Dare we ask for more than one child?

Shortly after I was born, my mother used to tell me, Grandpa Fagalde said, “Well, when are you going to have your boy?” Exhausted from giving birth, she wasn’t thrilled about the idea at that moment, but a year and a half later, she gave birth to my brother. Like most of families on our block, our parents had two children, a boy and a girl. A full set. We fit perfectly in our three-bedroom baby boom houses in the suburbs of San Jose.

Fast forward to 2020 and the Childless by Marriage community. So many people here are hoping, praying and pleading to have a baby, just one, but I suspect we really want a full set, too, which means more than one.

If we only manage to have one, he or she would be an “only child.” Although lone children can thrive, happy to receive all of their parents’ attention, they will go through life without the companionship of another person who has exactly the same family history and who will be around for major family events. They might also provide nieces and nephews for you to cherish. God knows I would hate to have gone through the recent loss of my father without my brother. We were a team throughout that ordeal and he has handled the brunt of the estate management.

In so many situations we read about here, a person would be lucky to have a single child. The partner is already reluctant, or the body is not cooperating. If one sperm and one egg actually get together and if the pregnancy lasts the whole nine months and if the baby is born healthy . . . dare we ask for more than one? Should we just pray for twins?

Sure, having more than one child is double the cost and double the effort. My mother always said she sometimes thought she’d lose her mind those first few years with the two of us both in diapers and into everything while Dad was at work all day. But it was good for us. We always had someone to play with when other kids weren’t around. We fought a lot, but we were united against the world. Now that our parents are gone, we still have each other. I have always wished I had a sister, too, but Mom and Dad didn’t cooperate.

As Catholics, if they were following the rules, my parents would have had more children, but honestly most Catholic couples use birth control of some kind. As a working class family living off my father’s income as an electrician, they would have struggled to take care of a larger family. Two was enough for them.

Many of our readers have married someone who already has children from a previous relationship. So did I. Two of my friends in that situation had one more child together. For medical reasons, they could not have more. Others had more than one. I’m not going to say the children from the second marriage blended perfectly with the kids from the first. They did not turn into the Brady Bunch. They got along, but it was always clear they came from different tribes. But both partners in the marriage got the children they wanted; no one was left childless.

Back to the original question. While we’re asking to have one child, dare we ask for two—or more? What do you think? Are any of you “only children?” Do you wish you had a brother or sister? Would you like to have more than one child with your current partner? Dare you ask? Or would negotiations completely shut down if you went that far?

Driving down the road, I often follow cars with stencils on the back window representing their families. Have you seen them? There’s the mom, the dad, the multiple children and the dog. How many people would we like on our back-window stencil?

I look forward to your comments.

Interesting reading:

“The Rise of the Only Child,” Washington Post, June 19, 2019

 “The Truth About Only Children,” The Guardian, May 31, 2018

 

 

 

Birth control decision not so simple

As most of you know, I’m Catholic. I’m not only a parishioner but an employee, so what I’m about to write might get me in trouble, but I woke up this morning knowing I needed to say something.

Basically what I want to say is that too many people and too many institutions, especially churches, don’t even try to understand that some people who would like to have children do not have them, for various reasons, and that our lives do not fit into their neat little boxes. And that it hurts.

Tucked into last week’s church bulletin was a handout about the evils and dangers of birth control. It discusses the physical risks of oral contraceptives, contraceptive patches and IUDs: cancer, blood clots, heart attacks, septic shock . . . scary stuff. Plus, the handout, produced by the U.S. Conference of Bishops (all men), says these methods are actually forms of abortion because they kill the embryo before implantation in the uterus. It doesn’t mention “barrier methods,” such as condoms and diaphragms, but those are also forbidden.

The bishops blame “the pill” for women having sex outside of marriage, out-of-wedlock births, and single mothers living in poverty.

In contrast to these horrors, they offer the “fertility awareness” method, whereby couples abstain from sex when the woman is most fertile. This, of course, takes total cooperation by two horny people and assumes the woman has regular, predictable cycles. As I mention in my Childless by Marriage book, one of my friends named her “surprise” son after the priest who prescribed this method for her and her husband.

