My grandmother told me she would have given birth to a dozen children, if she could have. When I asked her why, she responded that twelve seemed like a nice number. In contrast, my mother deliberately chose to have two children, spaced eight years apart, so that she could raise them as “two only children.” My grandmother remarked ruefully, “I never understood your mother.”
Nowadays, families of more than two children are as rare as ice cream in the sun. Typical family size has changed greatly in the space of a few generations. The demographic change has accompanied a seismic shift in ideas of what it means to be a family, and what it means to be a man or a woman. Listening to the stark difference between my mother and grandmother’s stories made me wonder about my role as a woman in the 21st century.
Pope St. John Paul II came riding to my rescue with the uplifting philosophy he articulated in his series of talks nicknamed the Theology of the Body. In a leisurely exploration of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, the late pope revealed the importance of our creation as male and female.
In the beginning, John Paul II explained, Adam was lonely. At the dawn of creation, living in unspoiled wonder, Adam sensed that he was alone in paradise. He reveled in the exquisite blossoming flowers, the luscious fruits of the garden, and the breathtaking diversity of the animals. But there was no one to share it with, until God created Eve. Seeing her for the first time, Adam cried, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gn 2:23 NABRE). Almost everyone has been struck by that cry of the heart upon finding a person who inspires an upwelling of love and a joyful recognition that finally we have found someone with whom we belong.
Our masculinity and femininity impel us toward one another, because God gave us these gifts to be shared. Men and women have complementary and equally valuable qualities. When we merge the masculine and feminine perspective, either in the world, the Church, or within our own families, we are the better for it. We are closer to being whole.
Every aspect of our masculinity and femininity is beautiful. Our masculine and feminine natures are beautiful. Our male and female bodies are beautiful. Our sexuality is beautiful. And do you want to know what else? Our fertility—our capacity for fruitfulness—that’s beautiful, too. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body doesn’t sing a hymn of praise to everything about the human body except its fertility. It praises everything about the human body including its fertility.
So, inspired by John Paul II, I took a radical leap of faith and embraced my fertility. My family size of six children looks much more like my grandmother’s than my mother’s. At first, I was afraid. Even now, sometimes I’m still afraid of the countercultural path my husband and I have chosen by having a big family. But he and I can look at each of our children and say with a smile, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”
Karee Santos has written for Catholic Match Institute, Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and CatholicMom.com. Together with her husband Manuel Santos, M.D., she co-authored The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Can Bring You Joy for a Lifetime (Ave Maria Press, 2016). The Santoses designed and taught a pre-Cana marriage preparation course, and they also contribute regularly to FAITH magazine’s “Marriage Matters” advice column.
(c) Karee Santos.
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