Catholic “Baby Machines”

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We’ve all heard the comments. If you are the parents of more than 2.5 children or come from a family of more than 2.5 siblings, then you’ve heard something at some point in your life. It can be a nod and a wink with a sarcastic “You guys are busy”, as if having five children allows time for the spouses to spend all their time between the sheets. Or it can be a look of derision as the poor mother herds her brood into the local Walmart trying to pick up some groceries with an uncooperative toddler and three others milling about. My wife once got blamed for contributing to global warming when we were at three kids. Then there’s that wonderful comment of “Don’t you know what causes that?” Um…why yes, yes we do.

There are a whole bunch of reactions people have when they see a “large” family of over three kids, but there is one that is almost universal: they must be Catholic.

Catholics definitely have a reputation for producing larger amounts of offspring than the national average, but there is another side of the coin to the kiddie conundrum as well. My wife encountered it when she was at a Catholic conference full of different organizations hawking their wares.

She conversed with a woman who was one of those “arrows in the quiver” types, and was told that she and I are being selfish for only having four kids. Yep, forget the fact that we’ve had five miscarriages in a row, one nearly resulting in her death, after four healthy births. We’re selfish because we’re not trying hard enough to pump out kids like they’re being assembled in a factory, riding down the conveyor belt.

In this view of childbearing, some folks deem it necessary to have as many as possible, and look down on those who don’t share the same convictions. There’s got to be a happy medium in there somewhere, right? I mean, the Church teaches openness to life, but does that openness mean that we should be having as many children as we can before time runs out on the biological clock?

The Church officially teaches that pregnancy can be avoided only in extreme circumstances. The thing is, she doesn’t really clarify what those circumstances may be. Obviously we’re not supposed to avoid pregnancy by pumping ourselves full of cancer-causing hormones or by utilizing convenient forms of treated plastic, but the Church does teach that pregnancy may be avoided.

A lot of couples use Natural Family Planning (NFP), a way in which the woman’s fertility cycles can be charted and therefore pregnancy avoided by abstaining during fertile times. That sure sounds good on paper, and it is very effective, but it can be quite difficult.

When a woman is in the fertile part of her cycle, her entire body is ready to create that life. Her pheromones send out signals on all frequencies, her appearance becomes slightly different to be more attractive, and it drives us guys crazy. Just when nature is saying “Make a baby!,” that is the time when you have to abstain from relations if you discerned that it is not a good time to bring another life into the world. Not fun. (If you want to check out some realistic and funny views of NFP, just search for Simcha Fisher.)

Back to the matter at hand.

I think the important thing to remember is that God gave us the amazing gift of being co-creators of new life. That means that He gets to have a say and so do we. I hope we can all agree that God has a little more vision and wisdom on the subject, and so it is therefore our responsibility to be in communication with Him as we discern our family size. Not everyone is meant to have thirteen children, and not everyone is mean to have just two. Each person is different.

When we enter into marriage, we take a vow to be open to life as God may give to us. Sometimes that may not seem to be the most convenient timing, but the fact remains that we stay open to the possibility that God can decide that right now is a great time for a couple to conceive a child. We have the responsibility to wisely discern our part in the co-creation of life.

We are not all meant to be Catholic baby machines, having kids from the moment we say “I do” till it is no longer physically possible. We have to prayerfully discern what God’s will for our families is and recognize when we should try to avoid pregnancy, or when to try for one. The size of one’s family is not an indicator of their faithfulness or adherence to the teachings of the Church, and it is not our place to judge another family because they may have only one child. Let’s leave that part to God and remember that the gift of co-creation is inherent to a marriage and that we must all discern it for ourselves.


Love and Sexuality – Straight from the USCCB website.

Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 2368,2370

John Paul II on family size and prudence.

Chris Ricketts

Chris Ricketts

Is this where I tell you how amazing I am and list all my impressive accomplishments? I am just a guy. On a daily basis I betray God and the Faith I claim to profess through thought and deed forcing me to beg His forgiveness on an often weekly basis. All of my talents are unearned and all of my accomplishments merit me nothing. I am completely at the Divine Mercy of Jesus the Redeemer who is willing to erase my daily sins when I am sensible enough to confess them.

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7 thoughts on “Catholic “Baby Machines””

  1. Avatar

    I have 4 also, and couldn’t imagine the pains you must have gone through. As my priest said “No one is guaranteed a child.” Some people have large families have small families (though I’ve never heard 4 kids be called small), but to make assumptions about someone’s adherence to NFP vs. birth control is judgmental. I do wish more people who avoid kids with NFP would be open about it so that maybe the black eye could heal.

  2. Avatar

    The answer to every single question about family size is the same: prayerful reflection. None of us have any idea what God’s plan for us is. If more Catholics remembered that, there would be fewer insensitive and judgemental comments made about the size of other people’s families.

    On a related note was it with the providentialism among the layity? Is it an overreaction to the culture of contraception?

    1. Avatar

      Cross-pollination from a certain strand of Conservative Protestantism. Which happens, given we often cooperate on issues like abortion, or SS’M’ or fighting our anticlerical Government’s HHS mandate.

  3. Avatar
    Mary C. Tillotson

    Yes. Thank you for this. Selfishness is always wrong, and the number of children a couple is raising is obvious to anyone, but a couple’s relative level of selfishness is only one factor in determining that number. It is not selfish to have an awkward gap in your children’s ages because you had several miscarriages in a row. It is not selfish to avoid pregnancy for serious my-kids-might-go-without-a-mom sorts of reasons (mothers are important!). It is not selfish to try really hard to conceive and not be able to.

    Recommended reading for those who don’t have “enough” children by their neighbor’s standards: Luke chapter 1. Elizabeth suffered from not having “enough” children (she calls it a “disgrace” in Luke 1:25), and it wasn’t sin or selfishness that brought about her infertility (Luke 1:6). She is a reminder that our job is to take up our Cross (whatever form it takes) and that our neighbor’s opinion is not the most important.

  4. Avatar
    Shawn McElhinney

    [The Church officially teaches that pregnancy can be avoided only in extreme circumstances. ]

    Actually, that is not true. Church teaching is that pregnancy can be avoided in just circumstances. (The Vatican’s website uses the phrasing “well-grounded.”) The oft-cited mistranslation of the underlying Latin text at that point as “grave” contributes to this frequent misunderstanding by not a few supporters and promoters of Humanae Vitae.

  5. Avatar
    Jaimie Lunsford

    Don’t forget, it’s not just that the woman is sending signals to the *man* that make it hard for *him* to resist the desire for sex during her most fertile time – her own sexual desire spikes during that very time, and it’s the time she might desire and enjoy sex with her husband the most. I often see women’s sexuality minimized or forgotten in these kinds of conversations, so I just wanted to give a friendly reminder – women are sexual people, too. 🙂

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