By Tara Plymouth

In our Family Life Office’s marriage preparation programs, we encourage couples to be “open to children” or “open to life” when they get married. However, the phrase “open to children/life” seems ambiguous. Also, in today’s culture, with widespread contraceptive use and many unfortunately living together premaritally, many couples may not know what the phrase means.

If you happen to be a natural family planning (NFP) promoter or teacher, or are encouraging people to be “open to children,” it might be helpful to explain further to them what specifically this means. {{more}}

People can be “open to children” in various ways: physically, emotionally and spiritually. Being open to children in the context of physical intercourse means not prohibiting a human life from coming to be, through the utilization of contraception, sterilization or abortion.

Being open to children emotionally and spiritually includes the above, plus viewing every human life as unique and created by God; seeing the beauty in every human being no matter how “flawed” they appear to our culture; and accepting a new child into the family even if the child’s conception was not “planned” by the parents.

People unfamiliar with this way of seeing human life might ask, “How can I be open to children if I am past childbearing age, or if we are infertile (due to unknown reasons, or because a spouse has been sterilized for serious medical reasons, e.g., had cancer and had to have ovaries or testes removed, or required a hysterectomy due to life-threatening postpartum hemorrhage, etc.)?” The answer is that these situations do not in themselves mean that a person cannot be open to children.

Those who are past menopause or who are infertile can still be very open to children, in how they view human life, especially the most vulnerable. This would still entail not contracepting or prohibiting the possibility of life in any way (especially for those who do not know why they seem to be infertile, and who still might hold the possibility of being fertile).

Also, all that would remain necessary to be open to children is an emotional and spiritual openness to children and the gift of life however that fruitfulness might be manifested.

All spouses are called to fruitfulness in their marriage through their life-giving love to each other and to others in their lives. Embracing and living this fruitfulness is what is important. Taking care of extended family, assisting others through charity and giving to others in varied ways are all ways of being fruitful and open to children.

Likewise, although one may be infertile, one can still be open to life or children physically through the complete gift of oneself within the marital embrace. When such complete self-donation occurs, one is being open to life and to children and the gift of fruitfulness – whether a child is conceived or not.

Tara Plymouth is the administrator for the Natural Family Planning program of the archdiocesan Family Life Office.