Wednesday, January 9, 2013

When You're Expecting the Unexpected (Post-Cana Post)

My sixth child, Elisa-Maria, gets special treatment.  She is the first two-year-old I have ever parented without also parenting a newborn at the same time.  I'm finding it to be a surprisingly enjoyable experience.  Not being chronically sleep-deprived or prohibited from ingesting caffeine has definitely made Mama happy.  Everything Elisa-Maria does just seems so cute.  "Why do you love her so much?" my other kids ask me suspiciously.  "I've seen the way you look at her," my husband notes in an almost accusatory tone.

Of course, I'm not the only one head over heels in love with this baby.  Every family member takes the opportunity to slip her chocolate at the slightest opportunity.  No wonder she's always smiling.  And she's very helpful.  She helps me unload the dishwasher, claps when my four-year-old goes peepee in the pot, washes her sisters' hair in the bath, and drags fully-laden backpacks to their proper owners when we get ready for school in the morning.  A chorus of "Awww"'s seems to follow her around the house.  "Es allegre," says my mother-in-law, which, in Spanish, means not just "she is happy," or even "she is cheerful."  It means, "she is joyful." 

Another thing that makes Elisa-Maria special is that she was, shall we say, unexpected.  The word unwanted is far too harsh, and the word unplanned makes no sense in our circumstances, since we never "planned" any of our children's births.  The Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception contravenes God's law because it substitutes our will for his will.  Contraception changes sex from a powerful unitive and generative force into mere entertainment.  Chemical methods, in particular, take a normally functioning fertile human body and render it non-functioning and infertile.  So, my husband and I never used contraception. 

After our fifth child was born, we did try Natural Family Planning (NFP), which required us to abstain from making love during my fertile times.  The Church allows NFP, in part, because NFP works with the body's natural rhythms instead of interfering with or suppressing them.  NFP remains open to God's will and open to life.  A common response to failed contraception is often abortion, said Blessed Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae.  A common response to a mistake in using NFP, on the other hand, is a baby.  In our case, the result was a joyful baby named Elisa-Maria.

At the time, I did not accept my sixth pregnancy with complete happiness.  My simmering anger and resentment started to cause rifts with my husband, who took my reaction quite personally.  The first time I had to put back on my tent-like polka-dotted maternity t-shirt that I had worn through five other pregnancies, I cried bitter tears.  The circumstances of Elisa-Maria's birth verged on frightening.  In the delivery room, the doctor had to cut the umbilical cord, and then the baby's shoulders became stuck.  Crucial seconds ticked by as the doctor maneuvered the baby's wide shoulders out of the tight passageway.  Just when I felt that my energy had totally deserted me, the delivery room crew began shouting, "Push!!"  I firmly believe that the hand of God rescued my baby, because I had no more strength left to give.

Two years later, I can't imagine life without my baby Elisa-Maria, my unexpected little gift from God.


  1. I like the word "unexpected" better than "unplanned" too. Thanks for sharing that beautiful perspective!!

  2. Beautiful story and beautiful child.

    I have approached the whole NFP thing with a great deal of caution. I have heard and read that it is becoming increasingly common, since it is so effective, to treat NFP as a form of 'organic contraception'.

    This is partly what we have discovered here, I am afraid. It is a tough lesson. Thank God, He is gentle and forgiving. It is a sin to plan a child just as it is a sin to plan not to have a child.

  3. James Joseph, I agree that it would be wrong to use NFP with a contraceptive mentality, which is totally closed to the possibility of new life. But the Catechism encourages responsible parenthood, which can include the regulation of procreation. CCC sec. 2368 states: "For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood." So I don't fully accept your statement that "it is a sin to plan a child."

  4. Karee, Thanks so much for your story. We had a similar experience with Maggie. We struggled so hard with infertility issues while trying to concieve our first 2 children. I was in my mid-30s and desperate for a baby. I just had this longing in my heart that I felt God had put there and I could not understand why I could not get pregnant. Thank God, we found a good Orthodox Jewish doctor who wasn't trying to force us into in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination like our prior doctors, and actually found that I had some solvable medical issues.

