In life, there are surprises and then there are SURPRISES. Over Christmas, we had a SURPRISE. Ronnie and I found out on December 22 that we will be having another baby. William is eight months-old and, needless to say, this was unexpected. In fact, we were taking measures we thought were appropriate in order to delay pregnancy until a later time--a time when we thought we'd be more ready, a time that we could "plan." Nonetheless, we will be welcoming another child toward the end of July.
The experience of finding out about this pregnancy was quite different than that of finding out about William. At first, I was shocked and dismayed. I'm in the middle of a Ph.D. program that is quite high stress and involves a lot of reading, writing, and studying. It makes life busy and tricky as I seek to be a good wife, mom, and student all at once. The thought of adding to this life another little person to care for was overwhelming at first.
After the shock wore off though, if I'm honest, I have to say that the next emotion I experienced was embarrassment. What a strange thing to feel, right? (I almost feel embarrassed admitting this in writing!) Why was I embarrassed?
This reaction bothered me. A lot. And, I've thought about it for the whole first trimester. Why was I embarrassed? Why did I feel the need to explain myself to people when I told them the news? I think it all comes down to the concept of an "unplanned pregnancy." I know that for me, the fact that we were pregnant unexpectedly carried with it a small sense that we had failed somehow, or done something socially inappropriate. (Am I the only one who has had this experience? I don't know, but I doubt it.) Somehow, I felt a measure of shame over the fact that we are educated people with a very busy life, who managed to stumble into an (dun dun dun dun...) unplanned pregnancy.
All this leads me to ask: What is it, exactly, about an "unplanned pregnancy" that seems so distasteful to me and to others in our culture? For whatever reason, I think there's a stigma attached to unplanned pregnancy, that's not altogether healthy or appropriate (or Christian!). I may be over-analyzing this, but I don't think so. Here are my initial thoughts.
What is it about "unplanned pregnancies" that seems so wrong? Well, in our culture, especially middle-class Anglo-American culture, we put a lot of stock into rationality, reason, responsibility, and control. Anything unplanned challenges such goods and puts them in jeopardy. And, specifically in regard to children, there is an unstated expectation (especially for white, middle-class Americans), that we have a responsibility to plan and bring to pass a certain standard of family. If that standard is not attained, we have failed as Americans and even as Christians.
Here's what I mean. In America, we know that educated people plan their children out. They have a certain number of them (usually no more than three) within a certain window of time. They make sure they are in all the right pre-school activities, can read by an early age, and have an appreciation for music, art, sports, whatever, before they're four. And, hidden within this sense of familial perfectionism is the classist (and at times racist) notion that only the poor and uneducated reproduce without planning. Only the inferior classes are irresponsible enough to have lots of children without planning.
The funny thing about these perceived goods--control, perfection, ideal family life--is that they are unattainable. The truth is, we are not in control. We do not ultimately have control over our bodies. God has designed us in such a way that when two people have sex, they will very often procreate. Its the way we've been made. I've heard someone say before, "If you're not using birth control (i.e., the Pill), you're planning to get pregnant." I say, if you're having sex, you're planning to get pregnant! As much as we like to think with our pharmacological and technological advances that we have mastered the reproductive potential of human beings, we're wrong. In the end, God really does open and close the womb. Its the way God planned us.
Not only are we not in control, but we're not perfect. And the ideal of family life that we've bought into--the one with two white parents, a boy and girl, a dog, and a white picket fence--is simply unrealistic and wrong. We do not have a responsibility to breed baby Mozarts and Picassos. They do not need to master two instruments and become an accomplished gymnast by the time they're ten. Yes, we have a responsibility to educate our children, to rear them into adulthood, to model the good life of a disciple, and teach them how to cultivate Christian virtues. But, that does not necessarily include the "Baby Harvard" pre-school or the often insane elite soccer schedules that disrupt family and church life. The truth is, there is no perfect family or perfect kids. God's will for us is not perfection.
What am I getting at exactly? Certainly, I'm not saying there is no place for trying to plan out your children. And, I'm not saying that spacing them is wrong or trying to find the best pre-school or after school activities is wrong. But, I am saying that there is something wrong with a society that views "unplanned pregnancies" as a problem, a mistake, an embarrassing thing that needs to be apologized for. Life is messy. God's Kingdom is messy. As long as God is God and we are not, that means we aren't in control and we can't plan our lives. Not really.
So, I think we should let go of our un-Christian expectations of control and perfection and accept the beautiful mess that is our life in God. I think there's a place for embracing the unplanned parts of life. Indeed, most of our life together--Ronnie and me--has been unplanned and yet blessed beyond measure. This new life growing inside of me is wondrously unplanned and I can't wait to meet him or her.