My incredible mother, Betty Biner Fulton, met my father when they both worked for the government’s Lend-Lease Program in Pasco, Washington.  Dad was 18 years older than Mom and recently divorced.  They were different in so many ways and yet, somehow, they fell in love.  I suppose that Dad was charming and good-looking, but that still doesn’t completely satisfy my curiosity as to how he could have won over such a perfect woman.

Nevertheless, when the war ended they got married in Portland and worked together at the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation.  During those quiet and blissful days before the onslaught of kids I am sure that Dad had no idea what he was really getting into.  He had a gorgeous young wife and that was good enough for him.

After my mother passed away in 2009 I went through her papers and found a lot of notes, letters and stories that she had written as a young married woman, happily anticipating the possibility of a large family.  Her sentiments were pretty typical of the time, I suppose, when women were encouraged to stay home and have lots of kids.  But I don’t get the feeling that Mom was choosing her path to please her church, her government,  expectations of society or even Dad.  She simply knew what she wanted.

During that first year of childless matrimony, Mom sat down at her typewriter and mused, with lots of periods, about of her future life with Dad.  It was 1946.

“I always swore that when I got married that I wouldn’t work (a job that is), but I’d stay home and take care of my husband properly and have ten children…. So now I’m married, and working, and though it is a little early in the game for ten children (I don’t even have prospects of one)…. I don’t work because if I didn’t we’d starve to death…. because my husband is perfectly capable of supporting me, but I do work because it will mean we can save our money faster and get out of Portland…. Not that we have anything against Portland in particular…It’s a beautiful place, but because we have something against cities in general…. We just don’t like them…. As soon as we save enough money we are buying a place on the Puget Sound…. What we are going to do for a living when we do we yet haven’t decided…but immaterial things like that can wait….”

Unfortunately, immaterial things like that would have to wait and wait and wait.  What did not wait were the babies.  They started arriving the following year and they just kept on coming until Mom had her ten children.  By then Dad was old and worn out and well on his way to becoming an alcoholic.  But Mom, despite never getting her place on the Puget Sound, remained young and vivacious for the rest of her long life and, despite never being able to “save” money again, she created a nourishing environment for her children in Portland.

But why exactly would a woman of Mom’s intelligence want to have ten children, even after it became clear that our family would always be on the brink of poverty?  I think it would be appropriate to let her explain.  What follows is an article that Mom wrote following the birth of her fourth child, my sister Mary.  The article appeared in the March 1953 issue of St. Joseph Magazine, a Catholic periodical published by the monks of St. Benedict.



What! Another Baby?
By Elizabeth Fulton

    Our fourth child has arrived and with her an avalanche of mail. As we stand around and marvel at how anyone so tiny could be so sweet, so exquisitely beautiful, so intelligent (could be we're prejudiced) our mail tells us how we might have avoided such a mistake. And if we will just send on dollar, or five dollars, someone will be very happy to impart this information to us. One letter proudly proclaimed that out of fifteen thousand and some cases, their method had not resulted in a single pregnancy, and, besides that, has the stamp of approval from the Catholic Church.
    I am unable to quote any of the letters, because as soon as I acquainted myself with their contents I popped them into the fire. But what is this conspiracy against us? What is there about little children that people fear? I thought that once our child had arrived we might heave a sigh of relief and resume our private life again. Wasn't there a movie entitled "Marriage Is a Private Affair"? Well, it isn't so. At least it seems no one cares to let it be so. Before our daughter arrived not only did my immediate family comment on it, but also all my relatives, close and distant (both in sanguinity and miles), friends, acquaintances and strangers. All have sometime or other taken it upon themselves to dictate to me the size of my family. The fact that I pay them no heed dampens their spirits none; they merely shake their heads, cluck their tongues and start anew.
    My dictators give the impression that bearing children is somewhat disgraceful. It denotes the existence of sex, and though it is permissible to talk about sex, read about it, and write about it, there should be no evidence of it in your life; and children are evidence. One child, of course, is perfectly all right, and after a discreet period, say three years, why even a second child is acceptable, but never more. Two is considered the perfect family.
    One day, an acquaintance, watching my children playing about on the lawn and enjoying themselves immensely, asked facetiously how I would like to have six more like them. I answered him honestly that I would love it, and he informed me that I must have holes in my head. Yet this same man is lamenting the fact that his only daughter has just been married and his only son is in the armed services and he and his wife were all alone.

    Four children! And so close together! My! My! Now you don't want to have any more. You have more than you can take care of now . . . and so on, and on, ad infinitum. Now why should something that concerns only my husband and me upset them so? Why do they consider it their duty to caution and advise?
    Prior to the birth of my second child a kindly lady took me aside and told me it was my duty to see that such a thing did not occur again. She said, in effect, that it was not fair to either my husband or me; neither one of us was getting any younger, and I should think enough of my husband not to burden him in his old age. My husband was in his decrepit forties and fast approaching his decadent fifties; I was thirty, and according to the good lady well past my prime. The fact that my health was excellent, and that neither my husband nor I considered babies as burdens (in spite of the fact that we had to stretch that dollar an awfully long way), deterred the lady none. She emphasized again that it was my duty not to populate the earth with any more little Fultons. Her intonation suggested little "monsters", though to date such has not been the case. They are all healthy, normal, intelligent, and to their mother's eye quite beautiful little creatures. By the time I saw the well-meaning lady again I not only had my second child but also my third.
    I was twenty-nine when my first child was born, thirty when my second appeared, thirty-one for my third, and thirty-three when my fourth was born. I hear exclamations from my readers, and they sound much like those I have been hearing for five years now. "Oh, my, that is much too close together, she will ruin her health. How can they afford it? Think of all the work involved; how can she give each child the proper care?" Well, do they have a point? Let's see.

