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Why Size Doesn’t Matter

Since converting, I’ve been part of countless conversations about family planning, especially in our early years because we had three kids in as many years. Everyone, including total strangers, wanted to know if we were “done” or if we’d scheduled the “Big V” yet. My standard retort was, “Are you kidding? Have you seen my husband? As if I could control myself being married to someone that hot!”

But a few months after the birth of our third, I developed serious health problems. So we decided to postpone conceiving for a while and began using natural family planning (NFP) again. One day, I lamented to another Catholic mom that it would likely be a few years until we could try for another baby. I will never forget what the woman said to me then: “Misty, if you had a stronger faith, you wouldn’t need NFP.”

I think my head spun around like Linda Blair’s at that point. She must have seen the homicidal glint in my eye, because she immediately began backpedaling, saying how “fortunate” it was that we had access to NFP.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, because the woman and her husband were providentialists, which means they have turned their fertility over to God entirely. That means no birth regulation of any kind, including NFP. The babies come when they come and you choose to accept each one as an unmitigated blessing from God, regardless of your circumstances. Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar are perhaps our nation’s most famous providentalists.

With the majority of Christians having embraced the secular view of sexuality and marriage, it’s refreshing to encounter couples who turn such an important part of their lives over to Providence. Their willingness to accept all blessings God sends their way is admirably generous and provides a powerful witness to the faith.

Unfortunately, there often seems to be a contentious relationship between those who practice NFP and those who subscribe to the providentialist mindset. When a woman says she feels drawn to “let go and let God” when it comes to her fertility, she is often bombarded with exhortations from the NFP crowd about the potential pitfalls of such a course. The generosity of spirit inherent in providentialism can easily be overlooked and go unappreciated.

Conversely, more than one providentialist has been guilty of implying that any couple who uses NFP except in dire situations is doing so with a “contraceptive mentality.” As I discovered, there is the temptation to condescend to couples with fewer children, with the underlying judgment that those who use NFP to space their children are somehow less radically Catholic.

My Way or the Highway

At the heart of this contentious relationship between the natural family planners and the providentialists is the desire for personal validation.

New parents are often puzzled by their own parents’ reactions to their childrearing practices. If Grandma used formula and her daughter-in-law decides to breastfeed, Grandma may feel implicitly criticized. Seeing the happy breastfeeding pair may bring up feelings of guilt or provoke memories of Grandma’s own failed attempts to nurse. Without even realizing it, Grandma may begin unconsciously trying to sabotage the nursing relationship by making subtle but demoralizing comments to her daughter-in-law or reacting with thinly-veiled disgust when she sees the baby being fed.

On a conscious level, Grandma has no intention of hurting her daughter-in-law or taking something valuable away from her grandchild. But like all of us, Grandma needs validation. She needs to feel like her childrearing decisions were the best decisions that could have been made. She loved her son and gave him the best she could. So why isn’t that good enough for her daughter-in-law?

Our need for validation most often manifests in an attempt to homogenize the human experience. We want everyone to do what we do, because as long as we’re all doing the same thing then no one runs the risk of making a mistake. Let’s face it: deep down we’re all a little insecure, which is why we so often feel the need to point out the pitfalls of others’ decisions. Family planning is no different—but it should be.

Different Callings

For some things, we are all called to the same standards. God expects us all to love and serve one another, to avoid sins like stealing and lying.

Yet Jesus made it clear that even beyond that, individuals are specially called. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” (Luke 12:48) Instead of judging and disparaging those who don’t follow our family planning path, perhaps it would be more helpful to consider family size a calling within our vocational calling as a married couple. There’s no doubt large families provide a powerful witness to our ailing world, which is why the Holy Spirit calls certain couples to embrace providentialism. If a couple has prayerfully discerned that God is asking them to surrender their fertility entirely to Him, who are any of us to say they should resist that call?

Providentialists, on the other hand, need to recognize that God calls other couples to use NFP. One obvious reason for this is that if all couples are providentialist, who will be left to practice and teach NFP to those rare few couples who, in the minds of the providentialists, legitimately need to space births? Or to call secular couples to a lesser degree of sin by convincing them to use NFP over potentially abortive contraception? I can only imagine the credibility I would have as an NFP teacher if I had never successfully practiced the method myself: “We’ve been married 10 years and have 10 children. We’ve never used the method but I’ve been told that it’s 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.”

It’s interesting that the greatest advances in fertility awareness came about in the last few generations, with the development of the modern nuclear family. Providentialists need to acknowledge that few couples today have access to the kind of family support in generations past that enabled women to endure back-to-back pregnancies and raise many young children at the same time. Few modern mothers have more than a few weeks or even days of postpartum help before they’re expected to resume their household duties. One in four women now gives birth by C-section, resulting in an even more difficult recovery. To insist that every woman should be able to handle as many children as God gives her—even if God “gives” her debilitating pregnancies and surgical births, with no domestic help, as He has me—is not only unrealistic, it is the pinnacle of arrogance. As they say, everything is possible to the man—or woman—who does not have to do it.

