Roe, Roe, Roe Your Vote, Gently Up the Stream. Thoughts on Lots of Offspring from my Kitchen Sink.
I recently announced that I was pregnant.
I hit 2 months of gestation with baby number 8 the day Roe. Vs. Wade was overturned in the Supreme Court.
I've only considered the role of motherhood over the last 20 years from a very personal level. But my country has been asking "the experts" to define it for 50 years on a national scale. So this is not a legal treatise on the subject of abortion, despite the title. Plenty of others offer commentary about that.
I'm just going to talk about motherhood in a culture that really doesn't approve - and delights in making their opinions known.
This is a long post, but if you've ever wondered about these weird people who welcome children rather than fear them, here's your chance to see our worldview.
It's still funny to me that even in the cold New England reserved culture, complete strangers feel comfortable making snide comments when they see my large family. If I had a nickel for every time I hear "You sure are busy!" on an average family trip in public, I bet I could feed my large brood with the proceeds. And that's saying something.
I'm sure people think any number of things when they see my family; I would have myself before I embodied them.
Here are some people say to my face.
"Really Stephanie, you're surprised?!?"
"Don't you know what causes that?"
"You guys need to get a tv or something."
"Isn't the world already overpopulated?"
"That isn't very responsible."
"Are you trying to copy the Duggars?"
"You need a new hobby."
"You poor thing."
"Are they all yours?"
"What about the medical needs of your disabled child?"
Since we're on the subject (again), I'll take a few minutes to respond to these common statements to my uncommon family. Because, believe it or not, I have thought about it. Even more than the members of the Supreme Court.
Definitely more than the "average" person.
Since, clearly, I'm not that anymore.
Let me explain.
I am surprised, to be honest.
I am pretty in tune with how the birds and the bees work.
I am aware of when I last ovulated; the chance of getting pregnant was very, very small statistically. (Why don't they teach how to know your cycle in school? Talk about useful information!)
It's been over 4 years since our last baby. I thought we were done.
I'm 40. The window of probability is naturally closing soon.
But God likes to work with the practically impossible. So here we are.
I understand the feeling when you see the pink lines on the test that will change your life. I know the swirl of emotions well. I know the sudden overwhelm, the worry, the uncertainty, the fear. It was not in my plans to have a baby. Pregnancy is very inconvenient... I was going in for surgery (which I couldn't have because of those two pink lines), it means I'm going back to the world of hormonal exhaustion, of diapers and naptimes and toddler-proofing, of financial stress and loneliness while the world swirls on around you.
But it also means I have been chosen for this most sacred gift. Any old scientist can smush two sets of DNA together... but the living soul that imbues the replicating cells deep in my body cannot be duplicated or replaced. There is no one else on earth like this being that I've been given to carry. It's heavy - it's holy.
I am - every time - surprised that I have been given this most heavenly and humble of all jobs in creation. Who am I to be trusted with the gravity of this work?!?
Yet here I am.
We do know what causes it, perhaps better than you. My knee-jerk response is to respond to this question innocently, "No I don't know. Would you please explain it to me right now because clearly I'm incapable of understanding?"
Actually, I know the science. I know my body. I am well aware of the fluctuations of my cycle, right down to what is best to eat, how to move, and what activities to plan each given week - to optimize my health and reproductive capability. I have intensively studied the options for birth control - Surgery. Hormonal interference. Barriers. Abstinence.
Here's the rundown.
My husband and I have not felt comfortable with surgical intervention. We always believed that surgery was what you do to fix something that's broken. Neither of us is broken. Now, I don't mean to implicate anyone who chooses that option. I understand it. There are definite medical and health reasons to consider surgery to prevent more pregnancies. It's not abortive. It's pretty common and healing is usually fast and without complications. But nothing is without risk, including tube tying or a vasectomy. And I know quite a few people who had surgery and later regretted the finality of their decision. I'm not in a hurry to commit to that.
We choose to look at reproduction as a responsibility to manage rather than a problem to remove.
Hormonal birth control. I have tried this. When we first got married, I started getting a Depo-Provera shot to avoid getting pregnant. I bled constantly. So I switched to the pill. It worked better... But it changed my perception of my husband and highjacked my normal hormone balance. The more I read about how the pill worked, the less comfortable I became about overruling my natural hormones. The same goes for IUDs.
In layman's terms, the pill hormones usually prevent ovulation and keep the uterine lining too thin to allow for implantation. The long-term effects of this synthetic hormone overhaul have a negative impact on a women's health (evidence and studies are growing). I'd rather be in tune with my natural hormones than take fake ones for years to cover them. Plus, as a Christian who believes that life begins at conception - when a completely new and unique human DNA is supernaturally connected with a soul and spirit - I am not comfortable with the possibility of a fertilized egg not being able to implant. If there is a life, at any stage of development, it is put there by God and deserves both recognition and care. Again, this is up to you to study personally and make your own informed decision. But for my health and my beliefs, hormone birth control isn't an option.
