Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fear of babies

Writer Mary Kochan has an interesting piece on why people fear babies:

I’ve just had to ponder this. What is it about a baby? A baby! That creates such murderous rage in the hearts of people that they would collude in his destruction, that the worst news they could receive would be that he is alive and well? Because make no mistake, for the Canadian hospital and their court system, the worst thing that could happen at this point would be that Baby Joseph survives.

We have a Pennsylvania abortionist going on trial for killing infants that survived his crude late-term abortion attempts. We have a president who, while in the Illinois legislature voted against protecting the lives of babies born alive during attempted abortions. In both cases the most unwelcome conclusion was that the babies live. Why? I can’t get that question out of my mind. Unlike Kafka’s hapless protagonist, these babies cannot ask “why” for themselves – they cannot protest, as an assertion of their human dignity, being killed “like a dog.” But the question should haunt the rest of us.


Mary's conclusion, that every baby is a reminder of the Incarnation and is thus hated by post-Christian societies, is an intriguing one--but I wonder if there isn't something a little more basic going on.

I think the fear of babies, the fear that leads to women gulping contraceptive chemicals like candy regardless of what these things may do to their bodies, that leads men to abandoning pregnant girlfriends or wives, that leaves to both men and women fearing and hating each other's reproductive ability even within the context of a loving marriage, and drives some people to the abortion clinic, is rooted in a truly deep and ugly fear: the fear of having to give up one's own carefully structured selfishness and, with it, the desire to remain a child.

When you become a mother or a father, you can't live your life putting yourself first anymore. You can't ignore your child's immediate and several and time-consuming needs. During the child's infancy and toddlerhood you may find yourself doing things you would never have imagined to take care of your little one. As the child grows, there are fresh areas of concern: schooling, medical needs, activities, growing responsibility and awareness. And all of that happens before the teen years, with their own new set of challenges and demands on parents.

Parents know that the rewards far outweigh what we must give; in fact, the very maturity and responsibility that comes with parenthood is a great plus in itself, before we even start to list such things as the amazing sound of a cooing, happy baby or the tug of pride when a child crosses a milestone, whether that milestone is toilet training or college graduation or anything in between. But to people who aren't parents, these rewards are too ephemeral to understand, while the sacrifice of giving up the freedom to do whatever one wants whenever one wants to do it, in exchange for poopy diapers, colic, and endless "Dr. Seuss" marathons, is too horrible to contemplate.

Of course, we all owe our lives to people who weren't afraid to be the grown-ups and to have us and raise us--but that's easily forgotten by the fearful, who see only the negatives when confronted with a positive pregnancy test, and who seek the abortion clinic with the notion that they'd rather sacrifice their child's existence than their own preferred mode of living.


Melanie B said...

So true. Parenthood demands so many daily sacrifices, deaths to self and to selfishness. Of course the rewards far, far outweigh the costs; but even knowing that and being open to life the news of a new baby can still be a scary thing.

Geoff G. said...

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Anonymous said...

People, it's okay to only want two children. there. I said it. It's also okay to only have one. or none. I wish that people wouldn't abort, but sheesh! Large families are outdated and I would argue from an environmental standpoint, selfish. Especially in the resource hogging US. Large families eat more food, create more waste, need bigger cars, use more water, you get the idea. I won't even go into the sense of entitlement I see from Mothers of large broods. "there should be a multi-child discount", we shouldn't have to wait longer for restaurants to get our table for eight ready..." Well, yes you should, and if you choose to have six children, you should be prepared to pay full price for six children.
Red, people aren't as selfish and depraved as you like to depict them. They are working hard, and interested in being good parents. The more you have, the less time you get to spend with each. I see it all the time. By the third child, many moms are "over it". They say it themselves. Third and higher children get dropped off places, they don't have a parent at their games, etc. These parents rely on the families who have kept their numbers low to help drive their kids around to the baseball field or get them a quick dinner because they are off with another kid or three.
some big families are right pains in the butt.

Rebecca in CA said...

So Anonymous, it's okay to want two children or none, but it's really not okay to want seven. And Red is depicting people as selfish, but you're not. Got it...

Anonymous said...

Wow, Anonymous 8:03, I'm surprised to hear of your experiences with large families. I feel fortunate that I've had the opposite experience, finding I wish there were more of them.

The myths of overpopulation you reference are interesting to roll out - you might want to check your facts on that stuff, as they're outdated.

I can't speak for families with 6 children, but even with my three I ask for multi-child discounts. Not because I feel entitled, it's called doing business (I forget - that's outdated, too). I did it when I had two, I would if I had many more.

"These parents rely on the families who have kept their numbers low to help drive their kids around to the baseball field..."

So, environmental consciousness is imperative, but carpooling is bad?
Which is it, exactly?

"Red, people aren't as selfish and depraved as you like to depict them." Ironical.

CappuccinoLife said...

New reader.

