Other Husband & Wife Articles

How Many Children?
By Andrew Haines

Intentionally having a child at a young age is sort of a cultural no-no. Kids of young parents are, quite often, seen more as mistakes than as lovingly accepted gifts from God.

So when Kathleen and I decided to try and conceive after only a few months of being married, we weren’t at all surprised by the reactions.

“I’m very happy for you,” a Catholic coworker told me when she heard we were pregnant. “God provides – even if sometimes we’re a bit surprised!”

It’s pretty safe to say that – even for Catholics – the default response to a young couple’s fertility is a sense of shock. “God provides, even if we’re surprised” is a nice way of saying, “Wow, certainly you didn’t mean to conceive a baby, did you?”

For young parents trying to feel out God’s will, contemporary culture doesn’t do much to make authentic discernment any easier.

A professor of mine, whom I admire very much, shared with me his own experience of starting a family during graduate school. “My wife and I decided that God was calling us to be open to children early on,” he said. “We jumped right in. But it’s not for everyone.”

His was a wise perspective. It recognized two important things: that deciding when to try to conceive requires prayer; and that God’s unique vocation for each couple is different.

Before we got married, Kathleen and I spent quite a bit of time discussing our hopes for starting a family. We took a class on Natural Family Planning. And we decided before our wedding that we would probably wait at least six or seven months before actively trying to conceive – leaving some time to adjust to one another, a new lifestyle, and unknown financial prospects. In short, we wanted to be somewhat certain ahead of time that bringing a new life into the world was a good idea.

But certainty and discernment are a tough match.

Probably the best perspective I ever got on starting a family came from the priest who married us, Father Michael Dandurand. The night before our wedding, we shared with him our discussions about waiting to conceive, and our desire to be prudent, while being very clear that we rejected any form of contraception. He understood, and did not question our practical judgment.

However – like any man of God – he offered some thoughts for our consideration. He emphasized that the Lord doesn’t speak six or seven months from now, but today.  He reminded us that, as human persons, sexual intimacy arises from a desire for personal intimacy, and that each encounter would be its own new meeting with its own proper context. In sum, he told us to let God’s will be present in each and every instance of our marital relationship, and to continually discern his call to have children.

Opponents of the Catholic Church’s position on human sexual relationships often complain that constantly being “open to life” is archaic – that it doesn’t respect the freedom of an individual to enjoy sex without bearing the burden of long-lasting consequences. Also, they say that abstaining from potentially fertile sex only for “grave reason” makes sex mechanistic, and simply procreative.

But as a young man seeking to appreciate the Church’s authentic teaching – given in part through the judicious words of that holy priest – I can attest that openness to life is not burdensome; rather, it’s freeing. Being responsible and prudent is important. But responding lovingly to God’s will – even if it is dark and unknown – is a higher good. Duc in altum, Jesus said: “Cast into the deep.”

As Kathleen and I have prayed about our decision to conceive earlier than we had at first imagined, we’ve been struck by the wisdom of the words: “God doesn’t speak six months from now, he speaks today.” Had we waited to conceive until ensuring financial security for our family, we’d have been waiting a long time! But fortunately, deciding to bring a child into the world isn’t about certainty; it’s about loving faith – faith grounded in reason, and seeking understanding.

The simple fact of the matter is that no one is ever “ready” to create a child. How could they be? To create a child is to share in the mystical unity of the Holy Trinity – and we’re certainly never “ready” for that!

Responding to God’s call to co-create life isn’t something done as a result of metered calculations, but in prayerful response to a loving invitation to share in the divine power of the Trinity. We’re called to be prudent, to be reasonable, and to be responsible; but we are called above all to be faithful.

If a couple responds to the Lord’s call to conceive with love, there can be no doubt that he’ll provide for them just as a good father provides the best things for his children – and infinitely more.

And that should be all the security any of us ever need.

Andrew Haines is a graduate student in philosophy, and president of the Center for Morality in Public Life (http://ethikapolitika.org/author/andrew-haines/). He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, Kathleen, and their unborn baby, whose due date is in December.