So this is the obvious one. It’s about walking the walk. (The real walk, as opposed to that sidewalk-sign-holding one.)
This post is aimed at the married pro-lifers.
Being truly pro-life means being ready to welcome new life as it naturally comes your way. This does not refer, of course, to something ridiculous, like going out of one’s way to conceive as many babies as physically possible over the course of your natural child-bearing years. (It’s not a grin-and-bare-it contest.) It refers to going with the flow. If the mood to dance hits, then you go with it. If a baby comes as a result, even better. Time to daydream about first names and middle names. That’s the idea.
That’s the walking part.
Being pro-life means an unconditional acceptance of conception when it happens.
No hesitation, no regret.
The talking part is about being willing to open up this typically sealed-off and secret part of married life to those who might inquire.
In other words, a pro-life married couple should be willing to reveal, kindly but candidly, their openness to any new life that God sends, and they should be willing to reveal, kindly but candidly, those sad-but-true reasons for having fewer children than one might expect.
(Trust me, people are doing the math. Hmm, how long have they been married? How old is their youngest? How old is the wife? And people are considering the possible motivations: Hmm, what does she have so far – all girls? How many does she have – six already? Then that would mean . . . If I were in her shoes . . .)
Now don’t be shocked. I am not saying this conversation is for everyone. Those who are not pro-life didn’t sign up to be questioned.
But while questioning is one thing, promoting is another. I don’t regret (for the most part) the times when I’ve extolled the benefits and the fun of children and the fun of having another one or another two, of filling that pew. So shoot me. (I’ve already apologized for the time I regretted.) Onward I go.
Nobody else was saying it. Or at least, I don’t think it’s said often enough. I’m just trying to balance things out – that’s my defence. Or part of it. Onward I go.
We promote the virtues of visiting Chicago, of stopping in at Spain. Why can’t I say, I’ve heard babies are great, and the more all the better? We don’t ask permission to say, “Hey, have you seen that neat YouTube? Have you read this cool book?” So why can’t I say, “I’ve heard that things go pretty smooth once the eldest is eight”? Why is one topic fine and the other taboo?
I’d say babies and birthing are more to the point, and more natural a topic, in more ways than one. As for YouTube and Newsweek and all of the latest – who really cares? Such things are forgotten by next week.
I have no issue with just saying to the waiter (upon hearing he and his wife have two little ones) that three would be sweet. I have no issue with saying to the lady at church (who has already five) that it would be neat if their offspring were such that they could fill the whole pew. So shoot me.
You see, Mr. Westen dear, I’m not against being a “propagandist” myself. Depends on the message, depends on the Sender.
So to review so far, the married couple walks the walk (in welcoming the babies) and talks the talk.
The talking part means that they are prepared to describe how it feels to trust in God’s granting of new life. (Feel free to admit it: any case of trusting in God has it’s freaky parts, the white-knuckle-oh-boy-here-comes-the-upside-down-part-of-this-ride,-I-think parts.) And it means being willing to explain why they don’t have as many children as they could have.
The thing is that people are going to want to know.
Don’t think that you can have some kind of discussion about someone else’s birth choices and not discuss your own.
Don’t think you can have some kind of abstract discussion about when life begins and not discuss your own family size.
They’re looking at you, not reading some blog.
You stand in front of them as Specimen One. You sit there before them as Christian to Question. Right now you represent all pro-lifers together.
I hope you do us proud.
I hope you whip out your photos of your children in under 12 seconds. Show how proud a dad you really are.
Mothers, photos aren’t necessary (you probably have your hands full anyhow) so a nice smile would be great just about now. Think of the times the children cracked you up so bad you needed to find a washroom lickety-split, when your stomach hurt from laughing so hard. Those times. Think of the times the four-year-old said something so profound that you scrambled to find some paper just to write it all down. Those times. Those moments that don’t last forever – that slip out of your hands when you have your back turned.
If you’re proud of your kids, it’ll show. You needn’t actually brag. The bow in her hair tells more than you’d know. You think she’s a gift. Wrapped in gingham, in pink.
My point is that you can’t really argue Pro-Life in The Abstract once you’re married. You may be able to talk about Going to the North Pole in the Abstract, but that’s different. Going to the North Pole is a much shorter expedition than having a child, but nobody really cares too much about going, so nobody really cares how that goes. The tests for conversation are all weaker. Say what you want, nobody is really listening. About this Broadway show or that rock-and-roll band, say all that you want – nothing really rides on it. But about the baby you’re rocking, that’s, well, that’s different. It’s where the rubber meets the road, as they say.
Dare open your mouth about babies, family size, pregnancy, contraception, and you had better be ready. Be prepared. They are watching you. They are studying you and considering everything about you that they can surmise. They’re comparing what you say to what you do (or what they think you do, or don’t). They are evaluating you, top to bottom, when you so casually or so earnestly say, “I’m pro-life.”