There is no “right” size for a faithful Catholic family. Some couples may be called to have a dozen children and some may only be called to only have a few. Other couples may endure the cross of infertility and be called to different sacrifices and generosity. I like to remind people that the holiest family of all only had one child.

If there is a single standard for determining family size, it’s this: “What does love demand?” Sometimes love demands generosity, but sometimes it demands sacrifice. The Church teaches that as long as couples plan their families morally, then it is the right and privilege of each couple to discern God’s will for their family. So let’s not sit in judgment of others, who may have been given graces or crosses that we haven’t. When it comes to family planning, don’t be more Catholic than the Pope!

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About Misty

Misty converted to Catholicism from atheism 10 years ago, just a week after becoming a mother to her first child. Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom, she worked full-time as a magazine writer and editor. She has been married to her best friend for nearly 15 years and looks forward to many more decades by his side. Her days are now spent cooking, doing laundry, freelance writing, and homeschooling her four children. After spending so much of her life in spiritual darkness, she revels in the joy of being Catholic. Without a doubt, the Lord’s greatest gift to her has been saving her from a life without Him.

February 2, 2012 - 8:11 am

Bethany - “We want everyone to do what we do, because as long as we’re all doing the same thing then no one runs the risk of making a mistake.”

Truer words have never been uttered.

February 2, 2012 - 8:40 am

Amy - My husband and I have practiced NFP on and off throughout our marriage, depending on our circumstances. Just recently, he commented that we are in the middle of that “judgment” spot – not “enough” children (5 living) to be considered a “good, large Catholic family” but not small enough to be considered “sane” by non-Catholics. It would be a wonderful world if we could accept that size truly doesn’t matter!
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February 2, 2012 - 9:40 am

Martina - I think you hit the nail on the head with the insecurity point. I really think if we were more confident in our walk with Christ {not prideful confidence, but just holding fast to prayer and discernment for His plan for our lives} it wouldn’t matter what others are doing.

Luckily, I have always had a pretty tough ego and strong self esteem, though I do go through short phases where I’m weak and so I can say in those moments of weakness, I look at friends and family differently and…I don’t like it. I can see how people who are insecure as a general rule can have huge difficulty accepting their path as their own without looking to others in either envy or judgment.

And we women are probably our own worst enemies! We spend all day defending things that truly and legitimately need defending and when it comes to sitting down with friends and strangers, we forget how to put down the shield and just enjoy that God has others on a different path for a *GOOD* reason!

Thanks for bringing this topic to light. If we could all just focus on our own walk, think how much happier we would be! And how much more we could enjoy our friends and family and the path they’re on. :)

February 2, 2012 - 10:00 am

Melanie - One can never judge what is going on by the size of a family. Love this article

February 2, 2012 - 10:01 am

Emily - So many wonderful and beautiful points… resonating far beyond the Family Planning topic.

God calls us all to encounter Him in such UNIQUE ways. We should embrace our uniqueness.

Beautiful post.

February 2, 2012 - 10:21 am

Ellen Gable Hrkach - Wonderful, excellent post, Misty! Indeed, size does not matter. We have been teaching NFP for 28 years. I remember one couple in our homeschooling group who took our NFP class. They had two children. They said they always felt judged because they only had two children compared to the rest of the homeschooling families who had four, five or more. I told them that size doesn’t matter, that the choice to have or not to have more children was between her and her husband in prayerful discernment with God.

Our own circumstances were such that we used NFP on and off for 30 years and have been blessed with five children. We prayerfully discerned monthly whether we should be open to a pregnancy or not. You are so right when you say that it is important not to sit in judgment of any couple’s decision on family size. No one knows anyone else’s circumstances and no couple should have to defend their decisions on family size.
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February 2, 2012 - 12:38 pm

Nella - Thank you. So much.

February 2, 2012 - 12:50 pm

Christine - Great post, Misty! During college, I began to get to know a beautiful Catholic family that only had two children. I wondered why they would choose to have only two. Were they using contraception? Later I learned of their struggles with miscarriage and infertility. How terrible I felt about judging their supposed decisions and jumping to conclusions! My husband and I have now been married almost 5 years and have been unable to conceive a child as of yet. We too have been wrongly judged. We simply do not and cannot know the circumstances of each married couple. We do not know the ways of God nor the number of children He has planned for each family. Thanks for this post!

February 2, 2012 - 1:20 pm

Amy - Great post! My husband and I are the “take the babies as they come” type and get LOTS OF HEAT for being “irresponsible” or “weak” or “undisciplined”. I hate the infighting. Really. We do what God calls us to. That’s all.
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February 2, 2012 - 2:36 pm

Kristine - This is the best post I’ve read on this site. Unfortunately, many “good” Catholics with large families make assumptions about those of us who don’t have them. I don’t share with every person I meet that I’ve been pregnant 14 times but have only brought 3 children home from the hospital.