    After being blessed with two little girls, Charlie was a bit of a surprise, and then I would describe Maggie as a total shock. Being pregnant at 42 and just moving back into a house we had spent a year re-doing to fit 3 kids was not at all what we had in mind. I spent 4 months throwing up 3 times a day and had to spend a month on bedrest due to complications in the first trimester. The fact that Maggie even survived the pregnancy was amazing.

    When I delivered Maggie, the doctor paused and looked and looked at her. I was panicking as I feared the worst. The doctor kept saying "she's fine, she's fine", but we didn't know why she was acting so strangely. Finally, the doctor said, "She looks a little downsy." (I was so relieved as I was afraid she was blue.) They took her over to the table and cleaned her off and my husband went over and took a picture of her with his ipad as he usually does with the babies while the doctor takes care of me. As I had volunteered with Down Syndrome children in my 20's, I knew as soon as I saw the picture on his iPad that Maggie had Down Syndrome.

    The geneticists and the pediatricians at the hospital told us that she had some of the physical traits of babies with Down Syndrome, but only a blood test would give us confirmation and those results would take several days. Of course, my post-partum body went through dozens of emotions over the next 4 days. I was blessed that my mother had flown in town as soon as I went into labor, and that we are surrounded by faith-filled friends that offered their support and love. I acquired a real appreciation and gratitude for the faith and trust my husband has in God as he was such a wonderful rock to lean on. By the time we got the results confirming Maggie's Down Syndrome, God had given me the strength to accept the diagnosis and just learn to trust in Him for whatever the future would bring.

    Maggie is now 3 months and I have to confess that I think I love her more than I thought it was possible to love another human being. My husband calls her a miracle, not just because she survived 9 months of gestation, but because of who she is and the joy she has brought to our family. I can't explain it, but I have a renewed love and appreciation for my other three children because of her. I am learning to stop and relish the tiniest things and not be so worried about all of the big stuff. And I know she has strengthened our marriage which has had its share of challenges over the past 10 years. Since she has come into our lives, I am more able to see God as a loving and protective father who is constantly there for us, which is not really something I felt before. I feel His presense with me daily and it is such a huge help as I go through the chaos of motherhood, running a house, and trying to keep up with work.

    Maggie was not planned, expected, or even a passing thought in my head a year ago, but now I know that she is a special gift that God selected just for us and I'm so grateful for her. I am so thankful that we let God decide these things as He is so much wiser than we are.

  5. MKB, your story literally brought tears to my eyes. God bless you, your husband, and your wonderful children.

  6. Karee, Thank you for this story. It's taboo among many Catholics to talk about not being happy to be expecting. I know people who have left the Church due to frustrations with NFP and unexpected pregnancies. It's something that plenty of people are feeling, but can't talk about.

    What helped you get past the feelings of anger and resentment?

    1. Tough question. I'll respond as best as I can. First, my spiritual director told me to stop using NFP. I was much more accepting of my other pregnancies, because I wasn't trying NOT to be pregnant. My unhappiness stemmed as much from my own personal "failure" and the "failure" of the NFP method itself as it did from the actual pregnancy. Second, I decided to continue nursing baby Elisita for as long as she wanted, which was about two years. It was a great bonding experience (with the side benefit of preventing ovulation for the entire two years). Third, we recently started using an NFP method strongly discouraged by our previous teachers -- ovulation tests together with a fertility app. It's so much easier for us. It may not be billed as 98% effective, but it's so far worked much better! One problem with some NFP methods is they get very territorial about their way being the best. Our experience is that there are many methods out there, and each couple has to choose the one that comports best with their lifestyle and the woman's particular biology.

    2. Thank you! The "NFP wars" need to END!

      The danger of the NFP wars is that when couples find that one method doesn't work, they think that ALL NFP doesn't work. But often all that is needed is a different method.