We’ve passed another March for Life, another hopeful milestone in the woefully long, dark, despicable history and practice that is abortion in America. I’m left thinking about fear, and choices, and money, and the priceless uniqueness that is every human being.
First, the money. Rhett Butler put it brutally but accurately in Gone With The Wind, when he explained that when civilizations die, there’s “fast money in the crack-up.” No one can see the abortion industry in our country without seeing the vast money-making behemoth that is Planned Parenthood. It is our modern-day Confederate speculator, exploiting the desperate to build untold wealth, culpable and guilty of the death of innocents, while cultural destruction goes on all around.
But it’s not quite fair to highlight the pecuniary focus of Planned Parenthood without noticing all of the other organizations that turn a profit off of abortion. There are pharmaceutical companies that make abortifacient drugs and contraceptives. Then there are all the clinics and schools–oh, the schools!–that parrot the mantra of sexual “freedom” without responsibility. Responsibility, most notably, to any human being that might result from all the “liberating” trysts that individuals are “entitled” to. Just like our entertainment industry trumpets, “real” life is about career–oh, the schools!–and travel and fun! And to miss this self-indulgent life, or to jeopardize the illusion of its appeal it by having to deal with pregnancy, child-bearing and child-rearing, is unutterably terrifying to many in our culture.
Fear and money go together. Christians know that life and stability and dreams lie not in financial transactions or material comfort, but boy, even we fall prey to the allure of dough’s promise when we get stressed. It’s like that tongue-in-cheek old phrase: “Money isn’t everything, but it sure does help.” And we see children as burdens, as ciphoners of our treasure, as unbearable weights on our personal autonomy, or at the very least as killers of our ability to survive a harsh world. Yes, we can turn even helpless, microscopically or less-than-ruler-sized small children into killers–of our dreams, of our relationships, of our idolized futures. We have so feared that abominable fate, the idea that what we have desired might be thwarted by a child, and we grasp at the promises of money that will free us from that horror.
Here’s a prime example. This montage of me-first messaging for the contraceptive Beyaz unironically intones, “You know what you want today. But you never know what you might want tomorrow.” And what do the smiling models “want”? They want to shop–for grad school, for travel, for all kinds of modern goals. But they all skip over the stork. Their wants are invariably presented as neat and tidy market options. Babies aren’t in these girls’ presents, or even their futures (remember the opening line? I guess babies don’t even make the “I didn’t know I wanted that” list for Tomorrow.) They’re the one priceless gift actively–and in the case of hormonal contraceptives–specifically, even vehemently, avoided.
Even more, it is a strange, infinitely sad time we live in that so many of our leadership class discuss openly and even proudly shout their own abortions. Only a people that has denied God and is still shackled with shocking, unavoidable decay can embrace Death as though it is a friend and a savior. Death becomes the only meaning and the only answer when fear hits.
And when Death is the answer, life itself is flat and uninspiring. The revelatory images of prenatal ultrasounds, among many other examples of humanity, must be rejected and ignored. How can we possibly look at a wholly unique face, one that cannot be replicated, and deny her worth?
A picture of a 12-week fetus is a Rorschach test. Some people say that such an image doesn’t trouble them, that the fetus suggests the possibility of a developed baby but is far too removed from one to give them pause. I envy them. When I see that image, I have the opposite reaction. I think:Here is one of us; here is a baby. She has fingers and toes by now, eyelids and ears. She can hiccup—that tiny, chest-quaking motion that all parents know. Most fearfully, she is starting to get a distinct profile, her one and only face emerging. Each of these 12-week fetuses bears its own particular code: this one bound to be good at music; that one destined for a life of impatience, of tap, tap, tapping his pencil on the desk, waiting for recess.
Such a beautiful recognition of irreplaceable humanity, this. And yet Flanagan, in trying to show the true and crippling fear that motivates many women to abort, fails to remember the truth of each baby, the distinct profile of each one and only face. In her article, she stays in that gray area of fear instead of telling the truth: that we cannot let fears dictate our choices, especially our power to kill our own children.
I wish Flanagan and those like her would read pieces like this one by my friend Aubri, who writes in “Did God Really Say Children are a Blessing?”: “It’s hard not to want to make decisions based on the whims of my feelings, based on whether or not I think children are worth itor whether or not I can prove to anyone that my life as a mother to many children is good.
The fact is God says children are worth it and that they are good gifts” (emphasis Aubri’s). Fear is real, as Aubri knows. But it is not the end, and it does not dictate what is good.
I was so heartened to see all of these signs at the 2020 March for Life. The ones of people who could have been aborted, but whose mothers backed out at the last minute, saving their lives. The ones, like the one above, that remind us that fear can’t drive us to destroy each other. The ones of honest and brave post-abortive moms and dads. The ones that testify to the pricelessness of life. All of the people whose faces we can see and appreciate as unique.
