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BY Melinda Selmys
anyone decide to have more than two children? More than one, fine: The baby
needs a sibling to play with. Three, maybe, if there’s an accident. But four or
more? What are you thinking?
It is impossible to answer this
question without looking at the meaning of parenthood — maternity and
paternity. Generally, the people who have larger families are people who are
able to answer this question: What does it mean to be a mom or a
dad? They may not be able to articulate it, but they have it answered in their
own heart, to their own satisfaction.
This is my articulation.
A child is not a web of
interconnected pros and cons — two more years of diaper changes, 300 boxes of
cheesy macaroni advanced food substitute, $10,000 a year in college tuition vs.
hugs and kisses, happy grandmothers, and the hope that someone will visit me in
the old-age home. A child is a human being, possessed of all the breadth and
depth that make up every human heart. A child is a person.
It is conceived (ordinarily) through
an act of love within marriage, and it is the living expression of the love of
the spouses. In this way, the nature of the Trinity is revealed symbolically
within the natural order: Two become one through the unity of love, and this
love itself constitutes a third person. It is for this reason that sex has been
called a “natural sacrament” — a new spiritual reality; the creation of a new
human being is really and actually brought about through all of the outward
symbolism of joining bodies and loving embraces.
The new soul thus conceived animates
the body from the earliest moments of existence: You may see only a couple of
cells on the microscope, but this is merely the external and visible
manifestation of the conception of the child. This is the soul taking form
within the world.
It lives: If it did not, it would
not divide, respire, grow and so on. A human being is not, as men of learning
once believed, a creature that slowly coagulates in the womb — but a creature
that comes into being at the moment of conception and then makes its home
within the walls of his or her mother’s womb.
Anti-abortion advocates — myself
included — generally make a great deal of fuss about the genetic uniqueness of
this new human being, the fact that the pattern of body and personality is
fixed from the very beginning.
There is something more here,
though: The child is formed from the only cells of the human body that are
incomplete, that do not contain the full genetic pattern for the body that
formed them. In the reproductive cells of the human body, there is only half a
tale, an incomplete narrative of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), that strange
chemical language in which life on earth is written.
Some particular set of themes and
plot threads from the secret interior code of the mother and another from the
father are joined together to form a new character in the great drama of human
The child thus created is not a tabula
rasa on which anyone — parents, teachers, social workers, engineers
of brave new worlds — can inscribe their glowing hopes for the future. The
behaviorists of the 20th century were wrong. Perhaps if they had consulted more
mothers and fewer rats, they would have realized their error before they published
so much nonsense.
The child is created in the image
and likeness of God, but it is also in the image and likeness of its parents.
The people who hope to see evil eradicated from the world through increasing
government intervention in the lives of children are going to be sorely
Children do not inherit their faults
and failings merely by watching and imitating mom and dad. They inherit them on
a much deeper level.
Not only does the hero of each
person’s story come into being in the instant when sperm and ovum collide — the
villain does, as well. The struggle with sin which turns the heart of man into
a battlefield is there from the beginning, imprinted. Original sin is not a
Christian myth; it is a reality archetypal and chemical, scripted into the
depths of the human psyche and the heart of the amino acid chain.
This first came to my attention when
I was working as a live-in volunteer for a small shelter for homeless youth.
There was one young man, in particular, who was deeply disturbed. He was liable
to lose his temper and attack the other clients. He had, I learned, been
adopted as a baby.
I pictured his adoptive mother as a
kind of monster, incapable of loving this child who had not come from her own
womb — distant, disappointed and disillusioned with the project of motherhood.
I was surprised when one of the
women from my church, a wonderful, generous-hearted lady, approached me and
asked about the shelter.
Always enthusiastic to recruit a new
volunteer, even if it was just to bake us some meat loaf once a week, I started
talking to her. I quickly discovered that her interest was personal: She was
this young man’s adoptive mother. She wished that he would come home, but she
couldn’t force him to. She loved him very deeply.
It is a pattern that I have seen
repeated throughout my encounters with adopted children. A friend of mine
recently reunited with a daughter that she had given up at birth 18 years ago.
She was astonished to discover how similar they were, how much of her mother this
little girl had carried in herself through all those years of separation.
This is why parents — biological
parents, both mother and father — are the best people to raise their own
children. There is a foundation of similarity; the heart of my daughter is
closer to my own than the heart of someone else’s child. Her faults and
failings are a reflection of mine. I understand them, and I have all of the
experiences of my own life out of which to help her overcome them. Her talents
and her abilities are also mine, and I am able to recognize and nourish them.
Parents do not do this perfectly.
Certainly there are cases where a mother encourages the faults of a child
because she overlooks them in herself, and there are cases where a father
despises skills and talents in his son that he has suppressed within himself.
Still, there is nothing quite like the love of a parent for a child to
encourage us to acknowledge and work on our sins — and to make us grateful for
the gifts that we have been given.
Selmys is a staff writer