It has been a strange thing, announcing this 5th pregnancy.
Of course I’ve dealt with the shock of many, amazed that we would dare have a 5th. But I expected this, and dealt with my fair share of it when I announced number 4.
Nope, the worst of it all I created for myself. In a very real way I have had to eat my own words.
Over the summer I made it pretty clear, both here and on the podcast, that Bill and I were feeling overwhelmed with the kids we already have (4, Kindergarten and younger) and that we were going to try for a break, not an end, but hopefully put a few years between our youngest, Josie, and the next baby. We were really going to TRY for that.
And about a week after recording those words, I was pregnant.
Now, you can laugh and say “classic!”, which many have, but things have been a bit more complicated than that.
As many already know, unexpected pregnancies bring up a whole mixed bag of emotions, often hard to sort out. Emotions in marriage, family, friend groups, and even the larger Catholic world.
For example, I spent a lot of time I worrying that our experience makes NFP sound…unreliable. I know that NFP can be such a hard sell, and for those of us aware of the blessings of NFP in marriage and family, we REALLY want to sell it, but stories like mine can make it hard. I remember my own engaged retreat and listening a speaker say that “NFP is as reliable as traditional birth control”. But, as I have come to realize, this is the complete wrong way to sell NFP.
Additionally, in my own marriage I felt like such a failure, as I know many women have felt about NFP. I was really trying! We were abstaining WAY more than we wanted to. Why couldn’t I figure this out?
I also worried that people might think I’m a neurotic scatter-brain…which I just might be, declaring something one minute and changing my mind the next.
And, especially at the beginning of the pregnancy, I had all sorts of messed up feelings toward God. I mean, come on! We were really trying. We were using NFP. We had welcomed 4 babies in less than 5 years! Can’t we have a little break?
Amid this storm of worry and hormones and sickness I was trying to tell the world that we were, once again, pregnant. Trying to give this baby as much joy in these early moments as we had given our first, but often I would make the announcement and shrug, or even tear up.
And so, in late September we were spending an afternoon with The Little Sisters of the Lamb, the community of sisters and brothers my youngest sister belongs to. I told them we were expecting and, as explanation, I simply added, “it turns out that being open to life means actually being open to life.” I laughed a little, and my eyes burned with tears.
And they laughed, but it was a big hearty laugh, a laugh that sets your heart bouncing along with it. They clapped me on the back and shook their heads, delighted in my joke, I suppose.
Seeing my contorted face the boldest and loudest of the sisters grabbed my shoulder and asked, “Is that news to you, Nancy, that being open to life meanings actually being open to life? I thought that was pretty obvious.” And she laughed again, in that sweet, musical, ageless way of religious. I smiled too, as the tears slid down my face, and she hugged me.
In a very real way I felt called out in that moment.
The truth of those words, that being open to life does actually mean being open to life, sunk deeply into me. Every day I have felt those words hanging from my heart, reminding me of what I profess to live. A life open to life.
Since before marriage I have vowed to be open to life, I have declared it…and yet in practice I was falling short. Sure, I’ll get pregnant, but in my time, thank you very much. Sure, we’ll have a big family but when we think it is time for a break, it is time for a break. And, when things don’t go our way, if the natural methods we are using to space pregnancies don’t work as well as (we think) artificial methods do, we are ticked off. We blame God and throw a fit and scream.
Well, at least I cry and scream. My husband isn’t quite as childish as I am.
That is the version of Open to Life I was practicing. And, well sisters, that’s not really being open to life.
Although my 5th pregnancy might confirm for others that NFP doesn’t work, I am here to tell you, after much prayer and tears, that the opposite is true.
This pregnancy confirms that NFP does work. It works exactly as it should.
Because NFP is not birth control.
NFP is acknowledging that I am not God.
NFP is remembering that intimacy in marriage is meant to create children, even if life is crazy and this isn’t the perfect time and not quite what we had planned.
NFP is sacrifice and accepting God’s plan and walking the best path for you, even if you don’t see it as that way right now.
NFP is welcoming and loving a beautiful soul that God knew you needed and, through His infinite love, He gave to you despite your efforts to walk another way.
NPF is leaving the door open to God and acknowledging that He knows better.
Assuming all goes well we will be welcoming baby number 5 around Easter this coming year, and that still feels crazy. I can’t go anywhere (seriously ANYWHERE, even church functions) without looks and comments of “Man, you have your hands full,” to which I usually respond, “yes, yes I do.” And, now that I am pregnant and showing many are just speechless.
It’s hard, I won’t deny it. This might be one of the hardest seasons of motherhood I have been through.
Being pregnant, dealing with a teething toddler, a defiant 3 year old, a 5 year old and a 6 year old. I often do have VERY full hands and I continue to wonder why this was God’s plan for our family. It is hard right now.
But, I do have peace too.
Through these years of motherhood I do know a few things. I know that babies grow and pregnancies end and siblings are the absolute best gift I can give my kids.
I also know that in a matter of months, when I am holding that new baby, I won’t, even for an instant, be mad that charting didn’t work or question God’s love for me.
Come April I know that I will look into that little face and thank God that my plan didn’t work. Because His plan was so much better.
Your sister in Christ,
PS–if you too are struggling to accept (another) pregnancy, please know that I am praying for you. Please also pray for me.