It was shortly after 10pm on a summer night and I was texting with my sister. As a mother of 5 under 11, her days are long and full. And in our brief exchange she conveyed that she was so very tired. Having visited her earlier in the day I saw that her house was a total disaster. When I walked in she announced, “This is what a house with 5 children looks like.” It made sense that she’d be exhausted. At one point in our text exchange I messaged her, “5 things you’re grateful for? First 5 that come to your mind.” When she responded I was struck by the final item on her list:
Her answer provoked me to pause because amidst challenge she could see gift, and because we are living in a culture where the default is not my sister’s answer; instead, it is to suppress fertility. Actually, our culture’s default is more than to suppress fertility, it is to be downright hostile toward it. I have spoken to so many abortion supporters who hate that fertility is a part of sexuality. But what could be more incredible than being so intimate with one human soul that in doing so you produce another human soul who had never before existed? One plus one equaling three in a way that defies math.
It doesn’t mean fertility is always easy. I lived with my sister and her family for a season and I saw the toll that pregnancy takes on the body, let alone the challenges of forming and rearing (several!) little human beings. But I think it’s helpful to step back and think about what the word “toll” means. It’s a charge for use or access to something (think bridge toll). We pay the toll because the benefits outweigh the cost. And we recognize the greater the value of something, the greater the price.
The same day I visited my sister, I drove out to see my parents and to help my dad weed his magnificent garden. In reflecting on my time rummaging through dirt and in-between flowers and bushes, I was reminded again of the gift of fertility—the fertility of the soil, of the flowers that bloom each year—of new life, which brings an array of colors, types, sizes, and smells. And it’s the beauty and diversity of fertility that makes the garden so awe-inspiring.
But the oasis of my Dad’s garden did not happen overnight. It took years of careful cultivation. It took work. It took weeding, watering, digging, and pruning. It still does. It took, and takes, a toll. But it’s more than worth it.
Mother Teresa once declared, “How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.”
So should we be thankful for fertility? It is fertility that resulted in a sweet 1-year-old nephew nuzzling into my shoulder as I lifted his sleepy body out of the van. It is fertility that resulted in my delightful 4-year-old niece giving me a long hug before saying goodbye. It is fertility that has given me a 6-year-old nephew whose sensitive spirit teaches me to go gently with people. It is fertility that has given me an 8-year-old nephew who loves to challenge my competitive spirit with his own over a game of checkers. It is fertility that has given me an 11-year-old niece who is learning to play the ukulele with me. It is fertility that has given me a sister I cherish as a best friend. It is fertility that has given me my parents and their combined 17 siblings. It is fertility that has given me a brother-in-law, cousins, and friends around the world.
When I logged onto Facebook recently I noticed a friend made this post: “I have made a million mistakes in 14 years of parenting... but one thing I know for sure we did right was being open to life and giving our children siblings. That in itself has not been easy, but we are blessed by it every day.”
Thankful for fertility? Yes.