I don't watch reality TV, so it was from other sources that I learned that the Duggar family is expecting their twentieth child. The only thing I have to say directly to the Duggars is that this is certainly their business and their decision, and that I wish Mrs. Duggar what I would wish any expectant mother: a healthy pregnancy and a safe and happy delivery.
So: why write about this at all? Well, there's one thing about the reaction I've seen to this news on the Catholic blogosphere that bothers me just a bit. Granted, the reaction of secular commenters is far worse, with the nasty jokes and the pro-sex, anti-baby slant; but I think this is an instance where for me, as a Catholic, it's more important to address one not-so-great Catholic reaction than to take the easy target of the totally wrongheaded secular one.
The reaction I'm talking about is this: someone will mention some prudential concerns they have for the Duggars, in a thoughtful way--concerns about Mrs. Duggar's age, the scary situation that developed with her last pregnancy and the medically-intensive birth of the tiny preemie (number 19) who, by the grace of God, is doing well, and that sort of thing. And someone else will "slap down" the first commenter with a withering observation something like this: "The Duggars are trusting God. That's all that matters."
Well, certainly we should all trust God. And we all hope that in their private decision making as a couple, trust in God was part of the Duggar's conversation, though none of us is, or should be, privy to such private discussions that take place between married couples. But to step away from the specific and to the more general, as I insist on doing, I must object to the notion that totally ignoring maternal health concerns even when these might be significant (and I'm not saying they definitely are in the Duggar's case, mind) is always and everywhere the same thing as trusting God.
Sometimes, it might be. But sometimes, ignoring serious or significant maternal health concerns is no different from testing God, not trusting Him.
I don't want to make this too personal, but long time readers know my own situation. Were my husband and I to ignore that situation and demand to have more children (and, yes, for any new readers, we do use NFP and have never used artificial contraception), we would be testing God's ability to provide us with certain specific things we would need in order for a happy outcome (including, perhaps, a medicine that might not even exist); or we would be rushing to embrace a potential maternal martyrdom that might not, in fact, be God's perfect will for my three daughters who sort of still need me around.
Now, that is our best and most reasoned prudential decision, and it was not made easily or lightly. Another couple in some similar situation might make a different prudential decision--but that is why the Church leaves such decisions to couples who have just reasons to postpone pregnancy. The guidance of good pastors, the wisdom of serious spiritual advisers, the shared experiences of others can all be helpful, but in the end, decisions about having a baby or postponing pregnancy must be made by the couple together.
And provided the couple seeks to think with the mind of the Church on these questions and only uses means of fertility regulation which remain open to life, all of these decisions are about trusting God. I'm going to repeat that: all of these decisions are about trusting God.
Do I trust God to give me medical advisers who have good information about the risks of further pregnancy for someone who has had my experiences? Yes, I do. Do I trust God to "override" NFP if He knows that some new medicine will not only increase a baby's chances for survival, but also keep me from ending up in the hospital for months? Yes, I do. Do I trust God in His wise choice of a spouse for me, who balances my more emotional longings for a new baby with the reality of our situation? Yes, I do.
In these, and thousands of other ways, we trust God, who planned our family before we ever met--and we are no different from those other faithful Catholic spouses who use natural means of family planning to help them make prudent and loving decisions about when to try for a new little one, and when to say, however reluctantly, that the time is not right, or that it may never be right again.
And the family of many who discovers with a holy joy and a holy fear that their wise and prudent openness to life has been answered with another little blessing is also trusting God, as the Duggars may certainly be doing.
But the woman who is led or forced by her community, Catholic, Evangelical, or otherwise, to believe that seeking through moral means to postpone pregnancy in the presence of just reasons is somehow the same thing as not trusting God is being spiritually abused. And if those just reasons include a serious threat to her physical or emotional health that is being waved aside as if her just concern about this threat is the same thing as a moral weakness, a display of unrighteous selfishness, or some such thing--then she is being abused in ways that go beyond the spiritual, in my firmly-held belief: because no one should be forced to put the Lord our God to the test.