It’s funny now looking back, but I was barely twenty years old when I became engaged to the man I was to marry. He got down on his knee one afternoon on a sunny California beach, told me he loved me for the very first time, pulled out a ring, and asked me to be his wife. And after screaming “Are you serious?!”, multiple times, I said yes.
Being young and in love, we naturally spent a lot of time envisioning our future together in the nine months leading up to our wedding. And whether I was sitting at my desk at work or taking notes in a lecture hall on campus, I was gazing at the shiny diamond ring on my finger and imagining what life might be like as a wife.
My husband and I weren’t Catholic back then–we were Protestants. And so while we loved Jesus and had an active faith, we had never been taught that marriage is a sacrament, nor had we ever heard anyone use the expression “openness to life”. We certainly had a very high view of marriage (St. Paul said that it was a picture of Christ and His Church, afterall), but there was so much we simply didn’t and couldn’t know, coming from the faith system that we did.
We assumed, as many couples do, that a good marriage was one in which children did not arrive on the scene too soon. “You need to build a solid foundation first and have some time alone together” was the going mantra in Evangelical (and secular) circles. It was crazy enough, after all, to get married at 20 and 21 respectively, but it would be absolute relationship suicide to conceive a child anytime within the first few years of matrimony.
Wedded bliss as viewed from this perspective had no innate connection to the creation of souls. Rather, children were more or less a desirable accessory to a marriage, something husbands and wives added to the package once they were in a financial and relational position to do so. Marriage became much harder (and less fulfilling) once a baby entered the picture, or so the narrative went, necessitating the use of birth control to delay that moment when everything inevitably came crashing down.
And so that is why I visited the university health clinic two months before my wedding. Sure I bristled at some of the provocative posters on the wall, and found myself frustrated when the gynecologist didn’t believe me when I told her that both my fiancé and I were presently virgins. But it’s what you did when you were about to be a bride, when you wanted to start your marriage out right. You got a prescription for hormonal birth control.
Of course the irony is that my soon-to-be-husband and I both strongly believed that people should not get married, period, if they were unwilling to welcome a potential baby—without reservation—nine months from their wedding night. We hated to hear married couples complaining about their “accident” babies. And it just made sense to us, in spite of having never encountered the Catholic concept of natural law, that people should not have sex if they are strongly opposed to having children. (Don’t we all know about the birds and the bees?) Looking back, I wish we would have followed that idea to its logical end and concluded that contraception was diametrically opposed to natural law, but we didn’t. At least, not yet.
Now through a merciful (though horrible-at-the-time) manifestation of God’s grace, the low-dose hormonal birth control pills I was taking made me sick. And crazy. Not even a month after our wedding, at the urging of my ever-patient husband who bore the brunt of my emotional breakdowns, I dumped the pills in the trash. Not too long later, some Protestant friends of ours explained the abortifacient effect of the pill. And we knew we’d never use any form of hormonal contraception ever again.
Thus we revisited our conversations about marriage and children, now that we were merely relying on the calendar in order to avoid pregnancy. We found peace in our belief that if God gave us a child, even if it was sooner than we planned, it would be a gift. And I even found myself hoping for a baby each month–it just seemed like a natural (there’s that word again) result of being in a loving Christian marriage and experiencing life together.
Perhaps not surprisingly, on our one-year wedding anniversary, a pregnancy test confirmed my suspicions: God had given us a child!
My 22-year-old husband received the news from his 21-year-old wife with uncompromised joy. We went to dinner to celebrate. (Red Lobster, to be exact.) We visited friends and family in person to deliver our most exciting news. The nine months that followed were filled with eager anticipation and a growing love for the precious soul growing in my womb.
And then, she was born, our beautiful daughter, one of the brightest spots in our lives.
It was during those early and sleepy days as new parents that we found ourselves finally questioning what all the naysaying and doomsdaying had been about. Why did Protestant pastors and laypeople alike discourage couples from having children? Why did everyone seem to believe that married sexuality not only could but ought to be separated from the procreation of children? We began to wonder if one of life’s best kept secrets might be that…wait for it…children are good for marriage.
Our own relationship certainly began to deepen and grow as we began life-as-three. Not only was there now a physically tangible bond joining us together and testifying to our sacred marriage vows, but we found ourselves having to make sacrifices. All.the.time. There was no longer even an option of remaining focused on myself for too long, not with a helpless newborn in our home. And I found myself falling head-over-heels in love with my husband not only as my beloved, but now in his role as father to our baby girl.
And we started coming to some crazy and radical conclusions during these conversations. Like the idea that neither of us would ever surgically alter our God-given bodies as a form of contraception. Nor would we use contraception, ever again, period. And, lo and behold, we even felt called to adopt– it turns out that being open to life can also mean opening your home to a child who desperately needs a family.
Is it any wonder then that this is what God would eventually use to draw us to Christ’s Church? We are Catholic today in large part due to the miracle of life, to the gift of children to our marriage. God tells us that He works through the humble things of this world, and so maybe it’s really not so crazy that He would use the conception of a child to bring us to His Church.
I do not exaggerate when I say that discovering the Catholic faith (or more accurately, being discovered by it) was like finding a rare and prized treasure. When I look back on our courtship and early years together as husband and wife, I realize that we oh-so-easily could have missed out on some of God’s greatest blessings, had we continued believing a most insipid-yet-prevalent cultural lie. The world had told us that sexuality within marriage could be separated from the procreation of children. We had internalized the idea that children were ultimately bad for marriage.
How wrong we were.
Now I’m not saying that life with kids (much less seven kids!) is always easy. Marriage requires work, and perseverance, and each and every day is an opportunity (welcomed or not) to grow in charity and self-giving. We sometimes lose our tempers and speak harsh words. But we also trust in His goodness, rely on the graces we receive through the Eucharist, and continue believing that our work as spouses and parents is of inestimable importance and eternal value.
And we continue giving thanks for the precious gift that is the Catholic Church, for the Communion of Saints and for Mary, for the Eucharist, and for the faithful passing down of the original deposit of faith–which tells us how to live and how to follow Jesus. Because after years of searching for truth apart from the Catholic faith (and making a few wrong turns along the way), it is a wonderful thing to be able to rest in God’s love. To know what marriage is. To know what God expects from us and how to approach our calling in life. To know that our vocation is intended to serve as a conduit for making us holy, as opposed to a hindrance and barrier to a happy-clappy existence.
Our life is full, and sometimes it is hard, but it is ultimately good. And whole.
And that is the story of how a young, Protestant married couple went on to have seven children, while falling more and more in love–and how they became Catholic in the process.
Brianna lives in Denver and blogs at Just Showing Up.