February 2, 2012 - 2:37 pm

Lisa - Excellent post! Loved it all and so very, very true.

February 3, 2012 - 12:02 am

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February 3, 2012 - 6:45 am

Sheena - Great post! My husband and I have been married for a little over 4 years and have 4 wonderful children. We are not against the use of NFP; in fact, we have tried to start NFP on several occassions. When we do though, my periods all of a sudden become very irregular until there is not a pattern and then I’m pregnant! LOL! So, we accept His will and welcome His children into our lives!

February 3, 2012 - 9:47 am

daisy - The bottom line with NFP is that you don’t want any more kids or none right now. It’s no better than the woman who decides to use the Pill.

February 4, 2012 - 8:30 am

Robin E - I’m not disagreeing with the overall point of the article, but I do think all too often those of us with large families are accused of a providentialist mindset when the truth is actually a lot more complicated.

In the case of the Duggars, for instance, I don’t really think they are simply accepting every baby as it comes, even though that is often how they themselves put it. The Duggars have a superlarge family because they planned it that way. Michelle Duggar weans her babies early specifically in order to conceive again quickly. Would they really be doing it this way if they were not so financially successful that they can take on this sort of plan with complete confidence that they can handle it? I doubt it.

While most of us with bigger (6-10 or so) families don’t go to these extremes, just anecdotally, there is a significant amount of intent that goes into it for most of us. This can mean child-spacing, occasional use of nfp, or use of nfp to achieve a new pregnancy. Sometimes, too, this is combined with a significant amount of struggle with the fact that we just aren’t that good at NFP, for whatever reason. In other words, if you really listen to the stories of Catholic women with bigger families, you’ll usually find that they arrived at a seemingly providentialist attitude through a complicated process of discovering that our own particular weaknesses and strengths point toward a particular calling to a special generosity in the area of childrearing.

Is this “trusting God with our fertility” sometimes hastily or poorly articulated? Definitely, but it isn’t actually as reductionist as it often seems. As for judgmentalism amongst those folks, I just haven’t actually ever seen it. Maybe I’m not in a position to hear those things. Or maybe, some of the stuff I hear a lot amongst large families sounds like judgment when it really is something else, like a realization and appreciation for the fact that we somehow stumbled upon a life that is more beautiful than it is difficult, and a heartfelt conviction that that way of life could be understood and embraced by more families than is currently the case.

When a woman with two kids wistfully expresses to me her desire for more children, am I to assume that extremely serious obstacles stand in her way? Am I to pry? I’ll admit, sometimes I assume she is afraid to break the conventional mold, afraid to rock the boat with her husband or relatives. Sometimes I feel like maybe she wants encouragement, and I might extol the pleasures and advantages of kind of throwing caution to the wind. I hope I’ve never hurt or offended anyone with this sort of thing; if so, it was certainly not meant as any kind of judgment or an endorsement of taking on a pregnancy that would likely be dangerous or otherwise ill-advised. I just think there is room in the overall discussion to consider that some couples might individually discern a calling to a larger family than they originally thought possible or wise. Some of us feel this strongly simply because that is what happened to us. For my husband and I, it was mainly the fear of what extended family would say/think/do that delayed our realization that we should have a much larger family than the norm. It is hard for me to believe that there aren’t others out there in similar situations who could use some encouragement from those who have been there.

Another thing to consider is this – the older I get the more I understand the pain of infertility and miscarriage. What I’ve slowly learned is that those of us with large families have nearly all experienced some measure of those trials, too. This is the other side of openness to life that is not talked about so much, but is very painful and very real. Sorry to go on so long, but I hope Catholic women can come to a better understanding of each other on these subjects, and hopefully a greater solidarity in time.

Mom to seven, soon to be eight.

February 4, 2012 - 9:38 am

DJ Hesselius - Excellent article!

I will never forget the day that, after my third boy, I was asked at the 2’s and You class “Are you gonna try for a girl?” It seemed to me that the other moms were looking for validation of their own choices, and it really had nothing to do with me and my hubbies (or God’s) choices.

Two other things I’d like to mention:

1) I don’t think I’ve heard it stated publically: we all don’t have the same amount of sexual desire. Some people more, some less. This impacts on family size too.

2) We live in a morally “free for all” culture. There is an very good chance that those who are coming to the faith, or coming back to the faith, have been sexual active in an unhealthy way and have come down with an STD, or have had their fertility damanged by the after effects of hormonal contraception/IUD/abortions. These infections/diseases/contraceptions–even if they have been taken care of–can adversely affect a woman’s ability to conceive a child. It is very possible that people with small families would be more than happy to have one or two more (or even one!), but can’t. They don’t need judgement, just as the larger family couples don’t need it either.

