Due to circumstances beyond our control, I saw more of the priest who witnessed my marriage in Rome than I did the Oratory House for marriage preparation. It’s an unusual modus operandi for him, but he was satisfied that just topping up our (it turns out abysmal) diocesan marriage preparation would suffice (anyone who has known me for 5 minutes knows I’m a bookworm). To our surprise, he addressed a subject that to me felt like it was the Holy Spirit speaking through him: the possibility of not having children of our own.
One’s early 30s isn’t an age that is conducive to a large family unless you have twins or more in a single pregnancy, and that’s more common in IVF pregnancy which wouldn’t apply to a Catholic couple, so maybe that was it. He did not know that my health issues have meant that I reconciled a long time ago with the idea I had a 50/50 chance of infertility. Nor how I have always been the kind of person to be moved by the whole concept of adoption itself, especially of older children who aren’t the cute little babies most adoptive parents want (I know the pain of being left behind, of nobody choosing you, and I wish I had the power to relieve that pain for every child that is stranded in the system).
So it meant a lot for me that our discussion was not just about being open to as many children as God sees fit and being fruitful in the most obvious sense, but how we can be fruitful in ways that are more subtle. In fact, adopting children isn’t even necessary for a couple to still be fruitful. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
1653 The fruitfulness of conjugal love extends to the fruits of the moral, spiritual, and supernatural life that parents hand on to their children by education. Parents are the principal and first educators of their children.164 In this sense the fundamental task of marriage and family is to be at the service of life.165
1654 Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.
The passages that follow are those on the subject of the Domestic Church. While it’s easier to imagine with children around, but the final line in 1658 says that: The doors of homes, the “domestic churches” and of the great family which is the Church must be open to all of them. ‘No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who ‘labor and are heavy laden.'” There is such a need for love in the world, spiritual motherhood is such a gift for both those who receive it and those who extend it to others.
On my birthday a few weeks ago, my mother wrote an uncharacteristically sappy post on her Facebook page about how it was the first birthday I had with a family of my own. Until then, I didn’t really think about it that way, despite the fact we each have a deed poll saying our surname now is the union of the surnames we had growing up. If a whole new surname isn’t a sign of a new nucleus, I don’t know what is, to be honest. And yet, I did not connect the dots. I don’t know if and when children will be taking that name too, but I shouldn’t live like my life is yet to begin. I didn’t do so when single, when I didn’t see marriage as the time my real life would start, and so I shouldn’t see motherhood as that.
While I don’t have the same degree of freedom as I had before, I still have a degree of freedom that mothers lack in how my vocation manifests, and I should enjoy this season for my family as much as I enjoyed the previous season for myself. I may regret wasting time I could have used being the woman that God wanted me to be in this season when the privileges that come with it are gone, and the responsibilities of the next season kick in. Just because we don’t have children, it doesn’t mean we aren’t a family and we aren’t fruitful as one.
Today’s blog post has been part of the Love Blog Challenge 2020 on the subject “Family”. Find the rest of the series here