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Babies: Generosity and Selfishness | Catholic Life

Babies: Generosity and Selfishness

Since I talk about children a lot it seems as if no more than a week can go by without someone emailing/tweeting/DMing/whatevering me to kindly suggest that perhaps it is time for me to acquire a child and that I should “stop waiting for the perfect time.” I know that I bring this on myself, and I really appreciate the care that some people put into their messages. I know that they are parents who love their children and are concerned that I might miss out on one of life’s greatest blessings.

But sometimes I want to throw up my hands in amazement at how differently others see things.

Two months ago I tweeted the link to Kathleen Basi’s great post Should we Have A Fourth Child in which she explains why “the answer is yes.” I did not bother to put the question in quotes since it was written as the title of Kathleen’s post.

That meant that I got several responses from people who thought that I was asking the Twitter-world for advice on whether to have a fourth child.1

One of the responders urged me to “be generous” in making this decision.

Be generous? Are you kidding?!

I know that if I were in Kathleen’s position I might be quite happy with three young children and the thought of changing fewer diapers. It might indeed take a generous heart to overcome my natural desire to have a little more sleep at night and silence during the day.

But I am not a mother of three young children.

I am a childless 25-year-old who drools more over drooling babies than the babies themselves ever could.

When it comes to me and children, the term “greed” is far more apt than “generosity.” I want a child, and I want a child today!

To make things even worse, I not only desire children, I would love to be pregnant. I would love to have the experience of giving birth. I know that it is perfectly natural for women to dread pregnancy/birth/breastfeeding, but somehow I do not. My mother worked very hard to insure that her daughters would see pregnancy and childbirth as appealing. As a child I was not allowed to see anything that depicted labor as painful. Instead my mother would show us pictures of peaceful pregnant women, pre-borns at various stages of development, and cute newborns.

I am not wholly ignorant of the negative aspects of pregnancy and childbirth in reality, but living with endometriosis makes me feel as if the trade-offs are well worth it. My sister with endo told me that giving birth is not any worse than the worst months of cramps, and I am inclined to believe her. So while I know something of the trials of pregnancy and childbirth they simply do not add up to a negative in my mind.

And then we get to the part about what exactly it would take in order to get everything I want. You mean I have to give myself completely to the man with whom I am passionately in love at a time when my body is saying “ohhhh, sex sounds really good right about now!?”

Somehow “generosity” sounds rather tempting. And yet there is a problem. I will call it… “Josh.”

I have tried to explain this all to my husband, but he doubts the nobility of my intentions!

Me: Josh, we really need to stop this. You know, we’re married, so it is only right for us to have children. We must renounce our contraceptive mentality and become open to life. We must generously accept children from God. We must learn to really love.

It does not matter that it is a Friday and having sex would be one of the highest denials of both of our individual and shared spiritual needs and religious ideals.

It does not matter that we do not have health insurance.

It does not matter that I have been really stressed recently.

It does not matter that a few months ago we were both eating very low quality food and thus most likely both have low levels of selenium, zinc etc. so there would be a double-spontaneous abortion risk.

It does not matter that no one wants to hire a pregnant woman or that I would not be eligible for maternity leave for a year once hired.

It does not matter that I am in serious need of dental work.

It does not matter that we would not so much as have a safe place for the baby to sleep.

All that matters it that we need to do the right thing. We must defeat the contraceptive mentality and be generous and open to life.

Josh: You need to stop reading Catholic blogs.

Me: It wasn’t a blog, it was someone on Twitter!

See the problem? The man does not respond to the logic of faith!

Ehem. Anyway.

It doesn’t help matters that there is a rule that good Christian couples must have babies ASAP. I have one married friend who has no children and is not pregnant. She just visited a fertility doctor because she has been “trying” unsuccessfully for six months. It does not matter that she does not have health insurance, that her husband is still in college, that neither of them has a full time job, or that it is too much trouble for either of them to bother to take a daily vitamin. What matters is that she is married and ready for a baby. Now.

And honestly, I do not judge her at all (though I did give her a pretty firm lecture on the folic acid thing since she isn’t much of a vegetable eater and itistoolateifyouwaituntilyouknowyouarepregnantahhhhhhowcouldyoutakesucharisk?). There is a reason that we are friends. I understand the baby-lust that cannot see anything beyond having a baby ASAP.

Even in the online world it is really, really hard to find passionately Catholic married women who do not have have children. Just about the only place to find them is in the infertility blog world, and that does not “count” for rather obvious reasons.