Satan loves to divide us. We should do our utmost to resist.

February 4, 2012 - 11:38 am

RosalindaL - This is a very good commentary, thank you. What I brought away from it was that the tongue is sharper than a knife and we must be charitable in our words.

Equally, I would also comment that I was sterilized at age 23 because I had already had three C-sections and my doctor felt it was for my own good. He acquired my signature while I was still groggy from the surgery and so, technically, I consented. Unfortunately, when I was finally of sound mind, I didn’t complain too much. I accepted it as an unfortunate evil that was decided for me. At the time, I wasn’t too sad about it. Until I started to learn my faith and realized the horrible mistake I had been party to.

I share this with you because I believe we should all be open to offense and slightly uncharitable comments so that the truth is not stifled. This woman’s words to you were not very charitable, but they were a glimmer of the love Our Lord offers us through the gift of life. This was a wonderful opportunity for you to share with her why it was important for you to wait and offer up the offense. When I give talks to groups in our community, I am always asked why I only had three children if I am so Pro Life. I used to be very embarrassed and offended when they insinuated that I was not qualified to speak about Pro Life because I did not live what I was speaking. Until I was counseled by a very loving Priest who advised me to embrace my sin and speak as a reformed woman. (my sin was not the surgery, my sin was the acceptance of the action with no remorse)

My question is, why would we need people to be available to offer NFP or to teach NFP? Why isn’t the whole truth enough? God wants us to be fruitful. Couples should be challenged to be faithful and through their relationship with their confessor, he can advise them of options when the grave situation is presented. The majority of women in our culture will never have the need to space indefinitely, since NFP is reserved for grave circumstances. Although, in some form, NFP has been around since the beginning of time, today’s NFP is so scientifically accurate; a couple could potentially avoid for the rest of their lives and never be fruitful. Offering NFP as an option for regular spacing is a temptation to be closed to life through fear.

In the end, charity is key when interacting with our fellow Christians and faith is required to be truly obedient servants of the King of Kings.

February 4, 2012 - 12:28 pm

Misty - Robin,
Unfortunately, the comment I cited is just one of a handful I’ve received from providentalists. Another I remember vividly is the woman who, upon hearing I was sad we couldn’t have another baby right away, asked me why. I went into the myriad health problems I had that were our primary impediment (including a chronic pain condition that required us to hire outside help just to survive). The woman looked at me and then said, “Well, if it were me, I would just have another baby.” I felt like she had not heard anything I’d said and was utterly dismissive of our family’s unique crosses.

Conversely, I’ve heard women who, for whatever reason or season, want to throw away the planning and have another baby. She is barraged with all the reasons why that’s a bad idea—and this is from practicing Catholics who use NFP. In some of those cases, maybe they’re trying to be loving and ensure the woman does not take on more than she can really handle. But I tend to agree with the other poster, who said that a lot of the time, our comments reflect more about our own issues than that of the woman we’re advising.

I completely understand, too, that providentialism is not as black and white as it seems. I think couples can be providentalists for a lot of different reasons. You can be a providentalist for a season of your life, too; it doesn’t have to be a lifelong commitment.

I do have to correct one thing, however: Michelle Duggar herself confirmed she does NOT forcibly wean her children. Below is an article in which she describes how her cycles have historically returned early, despite her exclusively breastfeeding. Even after conceiving, she continues to nurse, but her milk starts drying up.

http://babygooroo.com/2009/03/after-18-children-breastfeeding-for-michelle-duggar-continues-to-be-a-learning-experience/
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February 4, 2012 - 1:00 pm

Misty - Rosalinda,
This is the exact mindset that I think is harmful–that NFP is only to be used for “grave” circumstances. There is considerable debate about whether the actual, more correct translation of the word is “serious,” not grave. Yet to many people, grave means nothing less than life-threatening. We are called to be generous, but we are called to be responsible, too. Nothing irks me more than Catholics who propose that it’s rare for a couple to have circumstances that necessitate NFP and that most who use it are ultimately doing so for selfish reasons.

And why do we need people available to teach NFP? Perhaps you haven’t noticed that the majority of Catholics are contracepting. And it is far more evangelical to meet those couples where they are instead of trying to get them to accept the whole of the Gospel at one time. I’ve taught many secular couples whose primary reason for learning NFP is to avoid pregnancy in a safe and healthy way. Now, I can look at their circumstances and think maybe, just maybe, it could be a good thing for them if they were more open to the gift of life. But I don’t know their individual circumstances, so I can only assume that their reasons for postponing pregnancy are valid. I had one couple who had major marital problems that only surfaced when I saw the woman’s chart month after month: the husband refused to be intimate AT ALL despite her virtually begging him to be. This went on for the two years I taught them. Should I have encouraged this couple to just throw away their chart or was it going to be more edifying for them to use NFP, which was going to foster greater communication about their relationship? They obviously thought bringing a child into the marriage under those circumstances was not a good idea and they’re probably right. Who are we to look at a couple and say their reasons are not serious enough to merit NFP?

