I know I have commented before on the variety of responses I get when people learn that I am pregnant with my fifth child.
Some are bewildered, some are thinly veiled jabs, some are just lovely, but they always come. Always.
In fact, I often try some evasive maneuvers before revealing my true state of affairs. When people ask if this is my first baby, I smile and say no very politely.
Of course, some of them proceed to ask if I have a boy or girl at home. And I proceed to tell them that I have one of each. Plus one more of each. A spare set, Rob and I like to joke, in case we royally mess up the first two.
That's when it gets fun. Some people get positively breathless. One saleswoman just kept saying WHAT?! About ten times in a row.
I try to be gracious, I really do, but it's annoying. I refuse to act apologetic or flustered or distraught or ashamed or embarrassed or anything other than what I feel: I am pumped! I am grateful! I am having a ball! Go suck eggs! (oh wait, that last one wasn't gracious. My bad.)
I usually put all these exchanges right out of my mind, but Lerin's post at Beautiful Chaos made me think about what it really means when we say we are open to life.
Lerin posted recently about the toll on her emotions when she and her husband decided to put their school aged children in public school. They've prayerfully decided to grow their family according to what they feel is God's plan for them, and that means they can't afford the tuition at their Catholic school.
It's a situation that many Catholic families face, and Lerin wondered why it had to be a choice at all. She lamented the fact that it seemed their family's adherence to Catholic teaching had precluded them from educating their children in a Catholic school.
An anonymous commenter took her to task for feeling upset about not being to afford tuition for her children. Lerin was accused of looking for a discount or some kind of deal where other tuition-paying parents would have to pick up the slack for her. (For the record, she was not. She was willing to work at the school or trade services and expertise for reduced tuition.)
The commenter noted that she had limited her family size to three children so that she could afford tuition, thus implying that Lerin had no right to complain since she and her husband had made the decision to have more children than they could afford to send to Catholic school.
I've been a party to these kinds of exchanges before, both in reference to myself and to friends, and of course they can be disheartening for a number of reasons. In fact, it can be even more deflating when the criticism comes from an unexpected place.
I think that in many circles, when people say they are "open to life," the natural assumption is big family ahead. In fact, I have been drawn into discussions about the way some Catholics present large families as the gold standard of faithfulness.
Obviously I am a supporter of large families (literally. Just ask my poor pelvic floor.), but I don't think having lots of kids completely encompasses the whole expression of being open to life.
"Open to life" doesn't just mean having as many children as you possibly can, although that is certainly God's plan for some families, but I know many good and faithful Catholics who have been blessed with a single child.
And some very faithful people, like our priests and religious, have no children at all. They are all still open to life.
Here's the tricky, and really HARD, part about saying that you're open to life --- what you really mean is that not only are you open to God's plan for your own family, but you are open to His plan for other people's lives as well.
That's a lot to swallow for flawed humans, but there it is just the same. It means that you are open to accepting and helping others with their vocations; it implies a generosity of spirit.
The single teenage mother? The parents with the loud kids at Mass? The mom of many who is a little strung out? The family who needs help to provide their children with a Catholic education? Yep - that's who you are opening yourself up to when you say that you are open to life.
I guess what I am long-windedly trying to say is that being open to life means following Jesus' command to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked . . . whether that naked, hungry stranger comes from your own womb or from a few pews behind you in church.