I think you're fabulous. :D What a great post, hit the nail on the head. :)

melanie said...

Yes Anon I think you shot your argument in the foot when you went on to bad mouth people with more than two kids. And for the record ( I have 4 going on five ), we are very environmentally responsible, I spend quality time with all my kids, I end up driving the one kid family's kid around, because heck, what's one more anyway, AND kids love to come over here and play because we feel like a party. All generalizations are bad!!! :-)

Red Cardigan said...

Well, as readers know, we have a small family--maternal health reasons, NFP, and not what we'd hoped for in terms of number (but I love our three as much as I would if there were three times as many). :)

But I'm also the second oldest of nine, so I've seen things both ways. I don't think large families are the problem; sharing, buying what you need instead of what you want, maximizing your resources, etc. are all part of the daily life of a larger family, as are doing without certain luxuries and having a realistic idea of what is truly worthwhile.

Even with a smaller family I've kept up those habits. We don't have cable, we have one car, we share "hand-me-downs" with younger cousins, we don't have Iphones (or expensive phones at all, for that matter), we cook most of our meals at home, and so on.

A double-income, no-kids family probably impacts the planet at least as much, if not more, than we do; at least, all the ones I've ever known take frequent plane trips both domestically and overseas, drive two cars, and buy themselves all the latest "toys" in the electronics segment, to say nothing of eating out several times a week and treating their clothing as "disposable" when it's no longer the latest fashion. The truth is they don't have kids not out of concern for the planet, but because they might have to reconsider their over-consumptive habits and make sacrifices.

Bathilda said...

We're huge consumer hogs, and I have only two. We have cable, iPhones, two cars...we take trips, go to restaurants, etc. We do recycle and use the fancy lightbulbs, etc.... We could easily afford more money-wise, but not really time wise. Selfish? you probably would say yes, but I like our family size and what we can give to two. I stay home, and I can volunteer, be the mom at the fields, etc. We're all happy with this arrangement.

I have seen how some larger families do rely on others more than familes who are not required to "play zone defense". I don't know if Anonymous has an issue with carpooling, but maybe just feeling put-upon... I'm not above feeling like the little red hen sometimes myself.

I applaud families who can manage a large brood, but I also think that you should (try to)have no more than you can afford to feed and educate. We have some families in our parish who have five plus kids seemingly just to fill the pew. Mom is distracted and obviously cranky. Dad is staring off into space relying on the older kids to keep the baby from smearing sticky hands on the people in front of them. Bigger isn't always better, and it isn't necessarily a sign of how good of a parent you are.

JMB said...

I have four myself and am the second oldest of eight. What I've pondered and prayed about over the years was not so much "should I have children or not?" but "when is it ok to accept the family that is"?. That was a much more difficult and heart wrenching decision than to have the first four children.
I do think fear is a huge problem. And I always think about JP2 and his message not to be afraid. But when you are exhausted and over worked and stressed out and money is tight, it's really hard not to be not afraid. I guess that's where faith comes in. God bless those who have it and live it.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I love babies. I don't even mind changing diapers. I can't have one of my own, because I've never married. I borrow those of my friends all the time. Not too long ago I picked one up whose mother warned me too late that she was wet, and actually, something more solid was oozing out the edge onto my bare arm, but hey, that's what babies do. Her mother was embarrassed, but I just went and washed my arm off. I recently got the little girl her first book.

There are many reasons a woman who has not yet delivered a baby would try to terminate her pregnancy before it results in one. Mama grizzly bears, as Gloria Steinem gleefully pointed out, if the food supply is scarce, will autonomically reabsorb a fetus. It is simply the way God made grizzlies. There is no "choice" about it.

In America, we don't actually have to deal with famines which leave a pregnant woman putting scarce bodily resources into a baby which will die at her breast because there is no milk, then leave the exhausted mother in danger of dying also. On the other hand, we have a money economy in which no dough means all kinds of things a woman can't do for her baby. Sometimes the father can't cope either. It's not like there is free land out there for anyone willing to work hard.

There are many people who can talk, truthfully, about growing up "we didn't know we were poor," but then, there are people who can't escape knowing it. There is a certain minimum those cheerful reminiscences depended on.

I have a news clipping from an editor's response to a Monsignor in Pennsylvania in 1959. The editor knew personally of a woman 36 years of age, with 16 children, a 42 year old husband who was an invalid, but not so disable he couldn't get her pregnant again each year, and the entire family was on public relief, as it was then known. "Should this lone woman continue to spawn children as a result of perennial pregnancy? How is she going to rear them properly?"

Those are real questions. They are not universal questions. Human beings live in a variety of conditions, and respond in a variety of ways. No doubt there are some women who just don't want raising a child to interfere with their life style. Well, those women should not have babies, and should not be entrusted with raising any. Others know they are not ready to right by a baby, so they won't have one. Others know they are ready for anything, and their baby is a precious gift from God. They should carry their pregnancy to term.