You also forget that many couples–even Catholic ones–are using abortefacient contraception. We are entirely justified in calling couples to lesser degrees of sin. A couple–of whatever faith–that decides to use NFP–for whatever reason–is eschewing abortefacient hormonal contraception and barrier methods. So NFP is keeping them from potentially aborting their children AND is enabling them to experience the “one-flesh union” that can only be an avenue of grace for their marriage. I think you assume too much in insisting that a couple “ought” to be embracing the whole Gospel right off the bat. God often draws us along the path a little at a time, for His own special purposes and our own good. I was an atheist who used NFP for health reasons (with condoms) and then over time, I was spurred to learn more about the faith and eventually converted. I can assure you, if the person who introduced me to NFP had come on like gangbusters, insisting that I needed to just throw away the Pill and open myself up to God’s blessings of children, I would have locked away my heart like Fort Knox.

NFP can also be a great source of grace and healing for many couples. In our case, my husband and I were very spiritually damaged by our years as secular non-believers. NFP has taught us self-mastery, respect for fertility, and for each other. It has healed the deep-rooted fear I had of being sexually used by men. THAT healing is God’s gift to us in lieu of the dozen children we could have had if we had not used NFP. God gave me circumstances that required NFP because He wanted me to be healed of those wounds. This would not have happened if we had been providentialists who did not periodically abstain and sacrifice for the good of the other.

The last thing I would say is that you seem to have little compassion for the very real, very heavy crosses of many families. I suffer debilitating pregnancies that leave me laying on the couch and puking into a bowl for six months of each one. Then I typically have horrific birth experiences and I have NEVER been able to breastfeed without severe pain. I also have never had any difficulty conceiving, so I can assure you that providentialism would have destroyed my marriage and family. And probably my faith. Being overwhelmed–even psychologically–is not a smokescreen for being selfish. Nor does it mean that we are not as generous or holy as those who have been blessed with bodies that welcome pregnancy or easy breastfeeding, or whatever circumstances enable them to give God total control over their fertility. I have probably suffered more to bring one child into the world than many women do for half a dozen.

Yes, we are all called to share the truth in love, but successful evangelization is far more complex and subtle than simply encouraging a couple to be “fruitful and multiply.”

February 4, 2012 - 1:03 pm

Misty - Daisy, I thank God that Holy Mother Church is more charitable and compassionate to the rest of us than you are. I’m sorry that you cannot see the gift that NFP is to your brothers and sisters in Christ, whose crosses you obviously do not carry.

February 4, 2012 - 3:26 pm

Bill B. - Very scarey that this area is beset with rash suspicion sins now that all concerned have conquered lust in these parameters. Other countries outside the West have entirely different problems but probably avoid the rash suspicion syndrome. In one child China, a couple perhaps have their only allowed child when they are twenty and for the next 25 years or so, they must use NFP to avoid any more children and if it fails, in some provinces the second child will be forcibly aborted by the local officials. In the Sudan, women have large families but in the past year have watched some of their children starve to death from drought consequences. Providentialism is probably found in countries that are much safer, have social security for widows and children, and have unemployment and welfare as part of Providence….along with tax advantages. I knew a woman in India who had to give her four children to Catholic orphanages when her husband died of an aneurism because there is no safety net at all in some countries. She then worked as a maid to be near her children and visit them. Is that Providence? Providence seems to vary with the country.

February 4, 2012 - 3:41 pm

Robin E - Misty,
Thank you for the correction about Michelle Duggar. I read that in a comment somewhere and would have gone on spouting it off as fact if I hadn’t been directed to the interview you linked to. :)

I hope my comment did not leave you with the impression that I didn’t believe you about others making rude comments, or displaying a radically providentialist mindset. Some of the comments in your combox have already demonstrated that those attitudes do indeed exist! My experience has been totally different, probably because I live in the Bible Belt, and have a hard time envisioning communities where there are substantial numbers of Catholics advocating NFP or even taking Church teaching regarding sex, marriage, and artificial birth control very seriously.

My only point is that I fear that the issue as presented in a lot of the Catholic blogosphere comes off as somewhat too black and white, and that there might be some misunderstandings – even some unfair assumptions – concerning what I perceive as the mainstream of thought amongst Catholics who end up with large families. The consequence I fear most is kind of a chilling effect on those of us who feel it is important to encourage others who may be in the process of discerning a calling to have more children, as well as those who may be going through some of the rougher spots commonly encountered in such a vocation.