Barriers - they can work, but they're annoying, unsexy, and messy. Yes, I know - so are babies. Condoms and diaphragms are handy when my cycle is abnormal, like after I have a baby and I'm breastfeeding. But once my natural hormones settle into a routine, it's fairly simple to know when the chance of getting pregnant occurs. And simply avoid it - or use a barrier. If we fudge the rules a bit, there's a slim chance of a baby. If we really don't want a baby - we can't fudge the rules.
Abstinence. This is a guaranteed method - in fact, the only guaranteed method - of avoiding pregnancy. I recommend it to anyone who isn't married. But if you're married, there should only be brief seasons of this type of birth control. Sex connects a couple body, soul, and spirit. So use abstinence sparingly. A healthy marriage should last longer than your childbearing years. Invest in it.
Do we need a TV to keep us out of the bedroom? Strangers love making this comment in passing. They equate sex to cheap entertainment. I think this is insulting. They claim it's better to binge seasons of brain-numbing fodder than for me to choose purposeful intimacy with my husband. Incidentally, in 21 years of marriage, you can only prove that we’ve had sex 8 times. I'm going to guess you've watched more tv than that. Newsflash: it is not a lack of entertainment that causes sex. I think I was sometimes bored before having kids, and I did occasionally watch mindless shows. In the modern, technologically advanced world, that is a preferred alternative to spending quality time with my husband and raising our children.
Comfort and entertainment are the idols of my generation.
They make poor gods.
That's a rant for another day.
The world isn't overpopulated. The entire population of earth could fit into Texas. I'm not arguing for this; it would be impractical, crowded, and very unpleasant. But there is plenty of room - and continues to be. Here in New England, there are acres and acres of unpopulated land. The world population growth rate is declining. According to ourworldindata.org, 50 years ago (when Roe Vs. Wade was first ruled) it was 2.2% per year, now it is 1% per year - and falling. Over that same period, the global fertility rate has been sharply cut in half, from rates of 5+ average children per woman down to just over 2 per woman. America's average as of 2019 was 1.9 kids per mom. And continuing to decline. At this rate, future generations not only don't increase, but they can't even replace the aging population. Maybe the issue is more about how we're handling the earth's resources than how many people live on it. It does cost a lot to care for our household, but I betcha our family's per person carbon footprint is far less than the average single person. My husband responded to a negative comment last week about how weird and unusual our large family was. "Only within the last 50 years," he retorted. "Throughout all the centuries before that, we would be considered normal - and blessed."
The responsibility of caring for 8 growing souls does feel heavy sometimes. The reason most women have abortions is financial worry. Raising kids is costly. Mom either needs to take a hiatus from her career or pay for alternative caregivers if she plans to continue her career. Housing costs, food, and physical needs increase. It's often not feasible to live on one income. You don't want to know how much it costs to fill our 12-passenger van with liquid gold. I mean gas. Food costs are rising by the day. I would love to have a bigger house - oh how I long for a mudroom, a pantry, a laundry room, and a garage! - but that's not in the budget.
Kids need love. They need a good education. They need medical care. They need you to be able to talk to them before you've had coffee in the morning, when you have a migraine or a bad day, and when you don't have the answer.
You don't want them to be a statistic, but your children's survival will require you to pour yourself out. Every day. Every way.
All I can say is that God provides. It's trite. But it's true. We tried to sell our little 2 bedroom house for a decade as we grew to have 6 boys - one in a wheelchair - while living on a single income. I couldn't even afford paint to fix it up for most of that season. It was uncomfortably tight.
But they weren't hungry, though sometimes we lived on rice and beans. They weren't bored, though we often couldn't afford to go anywhere or even invite anyone over. They weren't lacking, though they couldn't sign up for activities or take vacations. They reminisce about snuggling on the sofa around mom as we read books for an hour at a time, driving matchbox cars in the dirt of our postage stamp yard, and never going to bed lonely in bunk beds stacked high. I remember it for the tight times - in every way. But my kids remember that whole season fondly.
Perhaps, ironically, it's more irresponsible to constrain the gift of life within the small box of finances rather than welcome it. Church - I'm talking to you.
When God grants life, He is perfectly capable of sustaining it.
We are not trying to copy anyone. I don't watch tv (see above), so I have little impetus to try to emulate anyone on it. I know you're trying to find a point of reference, but at this stage just realize we're used to going against the flow. This didn’t happen overnight. I’m not Kate plus 8. I don't bring up every famous - or infamous - family of your size every time I see you, do I? Jesus Himself had at least five siblings - the brothers are named in the Bible, and it mentions His sisters, plural. If I want to be like anyone, maybe I’ll start there.
Children are not hobbies. I don’t collect them like trinkets.
I'm not vying for likes or views or a personal soap opera.
I don't have kids so we can be someone else's entertainment.
