It's always given me a strange feeling to realize that people give thought to details of my own (and my family's) personal life. I'm really quite introverted by nature, so I tend to be somewhat reluctant to share such intimate details and at times have been a little unnerved by comments others make. This was particularly evident when I was expecting our second and it became obvious to people (who certainly weren't afraid to ask) that we had exactly one girl and one boy (on the way). It seems like every time I walked into a grocery store, I got the same questions. Oh, do you know what you're having? Oh, a boy, and you already have a little girl! How perfect! Then you're done of course? *
Years later (but quite a few years ago now, and not at my current residence), I was expecting number four and never really knew how to let the neighbors know I was expecting. One took care of the problem proactively for me and asked if I was pregnant. When I answered in the affirmative, her response was: "Wow, you really are Catholic." I walked away completely speechless. How do you answer something like that?
What I would have liked to explain to her was that I don't at all feel forced by my church to have a bunch of kids. Rather, I have a bunch of kids because my church has helped me to understand the joy and beauty and love and overabundance of goodness of bringing life into the world and trusting that, though this is not an easy process and there is much suffering involved in the process of bringing children into the world (not only at the point of birth of course!) that the joy and love and life more than compensate for that.
And really, the church taught this to me primarily through many amazing families who witnessed it to me - including my own family, my older siblings' families and many others.
And so the question I'm thinking about is how do we help others embrace this vision we have? Well, first of all, talking about it is a good thing!!! (Do check out this cool article... HHS Religious Freedom Battle Yields Unexpected Rewards)
What I've seen in my experiences and vicariously through people I know is that it's really through getting to know people who live this way that most people come around to accepting this different way of living. In order to embrace the concept, I think people need to encounter families that have embraced life and all of its complications; seeing that the thing is not only possible, but beautiful. I think our task is to go out and be those families for others. To put our light on a lampstand where others can see it. Not to set up an artificially perfect image for others, but to allow ourselves to be present to others as we are. And this does include fully embracing the idea of being life-loving Catholics. That should show through in how we treat every person that we encounter.
And that brings me to an important point. One rather enormous mistake that some life-loving Catholics make is to be as nosy and presumptive as those people in grocery stores I mentioned above. Making assumptions about whether or not someone is using artificial birth control or jumping to conclusions about them based on family size are wrong and potentially very harmful. Even as a mother of six I've had some presumptive comments from well-meaning Catholics about not having a new baby in eight years. These were only annoying and sad to me, but these kinds of things can be terribly, terribly harmful. There are a million reasons why people have the number of children they do or the spaces between children that they do (some of which can be very painful, many of which are out of the parents' control and all of which are, at least to a large extent, personal) and we should never, ever make assumptions about them. JUST DON'T DO IT!
*These kinds of grocery-store conversations don't always end up this way, of course. I've had a number of very interesting conversations that started with the usual sorts of family-size questions but ended up with an implied admission that these people are yearning to talk with someone else about their desire to have children or their frustration with their husband not letting them have more children or their initial desire to have a bunch of kids but present need of reassurance. So I do have a certain appreciation for these kinds of conversations!!!