Which is only to say that not only do I want a child due to every internal reason, just about all of the social pressure from friends is pushing toward having children.

And so the gap between me and those providing me with well-meaning advice is nothing less than utterly immense. I am supposed to “be generous” in “accepting” children? Maybe someday, but for now “generous” sounds a whole lot like “self-indulgent.” Which, of course, sounds pretty good. Now if only I could convince Josh that Catholic bloggers are right and we are obliged to “seek” children “naturally” within all the rights of marriage.

Self-denial = sin, self-indulgence = virtue. I could get used to this reasoning!

Pretty sure that in reality there is no need to ask my Twitter-world such a question since I know that I should not have a fourth until I can remember where the first three are!

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24 Responses to “Babies: Generosity and Selfishness”

  1. Owen 22. Nov, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    Probably skipping the most important stuff in the post, “just like a man” {apologies to Bob Dylan on that one} I want to highlight the thing that caught my eye:

    ‘You need to stop reading Catholic blogs.”

    For different reasons, I’ve been telling myself this quite a bit lately. Today I actually listened and deleted a whack load of rss feeds. As you can see, yours wasn’t one of them.

    • Rae 28. Nov, 2010 at 11:38 am #

      Your comment made my day. Thanks for still reading. :-)

  2. Tara Meghan 22. Nov, 2010 at 7:14 pm #

    Catholicism is definitely not one-size-fits-all! Just because God may have asked another couple in your (or worse) circumstances to have children right away, that doesn’t mean it’s what He’ll ask you to do!

    • Rae 28. Nov, 2010 at 11:39 am #

      True, true!

  3. mary 22. Nov, 2010 at 11:28 pm #

    I hear you! We’ve been married for over a year now, and we have disappointed people all over the place due to the lack of babies we have had. People at work, family friends, our parents. They are all waiting for the announcement that I’m pregnant. if i take a day off work, everyone assumes i’m pregnant.
    My mother keeps telling other people how she wants us to have children (she never tells me directly) but I really don’t know where she expects us to keep this baby. The only spare space i found is in the laundry. Probably not the best place to keep the baby.

    • Rae 28. Nov, 2010 at 11:42 am #

      I love the way you phrase things. You last paragraph made me laugh, which is always nice. I would be fine with a baby sleeping with us (my preference) but right now we sleep on two blankets on a wood floor-not exactly soft or safe for a baby!

  4. Michelle 23. Nov, 2010 at 6:45 am #

    If there’s anything I’ve learned as a woman who used to claim I’d never have children and who now has four…God’s Plan is different for everyone and praying and discerning how to cooperate with that is one of the most difficult things I’ve attempted in my life.

    • Rae 28. Nov, 2010 at 11:43 am #

      Very true. And we are all so different! It is difficult for me to imagine what it would be like to ever not have a deep longing for children.

  5. Michael 23. Nov, 2010 at 7:20 am #

    dear – i’m sorry for your struggles.. sometimes people equate knowing Theology or Morality with actually following the Way or Being a Christian, or actually BEING catholic.. it’s tough sometimes….. I guess that is the problem with the Ubiquitous Blogs… peace to you..

    • Rae 28. Nov, 2010 at 11:43 am #

      Thanks!

  6. alison 23. Nov, 2010 at 10:37 am #

    That interaction reminded me of the ones my husband I had our first year of marriage! My husband was also my reasoning rock when I became enchanted with the idea of having children within our first year of marriage despite our many reasons to avoid. I have to think that you have chosen the perfect man for you to counterbalance you when you get “baby crazy” (which I am assuming is stronger at certain times during the month). I think this is a great thing and you two are clearly complementary!

    And while I’m aware that you may not think that the infertile community “counts”, I actually noticed many similarities between our situations. Although our personal desires may be to have children RIGHT NOW, for reasons beyond both of our control it has been determined that now is not the time and while that’s super frustrating, its the hand we’re dealt. We can learn from each other! I think the ones that are really in another camp are the Catholics using contraception or others who don’t realize that children are a gift.

    • Rae 28. Nov, 2010 at 11:51 am #

      Thank God for excellent husbands!

      I think that your take on infertility is one of the reasons that I love your blog. I don’t regularly read blogs dedicated to infertility because they tend to be coming from such a different place that sometimes I am even scandalized by their take on life, and I know it is just because I can’t “get” it. But I really, really love your thoughts. And mostly I just meant that there is almost perfectly complete social pressure to have children (in “good” Catholic circles) so that is another way that getting pregnant with one’s first feels more like fitting in than “being generous.”

