him. And to this, I agree.
But, another world of parents who rarely receive gratitude exists. Instead, these parents get suspicious stares. Do they know birth control is against the teachings of the Church? And they still take Communion? I imagine the thoughts because I’ve heard the whisperings, the judgments exchanged at a weekend Bible study. “We see the secular culture in our Church all the time. Look how many families at Mass have just one or two children," said a fellow attendee, " and how few with many. It’s a shame.”
It is a shame. Because I always wanted a congregation of children. I'd hoped I’d be like my mother who, with four children under the age of seven, received a snide, “Haven’t you heard of birth control?” I looked forward to being a living witness to life's value, to receiving God’s gifts in abundance.
But, in recent years, I've felt a kinship with Sarah, who laughed when she heard that she and Abraham would one day conceive. I now have deep empathy for Rebecca, barren for twenty years before being blessed with a difficult pregnancy and, then, twins. And Rachel, crying, “Give me children or else I die!”
I am not alone. I am joined by many women, strong in their faith, who sit in the pew behind a beautiful, large family and wonder why we are not overflowing with God’s visible blessings, too. Why we must bear the added burden of being mistaken for a sign of selfishness.
Where do we fit in?
Outside the walls of our Church, we seem to have found our match. We travel with one, two or no children in compact cars, receiving support from people who say things like, “What a relief not to worry about putting kids through college,” or “Any more and we’d go crazy, right?”
Not right. We don’t fit in. We want more.
But, inside the walls of our Church, we feel out of place - though our hearts are more at home here than anywhere else. We don’tuse artificial birth control – possibly, never have, instead ready for God to shower us with abundant blessings from our first days of marriage.
But, those blessings never came. Or were very few. Or our blessings died before they were ever born, flooding heaven instead of our homes. Some of us walk into Mass not with a trail of children behind us but with a trail of tears.
Because we said yes, too.
We said "yes" on our wedding day when asked if we would accept children lovingly as gifts from the Lord.
We said "yes" with every marital embrace, hoping we would be pregnant this time.
We said "Yes, I should have expected it by now", when our twelfth test in a row broke our hearts with one line instead of two.
We said "yes" when we said "no" to doctors’ offers of IUI or IVF, or to friends’ offers of surrogacy.
We said "Yes, we’ll adopt", we don’t care how God blesses us with children, only that He does.
We said “Yes, I understand”, when the social worker told us that the birthmother chose a different couple or changed her mind and decided to parent.
We said "Yes, Jesus, I still trust in You", when we were finally pregnant and then, weeks later, delivered our too young baby to heaven.
We said, “Yes, I know it will hurt my already damaged fertility, but please take the whole tube, and since there’s no other way, our sweet child with it”.
We said, “Yes, this is where our family plot will be,” when we buried our third trimester children before us, never having dreamt that at such a young age we would need to make such a decision.
We whispered, "Yes, God, I accept this cross of infertility, of a string of heavenly babies with no earthly children to show for it".
We looked at our spouses and said, “Yes, you are enough. You are my gift from God.”
Or at our small, sweet family and said, “Yes, I am grateful. This is good.”
We comfort ourselves with thanksgiving that after much suffering we were abundantly blessed with one miraculous child, and with the knowledge that we are in good company. Sarah. Elizabeth. Mary. Very good company.
In these trials – and in many others – we also said "yes".
And to all of those who haven’t heard it yet, thank you for saying "yes"., too.