My kids don't even like to use soap!
I can’t put them away when I’m tired or overwhelmed. They are not a whim.
I know they’re cute and entertaining and can be fun to dress up. But they’re not pets (though I think some dog owners are a bit confused about the title of parent). Having kids is simple obedience to a solemn command - the first in the Bible to the first couple. As a matter of fact, I'm not "good at making babies." God is. And it’s a blessing I refuse to take lightly as so many people around me wish they could so easily get pregnant and have offspring, and can't. Children are a natural aspect of a healthy marriage, just like having meals together, paying shared bills, buying a house, or being the one who takes their drooling other half home after surgery and doesn’t post videos of their delirium for the social world to see.
You wouldn't die for your hobby.
I'd die for my kids.
But living for them is often harder.
I am not to be pitied. Babies are a gift and a blessing, whether I have one or a dozen, planned or surprise.
I am well aware this is a hard blessing that will change me, body and soul. I've been through labor, I've spent sleepless nights with a sick child, I've caught puke in public, I've had to refuse invites to parties and plans and fun. I've called poison control and 911. I've called grandma in exhaustion. I've called on God when I was so overwhelmed I could only utter wordless prayers. I've watched my infant undergo brain surgery. I've seen my offspring convulse with seizures. I've had to say no when it broke my heart - and theirs. So many times.
But I have also heard babies laugh. If I could bottle that and sell it I'd cure worldwide depression and be a billionaire. I've experienced the inexpressible peace of snuggling a newborn in the quiet darkness, inhaling their sweet new scent, feeling their complete trust. I've watched souls develop, wisdom and stature grow. I've seen boys turn into men. I've been given priceless dandelion bouquets. I've shared their joy and sorrows, secrets and standing ovations, heartaches and celebrations. I've fixed broken bodies with a kiss and a bandaid. My presence saves them from scary dreams and bad guys. My word gives them power. My favorite people in the world live in my house. It's a good gig.
Are they all mine? Yes. Believe it or not, my little five-foot frame birthed the young men that tower over me and flock around me. That little girl who looks like her daddy arrived via my womb. Would I welcome others through adoption or foster care? Yes, I would in a heartbeat. But there are difficult hoops to jump through for both of those. We don't have enough space to qualify for taking in foster kids, and we don't make enough money to qualify for adoption based on our family size. If you want loving families to care for the kids who need them, then vote for measures that make it easier to do so!
What about the medical needs of your disabled child?
This is an issue we considered long and hard. Our 4th son has Spina Bifida. They call kids with this condition "million-dollar babies" because they often require significant care and intervention from the moment of diagnosis (often via ultrasound before birth).
Medical advancements in the last 30 years allow these kids who might have been handed a virtual death sentence with their diagnosis to lead pretty normal, productive lives in today's world. But he has still required major back and brain surgeries (among others), and a plethora of therapies and specialist visits on a regular basis. We chose to forgo the amazing option of in-utero surgery to repair the bubble on his back before birth because I would have had to be flat on my back for months afterward and probably still be faced with his premature birth. I couldn't do that and care for his siblings.
His first year was a blur of white-coated doctors and sterile rooms with only that crackly paper on the table to play with. He was poked and prodded and handed over to strangers who inflicted pain on my beautiful blue-eyed cherub. We both cried.
We wondered if it were wise to have more kids with the increased chance of having another child with SB.
We wondered if we could handle the challenges of medical care with more kids.
It has been a challenge sometimes.
I can't change my own DNA that has a predisposed inability to break down synthetic B vitamins (lack of B9 - folate - is clearly connected with increased risk of neural tube defects), so it matters more to me than to many that I optimize my diet and supplements.
But we figured the worst that could happen was having another kid with a disability - and who better to deal with that than a family already in the trenches? Having another baby would be very difficult if my son suddenly needed a long hospital stay or a rash of surgeries. (Which did happen on his 3rd birthday - when I had a nursing 5-month-old baby). It was difficult.
But his little siblings have been the best gift I could have given him. He gets to be a big brother, to teach them things, and they have never seen him as different - he is normal to them. They challenge him in ways no therapist ever could. They prove that the world doesn't end just because of a wheelchair. They keep him from being the "baby" and force him to grow.
"Hard" isn't necessarily bad.
I can explain all the practical and logical reasons for joy at the news of baby number 8.
But people - on the street, around social media, and even in church - will still look at me cross-eyed when I appear with my growing flock and growing belly.
We be weird in a world that will only concede the need for 1.2 children per mother.
I don't answer to the world.
The bottom line is that life is precious.
It is not a given.
Life is a gift.
Life is imbued with value because God stamps His image on us. And His image is invaluable, holy, heavenly.
It is of such great worth that God Himself chose to step out of the glory of heaven into the filth and pain of earth and lose His life in a horrible way - so that He could save ours.
So I can do no less than live like I believe that.
For every baby.
Starting with my own.