      • alison 29. Nov, 2010 at 7:45 am #

        I agree that infertility blogs can be hard to “get” sometimes. I think that’s a testament to the damage it is capable of causing to people and marriages. Its hard to talk about without coming across the “wrong way” and I think that’s why people don’t – which is in turn a vicious cycle. Thanks for your compliments on mine…maybe that affirmation will help me not press “delete” the next time I feel too whiny.

        I think the idea of doing something to “fit in” to “good” Catholic circles can also be applied to young marriage. Perhaps even more so, especially since I know several “good Catholic couples” who are now divorced, perhaps since their decisions were made to “fit in” rather than what was right for them. Its the discernment process of these major life decisions which is most important.

        • Rebecca 04. Dec, 2010 at 4:55 pm #

          I know I’m late, but I just wanted to say I loved ‘listening in’ on this conversation. I found myself nodding my head through each of your comments.

          I <3 you both :).

  7. Dan Horan, OFM 23. Nov, 2010 at 11:48 am #

    I really liked your “about” and “questions” pages – well done! I’m in a hurry (off to teach a course in theology at Siena College) and haven’t looked at your other posts, looking forward to it. Peace and good!

    • Rae 28. Nov, 2010 at 11:51 am #

      Thanks so much!

  8. Deacon Todd Carter 24. Nov, 2010 at 1:54 pm #

    Sometimes it’s easier to desire the good than the bad. Be glad that your intellect and well aren’t malformed in this respect!

    I thought you guys were having trouble having a baby because of your endometriosis. I didn’t know Josh was against having kids right now. Was I reading that right?

    God bless!

    • Rae 28. Nov, 2010 at 12:03 pm #

      “Easier to desire the good than the bad” that is an interesting take!

      I don’t think that I will ever publicly post details about our particular process of discernment with children etc. though of course I mention a lot of the pieces! The conversation posted above did happen in a few different forms a few times, but it is always with a heavy dose of sarcasm on my part as it seems as if such a view is quite far from reality. I will say though that Josh has always been 100% pro-baby and much more ready to accept the reality of the work that they bring without seeing it as a sacrifice. He does not suffer from my sort of baby-lust, but he loved taking care of his younger siblings and sees children as a natural part of a good life.

  9. Claire 26. Nov, 2010 at 8:48 am #

    But obviously the self-indulgence part relates to s*x and not the entirety of rearing a child, right..?
    I mean, yes, babies are beautiful and sometimes bring warm fuzzies, but parenthood is for a lifetime and as such is really a service to an _other_. That is most often to fall under the “self-denial” heading, if you ask me, as all acts of true love would. Babies-as-accessories is all too real of a phenomenon and there are women who need to mature into an understanding of their _relationship_ to another person (and grow away from the idea of “ownership” of a child in all its forms). However, in your case, I suspect that at the root you are more guilty of desiring the “pleasure of service” part rather than the initial and short-lived pleasure of the “Act.” I hardly think that is self-indulgent or un-generous; we are talking about a real (and separate!) human life, here!
    Of course, it is also true love to abstain for the good of your baby-to-be and your spouse, so there’s that. I see what you are saying; either way, you are being generous in your choices.

    :)

    • Rae 28. Nov, 2010 at 12:08 pm #

      Good points. The problem for me is that while parenthood *is* largely self-sacrifice, it isn’t real for me since I don’t have any children around (I think it would be an entirely different story if I had 2-3 children already). Sometimes when I am not feeling well I will express gratitude that I do not have to care for a child so I can just care for myself, but in reality the work of a child is an abstract thought and so doesn’t carry much weight.

      And I’m not sure that I would actually be generous either way, but I really appreciate your positive take. :-)

  10. Sarah 30. Nov, 2010 at 12:31 pm #

    Rae, I am loving all of your posts pondering the practicality of motherhood. It’s a great example of how there is not one cookie cutter way to be a faithful, married Catholic. I have some similar worries since I might want to pursue a PhD after my master’s degree. How would potential children fit into years of study and more years of building up to tenure? Would the Catholic, “unselfish” thing to do be to give up my dreams of being a professor to be a stay at home mom? Would that be be financially practical for my potential family? Sigh, I guess we just have to trust God’s plan.

    I hope this isn’t too personal, but I have to ask – no sex on Fridays? Is that a rule you established as a couple?

    • Joshua Michael 07. Dec, 2010 at 6:27 pm #

      Regarding the last question: Friday is considered a day of penance. Though there aren’t a lot of rules about what should or shouldn’t be done, we try to retain its penitential character.

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