Friday, January 22, 2010

Wondrously Unplanned

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.


Bob Cleveland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob Cleveland said...

I think the "embarrassment" factor .. the maybe uncomfortableness (if that's a word) might come from the fact that it's something you didn't want to do and it happened anyway. Kind of like when you make a simple mistake. But this whole event will get pretty obvious pretty quick, and last a loooooong time. I mean, you'll have a kid to raise for 18-20-22 years or whatever.

Think about it. Hit a tree in your car. Fix the fender and the mistake is history. Lose your car keys? Find them and all is well. Fall off a chair, and it's gone when you get back up.

This one'll be around for awhile.

Then it's a sensitive thing anyway, knowing how babies are made. And you may think folks will wonder "Hmm .. what'd they do wrong?" Well, folks who wonder don't count.

Disruption of schedule? Sure. And you did it. So? You never said you're perfect, and the Club you and I belong to requires acknowledging you're not, to even get in.

And then a lot of other things I never thought of, too.

Keep in mind: when you're retired and you have two kids who grew up together and it all worked out wonderfully, you'll laugh a lot about this. And be thankful things happened just like they did. Warts and all.

I know. We're there.

p.s. I put this up once, and took it down to correct any impression I'd ever view this as any sort of mistake. It wasn't .. just an unintended occurrence.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Thanks, Bob. You clearly speak with the wisdom and insight of someone who's "been there." I appreciate that.

wendy said...

I have three unplanned blessings and thank God for them everyday. They are obviously part of Gods plan...glad I got to participate!

Tammie said...

Thank you Emily. Sometimes I get tired of all the negative comments that are thrown at me.
We all see with our American glasses on and don't get the big picture(myself included). You reminded me that its not to be perfect but God honoring and full of love with all my warts exposed. I know in the homeschool culture it is look at my child he/she is doing this or that or studying 15 subjects a day. We are to follow God's will for each child and not worry about other people and their expectations. We are to make disicples not happy Americans. So thank you again for laying your heart open and giving wisdom.

Your friend with my five blessing,

Karla said...

I love the "beautiful mess" idea... how perfectly that describes our family... said by she who has 10 unplanned children! well, maybe 8 or 9, the first two were probably planned. When people ask me did I "plan" the 6 birthdays between July 24 and Aug 27, I respond, "does it look like I planned it? Who would plan it that way??" Anyway, enjoyed your thoughts and believe it or not, I actually re-wrestled (is that a word?) this subject on my tenth pregnancy! I was soooo tired and really mad about it, but eventually came back to the place that God's will and his adding our Abigail to history was probably much more important than how tired or miserable or overweight I was for another year or two of my life. After all, I signed up body and soul to be his bondservant, not to have a comfortably controlled life. I guess we never get done wrestling with the flesh over that.

UnderMidnight said...

have you been HABING TEH SECKS?!!!

Christiane said...

There is an old saying of the rabbis:

'Man plans, God laughs'