Give Them Siblings!

Maryan is due tomorrow. She's been ever so eager patient to go into labor. Personally, I'm thinking tomorrow a very fine day to have a birthday;-). Just ask Brendan Fry (number eight of nine closely spaced siblings), who will be three tomorrow. Lots of good things happen on January 10th. So, won't you please join me in praying for Maryan today? For tomorrow, of course.

Maryan is encouraged by Danielle's thoughts on closely-spaced siblings. And well she should be, for Danielle is very wise and very experienced. I thought of Maryan yesterday while I pondered the storm  over Danielle's parenting philosophy.  Maryan and her husband Dan are real life friends, so I can personally vouch for the very happy, healthy family thing they have going there, despite the fact that they have closely spaced boys. Proof positive in my book that this is a bit of hogwash:
But the AP response would be that, unless God has somehow specifically called a person to act in a manner that is contrary to what he created the child's body to need (which would be remarkable considering Pope Benedict's assertion at Ravensburg that the Christian God is a God of order and reason who does not contradict the laws of his own creation) then it is imperative to the bonding process and the health of the mother that children be spaced about 2.5 to 3 years apart (give or take).Heart Mind and Strength
Um, pardon me for being simplistic, but doesn't that sort of call God's wisdom into question every time someone is blessed with twins or more? Let me be very clear, I believe in attachment parenting and I believe that it is parents who benefit most from it. But I don't believe that it is the only way to be a good Catholic parent. And I know Maryan Vanderwoude so I'm here to vouch for the fact that perfect attachment parenting doesn't always space babies 2.5 years apart. What bothers me most about the fray at Danielle's is the idea that attachment parenting has somehow become all about control. Frankly, I think the blessing of attachment parenting is how much it teaches us about relinquishing control--openness to life and attachment parenting are our path to holiness and holiness is not at all about our control. Actually AP is so hard sometimes that we need to let go our grip on the illusion of control in order to hang on firmly to God with both hands. So, when I read this :
Attachment parenting and the Catholic concept of "Integral Procreation" go hand-in-hand. Integral Procreation is a corollary of responsible parenthood which asserts that being open to life requires parents to not simply say "yes" to conception, but mainly be willing to say "yes" to  all the needs a child presents in every age and stage in order to give that child the best chance to become the saint he or she was created to become.Heart Mind and Strength
I was horrified.
My second child was conceived seven months after I finished chemotherapy and radiation. I didn't even know if I'd be alive for the next five years, never mind able to say "yes" to answering his every need personally. Happily, a good priest and a good oncologist encouraged me to say yes to life and all its unknowns. God, I love that child and I thank you every day for the miracle he still is to me.

My fourth child was a nursing toddler when my fifth was born. We were home, happily settling in, when he became very ill with RSV. We spent the second two weeks of his life in the hospital. I was with the baby, ensuring that he was breathing; my nursing toddler was with her father and her devoted older siblings, who did everything they could to comfort her in my absence. They all grew from the experience. I definitely didn't answer her every need, but in the infinitely wise design of a big family, her needs were answered.

I could go on and on in outlining all the needs my children have presented over twenty years--needs that I could never have imagined. And it's a good thing. Because if I'd known how needy they'd be and I'd known how imperfect I am and I'd read about "integral procreation" and thought that was what I had to believe to be Catholic, I would have turned my back on God's choicest blessings in my life and never had them at all. I would have been very afraid. Perfect fear drives out love.

I am open to life. Open to the mystery of what God has in mind for me. Open to the idea that I don't know right now what I am capable of when I open myself up to the possibility of another and I open myself up to God's infinite grace.It's the grace that does it--the grace that makes us grow in ways we could never have imagined. The grace that more than makes up for my lack.

Do I nurse my babies until they three? Yep. Do I nurse more than one at a time, if necessary? Yep. Do I sleep with them well into their childhood? Yep. Do I carry them every where? Well, no, not really. My babies have been known to pass the 25 pound mark before they are six months old. I have a very well worn pelvic floor (I've had 8 babies). Carrying 25 pound babies for hours and hours a day is really medically contraindicated. But I keep them with me. I sit and hold them as much as I can. And when I can't, I enlist a willing older sibling to carry. There are lots of them here. If I'd had all my children 3 years apart, there would be very few of them here. But I had them when God offered them to me. And what I lack in holding/slinging ability, my children provide to their siblings.I don't need a scientific study to tell me that a baby sleeping on the chest of a stressed out teenager is good for everyone's cortisol levels.I don't need a study to tell me that an eleven-year-old is a perfect bed buddy for a three-year-old. That's just the way we do things. We've learned from other holy families. We've learned from watching each of our children and taking our cues from them. We've learned from the fruits of our own earnest prayers. Isn't that a beautiful thing?

One more thought before I move on: I am 42 years old tomorrow. I have 8 living children. I married young and was pregnant the first year. With the exception of the year I had cancer, we have been entirely open to life our entire twenty year marriage. For that, I am extremely grateful to God (I believe He blessed us with abundant grace and saved us from some very prideful decisions) and to my husband.He is a man of great strength and quiet courage. And I think that's a surprise, even to him.It's not easy to be a dad these days. He has so much on his plate, so many, many responsibilities. And when he comes home at night, there's a wiggling, giggling baby in his bed. It's a 24/7 job, no doubt. But if that baby's asleep, he is sure to ask me if he can wake her up just to play. He loves her more than words could ever adequately capture. He's given her so much. He works incredibly hard to provide for all his children. But if you asked, he would be the first to acknowledge that the greatest gift he's given, by far, is the gift of those seven siblings who love her beyond compare. We are old. They will be here for her long after we are gone. We know that we won't provide for her every need. We know that children have needs--big needs, real needs--well into adulthood. And we know better than to assume that even tomorrow is ours. We trust that these children will be family to each other forever. We trust that the big ones whom we have loved so well, will continue to love the little ones and that they will teach that love to the next generation. We pray we're here to watch it all unfold. We trust that we will be able to meet every need God desires us to meet and that He will provide for the rest. On the eve of my birthday, as I'm counting my blessings, I am ever so grateful again, that we were greedy for babies. I'm grateful that we never let a mere man, whether he was a well-meaning stranger or a misguided medical doctor, tell us to outguess God. Despite all the very hard, physically grueling years of lots of littles, I have no regrets. No second guesses. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Because I know that the baby years are very short in light of eternity. I'm so glad that I didn't tell God, "Not right now. I'm not able to do this perfectly for another child right now and I can't guarantee tomorrow." I'm glad, instead, that my husband and I said, "We are willing. Please God, make us able--in whatever way is right and holy for our family."