Oh really, you are, are you?
Then why is it (they say to themselves) that you only have three? Then why is it (they say to themselves) that you only have one?
They can’t help it. They notice the mis-match.
Nobody evaluates an important argument without evaluating the person making it.
And so often you’ve lost an argument before you’ve begun. Or won it, I suppose. You’ll never quite know how it went. They’ll walk off quietly either way, if they’re Canadian. (“Politeness” we call it.)
I’m not saying it’s fair, but it’s just the way it goes. I’ve been ‘disqualified’ from being taken seriously because people have disliked what I’m wearing, and so have you. I’ve been ‘disqualified’ from being taken seriously because people have disliked my hair at that moment, say, and so have you. We do it to each other all the time.
And by the same token, some people get listened to more than others, because they look ‘good’ or ‘right.’ We have these built-in unconscious stereotypes, and this means that those who are tall, slim and just the right age will be listened to before the others. Chesterton knew that his weight made people fail to take him seriously, for instance. He knew how the human mind worked (you have no idea how he knew!) He built his Father Brown character with an outward appearance designed to fool the average person, who has certain prejudices in place. Father Brown looked awkward and plain, so he easily hid his observant eyes and his active mind. Easy peasy. Speaking of himself, Chesterton said that he never noticed anything until someone tried to hide it. I get it. The act of hiding causes an unnatural bump, an unnatural ripple, which draws the eye and draws the mind. Hey, what’s that?
But back to being judged before you speak …
Interestingly, our prejudices can sometimes seem so “righteous.” Those who consider themselves ‘compassionate’ or ‘merciful’ will often attach personality traits to the strangers whom they see which have no basis in truth and are entirely unmerited and unproven. For example, there is an unstated notion that those who are disabled are ‘harmless’ or ‘good.’ Also in the category of ‘the good’ are seniors and the homeless. They lack other things, but surely, these are the ‘good ones.’ You know this, how?
Then the progressive and ‘open-minded’ people will easily and quickly snub those who look well-dressed – surely here are the snobby, judgmental ones! We can be mean to them! Or, for another instance, it is so typical for people to wrongly expect those whom they consider ‘healthy’ to bend over backwards for those they know to be ‘unhealthy.’ The Christians can be the worst offenders in this regard: they think they’re carrying out Christ’s mission of mercy when they favour the little children and, without a second thought, act haughtily towards the man dressed in the business suit.
I’m referring here to some sort of a ‘reverse’ discrimination, where those who outwardly seem to ‘have it made’ or ‘have it together’ are asked, repeatedly, to take second place, to wait, to tolerate, all the others. They are judged, as a matter of fact, as having it all, and so they are given nothing.
And if they have been friendly, if they have been kind, they are expected to do that again (of course!) as if the former kindnesses were automatic and easy and came from a context of unearthly bliss (and/or gosh-golly-gee-just-can’t-help-being-nice ignorance). But the truth is, gentle Father Brown ain’t asleep, and never was, as a matter of fact.
The point is, we evaluate the words of each other after we “evaluate” the lives. Whether we evaluate well or poorly is besides the point, which is, we consider the lives before we consider the point. We’re human. It’s how we do things around here.
So this means that if you are wanting to argue pro-life, then first you must live it, and second, you may need to explain it.
A father who displays on his desk a photo of himself smiling with his four sons will do more for pro-life than you’d think. He’s showing pride in his family. A good family photo will say a million things about the man and about being a dad.
A mother who laughs with her three-year-old at the mall, thinking nobody is looking, is doing more for pro-life than you’d think. She’s showing the joy of motherhood and how fun children can be.
And I have found that even bragging about the mothers I know who have many children (I do boast of their lives – add that to my crimes) has an interesting effect. When I returned to the therapist, she remembered me as the one with a large family. I corrected her – I was the one who had told her about the families of eight nine and ten.
I had told her how calm and composed these mothers were. When I had first met a mother of many, I was astonished at how feminine, strong and calm she was. Until then, I had met only mothers with one or two and they seemed so frazzled and worried. I thought to myself that if I were to meet a mother of many, then surely, the effect would be multiplied (as if children come as litters, all the same age at one time). So I was pleasantly surprised and impressed at her ease, her peace and her feminine charm. I’ve found the same phenomenon more times than one.
Living pro-life means being proud to have all the children that you’ve been undeservedly given. Chesterton said nobody can ‘earn’ a star. In the same way, a child is always a gift. Having a child is never a right. (But if God has allowed conception to occur, woe to the person or governmental agency who attempts to interfere!)
And I wander back to the issue of talking.
