A unexpected baby can challenge a couple's life, as well as open up a new spiritual path.
“And to think that we might not have had him,” Daniel often repeats to himself when he observes his youngest child. “All of our children are gifts, but with him I feel it even more so because we hadn’t anticipated his arrival.” The little boy, whom his parents didn’t see coming, is now their joy. However, it has taken time for these committed Catholics, convinced of the value of all life, to get on the same track and enjoy their happiness.
Ten years ago, Daniel and Jeanne thought they had passed the milestone of dealing with early childhood. They were looking forward to seeing their four children, 5 to 13 years old, grow up and for Jeanne to dedicate herself again full time to her work as a teacher. “We had the right car and a big enough house,” recalls Daniel. “And we gave away all our baby stuff, as if to ensure we didn’t have any more.” When Jeanne found out she was pregnant, it felt like a cold shower. Her pregnancies and births were painful, she suffered from having to sacrifice her professional life once again and was unable to be happy about it. She cried a lot and, for the first time in her life, was prescribed antidepressants: “It took me five months to accept and say, ‘It’s time to move on,'” she recalls.
Daniel says he took time to listen to his wife, which was disorienting because he himself felt “great joy” at the idea of this new life. In hindsight, those few months spent “sharing our feelings without understanding them” was an opportunity to “rethink our life, and to realize how much we had never lacked for anything.”
When parents are not expecting it, the arrival of a new child can bring contradictory feelings. “Whenever couples in this situation confide in me, they express a certain anxiety mixed with joy,” says Fr. Sébastien Thomas. It’s very paradoxical, but the two attitudes can coexist in the same person.”
Moments of great trial and inner turmoil
This is how Marie experienced it when she discovered that a fourth child was on the way. She and her husband, had imagined “taking it easy” after three close-together births: “Our last one was 3 years old, we were finally getting out of the sleepless nights and thought we were finding more time for us as a couple and for each of our children.”
After getting married, the couple practicednatural family planning, but without rigorous training. When she had to “face the facts” Marie discovered ambivalent feelings. She had just started an exciting job — tailor-made for her — for which she was replaced at the announcement of her pregnancy, in mutual agreement. “Even though my employer didn’t hold it against me, I felt like I was betraying him a bit. I was disappointed with the pregnancy, and I was angry at myself for getting pregnant.”
In the end, the joyful reactions of those around her quickly helped her and her husband approach the arrival of the fourth child with more lightness, “especially since we realized that we were far from being the only ones to welcome a little surprise!” Their joy culminated on the day of the birth: “It was extraordinary, we were totally amazed. Such a moment bringsindescribable happiness, one can never be indifferent to it.”
The fact remains that when an unplanned pregnancy is perceived as a hardship, the reactions of those around them can comfort the heart … or stab it. Olivia is 33 years-old and has six children. She was exhausted when the fifth child showed up, as the previous one was only five months old, and the family was living in a tiny house that they were having trouble selling. “I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” says the young mother, telling me “I would soon be done with infant care, and I was starting new exciting projects, when I realized that I was pregnant again.” This time, the family had a better house, but her husband would be at sea for several months and Olivia had to give birth alone.
“I didn’t always feel supported when I expressed my distress,” Olivia recalls, which was answered with “eloquent silences,” or snide remarks like “You’re lucky to even have kids.” “I felt like I was saying something obscene when I said I was exhausted,” she says.
The right to find it hard
“We have the right to be Christian, open to life, and also to be in pain when we are surprised by the arrival of a baby,” agrees Hélène Perez, marriage counselor, who speaks of “astonishment” in describing the reaction of many parents who consult her in these circumstances. The difficulties linked to an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy seem all the more serious because the “mentality of the culture” which permeates us unconsciously.
A surprise pregnancy is legitimately experienced as a shock, and an occasion for mourning hopes and expectations. There is also a path for forgiveness, when one member of the couple blames the other for the pregnancy, or fails to hear their suffering.
When anguish gives way to the joy of welcoming life
To the spouse facing the other’s distress, as well as to the couple’s acquaintances, Hélène Perez cannot overstress the importance of “listening to the pain or the plea, without transferring one’s own perspective. What is needed first and foremost is someone who consoles you and welcomes you without moralizing.”
“Our Christian communities should be a place of consolation and support for all those who are in distress,” says Father Alain Dumont, marked by the fact that some families “are often extremely lonely.” During his ministry, he has seen first-hand the help that a parish community can bring when it surrounds a family weakened by the surprise arrival of a baby: “Far too many people in the Christian milieu are not compassionate about this, and it is not the fact that people complain about it that can hurt, but the fact that they are criticized for complaining.”
In the vast majority of situations, pregnancy is a human and spiritual journey during which anguish gradually gives way to the joy of welcoming new life. “Our youngest, who arrived 10 years after his four older brothers and sisters, brought a real breath of fresh air to our family, marked at that time by the sometimes harsh confrontation with our teenagers,” says Francis, following a pregnancy that his wife, Anne, found difficult. After the older ones had grown closer together, he also had the feeling that he was better able to take advantage of his last child’s early childhood. As for the logistical demands, they have never seemed so light, as much because of the relaxed attitude of the experienced father as of the help of the older children, who were all very happy to welcome and nurture their little brother: “For him, we didn’t need a baby-sitter anymore!” On the spiritual level, “this surprise birth made us aware of our poverty and forced us to humbly accept it,” he says.
Sophie Le Pivain