Little Ann Sucking Her Finger Embraced by Her Mother by Mary Cassatt, 1897
Or Why Children Are Worth the Trouble
As I boarded the airplane with 6-month-old Maria, she quickly caught the attention of the flight attendant. The eyes of this woman lit up, and she exclaimed what a darling baby Maria was. As I continued along down the aisle, I overheard her tell the passengers boarding behind me that she loved it when babies were on board so she could get her “baby fix.” She then explained, “I can have fun with the babies at work, and that way I won’t need any babies at home!”
The passenger behind me responded encouragingly: “Smart!”
A more accurate response would have been: “Sad…”
This exchange disturbed me deeply as I pondered the implications of such a decision. Perhaps, it seems smart to pass on all the challenges of pregnancy, expenses of caring for children, sleepless nights, and all the work that goes into raising children. But, ultimately, she’s missing the point. Others laid down their lives for her (namely, her parents) while she is unwilling now to do so herself.
What, then, does she gain? Can all the money, pleasures, and “fun” with strangers’ babies fill her with peace and joy and happiness? Or will she only reap emptiness and purposelessness?
I wrestled with these ideas as my mind wandered back to a brief time of infertility we had experienced before conceiving Maria. It was a difficult time for me. My heart longed to have another child, and I couldn’t quite understand why. After all, I had already been blessed with eight beautiful, healthy, and active children. I had plenty to do! At the time, I wondered if, perhaps, it was a mid-life crisis? Not wanting to let go of my youth and pass into my older years? Was there some other selfish, utilitarian reason? Perhaps there were some of those elements wrapped up in it all, but ultimately I believe that the joy that comes from laying down my life for another trumped anything else I could do with my life.
Thinking about the next phase of life when I could no longer conceive and bear children, I considered all the freedoms and possibilities it afforded. I could pursue more reading and writing, go places without being tied down, experience more freedom to do field trips and experience things with our older children, I’d sleep more at night, there’d be no more diapers to change. If you’ve had children, you know the list goes on.
I realized, though, that none of that – no other activities or experiences – could ever come close to the joy of new life, another person with whom to walk through life. Everything else I could conjure up simply paled in comparison to the wonder, awe, and privilege of procreating, with my husband and with God, another everlasting soul. To feel that life within me, to nourish, feed and protect that life, to guide and teach that child about God and His beautiful creation and all the wonders of the world, to experience and be in relationship with this unique person for the rest of my life, is truly a great gift. The principle of “My Life for Yours” by which we Christians live was the real reason I wanted another child.
Can all of that be traded for a baby fix?
Christ came to teach us that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend (John 15:13), and then He showed us exactly how to do that. It is through sacrifice, hard work, vulnerability, tears and ultimately, death. Dying to ourselves and selfishness that others might live.
This is where true joy is found, paradoxical as it seems. And it will lead us to the place where love and joy will have no bounds…for all eternity.
Let us pray for each other, especially in this year that marks the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, that we will be open to life and generously receptive to what God deigns to give us.