What's It Like Raising 8 Children?
Some Questions We've Answered
Whenever I am asked if I have a wife and children, I tell people we have 4 boys and 4 girls (and one in heaven due to a miscarriage). I have 8 children! Their responses include, "Wow!" "Don't you know what causes them?" "Do you watch TV at all?" "Are you Mormon?" "Is that a daycare?"
My answers include, "Well the world's record is 69 children, we are still 61 shy." "Yes, we are Catholic." "Yes, I have a few theories about what causes them." "We do have a TV and we watch it. "That's not a daycare, that's my family!"
But the two most important questions to answer are, "Why?" and, "How do you do it?"
When I fell in love and proposed to my wife, Nancy, one of the most important conversations we had during our engagement was about whether we would like to have children and if so, how many? We both were open to children and raising a family. I said I would like to have two children. She said three. I said OK.
And that's what we agreed to when we were first married.
When we were first married, we were using artificial birth control. We both had reservations, because of religious and health concerns. We knew that the Catholic Church taught that artificial birth control is unacceptable. But for me, I had learned in biology class that the pill can cause a fertilized egg to be flushed outside of the body. That horrified me. Then there was the list of side effects that concerned me. The pill can render the user infertile.
Moreover, it is a class 1 carcinogen, meaning it is KNOWN to cause cancer. Many other toxins in our environment MIGHT cause cancer, but this one is KNOWN to cause cancer, like smoking cigarettes or being exposed to asbestos. I certainly did not want that kind of risk for my lovely wife.
So Nancy suggested that we sign up for natural family planning (NFP) classes. I agreed. I was more motivated, however, to follow my conscience regarding the potential loss of a fertilized egg and health risks to my wife rather than any religious dictates.
Natural Family Planning
I had reservations about Nancy being on the pill, but I also had reservations about practicing NFP. I thought, "Isn't there a high failure rate with the so called rhythm method? What if we end up with a boat load of children?"
Our instructor answered those questions right up front. First, NFP is not the rhythm method. It is not a counting method. It does not assume that a woman's body has regular periods. Instead, it assumes that most women's periods are not regular. It identifies signs of fertility (or infertility) by observing and charting a woman's natural bodily changes on a daily basis. Some methods include temperature measurement.
The other "misconception" (pun intended) is the use of the word, "failure." We learned that conception is not a failure, but a wonderful grace. It is to conceive a human being. If you think about the statement, "Contraception failure rate" that implies that the goal is to eliminate God's natural move of life. Children are not a "failure." Children are not a disease to be eliminated by pills.
This also applies to men when we tell them, "He needs to get fixed." This refers of course to the male having a vasectomy. It implies that there is something broken, that there is a problem to "fix." Fertility is not a problem. It is a blessing.
I had to sit with these teachings a while. I had to allow God to work on my attitude and view of children, my body and our ability to procreate. I had to be even more "open" to children.
The best part of the classes was that we learned a new acronym, "SPICE." This means that as a married couple, we need to develop more than just our sexuality. We had to develop the spiritual, physical, intellectual, communicative and emotional aspects of our lives.
- Spiritual-Spend time praying together.
- Physical-Go for a walk. Hold hands. Dance.
- Intellectual-Read and discuss a book.
- Communicative-They say the average couple only talks about 5 minutes a day with each other. Try and develop more communication.
- Emotional-Share your feelings (I know, tough for guys sometimes, or we just don't want to do it.)
Trying For Our First Child
After a year or so of practicing NFP, we were ready to start our family. The method helped us to identify signs of fertility and therefore ideal times for conception. But there seemed to be only signs of infertility.
Weeks and months went by with no signs of fertility or pregnancy. Months turned into years. We were trying, but no children. We were getting more and more concerned. I had wondered if my wife had been rendered infertile by using the pill.
We turned to prayer. We were active in the Life in the Spirit prayer community that held a Charismatic mass every Thursday night at our local cathedral. We went to the prayer team and told the faithful members that Nancy was having, "female problems." They laid hands and asked for the anointing and healing of the Holy Spirit. We were comforted and went home with a sense of God's presence.
But it wasn't until the next day that we had a God moment. A miracle. Instead of indicating in our chart another day of infertility, we were able to record a day of fertility! Praise God!
Mom! Dad! We're Gonna Have a Baby!
