When I first met my future husband, I weighed 98 lbs. I had just graduated with an Honours Degree in English Literature from the University of Regina and considered continuing my studies as a graduate student. I loved everything about academia, especially the relaxed but challenging experience of reading Chaucer and Old English in the original vernacular with only one other student in a professor's office. We delighted this dedicated teacher because we were interested in passion.
I loved my life and didn't for see any changes. I had grown up with one sister, ballet lessons and a library filled with great fiction. I enjoyed gardening, painting and drawing, eating a vegetarian diet, reading spiritual literature and growing in my faith ; I was content.Suddenly, my life as I knew it, changed dramatically.
I met Michael, who was just passing through Regina, Saskatchewan from Ottawa, Ontario to Prince George, British Columbia and from that very first, it felt like the prairie wind had swooped down and scattered all my work and plans. Michael described our first meeting in much kinder terms; he said that he saw fireworks when he first laid eyes on me. It was instant attraction. Everyone thought I was going to be a nun librarian. He saved me.
I was not ready for this dramatic change in my life but it was clear to me that this was my call. So I baffled my fellow students, profs, advisers, friends and family by saying yes to the unexpected. I did not know anything about my newly chosen lifestyle or even where we would live. I did realize that I was completely ignorant and lacked even the most basic skills required to survive.Coming from a family with only two children, it was a shock to me when I met Michael’s sprawling French-Canadian family of eight boys and two girls.
I became pregnant before our first wedding anniversary. Instantly, I began to panic because I knew, that once again, I was utterly unprepared. I had never even held a newborn! So I prepared in the only way I knew how and I read every book I could find on pregnancy, birth and baby care.
However all this studying did little to equip me to mother a fragile, completely dependent newborn. For example, as I held my baby in a small bathtub for his first bath, I was very nervous. Guess what? I had a book propped open with one elbow awkwardly holding it open to the right page, while my baby was in the baby bathtub on the table. The book was my security blanket.
My new husband, who was the second oldest of ten children and completely relaxed with babies, walked through the kitchen, shook his head in disbelief and said,
"Melanie, there are some things you just can't get out of books.
This baby was the first of nine.
My Protestant grandfather warned me since I had become a Catholic four years before and was now married in the Church, “At least, don’t have a lot of children.” His advice went unheeded. I spent 18 years of her life either nursing or pregnant or both.
After the birth of our fourth child, Michael and I struggled to understand exactly how we were meant to live our lives. We were discussing an article by an author whose main premise was that letting go of control and trusting in God was not some abstract principle but a day-to-day practical call that included the surrender of our fertility. Of course we practiced natural family planning but I was one of those rare people who could conceive long before ovulation.
Although we could not imagine how large our family would become, the words of that article resonated within both my husband and I. Guilt lifted off us and a surge of excitement, a sense of purpose welled up from within. Although it took time to really believe that none of our children were simply a failure of the natural family planning method. Many small experiences kept reinforcing the truth the for us that God called each of our children into being with our co-operation. We’d stumbled blindly at times and then a burst of clarity would shine light on our purpose.
The very existence of a joyful mother of nine children seems to confound people. However, it has been far from easy, rather it has been a long journey through confusion, guilt and public condemnation to reach the point where I can now shout loudly,
“This is my call, this is my vocation, this is my witness to the world.”
I became who I truly am with my partner and love of my life