I recently read this article (thanks to finding it on Catholic Mutt's blog) and not surprisingly, it struck a chord. I've never read anything like it, and it felt both like a breath of fresh air and a painful poke on some tender insecurities (since I've been there, worrying about what others will think when they find out that no, we don't have any children yet).
It also reminded me of an encounter that happened years ago but that I'll never forget.
It was the year after college, and I was a few months into a service year, living with other recent graduates and serving the poor. One blessing among many of this year was that we got four retreats during our time together. It was Fall, and we were on the second retreat, in the beautiful mountains of Colorado. I can't even remember what exercise we were doing, but we were in small groups talking about something or other. I ended up with another volunteer and a middle-aged woman who had come along just on the retreat to help the leaders out.
At some point, I asked her that innocent question that I now dread: "Do you have any kids?"
It's her response that will always stick with me.
She smiled and said, "We were blessed with one."
It wasn't so much the words - although they've stuck with me too - it was the way she said it. It was the complete opposite of objectification (see the article I linked to) or apologizing for having "only" one child. She said, "We were blessed with one" as if that one child was the most precious treasure and most wonderful gift she could have possibly received. And there was something else too in her voice - I heard it even then, and I can definitely relate now - that said without saying that she would have loved to have more, but she was blessed with one.
"One" being infinitely more than zero!
I remember not knowing how to respond. It felt almost like a reverent silence, the way she said it. I have no idea if she struggled with infertility or miscarriage or both, or whether she married late or her husband died young or whatever. No idea. But wow, what a message of love-beyond-suffering came through in that short little sentence.
Since then, I've been at many Catholic events where a speaker or leader is introduced and we're told that they have a larger-than-average number of children (6, 10, 12, etc.) and everyone kind of gasps and even applauds. That always makes me feel so uncomfortable. It's not like I don't want to celebrate children! But 1) children are not someone's "accomplishment" and 2) would people ever clap for the parents "blessed with one"? My guess is no. And how horrible is that? Is that child worth less because he or she wasn't blessed with a half-dozen siblings? Anyway, I know that's probably my infertile angst coming out.
I would love love LOVE to be "blessed with one." Of course I'd love to be blessed with many! But I pray to God that if we are ever given the completely immeasurable gift of another human person to nurture, raise, and teach how much they're loved, when people ask me how many children I have, I won't say "oh, only one..." as if that one isn't one infinitely loved child of God! but I'll respond like that nameless woman who probably doesn't even remember me: "We were blessed with one."