All of this assumes that we can avoid sex outside of marriage and that within marriage we have husbands or wives who will follow the rules. I don’t know about you, but my partners inside and outside of marriage, including the Catholic ones, would not have gone along with either abstaining or having a bunch of babies. I used birth control—pills, condoms, diaphragms–right up until I married a man who’d had a vasectomy. A vasectomy is also considered a sin.

Despite the church’s mandate, a majority of Catholics use artificial birth control. Numbers vary, with sources offering from 72 to 98 percent of American women. Honestly, the church puts us between a rock and a hard place. How many of us are lucky enough to marry someone who will agree to take a chance on the “natural” method? How many people here at Childless by Marriage are with partners who do not want any children, period? How many are not sure about it so they aren’t willing to take any chances? How many of us would be delighted to throw away our birth control and have a baby, but we fear we’d lose the man or woman we love if we did?

Being alone and past menopause, I no longer have to worry about this, but I know most of you do. I’m not going to preach for or against. Just be aware of the risks and make your own decision.

I don’t want to be excommunicated or lose my job, but I worry about the lack of understanding shown in documents such as this. For some of us, life cannot be boiled down to being alone and chaste or being married and happily making babies. It’s just not that simple.

For more on the Catholic viewpoint, visit www.usccb.org/respectlife.

It’s not just the Catholic Church that doesn’t seem to understand the variables in our life situations. We see it in our government, in our society, and around the dinner table.

What do you think? Have I ruffled some feathers? How do you feel about this? Please share (and don’t tell my pastor).

What’s God got to do with childlessness?

Since I tiptoed into a tricky topic by writing about abortion last week, let’s take it a step farther and talk about religion. I know you all have different beliefs, and that’s good. This post will not challenge what you believe, just perhaps how we all apply our beliefs.

We know that Catholics believe abortion is a mortal sin, grounds for excommunication. But do you also know that when couples get married in the Catholic Church they promise to accept the gift of children from God? To refuse could mean not being allowed to marry in the church.

The church maintains that sex should only happen between people who are married and that its only purpose is procreation—making babies. Birth control is not allowed. Do millions of Catholics break these rules? All the time. So did I. It’s hard to ignore the fact that if I had followed the rules of the church back when I could have gotten pregnant, I would probably have children now. And grandchildren. My whole life would have been different. I would still have gotten divorced from my first husband and God knows how I would have supported myself and the kids, but I would be a mom.

So you could say religion, or ignoring my religion, is a factor in why I’m childless. But when people ask me why I don’t have kids, I rarely mention my religion or God or the church. And neither do most of the people I talk to, even though most religions see children as a blessing if not a requirement. I can’t name one faith that suggests we don’t have babies. Not one. And yet, it doesn’t seem to be part of the decision.

With all the people I interviewed for my Childless by Marriage book and the countless folks who have joined the discussion here at the blog, any mention of religion is rare. Why is that? Is it that our culture seems to make fun of people who are visibly religious? Try bringing it up with somebody you meet today and watch for the uncomfortable reaction.

Or is it that our faith doesn’t factor at all into our decisions about having children? I get comments every day about what he wants and what she wants, what I need and what he needs, will I regret it in my old age, and who will take care of me, but not a word about what God wants us to do. If you don’t believe in God, that makes sense. But a July 2016 Gallup poll shows that 89 percent of Americans claim to believe in God or a higher power. So where does God fit into our decisions about children? Do we consult Him/Her/It at all? If we don’t, why not? And if we do, why don’t we talk about it?

Are we afraid of being mocked? Afraid we don’t want what God wants? Do we figure it’s none of God’s business, part of our right to free will? When I was using birth control with my first husband or the men who followed; when I married a man who had a vasectomy and didn’t want more children; when I was feeling bad because I didn’t get to be a mom, did I think about God? Not much. Oh, I’d shake my fist and ask how He could let this happen to me, but that’s  not the same thing.

How about you? I know religion is an itchy uncomfortable subject for lots of people, but let’s try to talk about it. How does/did your belief in God or a higher power fit into your decisions about having children?

I promise to write about something easy, like puppies, next week. Tomorrow’s my dog Annie’s ninth birthday! But we need to look at the big issues sometimes. And maybe sending up a prayer will help someone who’s trying to figure things out.