(This post is going to go back and forth, truly the way a walkie-talkie would, but it might be because I’m watching the clock, and counting down how many blogs I want to do yet. Unedited, disorganized, it’s still going out. “Easter Special,” I’ll call it – if you want it perfectly edited, please do it yourself.)
So although a person is entitled to privacy, it should be an allowable thing for someone unfamiliar with the Catholic promotion of large families or the Catholic pro-life position, or the pro-life position in general, to ask those otherwise-delicate questions about family planning and family size.
The thing is, people want to know how it works.
They don’t want to know how, in general, families space births. They want to know how you and your husband space births.
They don’t want to know how, in general, families might decide the number of children. They want to know how you and your wife did or do decide.
They know you, they don’t know the blogger.
They know you, and they want to know what happened after baby number two, or baby number three. They want to know how that space came between baby one and baby two.
They’re curious. It’s not a crime. They wonder why and how come.
So tell them.
But be prepared. The damage you do to pro-life is more than you realize. If you say, “We decided” that can sound like a ‘no’ to more life. If you say, “all we could handle” that can sound like a ‘no’ to more life. If you say, “wanted to travel” that can sound like a ‘no.’ If you say, “all we could afford” that can sound like a ‘no.’ There are more ways to hear ‘no’ that you imagine.
Whatever excuse or rationale you use to justify more spacing of children, or to justify having fewer children, will be used to justify birth-control and abortion itself.
You could describe some excellent medical-ish sounding reason for not being willing to have more (“can’t run that kind of risk”), thinking that your case is so incredibly unique, but before you know it, your dinner guest has decided that her fear of swollen ankles justifies not having another baby.
You could say that you’ve already got eight children and nine would be too much, thinking that obviously, your friend will agree, obviously, you’ve done all that a person could handle, but before you know it, your coffee-time pal has decided that in her case, having two is doing all that she could personally handle.
And here I must insert a warning. I have heard, a few too many times, an attitude which is definitely a danger to the pro-life cause. It comes, sadly, from those who have a large family. It’s a casual word, a knowing glance and it looks like this: surely-you-know-that-I-DESERVE-a-break-a-trip-to-the-spa-a-trip-to-the-Bahamas-after-dealing-with-THESE. It’s that word, that phrase, that little tip off, that Mommy Needs a Break.
Mommy Deserves a Break. (Nine children – of course!)
She’s done too much. The children are a burden (as all children are?) and she needs Relief. She deserves some Me Time Some Free Time to Just Get Away. Dare you argue with that? You mother of two? You mother of one? You childless one? Dare you challenge?
Yes, I do.
You’ve spoken wrongly.
More harmful joking than she realizes. A message has been sent, and it’s worse than she knows. Nobody challenges her; nobody will quibble, but we got the ‘take home,’ girl, and you’re the one who has done it. Sounds a little like – a little too like – regret. Shoe fits? Then wear it. Confess it. You’ve done it. That message. You sent it. More than once. So own it, Miss Arizona, Miss Florida Here I Come.
(Just a side warning.)
Complete trust in God’s providence is really the only truly pro-life stance. It’s that simple and it’s that difficult. You don’t need to go to Disneyland or Disney World or whatever. White knuckles are available for free in your life, anytime. (Hang on to God’s garments and you’ll be in for a ride – surprise of your life.)
That means that you try not to worry or panic or don’t get tempted to try some weird IVF when you cannot conceive exactly when you thought you would. (But adoption’s an option if you’ve tried for a while).
It means you try not to worry or panic when you don’t have the romance or the chance (due to war or separation or other circumstance) to conceive exactly when you hoped that you would.
It means that you try not to worry or panic when you conceive every time your husband looks at you, like that. (Consider yourself blessed.)
It means that you try not to worry or panic when the siblings will be 5 years apart, or 5 minutes.
It means that you know that God’s goodness is boundless and he does things (and allows things) on purpose, because he loves you.
He loves you just as much as he loves the babies he gives you. He loves you just as much as he loves the babies who go on ahead of you, to heaven. He loves you completely, and whether he gives you none (like Chesterton) or many, it’s still not a matter of chance, and not a matter of “choice.”
The birthing story he writes for your life is one of completeness and all of a plan. It’s his plan not just for the children, but it’s his plan for you. So don’t be fooled; he’s thinking of you.
You’re not some side detail in all of this, some conduit, some means-to-an-end.
Be patient. Be trusting. He’s got you in mind; your good he has planned.
In other words, no need for fretting or planning or worrying. You’ve already got a Father who is planning for you. All you need to do is say Yes to new life, and he’ll do the rest.
And your yes will be heard. Unspoken (or spoken) the yes will be heard.
Pro-life begins with your own life.
How open are you?
Over and out.