Why do I fear this? Because I have felt held back when composing a blog post or comment about how wonderful it is to have a big family. I have deleted parts that I thought could even conceivably come off as asserting some sort of superiority, when they were actually only meant as joyful encouragements to those who may be in the boat I was in only a few years ago, scared to go against the tide, though I knew in my heart it was the life I felt I was meant for.

And maybe that was the right thing to do. But I cannot even begin to express what it has meant to me to be challenged in my own life by those who were living the life I truly wanted and was afraid to live. In our society, where large families emphatically do not get support from the culture at large, I do believe it is important to keep those voices out there who are willing to encourage, challenge, and yes, even advocate in a joyful and loving Christian manner for a lifestyle that probably more people would like to take on, but just feel they’ll be laughed off the face of the planet if they actually try. How to do this without coming across as superior, judgmental, or providentialist is a bit of a challenge. So I guess I’m just asking that we all kind of give each other a little more of the benefit of the doubt on this.

You’ll have to just trust me on this, but I say this stuff because I truly believe it is important for our culture to come to a better appreciation for big families. Not because I’m sensitive and can’t handle the criticism from the masses or the occasional loudmouth jerk, but because I’m convinced therere others out there like me who could use a good look at the unique benefits of a greater openness to life than they otherwise might be willing to consider. Yes, in a sense that makes it my personal issue. But isn’t the way we live out our faith usually very personally based? This isnot the same as a need for validation, but more sa wish to encourage others as I was once enco. Apologies again for the length here, and thanks for engaging on this.

February 4, 2012 - 5:16 pm

Simcha Fisher - Very good article – you say it all. Robin E., above, also raises great points about the *layers* of judgments we can make about each other. I have nine children, and I’m routinely accused of judging families with zero or few children — by people who know nothing about me except for my family size. They assume I’m looking down on them before I even open my mouth; in effect, they’re judging ME because of my family size.

My children weren’t given me to as a reward for my great holiness. Believe me, I know this. I wish people wouldn’t make assumptions about what I’m assuming about them! Sheesh.

February 4, 2012 - 6:05 pm

Suzanne Greydanus - Simcha – I know exactly what you mean. Working on #7 here and I get that same kind of “I know you think you are better than I am” attitude from some, while the world glares at your complete lack of caring over some imagined population problem. Same goes for homeschooling, and just about every other issue – insecurity breeds contempt.

February 4, 2012 - 6:07 pm

Sherry - As a mom of ten, I really appreciate this article. But I’d never heard of providentialism. We just for years were not that good at NFP. :)
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February 4, 2012 - 6:08 pm

Suzanne Greydanus - Oh, and Robin — write what is on your heart. Yes, some people will get mad at you — just ask Simcha about that! But you will undoubtedly bless others with your witness. Everything written with charity is worth writing, despite what the insecure will do to you . . .

February 4, 2012 - 10:38 pm

Bria - I am so glad I just came across this blog post. I think the Lord brought me to it, as I *just* had a little moment of some severe self pity about my small family size.

When my husband and I got married four years ago, we pretty much expected we’d be “good” Catholics and start having tons of babies right away. My in laws have been NFP instructors for 35 years, and so we charted to conceive. The Lord had different plans, though, and so while I know our burden is not the worst, we are having to come to grips with the fact that out of four years of trying, we have one beautiful son, and another child in heaven from miscarriage.

I used to sit and look at the small families in the pews at Mass and silently judge – “Why do so many families have so few children?” and I attributed it all to the death culture and selfishness. I have learned, and am continuing to learn that all of that was a terrible mistake. True, maybe many couples *are* contracepting, but I don’t know that. I have since learned that many of those same couples are dealing with the burdens my husband and I bear, that of lessened fertility. So many of my young, newly married, seemingly healthy friends are struggling to add to their family.

I don’t often feel so judged by larger families, although sometimes I feel like they might look at how stressed I get with my son some days and wonder why I’m having a hard time, when they have so many.

I know God has a wonderful plan for us, but it’s so hard when my plan and His aren’t the same. It hurts to see glorious pregnant tummies everywhere, when mine is empty and barren, when the last child I held in it died inside of me.

As for NFP – I think it’s wonderful. Knowing my chart has really helped my husband and me research and find ways to treat my infertility. Had I not charted, it might have taken many years and more doctors visits to get to where we are now. Hubby and I hope one day that we can take a more providential attitude towards our family size, and I suppose in a way we are now, as we are not trying to postpone a pregnancy.

Anyway, didn’t mean to write a novel. I just wanted to say I’m glad I saw this.

