Monday 16 March 2015

When God Sends None

When I was a university freshman, I ran with a tough Catholic crowd, and one guy loved to carry out orthodoxy tests. The one I remember best is the openness-to-life one.

"How many children do you want?" he would ask some unsuspecting pal.

"I don't know. Two?"


"How many children do you want?" he asked another unsuspecting pal.

"Lots! Six--maybe eight?"


So I was ready when he got me in his sights.

"Seraphic, how many children do you want?"

"As many as God sends," I said breezily.

He was very disappointed.

"Aw. You got it right."

And I thought about this last night, after a long, tiring Mothering Sunday trip to see my mother-in-law, who mentioned, just in general, that her boyfriend was becoming a grandfather, and at once I thought that because of me she would never be a grandmother. I squashed the thought immediately.  When I told her last year about The Horrible Clueless NHS Phone Call, she was clearly sorry for me, not at all for herself. She is a very kindly woman, and I really wish that she could have grandchildren, but she had only the one child, and there it is.

As many as God sends.

I came home to comments--one anonymous, one by a father of many--giving me a hard time because of a comment I made in connection with women who assume Catholic men will reject them because they are too old to give birth to big families. As their comments were made on Saturday, it is just bad luck that I happened to read them on Mother's Day.

Nevertheless, I am restricting anonymous comments again because I am not putting myself out there so that people can make uncharitable assumptions about my intentions and voice them without so much as a pseudonym.  Nor am I particularly interested in married men  parading their happiness at having got the exact number of children they wanted in a blog read primarily by Single, childless women. In the Catholic world, married men with children are not exactly marginalized.  Nor are they particularly clever about the feelings of childless women.

To return to the subject of orthodoxy and hopes for children, it is a curious feature of Catholic marriage that nobody can put aside his or her spouse just because they are infertile. You would think a God who loves children so much would indeed have made that the great exception to the no-divorce-and-remarriage rule. After all, the primary reason for marriage IS children. But He didn't make that exception.

When I was going through The Worst Day of My Married Life, it did cross my mind to tell B.A. he should ditch me and find someone younger, but fortunately I didn't do such a self-pitying and insulting thing. It would have hurt B.A. very much, and although I am not an angel, I do not spit on God's most generous gifts. Meanwhile I knew perfectly well that we were sacramentally married, so there was no going back for any reason, including infertility.

"As many as God sends"--even when God sends none.

I know very well that many of my Single readers dread being childless even more than they dread never finding the love of a husband. Well, I will not lie. At times it feels absolutely horrible. I came from a big family, I assumed, as a teenager, that I would have a big family myself one day, and big families feel "normal" to me. It never occurred to me that God wouldn't send me any children at all if I married, but here we are.

There are two comforts in this--and by the way, we are all clear that when I talk about hopes for marriage and children I am talking to childless, Single women, yes? Childless, Single women who are devout Catholics and therefore would never dream of going down the pub and getting themselves knocked up by a stranger, yes? And don't look so shocked, for such an tactic was suggested to me by a divorced mother of two. It would no doubt blow happy married fathers' minds what is proposed to Single, childless women by their well-meaning friends.

The two comforts are as follow:

1. Because I grew up in a "large" family, I still have that large family, and although the older members die, younger ones are born. I have myself expanded that family by adding B.A., and thus although I will probably never give B.A. children, I have given him a new mother, father, brothers, sisters, nephews and a niece.

2. Benedict Ambrose did not marry me as the future mother of his children but as me, myself, 38 years old--slightly older than himself, in fact. This was not because he was a bad Catholic, closed off from life, but because he wanted to marry me, and my ability to have children was not something he thought about much at all. He was also in his late thirties, and had dated older women before. Clearly dating-so-as-to-get-kids had never been his priority.

And I am writing out such personal, so deeply felt thoughts not because I am some kind of exhibitionist or emo-blogger, but to illustrate to frightened single, childless women over 25 that they do not have cause to fear permanent rejection by Catholic men because they are growing older.

Yes, they will meet deeply insensitive men who will reject them because they, the men, have fantasies assumptions about their own untried potency and assume that they will be able to beget and financially support any number of children as long as they have access to young-enough ovaries. But not all men are like that. Indeed, I would say precious few, and those few are not worth knowing anyway. They would fail my friend's little orthodoxy test. If we want to get right down to it, the super-correct, absolutely obedient and faith-filled answer to "How many children do you want?" is "As many as God sends, even if He sends none."

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