Monday, January 23, 2012

Less than perfect mothers

As the March for Life takes place today, as President Obama declares that abortion is necessary so our daughters have the same freedom to fulfill their dreams as our sons (because apparently embracing rampant sexual immorality and the ability to kill one's offspring is essential in order to be just like a man), I'd like to share some words from a reader, words which I think are both true and hopeful:
But then we have to move on to the reality that we are, in many cases, not offering women in crisis pregnancy situations much help. That gets all caught up in moralizing and the politics of welfare, etc. While, like you, I believe a child is best nurtured in a loving home with biological parents, I also think that current conservative positions harden us against the people who most need us. That is a concern. If I may be so crude, screw how a baby got there - we have to offer every child the best our society can, even if their life is imperfect. I mean, we don't think it's okay to abort children with Downs, so why would we cut off support for the children of less than perfect mothers?

It's a conundrum, isn't it?
It is, but it's one that we have to face.

I know there are many pro-life volunteers out there who do work in crisis pregnancy centers offering non-judgmental support, love, and practical help to women who are faced with an unexpected pregnancy. But there are--and it must be said--groups of people who are "Randian Conservatives" whose attitude towards unwed mothers is: "Hey, they got themselves into trouble by making bad decisions. It's not society's job to pick up the pieces when the baby-daddy moves in with someone younger and hotter (and maybe less fertile). Why should my hard-earned money go to bail out someone who didn't have the self-control to keep from having sex in the first place?"

I would say that most of these people, while technically opposed to abortion, have a ways to go before reaching what the religious view of being "pro-life" actually is. (So, to be fair, do some religious-minded conservatives, who fail to embrace the fulness of their churches' teachings on the intrinsic dignity of all human beings.) Sadly, these voices are sometimes rather loud in the conservative sector, drowning out those who say what my reader has said above: the time to debate morality and virtue and public policy is before conception, but once the baby is there in her mother's womb, it's time to put those issues on the back burner and just offer help.

One of the side effects of the embrace of abortion is that women who are in less than perfect situations are often left alone when they accept an unplanned pregnancy. Their post-abortive friends may walk away, unable to face the reality of a better choice. Their parents may pressure them to abort and then wash their hands of the situation should the woman's choice be to give birth instead. The child's father may offer to pay for the "procedure" and to drive his girlfriend home afterwards, but may get angry when these generous offers are rejected and then dump her; he may even become violent, since her choice is one that leaves him financially on the hook for the next 18 years--and why should he have to pay for what he never wanted? Why should a little casual bed-hopping cost him so much, when society says the most he should have to cover is about $500 paid to his child's legal killer?

And here's where the cost of tribalism may come into play: the young woman knows perfectly well that there are such things as crisis pregnancy centers, that there are places she can go where she will be helped to have this baby and to decide whether to raise her or give her up for adoption, that there are people who will give her the welcome and love she so desperately needs right now--but she may be afraid of them, afraid they will judge and condemn her, afraid they will see her as a welfare-mom wannabe or a promiscuous or "loose" woman, afraid that they are what a few media caricatures of pro-life people have made her think of them all. She may read comments on Internet news stories or hear a bit of talk radio and come away convinced that all people who oppose abortion think that people like her, unwed mothers, are a drain on society, a burden and an expense. Her own thoughts about abortion may even still be ambiguous, in a state of flux: she doesn't want one herself, but she's not ready to say that nobody should have one, not yet--and especially not if saying so makes her one of those pro-life people she's secretly rather afraid of.

What I wish I could say to women in that situation is this:

So, you're in a situation where you may be a less than perfect mother. I only know of one perfect mother, and after all, her Son was perfect, too. The rest of us are all less than perfect mothers. We don't always know what we're doing, we're not always the models of patience and joyful motherhood we'd like to be, we're sometimes tired or frustrated or at our wits' ends with our little (and not so little) bundles of joy. None of us is capable of doing this alone--and to the extent that some of us may really promote the idea of celibacy before marriage, it's because we know from our own experiences that it's not an accident that parents come in sets of two.