February 4, 2012 - 11:26 pm

RosalindaL - Misty, I’m sorry you feel you need to defend your position. You don’t. As I said in my response, everyone needs the truth and through their descernment must make a decision based on obedience. But watering down the truth is what has brought us to this point of disobedience and complacency, not to mention fear of speaking because someone’s feelings may be hurt. I don’t think anyone should be hit over the head with anything. I know that God has a perfect plan and doesn’t need us stepping in and 2nd guessing it. We all have our time, our talents and our graces and it is not an accident when I cross someone’s path or when you cross someone’s path. It is all in HIS own Perfect Plan. I read a small book of prayer and reflection that says “God wants courageous soldiers. He wants us to boldly speak truth with love and without fear. He knows we are not perfect and with our good intention, even in our imperfection, He will do good with our work.” That’s what I live by and that’s what I hope to bring to the table. Boldness with love…

February 5, 2012 - 6:19 am

ms. scallon - I have had five children, and seven pregnancies total. I guess I am literally in the middle as I feel judged by a mom of seven I know, not her intention, since I don’t really “know her”, but even among Catholics I get the eye rolls and “another mouth to feed”.

Yet whatever may happen, I am glad their dad made me a mom, they are unique people, all of my girls, and to say that I love them is too simplistic, it is beyond love.

Personally I would feel overwhelmed with seven, but I truly admire families with 6-?? amount of kids…they seem stressed at times, understandably…but for the most part are too BLESSED to be STRESSED :)

February 5, 2012 - 10:21 am

Carol - A poster named Daisy writes:
“The bottom line with NFP is that you don’t want any more kids or none right now.” You’re right, and what you need to realize is that for some couples, that might be the right move for them.
“It’s no better than the woman who decides to use the Pill.” Flat out wrong – using artificial contraception is intrinsically evil, NFP is approved by the Church. Not even close to being the same thing.

The reason why Misty’s post is so great, and why Daisy and others need to think about is that you can’t judge why other people are using NFP. It’s easy for you to make a judgment when you don’t have to live with the consequences. And you don’t know what it’s like for that other person. We are all unique and so are our circumstances.
I had my first daughter 9 months and a few weeks after I was married. My second was born 17 months later. About the time I had the new born, I was beginning to realize that my other daughter had something going on with her – she was later diagnosed with a mild form of autism. Meanwhile, the second one had some weird food ‘texture aversion’ problem, couldn’t eat easily and thus, couldn’t sleep easily either. She dropped from the 85% in weight when she was 4 weeks to the 15% when she was 8 weeks. I had to take her to occupational therapy to help her learn how to eat so she could keep her food down and she wasn’t able to sleep more than a couple hours at night because she needed to be fed so frequently. The 11pm, 1am, 3am, and 5am schedule went on until she was about 18 months old. That alone would be enough to break a lot of people down, but I also had the older one with autism. She didn’t talk and just to be concise, a lot of her behavior was scary. Just one problem, for example, was her escaping out of the yard or the house. For a while there, everyday involved getting some kind of therapy for her – it’s expensive, time consuming and exhausting but so rewarding when you see all your efforts paying off. It took about 2 and a half year to get her potty trained and I had to enlist the help of a couple of specialists to get her to the point she’s at now. I also had to fight with the school district about various matters (at one point we had to get a lawyer) and deal with pediatric neurologists who wanted to drug her. Just so you know, she is now in general education for about 60% of her day and she is on track to being fully mainstreamed over the next year.
It might be hard for some people to imagine what it’s like to raise kids like this – but God picked me to be their mother and I wasn’t going to let them down. So, you’re right, the bottom line was that I used NFP because I didn’t want any more kids, or none at that time. I wanted to focus on my autistic child and take advantage of the window of opportunity when she was little to have the biggest impact, and provide her with all the services she needed. The whole realm of possibilities for her, for the rest of her life, is bigger and better now because of my decision. No one can tell me I did the wrong thing.

And other moms are dealing with things that I can’t imagine, and so I would never presume to make a judgment about their decisions.

Misty wrote:
“I can assure you that providentialism would have destroyed my marriage and family. And probably my faith. Being overwhelmed–even psychologically–is not a smokescreen for being selfish.”

This is so well put. For many families, using NFP can save their marriage and it certainly helped me gain my mental health back by giving me a break from back to back pregnancies that resulted with two kids that had some issues that required more work than the typical child. For many people, psychological issues, especially when dealing with a special needs child, are very real. It is callous and foolish to ignore them and trudge on as though they don’t exist.

Thank you for posting this! Oh and by the way, I know a lot of people who do have kids when they come and I always validate them and cheer them on in their decisions even if they are different than mine. One of my best friends is pregnant with #7 at age 44 and happy as a clam. I say good for her! The beauty of both our families isn’t the size but that our kids have the faith.

February 8, 2012 - 4:59 pm

Tara - Misty,

As always, thank you, my beautiful friend. You gave voice to my feelings of insecurity and enlightened me to the errors in my own thinking at times.

Personally, we have felt called recently to be completely open to God’s generosity, but it has resulted in 4 miscarriages. I do not believe that God calls everyone to accept this type of suffering, but we do feel called to it. Over the last few months, I have come to realize that this redemptive suffering is a gift that has increased my faith tremendously, but I understand that for another it could be more than they could bear. I have struggled with this surrender because it is so contrary to popular thinking, so I have looked for others to align myself with. I was definitely feeling insecure in my calling.

