My grandparents had 16 children. Yes, you read that right. 16. My mom has 8 brothers, 7 sisters. I’ll give you a moment to pick your jaw off the ground and finish shaking your head in disbelief.
Usually when I tell people this, I can pretty much predict what they will ask next. “Are there any twins?” Nope. “Are they Catholic?” Nope. “How many cousins do you have?” “Over 25.” (That's just first cousins. Way too many to count if you add in second cousins.)
And, of course, “Did they want that many?” Well… yes? No? Honestly, I’m not sure. I never asked.
That last question is pretty common for big families. Jen Wilkin, mom of 4, hears it all the time. In her trending piece, Did You Mean to Have All These Kids?, Jen makes light of these questions, but also wants people to understand that when you ask families why they have so many children, you may be forgetting that conception is a “scandalous miracle.”
“If I say, ‘Yes, who doesn’t want four kids in four years?’ I’m basically insane,” Jen writes. “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 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.”
This ache is one that author Sara Haggerty is all too familiar with. She shared her struggle with infertility and being around women with many children in an article on iBelieve.com. Sara writes of one particularly painful moment at a friend's baby shower:
“I distanced myself as I listened, knowing that if I engaged with what she was saying I might just break, right there on the couch beside her. I hid, inside, working my face so that it didn’t reveal the bleeding I felt internally. She knew something so glorious that my years of asking still hadn’t given me, and at this stage, it wasn’t the cuddles and baby-fresh skin and monumental ‘firsts’ that allured me. It was the experience of having a body that did what it was supposed to do.”
I have friends who have had no desire to have children, only to find themselves unexpectantly pregnant. I have friends who want to have 5 or 6 kids, but have already experienced heartbreaking miscarriage. I have friends who have struggled to get pregnant at all and friends who have wanted several of kids and have had them with ease, each happy, healthy, and planned. As I navigate my relationships with these women and their unique situations, I am learning more and more how true Proverbs 16:9 is: “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.”
Jen concludes with this sound advice for talking to mothers with a several children: “I suggest 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.”
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.