But just because you didn't live up to that ideal doesn't mean it's our business to scold (that's between you and God, and perhaps your pastor or spiritual adviser if you have one). We also know that it takes two to tango, and that the man who participated in the creation of this baby has plenty to answer for. Society makes it much easier for him--and then society holds out the evil of abortion to you as if it's something good, something that lets you, too, walk away from this baby and pretend she never existed. You know better, and many post-abortive women will tell you that you never forget her existence, or the day you let them kill her.

So we do want you to choose life for your baby, because we think that you, as a woman, deserve better than the false promise of abortion. You deserve better than being told to deny your very nature and shut off all compassion for the little one you may have had a name for years ago, when you dreamed of starting a family. Your dreams may have been different, but then our dreams and our realities aren't usually a perfect match. It's okay to be less than perfect in this; you know that life also tends to get better than we ever think it will in our darkest hours.

Maybe you already know you want this baby to live; you just haven't figured out the "hows." How will you finish school? How will you keep working? How will you arrange your life, in the face of this new reality? How will you ponder adoption, or know if giving up your baby to a loving couple is the right decision?

We have a "how" for you, too, and it's this: How can we help?

Can we help you with insurance and doctor appointments? Can we help you approach your employer to adjust your hours or the type of work you're doing? Can we help you find someone to be there for your birthing classes who will be with you when you go into the hospital to deliver this baby? Can we provide counseling? Can we arrange for you to meet with people qualified to help you consider raising the baby yourself vs. placing her for adoption? Do you need a place to live? Do you need basic things like food, maternity clothing, and supplies for the baby?

I know that many crisis pregnancy centers can provide access to all of these services and more. The diocese where I live offers the Gabriel Project, which includes many services directly to women in crisis pregnancies, as well as referrals to crisis pregnancy centers in the diocese.

As we mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and mourn the deaths of fifty-three million American children, let's realize that abortion is horrible for women, that it is destructive, that it is dehumanizing, and that it is the last thing women need in order to be equal to men--in fact, it's downright insulting to women to say that we need abortion in order to fulfill our dreams.


beadgirl said...

This is why, even though I actually am pro-life, I tend to shy away from a lot of pro-life groups -- because of the tendency all too often pointed out by pro-choicers that pro-lifers ignore the women and babies once those babies are actually born. I used to be pro-choice, and the reasons I was are still there: the double standard regarding sex, the fact that it is so much easier for a man to walk away than a woman, the fact that the burden of child-raising falls predominantly on women, the stigma of single-motherhood, the fact that pregnancy can be genuinely scary for any number of reasons.

I know from experience -- pro-choicers are not sitting in a darkened room somewhere smoking cigars and cackling about how much they hate children. We are going to get absolutely nowhere on the abortion front until we start truly acknowledging why people are pro-choice, and in particular why so many who do have a gut aversion to it are nonetheless reluctant to make it illegal.

Hah, the captcha word is "dicsk." (Yes, I'm 12.)

Susan Archaeology cat said...


Siarlys Jenkins said...

Excellent exposition. We will never agree on what the law should be, but anyone who expresses pro-life views by reaching out to pregnant women to give real assurance that they will have the help they need to deliver and raise a child, is to be admired and encouraged.

The counter-part to Randian conservatives mouthing incomplete "pro-life" views is, of course, people using "pro-choice" rhetoric who actually feel threatened that someone might offer such assurance to a woman deliberating whether to end her pregnancy.

A woman who responds to such assistance is making a free choice, which is precisely her right to make.

Elizabeth said...

The answer to men walking away from the consequences of their actions can not possibly be enabling women to behave the same way.

Too many pro-choice people who refuse to give credit to the work of the pro-life movement in all the services Red listed.

It is so easy to be polarized and polarizing, telling ourselves and anyone who will listen certain favorite stories over and over to get our audiences and ourselves feeling righteous. But such feelings are just so much dross. They can't stand the light of examination, as they contribute nothing to the reduction of suffering in the world.


Annie said...

Lest I sound like a pro-choice troll (and I'm pro-life), it is true that an unwanted pregnancy can kill a woman's dreams. In fact unwanted pregnancies are probably the number one "dream-killer" of woman throughout history. I'll sound prudish and old-fashioned and suggest that many young women who have dreams not have sex when a pregnancy would destroy their dreams. I guess the modern world wouldn't consider that an option.

