Well,the cat’s out of the bag. We are expecting our fifth child. I felt pretty comfortable with a family of three and even four kids. A family with five makes me feel like we are hanging ourselves out on a limb. It’s not something you see very often any longer. I’m aware of the whispers in the hallway at work, people wondering if I’m some sort of religious zealot or simply off my rocker.
The why doesn’t really matter (and we already know the how!). For us, having a large family is something we embrace, but it doesn’t matter whether your family is one kid, or even none. Finding happiness in whatever form it may be for each of us is the big struggle. And we aren’t the same and we shouldn’t be. What a boring world that would be.
Life, spirituality, even marriage and family is a journey. If there is one thing that I’ve learned from my friends and religious mentors, it’s just that. We didn’t always feel confident that we should be open to the idea of lots of kids. As we’ve grown in our marriage, we’ve realized that being a family is something that we enjoy. And we want to enjoy it for as long as we can.
Do I think kids keep me young? Maybe. Yesterday I was flipping through some pictures from a workshop I’d attended and stopped at one. ‘What’s my mom doing at a seminar on GIS and auditing?’ I thought. It was me.
My mom is a beautiful woman. As a chubby adolescent, I had to deal with the irritation of my mother being a svelte, energetic aerobics instructor. It’s just weird morphing into someone else. Zach tells me I have wrinkles. (They are just some little crow’s feet!) And Kyle commented on the ‘scars’ all over my face. I had to explain they are freckles and there is nothing wrong with freckles. He just left the room rolling his eyes.
Having a big family isn’t something that I’m accustomed to; my mom struggled for eight years to have another child after me. She volunteered at an orphanage in Washington when I was around five. I remember begging her to bring home another kid. Now I realize how irritating and depressing it must have been for me to whine to her about something she couldn’t control.
Lo and behold she did finally get pregnant with my brother,.. months before my dad found out he was to be stationed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I can’t believe the strength and faith she had to travel to that foreign country in the days before Internet and speedy worldwide shipping. No phone in the house. No TV.
I remember her story about a friend who was also pregnant living at the same compound in the middle of the desert going into labor. My mom and her friend trying to call their husbands on walkie-talkies to come and drive her to the hospital, pronto! (Women still can’t drive in Saudi. I don’t think the police would care that you were in labor, you’d still get caned or a limb taken off.) Nine month pregnant women about to burst climbing on the hood of a GMC truck to get a clear channel in the middle of the flat desert. What a picture of the human spirit.
Then my mom being admitted to the Royal Hospital and her British doctor inducing her because he was going on holiday to Europe the next day. Gads! I remember seeing my very large baby brother; a bald, sparkling white nine-pounder in a sea of petite, dark hairy Arab babies. I almost didn’t see him; we had to pass a very stringent check-in process and even though my dad had our passports at the ready and my name is of course the same as his and the rest of my family, the armed guard took one look at my black haired father and my blond hair, refusing entrance at first because I must be adopted. Only ‘real’ children of the family were allowed to visit. (This just fueled my teenage angst when I was mad as a hatter about whatever it happened to be that week. “I KNOW I’m adopted. I don’t belong to this family!”)
This eight year span between children seems to run on my mom’s side of the family so when it took more than I expected for the first two kids, I vaguely thought that might be my fate too. Got a little relaxed about the whole deal. Now that I am on my fifth, I’m realizing that infertility in any form isn’t my problem.
Now I know why the book I was consulting is named ‘The Art of Natural Family Planning’ and not the science of it.
Having all these kids doesn’t make me some sort of super-duper mother, either. I think I’m okay and I try every day to do the best I can. It’s easy to be flippant about having all these kids and for some reason I feel like I have to apologize to everyone for my beliefs as un-mainstream as they be nowadays. Like I’m embarrassed to be some sort of super consumer of energy in the world, or I’m blowing raspberries in the faces of zero population believers.
Nothing has made me more self conscious than meeting a very nice Chinese lady who lives here in Banda. She has one six year old son. When I announced my impending fifth child at a gathering we were both at, she took me aside and told me congratulations. I told her thank you, it meant a lot that she would be happy for me. She then reiterated what I already know, “In China, we are only allowed one child. If we have more, they will arrest you.” I’m not feeling so flippant any more.
Just this past week, again I was reminded how precious life is. We attended a ‘commemoration’ for a two year old boy who had a congenital birth defect with his colon. He went into surgery a week ago and didn’t make it. The father is a security guard at CRS. In the Muslim culture, you celebrate the passing of someone at 7 days, 50 days, 100 days and at 1000 days.
While it is meant to be a celebration of someone’s life; a memorial so to speak, we can’t help but be saddened when someone leaves this world; especially a child. The spirit of the gathering was light; people were laughing and kids were running around. But the father was very quiet, trying to keep his composure. And the mother’s face was stricken with pain as she sat on the floor on a colorful straw mat and accepted handshakes and encouraging words.
While we sat cross-legged on the floor sharing a meal with the family and friends, one of Rob’s engineers told us congratulations on the news of our impending addition. He went on to tell us how much they love their son who is school age and are sad they have not been able to have another child. “You should feel very lucky,” he said.
And so we do.