Within weeks of giving birth to my second child the questions started:

"Will you have another?"
"How many are you planning to have?"

And when I don't answer any more precisely than "I hope so" and "I don't know", I am met with puzzlement.

Apparently I am supposed to have mapped this all out and informed God that He will bless my husband and I on every third year from now until 2010 and then kindly refrain from blessing us again . . . or something along those lines.

Our first child was planned in every sense of the word.  His conception was carefully scheduled not to conflict with my graduate school classes, we eagerly anticipated the time when we could "let nature take its course" and abandon the checking and cross checking for signs of fertility, and we anxiously awaited the positive pregnancy test that would confirm our success.

Our second child, on the other hand, was inspired.  He came to us, just 16 months after his older brother, because after our first was born it just didn't seem all that important to conscientiously follow the rules for avoiding pregnancy.  Did we "plan" our second child?  Not really.  We simply responded to God's call to be open to the possibility of another baby and allowed Him to make that possibility into reality.

And sometime in between those two pregnancies I learned that God does not ask us to plan out years in advance how many children we will have and when we will have them and, just as He often does not let us know His will for other areas of our lives in far advance, even our tentative hopes for the number and timing of our children must always subject to revision should He request it.

As one Catholic mom explains, "My first two children were conceived before I knew anything about NFP. They were totally planned. While pregnant with #2 I picked up a brochure [about NFP] at the obstetrician's office and asked my husband if he would learn it with me so that I didn't have to go back on the pill. He agreed and when we began using NFP it was totally as "natural" birth control. But give God an opening, and He'll work wonders! My last 3 children are here because I felt an undeniable call from God. With #3 we had decided to abstain that month and found ourselves unable. We trusted God was telling us to be open to another child. With #4 and #5 I had such strong feelings that someone was missing from our family. Both times when I mentioned it to my husband he said that he too was feeling prompted to be open to new life.  Right now both of us are content with the number of children we have, and we trust that when and if God has other plans He will let us know. He's done it before!"

One of the ways in which couples who use NFP to avoid pregnancy remain open to life is in continuing to revisit the question of whether or not God is calling them to have another child.  The time of abstinence each cycle provides both a reminder and an incentive to turn to each other and to God and ask again whether there are still serious reasons not to conceive.  Couples who use contraception have no such incentive and can go for many years without ever discussing â€" or even considering - either their own feelings or God's will in the matter.

Even couples with very grave reasons to avoid pregnancy "reasons that are unlikely ever to change" remain open to life in a very important way when they reject the pressure to contracept and instead embrace Church teaching by using NFP to avoid pregnancy.  I once talked with a woman with a very serious medical condition that would make pregnancy a truly life-threatening situation.  She told me that she and her husband and decided to use NFP rather than be sterilized "despite her doctor's disapproval" because they didn't want to limit God.  Medical science could, she pointed out, discover a cure for her condition or God Himself could intervene and miraculously cure her.  She didn't really expect that either of these things would happen, she said, but she didn't want to deny that, with God, they remained possible and she firmly believed that to use contraception would be evidence of just such a denial.

May we all be so open to God's authority over our lives!

Copyright 2003 Sara Fox Peterson