Updated: Sep 15, 2021
I once attended a wedding where the videographer went table to table, filming the guests and asking if they had any advice for the newlyweds. Beside me stood a man bouncing a six month old while holding the hand of a child who looked to be about two. Perhaps he saw the potential for some comedic relief because he put on a crazed, tired expression and directed this line to the camera: “Wait two years before having kids.”
The cameraman chuckled and moved on.
I tried to smile, but couldn’t help wincing. I was five months pregnant and had just gotten married five months earlier.
So many see children as something that will infringe on their time, their finances, their lives. Fertility is taken for granted and we assume that we can simply work co-creation into our schedules when the time feels right.
This whole “wait a couple of years” sentiment was uncomfortably pervasive.
When I announced my pregnancy, there were a few people who were very surprised by our immediate openness to children, which is strange because anyone who knew me knew I had always wanted twelve kids and really, that would require not wasting a single moment.
The stranger thing is that the advice to postpone having children isn’t just given out by those who are more secular in thought. I’ve heard solid, practicing Catholics warning other Catholics to wait, and I’ve even heard of a few priests who advise against starting a family right away.
This baffles me. In the 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), Saint Paul VI speaks of the transmission of human life as being a great honour bestowed on a couple; the couple become co-creators with God, responding freely and generously to His call. It is clear that children are a gift and openness to that gift is part of God’s design for marriage.
“Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents' welfare." – Saint Paul VI, Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today, no. 50
So why do we act as though accepting that gift too soon would somehow be an impediment to the couple? I am fully aware that some couples have assessed their situation, and with a clear conscience have determined that they truly have serious or grave reasons to postpone a pregnancy.
“If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile ...” – Humanae Vitae, no. 16
But why is the advice to put off procreation a default setting for so many well-meaning Catholics who probably aren’t in a position to determine if the couple they are addressing have a grave reason to postpone that supreme gift?
I remember once overhearing a man telling a newly engaged couple to wait a couple of years before starting a family. The young man responded with a simple, “No, we don’t have a serious reason to wait.” The other gentleman persisted, “Marriage is hard enough without adding kids to the mix. You’re going to need some time to get to know each other first.”
“Well,” the other responded, “we’ll have at least nine months.”
I really admired the young man for his understanding that marriage is ordered toward the transmission of life and raising children, a highly counter-cultural sentiment. So many see children as something that will infringe on their time, their finances, their lives. Fertility is taken for granted and we assume that we can simply work co-creation into our schedules when the time feels right.
We make plans for our future and try to determine when a pregnancy will work out best in terms of work, events, travel, etc., but then, when we decide we’re finally ready, it can be an absolute shock to discover it isn’t always in our control.
When the pandemic hit, I couldn’t believe that the Eucharist was no longer available to me. The opportunity to receive It whenever I wanted had perhaps made me less appreciative, less understanding of the weight of the gift—the source and summit of the Christian life. I realized that I had perhaps taken Him for granted.
It’s a common thing. We don’t fully appreciate the option until the option is taken away.
I was longing for the Eucharist as the doors were locked to me and I know that there are many couples who stand before the locked door of infertility when they assumed that new life would be accessible at their bidding.
Again, this is not to throw judgement at those who’ve discerned they have a valid reason to postpone pregnancy, but more so an encouragement to view children as a gift, and not an impediment to greater things.
They are the greatest thing!
God is calling us to be open to life, which is really an invitation to be open to supreme gifts.
Stay with us Lord!
Mane Nobiscum Domine
Carissa Douglas is a Canadian author and illustrator, known especially for her Little Douglings brand—a series for kids in which a group of children is sent on a mission by God with the assistance of a Saint. Carissa is the mom of 14, and a passionate promoter of the culture of life and all things related to this: our awesome Catholic faith. While her kids are busy with school work and projects, she spends her downtime writing stories and illustrating. To follow the adventures of the Little Douglings, visit them here.