Size doesn’t matter, be it none, one or ten. God knows our heart and we need only to align ourselves with His Will. NFP had been a great blessing in our life for more reasons than simple family planning.

Thank you again, Misty, for speaking the Truth and giving witness to our awesome faith in all its faucets.

March 26, 2012 - 11:34 am

Megan - I recently wrote a less articulate blog post about this very thing. Like Robin E, (we share an almost identical philosophy and history), I have many children. I have also lost many children to miscarriage – my little saints. We have sporadically tried NFP when either TTC, or when trying to avoid. We have suffered the loss of 6 babies, and I personally have chosen to try and avoid while healing from those losses. I honestly don’t think that some would consider that a “grave” reason, but for my husband and me, it was. In the end, partially because I cannot resist the idea of a new baby. Oh, I love the new baby thing! And partially because in the end, we recover, we want our feeling of “normal” back, and we are best buds – head over heels after 17 years – so we decide to just let go and let come what may – it is healing and loving. So, we are now pregnant with #10, after losing twins in October in the second trimester. Today would have been their due date. But, we are hopeful for this new little life. God Bless you all on your journeys.
Megan recently posted..Because I like to drive myself crazy…My Profile

May 22, 2012 - 10:08 pm

Tracey - What a beautiful, very-well written, and loving article. The description of your faith journey in the “about Misty” section gave me goose bumps! What a blessing you are!

May 22, 2012 - 11:14 pm

MaryLourdes - <>

Hmm, I would say it always demands generosity and sacrifice. Everyone should be “Providentialists” and only use NFP to avoid if they discern they need to, but taking into account that God does give them graces with each child and we cannot outdo God in generosity. This is why discernment is important, we cannot say with 100% certainty that we know our marriage would be in shambles if we had another kid, or that we would go crazy if we had more kids etc etc… We can pray about our reasons to avoid, and if, taking into consideration the eternal repercussions of our decision we feel we need to avoid, we go ahead and do it, trusting in God and evaluating our motives on an ongoing basis, and doing what we can (if we can do anything) to remove that reason that is causing us to need to avoid.
2371 “Let all be convinced that human life and the duty of transmitting it are not limited by the horizons of this life only: their true evaluation and full significance can be understood only in reference to man’s eternal destiny.”161

November 29, 2012 - 3:29 pm

Carol - MaryLourdes – I’m not quite sure how to take your comment but let me tell you what I hear.
First let me say each marriage is almost like its own species so it’s very difficult for you or I to say what goes on in any marriage but our own.
What I’m hearing you say is, ‘we should only use this if you discern you need to, but taking into account that if you do discern that you need to use NFP, you somehow lack in the faith of God’s generosity’. I don’t know if you intend this, but that’s how your comment comes across to me.
So, you’re right, I don’t know with 100% certainty that my marriage would have been in trouble if we had another child, but I can say that with 90% certainty. Would you get on a plane if it had a 90% chance of crashing? I wouldn’t. Does that mean I don’t have faith in God and someone else who would get on the plane does? No. You have to be prudent in your decisions. You have to be realistic about your abilities, even if you are disappointed by them, like I was – I wanted more kids than I ended up having but I married older, and as you can read in my earlier post I had kids with a couple things going on that was time consuming and expensive. I have never been more concerned about my mental health than when my child was diagnosed with autism, the one 17 months younger couldn’t eat and because of her feeding problems I hadn’t had more than a few hours of sleep at a time for a few years. I didn’t mention how miserable my pregnancies were (the second one I got a blood clot in my leg that turned the whole back of my calf purple; could have done without the blood clot) or our health insurance situation (my husband is self employed and we have to buy our own insurance).
God is generous. He has taken care of my daughter and her needs in ways that I never thought possible. Please be kind to people who have discerned to use NFP – they are probably dealing with more than you or were given less to work with in terms of resources, be they financial, mental, emotional or psychological. Reminding us that God is generous does not change the reality that we have to work with and accept.

April 6, 2013 - 11:43 pm

Linda Redman - Thank you, Misty, for this much needed article. The number of children in a family surely doesn’t matter. God loves families of all sizes. Our Lord never said we are rewarded in Heaven according to number of children. A wise woman once told me that for lots of people two children make enough of a family; and, for some, even one is quite enough. There are many ways, other than having babies, to be open to life. Thank you, again , for your excallent thoughts on this subject. Linda Redman

June 24, 2013 - 10:00 pm

Katie TLC - Love! This!! Well put. Thank you!!!

September 22, 2014 - 2:43 pm

Mike WiLL Made-It Beats - I don’t know if you still read these, but I wanted to tell you that I totally enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work!

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