Thursday, January 23, 2014

don't you know what causes that?

The Fam 2002
Today, a friend passed on to me a blog post entitled “Top 10 Ridiculous Responses Regarding My Third Pregnancy.” As a mother who has four children, all of the responses on the list were familiar to me. As a mother who had four children in four years, I could think of a few more that didn’t make this girl’s list.

She left off “Were you born in a barn?” and “You need some hobbies.” And another favorite, almost always asked in the grocery store: “Are they ALL yours?”

My kids are all teenagers now, so I remember these comments with a smile. They don’t offend me – I understand that most people don’t have a file folder for people with “larger families”, although a family of six is not extraordinarily large. It doesn’t bother me to be mentally filed under “Hillbilly”, “Catholic” or even “Mormon” – people are just doing their best to process reality. I remember flying to Cincinnati one Christmas with two lap children and two in car seats. A sweet young Mormon couple on the next row carried on a knowing conversation with us for most of the flight before realizing we were actually just Southern Baptists with no sense of moderation. We deplaned leaving them as baffled by our family planning as our Southern Baptist friends were.

Over the years I’ve developed some responses to these repeated awkward questions. For example:

“Don’t you know what causes that?” – “Clearly. We’re so good at it we should patent the process.”

“Are they ALL yours?” – “No, I just think WalMart is so fun that I go pick up extra toddlers to bring along with me.”

“Is your husband getting snipped?” – “Already has. It was a non-event, really – nothing a bag of frozen vegetables couldn’t mend. Can I serve you some more peas?”

The trickiest one to answer, in my case, is, “Did you mean to do that?” If I say, “Yes, who doesn’t want four kids in four years?” I’m basically insane. If I say “No”, I’m an idiot. The truth is, I’m not sure what my answer is. The question itself implies far more control over conception than even I can claim to have.

And that’s the real reason we should be careful about these kinds of questions. Yes, they’re funny, and yes, I’m a big fan of self-deprecating humor, but it’s not me that these questions can hurt. It’s my friends and family who know with great clarity that conception is a miracle because it is one they have not experienced. It’s the people I love who ache for fertility to be their scandal.

During the Four Years of Much Pregnancy, my dearest friend was infertile. She came to my baby showers and listened to the jokes. She came to my hospital bed four years in a row to hold the latest Wilkin. She cried tears of joy for me, but I know she carried her sorrow with every casserole she brought to my home. I would have.

So I suggest that we stop saying these things to the woman whose arms are full of children for the sake of the woman whose arms are not. Because the answer to “Don’t you know what causes that?” is not a what, but a Who. I don’t know why God gave me children effortlessly and withholds them from others who would make fantastic parents, but I know this: Fertility is not a curse, it is a gift. It is a scandalous miracle.

So the next time you see a mother with a herd of small progeny, just say “What a blessing!" And maybe offer to help her get those groceries to the car. Or offer to put her kids through college. Any or all of these responses would be just fine.


  1. I absolutely love this. This perspective has been sorely needed.

  2. What a wonderful attitude. I hear the same things often with three boys (much more spaced out, but people still notice us when we go out.) It IS hard work and I am very busy chasing active boys all day. BUT, I'm so blessed! And many others aren't, which is easily forgotten. Found this post via Facebook (shared by Thirty-One: 10) God bless you and your blessings! :)

  3. I love this i only have 2 boys but still young i am so blessed because at the age of 17 i was told i wouldn't have kids and god has givin me 2 wonderful baby boys thanks

  4. This put a smile on my face this morning. Upon adding our little number 5, people look at us even more drastically than before. They count their fingers within touching distance of us and I help them finish "There's five." I have also been grieved for the "who" as you mentioned, and children. I may not be personally offended (um, I am not always that noble), but an offense on my children's behalf occurs at times. How unkind of others to openly and verbally discuss the outlandishness of their existence as if it would have been better for them to - well, not exist. I also do not want my children to form the opinion that life would be so controlled by our comfort or discomfort of popular precept - conceptual pop culture, if you will. :) All fears aside, what a joy to see my children wonder why others would not partake of the joy we experience as a large family, which takes us back to the "who" again. The burden a barren women bares is great and grievous. I carry her in my spirit; and yes, as your blog seems to imply wouldn't it be a joy for others to bare those with child(ren) in joy - help with groceries, to a car, or a kind word in the midst of bottoms to wipe, lies to battle, and many sweet mouths to feed is always welcome even in the midst of blessing.

  5. I love the heart behind all your writing! Thank you for sharing it and pointing us toward Christ!

  6. Thanks for posting this! I am Catholic and a Mommy to 1. She is my miracle!!! People always ask when am I having more? If they only knew I wish I could. Infertility is something I struggle with and it's made me more empathetic to others. Becoming pregnant and giving birth is a miracle. I think people need to stop and think before they ask will you have more? You never know what struggle that person has been through.

  7. Thanks, Jen! Do so appreciate your words today. :)

  8. Thank you for sharing. Children are a precious gift. With 6 children we have received many such comments. And now after having our 17 year old son called home in a single car crash everything is different. Life is ordained by God. Each person has a story. And God is the redeemer of all. Thank you for your words.

  9. Jen - thank you so much for responding to this topic with such grace and compassion for your brothers and sisters who struggle with infertility. Your words of awknowledgment were salve to my tired heart. Thank you.