November 20, 2009

No one can accuse Mandolyna Theodoracopulos of not being provocative, and I read her recent post “Jon and Kate Plus Hate” with interest.  I entirely agree with her criticisms of in vitro fertilization, and indeed would go well beyond them: Just because science allows us to do something does not mean that we should, and one does not have to accept (as I do) the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexual morality to recognize that there are sound reasons for believing that procreation should not be separated from the sexual act itself.

Of course, we should note that, unlike the “Octomom” whom Mandolyna rightly excoriates, the Gosselins did not engage in in vitro fertilization but in fertility treatments, which resulted in the release of multiple eggs, with their subsequent fertilization through entirely natural means. The only way to “select” a single embryo, then, would have been through the abortion of the other five.

Whatever I may think of the Gosselins’ later actions—and I agree with Mandolyna that “They sold their souls, and their children’s souls” in going on TV—I find it hard to criticize a woman for not being able to bring herself to end five tiny lives growing in her womb. Her doctors advised “selective reduction,” but she chose to carry all of the children to term at great risk to herself. If only she and her husband had continued to put their children’s welfare ahead of their own, their story might well have turned out differently.

Yet despite the situation in which their parents have placed them, Jon and Kate’s eight will always have one another. Which is why I must disagree with Mandolyna when she writes, “No child could possibly get what he or she needs in a two parent family with seven other siblings.”

Let me admit to having a certain interest in that statement. My wife, Amy, and I are the parents of seven beautiful, happy, and healthy children, and we have an eighth on the way. (I’ll let the reader pause and recall his favorite Catholic joke here.)

As hard as it may be for some readers to believe, every last one of those children was expected and welcomed—not just by Amy and myself, but by their older siblings. As late as ten years ago, when our third child was born, we would have laughed if someone had told us that we would one day be expecting our eighth. But our willingness to have more children has as much to do with our children’s openness to life as with our own.

This is the point at which the reader might expect me to insert some words about how, of course, we go without certain things, or how the quality of our time with each child makes up for any lack of quantity. In our case, though, that would be pure rubbish. Though I work for a nonprofit and Amy stays at home (and homeschools), our children have all that they need and probably too much that they don’t. Yes, it may be hard at times for them to find a little quiet time for themselves, but that was true in my own home, and I had only two sisters.

And our children have certain things that those in smaller families lack, such as the constant presence of friends and companions. Perhaps more importantly, they have a sense of hope for the future, an optimism that I remember having as a child (though there were only three of us in my immediate family, I had many cousins, most of them close by) but that I find missing in too many children today. In the desire to provide children with everything that they “need,” too many parents today schedule every last moment of their children’s lives, unintentionally smothering the sparks of spontaneity and creativity and individuality. No parents of eight could have enough control over their children’s lives to do the same.

There is something more, too, something deeper and more lasting.  Amy and I believe in our Catholic Faith, but our children simply naturally live it. Hope is a theological virtue, infused by grace, but such grace flows through our home in abundance. It is the duty of Christian parents to pass the Faith on to their children, and particularly of the father to model Christ for them. But seeing the love of our children for their brothers and sisters and the sacrifices that they make for one another sometimes puts me to shame.

I am no sentimental lover of childhood for childhood’s sake, but I love children (especially my own). The size of our family is no accident, nor is it a reflection of some selfish desire, but rather of faith, and of hope, and of love.

When I look at my children gathered around the table at night, I cannot help but think that God knew what He was doing when He told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth, and subdue it.” If there is hope for our civilization, it lies in those who take His words to heart.


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