    First of all, this bosh about having children too close together. My would-be advisers quote Sanger; I quote Dr. Nicholson J. Eastman. Sanger is passé, pre-World War One. Dr. Eastman, of the Johns Hopkins Medical School is a little more modern. He made his report in 1944 after a study of more than 38,000 obstetric patients. If you are interested in reading "The Effect of the Interval Between Births on Maternal and Fetal Outlook," American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, for April 1944.
    Dr. Eastman disproves the theory that children should be "spaced" two years or more apart. Children that are born within twelve months of one another have a greater chance of survival than those born more than twenty-four months apart; the longer the interval between births the more likely is the mother to suffer from some hypertensive toxemia of pregnancy. Occurrence of this complication is lower when the interval is less than twenty-four, and considerably higher when the interval is twenty-four to forty-eight, and much higher when it exceeds four years.
    It is quite probable that the chance of infant mortality increases as the interval widens. Dr. Eastman's figures were 1.5 per cent for the "brief" interval group, 2.2 per cent for the "moderate" interval group, and 2.6 per cent for the "long" group.
    Child spacing, which is supposed to be for the benefit of the mother, overlooks the factor really in favor of the mother, namely, youth. The younger the mother the better. And why transgress the laws of God? Advocates of these so-called "safe" contraceptive methods conceal the fact that their constant use over a long period of time is dangerous to a woman's health, and often renders the woman completely sterile. Is it any wonder then that physical and psychic disorders result?
    
    But I am in my thirties, and no longer considered "young." What about my personal health experiences? Have any of these dire predictions of my "friends" come true? No. I have always been in excellent health and am as healthy today as I ever was. My blood count in all but one pregnancy was in the nineties. The exception was with my second child, and then it dropped to eighty, and though it was still considered "not bad," I diligently swallowed three iron tablets a day and up it soared. My blood pressure has never been a cause of worry. I don't even pretend to understand the little figures they mark down but they have varied very little and always seem to give my doctor a sense of satisfaction, so as long as he is pleased why should I worry?
    My figure? When I was married I wore size twelve, and I still wear size twelve. My legs? There isn't any truth in that old wives' tale at all. Bearing babies didn't hurt them a bit; why should it? I have a competent physician and he will not allow me to put on more than a certain number of pounds. He watches my diet, and insists on so many hours of sleep and rest; and as a general rule I feel wonderful. So vanity and fear of poor health should not hold a woman back.
    "It isn't fair to bring children into a world if you can't educate them properly." Educating them properly meaning, I suppose, a college education. Well, how can you tell now what you will be able to din about eighteen years time? When my brothers and I were young my father had a very lucrative position, and there was no doubt in our minds at all but that we would go to college--at Dad's expense, of course. We went to college all right, but times had changed for Dad, and financially he was able to do very little to help us through. But if a young man or woman really wants an education he or she will find some way to obtain it. My own children, I hope, will have that much initiative. And who knows, in eighteen years maybe we will be better fixed financially. Children are an incentive.
    A college education is a secondary matter, anyway. Much more important is it that children learn to get along with one another, to cooperate, to share, to love one another and so to love God. Children in a large family have a better opportunity to develop strength of character, and thus grow up to be good, clean, honest citizens, and children of God. It matters little then whether they push a broom in the streets or sit in the highest office of the land.
    "Children are an expense." That is true, and we have many bills. We often worry how and when we will ever get them paid, but if we didn't have children and bills to worry about we would no doubt be attempting to maintain an exaggerated standard of living in order to "keep up with the Joneses." And what a worry that would be.
    It is also true that children keep one tied down. We cannot afford theaters, clubs or dances, and we stick pretty close to home, but really don't feel we miss much. Such forms of entertainment are after all synthetic, and mainly for the isle and the bored. We are never idle and certainly never bored. Our home has become the center of all our entertainment. I have yet to hear my husband complain.
    "But think of all the work; how can you give each child the proper care?" Well, truthfully, I was busier when I had just one than I am now. I even ironed that little fellow's diapers, and I was never through until after ten o'clock at night. I could work that late now too, but I don't. My housework suffers, but my children don't. I always have a mound of ironing a mountain high, but my children as kept as clean and neatly dressed as possible, they are wee fed and fed on time, they take their naps and at the appointed time kneel down and say their prayers, and so to bed to sleep their required twelve hours. Things the oldest has learned he passes on to the next, and so on down the line; and even a four-year-old can save Mother a great many steps. But above all each one receives his and her share of loving; there is always time for that, so who cares if there is not time to keep a perfect house. That will come later.
    Let those who advocate two children to a family throw up their hands in horror and exclaim, "What! Another baby?" It won't faze us a bit. Let them have their worries if they want. We'll have the babies. God willin'.


Mom with her first eight children in 1959.  She is holding Bob.  In the front are Dan and Leslie.  In the middle are Joe, Mary & Chuck.  In the back next to Mom are Char and Will.  Fred was born the following year and Tom came in 1963 to give Mom the ten children she hoped for.

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