After nearly 3 years of trying, the Lord answered our prayers. Nancy and I were going to have our first child! When she missed several periods and felt changes in her body, she scheduled an ultrasound. I will never forget that day.
While Nancy was on the examination table and the technician was bringing the image of our child onto the screen, the song, "Heaven is a Place on Earth" by Belinda Carlisle was playing over the hospital speakers. I was filled with unspeakable joy. The song was perfect!
Ooh, baby, do you know what that's worth?
Ooh, heaven is a place on earth
They say in heaven, love comes first
We'll make heaven a place on earth
Ooh, heaven is a place on earth
I called my parents. Nancy called her parents. We called all of our close friends and family. We're going to have a baby!
Alissa Marie Ortega-3 Months
I Haven't Had Sleep Since 1996
Alissa was born to us in September of 1996. Noelle was born on Christmas morning in 1997. Our son Michael was born in 1999. Hannah in 2001, Ben on Good Friday in 2003, Dominic on Mother's Day in 2004, Grace in 2007 and Isaac in 2011. (We are trying to cover all of the holidays-LOL!). I have told people I haven't had any sleep since 1996.
Comedian Jim Gaffigan was asked what's it like having 4 kids. He replied, "Imagine you are drowning and someone hands you a baby." My wife said you know having 3 or more children is a lot like basketball. You simply move from man-to-man defense to zone defense.
God helped us to see the value of children. He asked us to be open. With NFP, you can still choose to space your children by using days of infertility. Each couple is asked to continue to be open to children with each marital act. If you are not open, you are asked to wait for an infertile day or abstain. You can go for a walk. There are times we did NOT want to go for a walk!
How About You?
How Many Children Do You Have?
To marry and embrace the fruits of marriage is to choose a particularly demanding way of salvation.— Richard Gaillardetz
So Really, What's it Like?
It's a sacrifice. My wife is a saint. We are called to lay down our lives for one another and then lay down our lives for our children. With God, all things are possible.
The early days of diapers and car seats were indeed exhausting. We had a strong church community and host of friends and family who helped us in the infant days. We are blessed to have had two wonderful girls born first. As they became older, they were able to babysit the younger ones.
Time management is key. Excel spreadsheets and extra large calendars line the refrigerator. There are so many magnets and papers on the refrigerator, we hope it doesn't tip over! We have to schedule school activities and sports, music and our spiritual exercises. We also have to schedule one-on-one time with each child.
When we had 7 children, I used to say we had one child for each day of the week. We would let them choose something special like deciding the dinner menu or choosing a book or special way to spend the time. Now with 8 children, the schedules criss-cross and sometimes there is not a lot of individual time. Sometimes schedules change or an appointment is cancelled or say a child needs to stay home from school. These are all times that can make for an unscheduled time for one-on-one bonding.
Prayer is Key
You have probably seen the church sign that says, "It's hard to stumble if you are on your knees." I know that it is hard to go forward if it weren't for the grace of God. He sends His Holy Spirit to be our Advocate.
The old adage that the family that prays together stays together are words to live by. We do our best to make it to church on Sunday and have regular family prayer time. We pray the rosary regularly. Our children especially like the Easter Vigil celebration because the faithful enter a dark church with candle light. After the service, we gather in the parish hall to recognize any newcomers to the church and play cards.
Technology: Advantages and Disadvantages
The older children all have cell phones. Sometimes I find that, although the calendar helps, communication by way of texting helps. Along with my wife, I can message several children at one time: Meal plans, picking someone up, changes in plans, reminders, news items and more. Most of them have the device in hand and notice these messages right away.
The down side is that most of them have electronic devices in hand and spend a lot of time on them. We try to find ways to engage one another and "fast" from our electronic devices. We play card games like spoons, revolution, hearts and kings in the corner. We play board games like Monopoly. If we do use our electronic devices, we find a game we can all play like Spyfall and HeadsUp. These are especially helpful in the winter.
In the summer, we like to get outdoors to bike, fish, hike or visit a park. We play Frisbee, carpet ball, bocce ball and prison ball.
So Are You Done?
We have no immediate plans. However we continue to remain open to God and His plans. We remain humble and dependent upon Him. We trust that He will continue to provide. The sacrifice of time and finances are great ones. But He has not let us down so far!