It does no good to speculate about the evil intent of women who, for one reason or another, do not see things exactly your way. I recall a bumper sticker that said "How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers!"

I thought, that is a very bad analogy. How do we handle flowers? Often, we buy just the one we want at a nursery, where they have been raised and trained for us. Otherwise, we plant lots of seeds, thin them out once they sprout, so each one left has plenty of room to grow its roots and get plenty of sunlight, prune them to squeeze more of the pretty little flowers we like, and pull them out to die when we no longer find them amusing. Is that any way to treat a baby?

Nope, you can't live your life putting yourself first any more with a baby. So if you are not ready to put your baby first, or don't believe you can do right by one in the first place, you make sure you don't have one.

Rebecca in CA said...

I think a lot of people are kind of missing Red's point...yes, it's okay to have a small family or no children, yes it's okay to have a big family, yes we should exercise responsibility when making the choice to conceive another child, etc. But the fact is, yes, we as women are taught to fear having babies from a young age...we are supposed to be skinny, beautiful, be smart and have a wonderful career, etc...a baby will make us fat, ugly, will make us undignified, will rob us of a career and respectability, etc...that message is everywhere, and it is something we as a society should face.

Bathilda said...

Rebecca in CA
I have a single friend who is my age (42), and she is convinced that society teaches nothing but that a woman should be married and raising children.... hmmmmmm..... maybe we just see the opposite of who we are in commercials, on billboards, etc.

Siarlys. You are awesome. I like how you think.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Now I'm going to agree with Rebecca. Our entire economy and culture place darn little value on babies, children, even teens (except as consumers with deep pockets, which some do and some don't).

Raising children takes time, work, effort, and money. The fallacy of the "sent welfare moms to work when the kid is two" measures is that no adult is around to socialize the kids. Oh, some welfare moms didn't bother, but some did, and now ALL their kids are running in packs on the street socializing each other -- unless we want to put our scarce tax dollars into after school programs and day care and recreational programs and...

Employers don't value children either. I am directly familiar (as a former union shop steward) with an employer issuing a final warning and threat to terminate to a young mother who had to rush her asthmatic son to the hospital twice during the same month in a doctor-certified emergency. Taking time for your children CAN damage a career, for men or women, because employers want people who will "put the company first."

I want an economy that will put the people first, starting with the children. Raising children will, in the most enlightened of economic frameworks, require massive amounts of time and attention, and parents aren't enough even if they both stay at home full time.

John E. said...

Well, that's the cool thing about being Autonomous Individuals - if you want lots of kids, you can have them - even if you can't have them because of medical reasons, you can adopt or do foster care.

And if you want just a few kids or none at all, that's cool too.

Kathy said...

Personally, I agree with Red's point about adults wanting to remain in their childish self-absorbed state. Just look at the number of "adult-oriented" cartoons, Family Guy, King of the Hill, South Park, etc. And the latest development: Gummi Multivitamins for Adults.

Things like this keep getting pushed into society until they look normal to people. Adults chewing gummi-vites is not normal. Adults watching cartoons is not normal (unless their child has asked to watch one as the family movie night flick).

bathilda said...

kathy, seriously, if you can't tell the difference between "cartoons" and animation as a medium, you should avoid making sweeping generalizations.

Think of this: Most of the animated shows wouldn't have lasted nearly as long if the kids grew up and the actors got bored, old, etc. As a business and artistic decision, it makes sense. I don't consider myself childish because I think that "The Simpsons" is funny. I don't let my kids watch it.

I took chewable vitamins during my pregnancies (not gummi, but still...) because they were lower in iron, and the iron in adult vitamins was bad for me.

I am not sure that I agree that our society doesn't value children. Have you ever been to a soccer field where kids are playing? The parents are going insane valuing their children. Lots of places bend over backwards for people with kids or babies. I think that we should clarify and say that our society doesn't value poor children.

It's harsh for women especially in the workplace when they want to take time off for their kids. but why should men who didn't take time off and who work more hours get more money and better promotions? No one should get fired for family emergencies, but if you leave every day an hour or two earlier than your counterparts, you should expect not to climb the ladder as quickly.

Geoff G. said...

Just a little something from the Hávamál to counteract the sense of smug superiority faintly detectable here (why do I get the impression that Erin at 11 was the girl in class rolling her eyes at everyone else and going on and on about how mature she was?)

These things are thought the best:
Fire, the sight of the sun,
Good health with the gift to keep it,
And a life that avoids vice.

Not all sick men are utterly wretched:
Some are blessed with sons,
Some with friends,
some with riches,
Some with worthy works.

There are many paths to happiness and wisdom. Not all involve bearing children. And that really, really ought to be obvious to anyone who knows even the slightest thing about Catholicism.

Rebecca in CA said...

Geoff, are you seriously interpreting Red to be claiming that having babies is the only path to happiness and wisdom? I'm just amazed that you take that at all to be her point.