When we had our 2nd child, a girl after a boy, many friends and family asked us if we were still going to try for a 3rd. Our reply sounded generic, but couldn’t have been truer or more sincere: “However God wants to bless us.”
A few days after our daughter turned 1, we found out that God had decided to “bless us” with another one. It took us by surprise, no doubt, but we trusted, as we always do, that God knew what He was doing. Peter’s perspective helped me a great deal in facing the news: that we must be doing such a good job as parents to our two children that God decided to entrust us with another one. And I don’t have to tell you how much of a blessing all three of them are.
Slowly, I had to reveal to people at work that I was, again, pregnant. I had taken a year off from residency when I had my second baby, and had just gotten back to work around 8 months prior to finding out I was again expecting. I decided not to take a leave anymore this time around; I only had 4 months left of training anyway. I would, however, have to delay applying for my next step in training (fellowship), resulting in me taking another year off from work because of a pregnancy (interesting note: I’ve always ended up taking a year off for each pregnancy I’ve had thus far).
The first to make a comment was my OB-GYN. After checking that all things were in order, she half-asked, half-scolded: “You’re stopping at 3, right?” I smiled, gave a nervous chuckle, and basically avoided giving an answer. I cannot count anymore how many doctors (my mentors) felt they needed to say something about how many children I should have. “How many kids do you want, anyway?” “Are you aiming for a whole basketball lineup?” “Stop at 3, or you’ll never finish your training.” “At your rate, you might end up not practicing medicine altogether.”
Thankfully, propriety prevents others from asking me what my OB-GYN has the professional license (obligation?) to ask: What is my method of birth control?
One colleague, who apparently did not get the propriety memo, blatantly asked me what I was on during a conversation we were having about kids. You should have seen the look of disbelief when I told her we were practicing the Rhythm Method of Natural Family Planning–it was a you’re-so-naive-and-old-fashioned look.
I remember being taught in Christian Living class in Catholic School that the Church makes a stand against contraception in this sexually liberated world. I even remember lessons on the two-fold purpose of marriage, being both unitive and procreative, and how you are not meant to separate one from the other. But is this really adequate preparation for the Catholic girl (couple, really, for it takes two not to Tango) who faces the challenges of chastity in marriage more than 10 years after graduating from high school? Discovering the dynamics of physical intimacy with her husband, as well as the financial burden of raising kids today, will she remember these teachings? Will she even care?
One thing I realized about chastity in marriage is that it would be very difficult to work at it outside the confines of faith. And I’m not talking about blind obedience to Church Teaching–following without seeking to understand is almost always a set-up for failure, doomed the day you start asking, “Why am I doing this again?” To possess the virtue of chastity in marriage, you need to have what every other marriage requires: Love and Trust.
You need to love God more than you love each other, more than bodily desires, more than movie-worthy romantic moments that usually only have one ending (you don’t have to give them up completely, just on certain days of the month). It is a love that, as 1 Corinthians 13 tells us, “never seeks its own advantage“ and is “always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure.”
And you need to trust–that God will provide you with whatever resources you need to raise your family, that He indeed has a plan in mind for you, one for a future full of hope (Jeremiah 29:11). Since Natural Family Planning has a very variable and user-dependent 70-98% success rate, this means trusting that while you do your part to get it right 70% of the time, you’ve surrendered the remaining 30% to God for Him to move and do as He pleases, for Him to decide when and how He will bless you. Trusting that your obedience will not go unnoticed, that God will honor your desire to live a life worthy of the vocation you’ve received (Ephesians 4:1).
What is our method of birth control? One that allows us to really put God at the center of our marriage, in all aspects and in all places. One that helps us grow more in love and trust, and unites us with our Church’s stand for life and the sanctity of Marriage. And one that, we believe, is pleasing in the eyes of our Father.