Of Nipples, Babies, and Not Being Done

“Papa, why do boys have nipples?”

It’s a logical question, and I was frankly impressed that my seven-year-old came up with it. Still, I wasn’t sure where it would lead, so I stalled. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, mamas have breasts and they make milk for their babies, so the babies need the nipples to drink the milk. But papas don’t make milk, so why did God give you nipples?”

breastfeedingMy mind raced, calculating the developmental appropriateness of introducing her to simplified concepts of evolution and the divine superintendence over creation, and squaring that with the associated possibility of expanding her rudimentary ideas about moms and dads and where babies come from. It was like some giant parental algorithm had dropped out of the sky, demanding my attention and upsetting my quiet coffee and Sunday comics reverie.

No worries. Kath answered her own question: “Probably it’s because it would just look funny if you didn’t have them.” That sounded good to me—yeah, I’d just look funny.

I went back to the comics, but Kath wasn’t finished. “I’ll be able to feed my babies someday,” she said. “Yes,” I assured her, “and you’ll be a wonderful mom .”

“And maybe Mama will have another baby, too,” she said. “I’m praying for a little sister.”

*Whump!* Another huge algorithm out of nowhere. How could I tell her that, due to our mature years and biology, we were highly unlikely to have any more children? How could I translate the complex relationship between fecundity and age into a language that she could understand?

Then it occurred to me: I didn’t need to! Technically, we certainly could have another baby, for we had not done anything—nor were planning to do anything—that would prevent it. That God’s design made such a prospect highly unlikely was God’s business, not ours. But it was also the case that God could overrule the natural order, and there’s plenty of precedence for unexpected bundles from heaven coming out of season—think Sarah and Isaac, for example, or even Elizabeth and John the Baptist.

That’s one of the huge advantages of not using birth control, at least for those who see every child as a gift and a blessing: Another baby is always a possibility. Always, that is, because we take seriously Pope Paul VI’s admonition in Humanae Vitae that “each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life” (#11).

So, there’s no such thing as “last child syndrome” because there’s no such thing as a last child. And when people—often total all-dogs-go-to-heaven-disney-animationstrangers—see your 15-passenger van and brood of urchins, and feel compelled to ask, “So, are you done?”, we have some ready come-backs: “Who knows?” we say with a hunch of the shoulders, or “I certainly hope not!”

Anyway, because we are really “not done,” I was able to sincerely and honestly affirm Kath’s aspiration. “Yes,” I said, “another little girl would be wonderful. You’d be a terrific big sister.”

Silence. Pause. Then, “Do dogs go to heaven?” And we were off and running again!


A version of this story appeared on Catholic Exchange.

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