Carrie Gress has a doctorate from the Catholic University of America and is a philosophy professor at Pontifex University. She is the author of several books, including The Marian Option: God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis. Carrie is the co-author with George Weigel of City of Saints: A Pilgrims Guide to John Paul II’s Krakow. A homeschooling mother of four, she and her family live in Virginia. Visit her blog at www.carriegress.com. (Photo by Renata Grzan Wierczorek, RenataPhotography.com)
Anyone in business or politics will tell you that much of what happens hinges on who you know. Conversations, being present to another, face-time – all these things go a long way to open doors of opportunity.
Over the last four decades, pro-lifers have worked and argued tirelessly to save the unborn, coming at the issue from every conceivable angle. For most women, however, abortion is something they are open to considering because they do not yet know their child. The point is illustrated by the old story of a mother and her two-year old daughter at the doctor’s office. The mother, having just been told that she is pregnant, explains that she can’t have a second child. The doctor suggests an easy solution, “Why don’t you kill this one?” pointing at the two-year old. Aghast, the mother responds that she could never do that. “But why? What’s the difference?” the doctor asks. Relationships.
One of the most difficult pieces of the pro-life argument is that we are trying to get mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, etc., to consider someone they don’t yet know. Gratefully, technology particularly in the form of ultrasounds, has bridged this gap significantly. But is there more that can be done?
We are not a culture that has long-term vision. Considering a baby changes everything in the short and long term, but the long-term vision gets trumped by what is immediate and less demanding in the here and now. How can we convey this long-term vision in more tangible terms to those who might not be able to wrap their heads around the notion that there is a very real and unrepeatable relationship at stake?
The abortion-minded aren’t alone in not-welcoming those we don’t yet know.
At a clothing store with my two daughters last month I commented that the sweater I chose would be great should I get pregnant again. The clerk’s jaw dropped. “You would get pregnant just like that?” I could almost hear the gears of her mind grappling with the idea that someone would be open to pregnancy without planning it. And that was before I told her I had two others at home. Her shock reminded me of just how unusual it is for women to be fundamentally open to having children.
Parents of every stripe will still tell you that their children are the best thing that have happened to them. But in the same breath, they will also tell you that they are “done.” It’s odd given that most of the time we want to collect more of what is precious to us and not less. So what gets in the way, trumping the preciousness of children? Money, sleep, flexible time, etc… Of course, these are important, but at the end of the day, would anyone like to have to say before God, “Sorry, I wasn’t open to your blessing of more children because I just really missed getting eight hours of sleep.” Certainly there are very valid reasons not to have more children – I’m not at all referring to those that the Church has made clear constitute genuine reasons to avoid pregnancy — but I am talking about the smaller stuff. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.
Yes, large families are wildly out of fashion. Comedian Jim Gaffigan, father of five, has a great line about how big families are like waterbed stores. “They used to be everywhere. Now they are just weird.” But he adds that his children have made him a much better man (and that he only needs about 34 more to make him into a good guy). Parenthood isn’t just about the children, but also about helping parents to become the people God intended them to be.
Women in particular are transformed almost in an instant. The fierce love most mothers feel immediately or shortly after delivery changes everything. Suddenly, she can’t imagine her life without this little person. The tug of love is so great that even surrogacy programs have moved away from allowing surrogate mothers to donate their own eggs; the mother simply becomes just too attached the instant she sees the child – her child.
And when was the last time you heard someone lament the children they have? “Oh, we shouldn’t have had little Mary,” or “Maybe we should have just given up Johnny long ago?” It doesn’t happen very often. Again, why? Relationships. In fact, there is story after story of mothers being pressured to abort their child for one reason or another and through their resistance, bring to life someone special, such as singer Andrea Bocelli, actress Loretta Young, actor Jack Nicholson, or football player Tim Tebow.
It is a hard sell to get a woman who is in difficult situation perhaps filled with fear, anger, frustration, and many unknowns, to think beyond the immediate circumstances and to wonder about the person she will meet in her child. The beautiful reality of the person who is not yet known is hard to reduce into a simple sound bite. As a culture, however, we must do a better job of loving those we don’t yet know because we know we will love them when we know them.