Mom (and researcher) who started #postcardsforMacron is not angry

Catherine Ruth Pakaluk with six of her eight children. (Photo by Jack D. Hardy)

Catherine Pakaluk was already in the middle of a research study on highly educated women with large families when she came across French President Emmanuel Macron’s now notorious comment on large families. (“Present me the woman who decided, being perfectly educated, to have seven, eight or nine children,’” Mr. Macron had said at a Gates Foundation Goalkeepers event in New York on Sept. 26.) In response, Ms. Pakaluk tweeted a picture of herself and six of her eight kids in her graduation attire with the hashtag #postcardsforMacron.

Her response went viral and was soon accompanied by tweets from other women sharing pictures of their large families and academic accomplishments. “I had 300-something followers, so I wasn’t expecting like 5 million people to see it,” Ms. Pakaluk said in an interview with America. “I figured like three friends of mine would join in.”

Ms. Pakaluk said her comments were intended to draw attention to her research, not stoke internet outrage. “I was definitely not angry or offended [by Mr. Macron’s comment],” she said. “I viewed it as an opportunity to raise a little bit more awareness that many women, definitely not the majority, but many women who are well-educated still do choose to have seven, eight or nine children.”

“I don’t have eight kids because the church doesn’t believe in birth control.”

Ms. Pakaluk, who currently teaches at the Catholic University of America and holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, describes her tweet to Mr. Macron as “spirited” and “playful.” On Twitter, Ms. Pakaluk said she would give a copy of her research findings to President Macron and in an interview with America she confirmed she is going to follow through on that promise once her research is finished.

Ms. Pakaluk was also quick to point out where she and President Macron shared common ground. “I am completely in favor of standing behind any and all credible programs to increase and improve educational access [and attainment] for women—full stop,” said Ms. Pakaluk. “I believe that has always been both the commitment and the triumph of the Catholic Church...way before it was socially desirable and understood to be the right of people.

“I think there is a large lack of understanding [about what] people who have large families experience,” Ms. Pakaluk continued. Indeed, the photos that have been tweeted in response to Mr. Macron have made it more evident to Ms. Pakaluk that many women with larger families feel ignored.

Ms. Pakaluk does not believe that large families in U.S. life are persecuted, “but you get these weird off-hand comments...funny, but typically more offensive comments, like ‘Gee, don’t you know where babies come from.’”

In the coming months, Ms. Pakaluk will continue her research on large families. She intends to look beyond traditional questions related to women in the workforce and ask about meaning and religion in family size decisions as well. She wants to know people’s motives for having large families and what value they see in them. “Religiously affiliated people tend to have more children, and we don’t really know why,” she said.

Ms. Pakaluk said she hopes to eventually broaden the study to include other types of families, like couples who choose to have no children. “I figured I’d start with the group to which I belong,” she said. “So I could have an interesting way of relating the information.”

When it comes to her own family, Ms. Pakaluk is clear on the whys and the why-nots about having a big family, foremost among them: “I don’t have eight kids because the church doesn’t believe in birth control.”

A general appreciation for life that led her to start having children in the first place and then the great experiences she had as a mother were the primary drivers of her large family size. “I believe the purpose of life is to give rise to new life. Now, I don’t think that means you have to have eight kids or even that anyone has to have two kids,” Ms. Pakaluk said.

“I did not go into this wanting eight,” said Ms. Pakaluk, adding that before her first child she had planned on having two or three children. “After having a few kids, I distinctly remember thinking: ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me I was going to love this baby as much as I do?’.... It just never seemed like, ‘Wow, we’re done.’”

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Mark M
9 months ago

Our seven children are blessings from God first, last and always. If we were destined to have seven more, so be it. We placed it in God’s hands for God’s will. This is borderline fanaticism to the editors of this magazine and to this Vatican. Nevertheless, dear Jesuits, we are not breeders and we don’t have rabbits. We have children of God who wear us out, get in trouble, argue a bit and happily laugh a lot.
At the end of (most) days they bring my beautiful wife and I great, great joy and allow us always to keep things in perspective.
We wouldn’t have it any other way. AMDG.

Fred Keyes
9 months ago

Mark, methinks you mis-characterize this pope's and the Jesuits' views on large families. Maybe your thinking should be tempered by CCC 2368.

J Jones
9 months ago

Yes. The author's husband is the father of FIFTEEN children.

He and his first wife had seven children (one of which died as an infant).

That fact is, for me, relevant context for the decision by THIS woman and THAT man to create eight MORE children in that same family.

Life ofthelay
9 months ago

NB: His first wife died.

I suspect he greatly desired to continue the generous and trusting spirit of parenting with his new bride, herself clearly a template of generosity and capability. It takes an extraordinary woman to enter a family that large, and then begin to share in the creative work of God with her husband.

J Jones
9 months ago

I am aware his wife died and apologize if my comment was perceived as a suggestion that he divorced his much beloved and admired first wife.

What you say is undoubtedly true at the same time it is also true that God wills the well-being of all God's Creation. And it is a rational Catholic question, given the Church's endorsement and belief in the effectiveness of NFP and the CCC section noted above , whether this couple might have better served God and all God's creation by not creating eight ADDITIONAL children in a family that had already borne SEVEN children.

It is entirely rational to ask whether they discerned the difference between their personal desires as a father and his second "bride" and a larger view of just family planning in a family that had already served God by creating seven.

Wouldn't it have been a gorgeous sacrifice of personal desires?

My last question is both sincere and intended to be a bit provocative.

Is not the Church celebrating as profound and lifegiving and holy sacrificial suffering and love the decision by some persons NOT to pursue personal desire to be both a parent AND to have a full sexual intimacy with one's life partner?

It seems a reasonable question for these two people as well as any other.

I am all for staying out of the bedrooms of consenting adults.

But if it is okay to look in and evaluate SOME bedrooms, it is okay to look in and evaluate ALL bedrooms.

And I believe a decision to use NFP to call it quits for THIS family, no matter the desires of this stepmother and this-father-7times-over, would have been moral and self-sacrificing and supportive of the well-being of ALL God's creation.


If ever there was a case where adoption makes sense, these two could have adopted if they just HAD to share the experience of newborns and babies in the house.

Mark M
8 months 4 weeks ago

OK Fine, perhaps.
Nevertheless, the Jesuits made it quite clear to me during my undergrad years at BC, that those who viewed Humanae Vitae in a favorable light were akin to the village idiot. The pope’s “like rabbits” comment to the Argentine mother in 2015 speaks volumes as to his opinion of large families. The Jesuits are smarter than all the rest, FYI, and embarrassed by many things Catholic.

J Jones
8 months 4 weeks ago

Mark, Pope Francis apologized for that comment made to a woman who was pregnant for the eighth time following SEVEN caesarian births. It is entirely pastoral AND rational to suggest that this woman and get husband reconsider their reproductive decision-making since major surgery was required to enable this woman to physically survive each birth.

Stanley Kopacz
8 months 3 weeks ago

Being an only child, I can easily see the advantage of being in a large family. There should always be large families that bring in more variance in human psychology. It's still a crap shoot because I've known large families with lots of sibling conflict. But, all in all, they're a good thing as long as the average reproductive rate is replacement level or below.


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