Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
Well, the baby is here! Our fifth child in six years, our fourth girl in a row, arrived on June 22 sometime in the afternoon, weighing seven pounds and something-something ounces (I missed some of the details, as I was focused on tracking down the anesthesiologist to give him a little constructive criticism about epidurals and misset expectations). She’s as cute as she can be, with a full head of dark brown hair, and you know she’s going to be awesome because her middle name is Scholastica.
I have to admit, I’ve been surprised by how great everything has been these past few weeks. I have this tendency, which I think is pretty common in our culture, to think about the potential difficulties of adding another child to our family more than I think about the potential blessings. Maybe that’s because the challenges are more predictable? Here in the modern world, control is one of the things we prize most, especially when it comes to the future. We have lists of goals and five-year plans and detailed thoughts on what we’ll be doing well into our old age, and any question marks looming over our futures make us nervous. And so, at least with me, I tend to be afraid to count on all the good things that might come with every new child; it seems safer somehow to fixate on what the hard parts will be. During pregnancy I’m always excited about our new son or daughter as a person, but I spend a lot of time wondering if I as a mother will be able to handle the additional responsibility that will come with adding another member to our family.
And, sure enough, most of the stuff I worried about over this past nine months has come to pass: I thought we’d have a lot of medical bills, and we do. I thought I’d be tired, and I am. I thought the house would start feeling cramped, and it does. I thought I’d have those moments when the baby needs to eat and the toddler needs a diaper change and the three older kids are yelling and fighting and I feel like I just want to lock myself in a closet and scream, and I have. (I have had those moments, that is—I haven’t locked myself in a closet to scream. Yet.) The challenges have pretty much played out like I thought they would. But, as has happened with every other child, I didn’t count on the blessings.
A friend of mine who grew up in poverty in a third-world country once shared with me the saying that “every baby comes with a loaf of bread under his arm.” If you want to see God pour out blessings and grace, have a baby. It doesn’t mean that you’ll win the lottery or that you won’t still face serious challenges, but, if you look for it, you’ll see the hand of God in your life in a special way. Over and over again I’ve found this to be true.
In the midst of all the work and chaos, our house has been flooded with grace. It’s come through a variety of channels: In some cases God has worked through the Body of Christ, with people bringing meals so I don’t have to cook, offering free babysitting and playdates for the older kids—some generous friends even came together to give us a monetary gift to help with expenses. Our house has been a hub of activity, alive with warmth and love as people come to offer congratulations and support. Our four other kids have been far more excited about their new sister than I could have ever imagined. Then some of the blessings have simply been what my aunt would call “Godincidences”: an opportunity to get a nap coming at just the right time, finding a long-lost game for the kids to play just when they were getting out of control, the baby taking a long nap just when I needed to spend extra time with the three-year-old, and so on. And then some of it has simply been the unmistakable peace of Christ, those moments when I feel the overwhelming sense of God’s presence, even under circumstance where I’d normally be tearing my hair out.
The challenges that I had counted on are indeed there; but they’re far outweighed by the blessings I hadn’t counted on.
Since I obviously do not excel at pattern recognition, I hope I can keep this in mind whenever family size discernment comes up in the future. It’s easy to think mostly about would be difficult about having another child, and come to the conclusion that it would be too hard. But it’s important not to forget that we won’t have to shoulder the difficulties alone, and that there will be grace and blessings too.