Overall, we should not be surprised that women choose abortion (and I think most choose it freely and are not forced into it) in a society that overwhelmingly anti-children and anti-family. Little children are to be seen but not heard. For example, I see the online comments about how you shouldn't take your little ones to Mass because it's disruptive.

The majority of families in the US are two income, most by necessity. Over the past 30 to 40 years, real wages for men have declined forcing women into the workforce. Many women have low paying jobs that do not allow flexibility. Mothers lose their jobs because they had to pick up a sick child at school or because they couldn't find a sitter on President's Day when school was closed. Because there is no mandated paid maternity leave, you are essentially punished for having a baby. There are many families who cannot afford for the wife to take off 12 weeks.

Daycare is incredibly expensive and the tax credit hasn't been increased in about 20 years so only covers about half of the cost.

The help has to go beyond what you would get at a crisis pregnancy center. Who will pick the kid up from kindergarten when he's sick? The crisis pregnancy center is probably long gone by then. Who will stay home with the 2 year old when she had a temperature yesterday and can't go back to daycare for 24 hours?
Why aren't more pro-life supporters working for some kind of subsidized childcare? Why no paid maternity leave? FMLA has done so much good for families but since it is unpaid its benefit is limited. I understand the conflict here. Working mothers are a great threat to traditional family life. But I'd say that ship has already sailed and we should concentrate our efforts on helping working families, those families that choose to have children even though it would be difficult for them.

priest's wife said...

YES YEs YES- as Christ said- "the poor will always be with us"- and imperfect mothers will always be with us- what can we do to help???

-my personal fantasy to reduce unplanned pregnancy of minors- throw ALL statutory rapists in jail (more than 3 year difference)- I am personally SICK of 15 year old girls getting pregnant by their 30 year old 'boyfriends'

John Henry said...

@beadgirl: I've been saying for years that it's we Christians who are responsible for the ills of the world. God gave us a serious responsibility, and we are largely dropping the ball. It was the callousness of Christians that made Roe a possibility in the first place.

@Annie: I really feel what you're talking about. My wife and I are struggling in ways I never even contemplated ten years ago - and we're a solid married couple. What single mothers do, especially when they don't have the support from extended family my wife and I have, I really don't know. All I can say is God bless them for the sacrifices they make, and sometimes it's the fact that doing the right thing is so hard that makes it heroic.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

John Henry, what exactly are you advocating? That Christians should militantly seize state power and tell anyone who doesn't like it some pious variation on "Come the revolution, you'll do what your darned well told"?

Hopefully not, but your ill-chosen words insinuate something of the sort. Perhaps you were only thinking that if true Christians spend more time praying, God will melt the hearts of those cold callous secularists who seem to pass all our laws these days.

John Henry said...

Siarlys, I'm baffled. How do you go from what I wrote to what you read?

John Henry said...

Siarlys, to clarify, when I said Christians are dropping the ball, I was talking about charity. Roe was made possible by the fact that American Christians were, shall we say, less than supportive and charitable to unwed mothers. That is what happens when we Christians stray from our calling: others suffer, and we will have to answer for it. God help us.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Thank you John Henry. Your words were open to either massive domination or charity, and it was impossible to tell which.

I don't quite see that Roe v. Wade was "made possible" by the fact that Christian charity did not measure up to the full needs of unwed mothers for help with bearing and raising their children. Some women seek abortion who don't need charity, while others might decide, no, even with all the support in the world, I don't want to carry this pregnancy to term.

Roe v. Wade was made possible by the quaint notion that some decisions should be made by the individual concerned, not by The State, and provisions of the federal constitution consistent with this philosophy.

That application of private individual decision can legitimately trumped by one, and only one, pro-life argument. That is, of course, the claim that from the moment a sperm and an ovum unite to form a new set of 23 unique chromosome pairs inside one cellular wall, there is a person fully entitled to the protections of the law.

On that axiomatic premise, and the fact that many of us deny it, hangs the entire clash over first and second trimester abortion.