I hear this in mainstream circles, all-natural circles, attachment parenting circles, and Catholic circles. It's everywhere, this assumption that the parents choose how many kids they have and when. I admit I feel like a bit of a freak!
We ourselves don't "choose" when our children will be born. We let them come when it's time. I could write a long post explaining to non-Catholics why we don't believe in artificial birth control, and another one explaining to Catholics the problems we see with using natural family planning in everyday circumstances. Perhaps I will at some point. For now, I just want to talk about what it's like for us.
I didn't feel ready when we found out Marko was on the way, though I was still happy about the news. By the time he was born, I was ready. But if I'd been waiting to be ready, I'm not sure when I would have chosen to have our first child. Presumably once we'd been able to afford him -- which, in some sense, we still can't! We don't have a lot of extra income. And yet, that job that John started two weeks after the baby was born has been enough to make ends meet. Shortly before he was born, we had no idea how we were going to make it work.
Of course we planned what we could. We saved every penny we could spare out of my paycheck, and we bought good health insurance. And we prayed for a better situation, one that could actually pay the bills once I went on maternity leave and then was out of work for at least the summer.
With the baby's due date upon us, it all came together. A good job, in a place we much preferred. When the baby was five days old, John found us an apartment down there, and we moved for good when he was four weeks old. We're living in comparative comfort, with a paycheck that allows us, if we are frugal, to sock away a little bit each month for a rainy day. There was no way we could have known, the month Marko came into being, that this would work out. But it did.
People might miss the point and say, "Well, it could have happened differently." Of course it could. But I don't think that God would send us a child and not give us any way to raise that child. Though we try our best to be responsible and plan for things, we know that "unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it." If God exists, if he cares about us, our plans will bear fruit; if not, it's no good trying. True, God might lead us places we don't want to go. He might make things harder for us than we would choose. But it does work out. If we couldn't trust him that far, I daresay we'd be in a panic most of the time, terrified of getting hit by buses or losing jobs or getting sick. These things can happen -- but nothing will happen that is outside the will of God.
The same holds true for our emotional situation. Sure, we never had that "time alone before kids" that some people recommend. We were married with no children for about four weeks. And that nine months of pregnancy that I thought would be great couple time, wasn't so much: first I was sick for three months, and then we worked opposite schedules. But all that turned out to be such a trial by fire for us, in a good way. Now that we're past all that, we're incredibly close. Three months of watching John come home from work, clean up, make dinner, and lovingly care for me while I was sick has proven to me that he loves me without measure. And surviving Marko's babyhood has been a bonding experience for us -- and it's beautiful to watch him becoming such a wonderful father. I was pretty scared we weren't ready before he was born, but again, we were ready by the time he got here. Or at least, like every parent, we rose to the occasion even though we could never really be ready! And we don't yearn for those halcyon days of being a childless couple -- from the first, we've learned to make time for each other around many other commitments. We've actually had an easier time spending time for each other now that the baby's here!
Now I'm learning to accept God's will in another way. I would love to get pregnant now. I've had babylust in increasing quantities since the baby was three months old, and still no baby. People ask why not, and the only answer I can give is, "God must not want it." Perhaps I'm not as ready as I feel. Maybe God knows Marko needs me all to himself for a little longer. And I can accept that. In fact, it would seem ungrateful not to. Could I honestly look into my son's eyes and tell him, "You are not enough"? Some people are never blessed with a child; I have been blessed with one, and I'm not going to gripe at God for not giving me more. Even if I never have another, I can still be grateful.
Because the alternative to letting God plan my family would be doing it all myself. I would have to puzzle over questions like, "Are we ready now? Do we have everything emotionally and materially in place for a child? Is two years enough between children? Is three years enough? Will my kids be close friends if they are close together? Will my oldest have too much responsibility if they're too far apart? Is it fair to my child not to give him a younger sibling -- or to give him too many?" There are studies upon studies as to what the "perfect" environment for kids is, and it's always changing. And we could get pregnant under ideal circumstances, and then watch those circumstances change. Jobs end, people get sick, disabilities are discovered. We would feel it was our fault, because we had chosen to get pregnant. I simply don't feel I can do a better job than God. I'm not even sure I could do a better job than blind chance -- because what do I know about it?
This isn't to say I would never do anything to affect when those kids come. If there were a truly serious reason, we would use natural family planning, which the Catholic Church does allow. If it were life-threatening, neither NFP nor artificial birth control would seem secure enough, and we would probably practice total abstinence. We'll cross that bridge till we come to it. Till then, we're happy to let God send us His gifts, while we spend our effort planning how to care for them and learning to thank Him for them.