The Courage of Large Families

“Do we have to tell them? Can’t we just wait until the baby is born and then let everyone know?”

I chuckled. “I don’t think that will work, honey.”

Her reluctance was understandable.

Just shy of 13 years into a very happy — if somewhat stressful — marriage, my wife and I are expecting the as yet unnamed Baby #6. With each child, we get a few more stares, a few more ugly comments. In the Old Testament, a woman might feel embarrassed to be infertile. Today, parents are shamed for having more than two children who are an unnecessary burden on our economy, ecology, sex life, or whatever other false god we moderns have decided to worship.

Baby After Baby

Baby #1 surprised us quickly, not long after the honeymoon. Working in ministry at the time, it was easy to see colleagues and parishioners sizing us up on how quickly we conceived. “Oh, they’re gonna be one of those couples.”

Baby #2 came on the rebound and was born fewer than three weeks after her older brother’s first birthday. “Almost Irish twins,” came the comments, “how do you think they’ll manage?”

Answer: It really wasn’t that hard. Just a built-in playmate, that’s all.

“Well, you have a boy and a girl now. So you’re done, right?”

“Oh, is that how it works? I didn’t realize they were collectible accessories.”

That was my kids’ daycare teacher, by the way. I guess she didn’t want any more customers?

I was mostly deaf to criticism when Baby #3 came along. He was a special gift of the providence of Our Lady of Lourdes; long story short: through her holy water, he came back to us, full of life, from a likely miscarriage.

Baby #4 came at a tumultuous time in our lives. Financial pressures and a scramble to renovate my late, reclusive father-in-law’s house to be livable for a family of 5 turned into a surprise change of plans for a family of 6.

The first few months in the house, we had no bedroom door and the guest bath had a hole in the floor where the toilet would eventually be. That’s when Baby #4 appeared.

“Got your hands full?” was the question of the day every day, and the answer was “YES! Wanna babysit? Change a diaper? Maybe pay for a new subfloor?”

It was about now, having broken the two-child norm and the three-child taboo that I started noticing the stares in public. A Target cashier told my wife she needed to get her tubes tied. A relative asked my wife if she’d been konked over the head. Strangers offered us tips on how to prevent more babies, as if our knowledge was the problem. As if we were stupid.

Pro-life Catholics aren’t exactly misinformed on the facts surrounding conception. I’m just one of a whole generation of Catholic alumni of Franciscan University of Steubenville to have digested an entire undergrad course in embryology. Medical knowledge was not lacking.

(I strongly encourage every ministry program in the country to include a required course in either embryology, disability studies, end-of-life issues, or bioethics. The pro-life movement needs more experts on the front lines.)

By then, people started to see us as that Catholic couple that pops out babies no matter their circumstances. The truth is, we’ve been surprised a couple times, but we’ve never been unwilling. There are moments, of course, when we’re tempted by the ways of the world. If we didn’t have all these kids, we’d be somewhere in Tuscany right now! But these kids are what we were made for. “Be fruitful and multiply,” came the command. We love life and we love sharing it with our children. It’s worth every dollar, every late night, every drop of sweat, and every anguished groan.

Baby #5 made his first appearance a week after I lost my dream job, working in Catholic media from home, due to financial matters beyond my control. It was, by far, the most distress I’ve ever felt on account of being a father. Jobless, feeling a failure, I was depressed and angry at the burden I carried without any support.

If you tell people you have 3 or 4 kids, they look at you a little woefully. If you tell them you have 5 — oh, and by the way, you’re out of work — most people will just gawk. Their jaws will drop, their eyes will widen, and they will shudder with terror at the thought of being in your shoes. They wonder why you haven’t, you know, “taken care of” the pregnancy.

Evangelization by Moral Example

That stark contrast between the generous way of the gospel and the selfish way of the world makes having a big family evangelical.

“I have two kids,” someone once remarked to me, “and then I made my husband get a vasectomy. People with lots of kids are uneducated breeders.”

I deadpanned: “I have 5 kids.”

“Oh.”

Bam! Here’s a perfectly sane, well-educated Christian sharing his hope in the future. Going about town with a flock of children is an act of courageous evangelization.

Yes, courageous. The whole modern world shuns you for having so many kids, for hating your own plans and embracing God’s plans, and perhaps even for putting them to shame, though I try not to think of that. It’s impossible not to feel the glares and stares.

Our culture is steeped in anti-life ideology and hatred of the gospel of generosity.

Surely, Jesus’ words are fulfilled:

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’”

Luke 23:28-29

I always used to think that verse was a lamentation of the suffering of mothers who would lose their children. Certainly, it is that. But how can it not be seen also as a prophecy of these times when motherhood is cursed by the crowds?

So I evangelize right now: My wife and I are expecting Baby #6. We’ve already had a miscarriage scare, an extended family crisis, a septic tank breakdown, and had a medical professional try to push (very pricey) genetic screening for abortion-recommended conditions on us. My wife courageously told the nurse, “there is nothing that test could reveal that would make any difference to us.”

I love that woman. I love our babies.

Please pray for us and for our new child as we make our way with the gospel of life.

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3 Comments

  1. Prayers! So much yes to this post. We are expecting #8. We have also faced many of what you have mentioned here. It gets easier in some ways, and harder in others. God bless your family!

  2. Thank you for your courage
    Every time my wife and I see a family like yours, we are filled with feelings of great cheer and renewed hope in God’s providence for the future.
    (We had six as well, and eagerly awaiting arrival of grandchild #35)

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