One of a series of six special columns written by Catholic women on family planning issues.
My husband leaned in close, "They are going to give you some medicine that will make it stop." He meant "stop my heart," not the contractions. I'm a multi-tasker -- I was experiencing both pre-term labor and a persistent heart arrhythmia. It was like my body was trying to give birth, while running a marathon, on my back. After five hours and several unsuccessful attempts to stop the arrhythmia, they needed to stop my heart -- on purpose -- so that it could start back in a normal rhythm.
With 11 weeks of strict bed rest and a holy host of pharmaceuticals, our third son was born healthy and strong -- that miracle is never lost on us. And even though it's been a full six years, I can clearly recall the thoughts, which raced through my head as quickly as the beats of my heart that day. What if they can't stop it? What if he comes too soon? Will he survive? What if my heart gives out? If I die, will they be able to save the baby? Who will take care of my babies? What will my husband do? Some time after we made it out of those woods, my husband shared his own litany of pleading questions during that time. We matched.
Our family plan, until then, had been unquestionably undetermined. We had practiced natural family planning for our entire marriage, trusting the Lord and the science of the method. We waited a couple of years before having our first child, yet we welcomed the idea of a big Catholic family with a sense of adventure. But, after the events of that day, our hearts were tired.
Day to day, we experience alternating waves of desire for another baby, in spite of our fears, and waves of prayerful reservation, knowing our limitations. By God's grace, our practice of natural family planning is the steady current of openness to his gift of new life. So far, his gifts to us have been three precious souls, on-the-job training in self-control and confidence in his design. This is the beauty of our Church's teaching on responsible parenthood. Without barriers, pills or sterilizations, we are called to cooperate with our natural fertility cycles and examine our consciences every day. There is indescribable peace of mind and heart in knowing that God's gifts will always come through an open door, not by override or accident.
There is no magic number of children we must have to be "good Catholics." Instead, we have Holy Mother Church instructing us in intentional generosity, Christian prudence and sacrificial love. As Catholics, we are not instructed, required or even advised to have as many children as physically possible. Holy Mother Church truly has a mother's heart. There are just, generous and radically sacrificial reasons to have babies and to space them.
Still, we get the inevitable question: Isn't it about time for another one?
On my good days, I smile and hopefully say something gracious, because I don't think my inquirer really wants to see our fertility charts. On my not-so-good days, I am tempted to lift the lid on my boiling pot of maternal fears, insecurities and concerns. On both kinds of days, I'm reminded that Catholic families, obediently adhering to the Church's teaching, can fill a pew themselves or, like our family today, have room to share. Our call is to cooperate with him through fertility awareness, marital chastity and, as Mother Church always says, "not motivated by selfishness but in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood." (CCC 2368)
Franchelle Jaeger, her husband Matt and their three children live in Little Rock. They attend Christ the King Church in Little Rock.
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