I have been so blessed to see my children grow, both via ultrasound and in the flesh. I love the picture above, of our oldest living child, kicking his foot up at just the right time to be captured in an ultrasound photo. He was 22 weeks old when that picture was taken. And now, at nearly twelve years old, he continues to surprise us. He, and each of our sons and daughters, have their own faces and bodies and souls, just as every person does. The ones that are still with us here sing and tap their pencils. They change every day, even a little. They are themselves, and they are miracles. We should see all children and people this way, and we must remember this as our days pass by. We must remember this to love each other as Christ has loved us.
How should Christians struggle with the invisible cross of infertility?
This is not a question any of us want to address. Infertility can be an incredibly difficult cross to bear, for us personally and for those we love.
What is infertility? The general definition refers to the inability of child-bearing age couples to conceive or carry a child after twelve months of regular, non-contraceptive sex. Unfortunately, many people, including our brothers and sisters in Christ, bear this pain. According to the CDC, around 18% of child-bearing age women struggle with infertility, and men struggle with infertility, too. The most telling symptom of infertility is in absence: no pregnancy or no child.
This week–April 21-27–is National Infertility Awareness Week, one of the countless remembrance weeks marked on our stuffed secular calendars. While there’s plenty of commentary on infertility for the non-religious, Christians should approach this particular cross with care and caution.
I’ve written here before about our experiences with infertility, from our miscarriage and years of infertility, as well as our more recent molar pregnancy. We obviously share some experiences with those who currently suffer from infertility. After long thinking, I’ve come up with five ways Christians can rightly struggle with the cross of infertility.
Unfortunately, many Christians who suffer from infertility, and Christians who love the infertile, have also fallen into this kind of thinking. Teen moms bear children out of wedlock, a live-in couple “accidentally” gets pregnant, celebrities undergo IVF and pay surrogate mothers to carry their babies, and Christian couples pray fervently for children that God does not give them. As soon as we encounter such situations, our sinful minds automatically play a comparison game, deeming some cases “fair” and others “unfair,” even grossly so. Too often, such comparison thinking transforms the cross of infertility into a trial. If we just plan more, eat better, pay extra, undergo more procedures, and strain mightily in a thousand different ways, then we’ll rid ourselves and loved ones of the unwanted burden of infertility and gain the blessing of children. This is a lie.
Because the desire for children is good, Christians have mistakenly deemed any methods to conceive or bear children as good, too. But this is making a good into a god, a cross into a trial.
“You shall have no other gods before Me,” God told Moses and His people in the wilderness (Exodus 20:3). He didn’t just mean pagan statues of gold or other images. He meant any material or emotional possession that commanded our hearts and our time, energy, and affection. The desire for children can, and does, become an idol, and infertility can become a trial. This can lead us away from God.
A theologian of glory calls barrenness a trial to be overcome, a burden which can be revoked by some great act of faith on our part, a curse that can be lifted by true love’s kiss. (Works Cited: My Own Wishes and Desires: A Treatise, The Complete Works of Joel Osteen, and The Wisdom of the Disney Princesses).
A theologian of the cross calls barrenness a terrible brokenness of the flesh which results from Sin in the world, a cross to be endured joyfully in light of Christ’s promise to make all things new on The Last Day, a suffering given to us by God who loves us and molds us and disciplines us and shapes us and points us straight to Christ’s own suffering on the cross for our own salvation and comfort. (Works Cited: God’s Word as revealed in The Book of Romans).
God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). The truth is that none of us deserve anything good, but God gives us all kinds of goods anyway. He gave us life when we did nothing to merit it. He sustains us in countless ways, even while all of us sin (Romans 3:23). We deserve only death, but Christ has given Himself to us to take even that away. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Christ is our free gift. He gives us all we need, and while we live and wait for our resurrection in Him, we will suffer. Crosses are not just about pain and grief, though; they point us to the Cross-Bearer, Christ Himself. We might not understand why He gives us particular crosses, but we know with certainty that absolutely nothing, including infertility, can separate us from Christ’s love. He knows exactly what we bear because He bore it Himself–all the grief, all the loneliness, all the hurt and pain. And He loves us with an everlasting love.
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Embracing infertility as a cross doesn’t mean we or our loved ones have to hide our grief or pretend to be happy. But we can, and should, take comfort in our cross, that Christ knew emptiness and loneliness on Calvary, and He keeps and sustains us throughout our struggles.
Third, the cross of infertility can prompt a variety of feelings, and that’s okay.
The most vocal sufferers of infertility tend to be those who desire and pursue parenthood passionately and often vociferously, as noted above. But many people who suffer from infertility experience ambivalence about their infertility, and others who are infertile live out their particular condition quietly, sometimes pursuing medical help, but sometimes not. Sometimes they cry openly and tearfully about not being parents. Often, they don’t. Usually, they live day to day as most of us do who have unfulfilled good desires: pushing through, both impatiently and patiently, with changing feelings and attitudes toward those desires. One book, He Remembers the Barren (affiliated link) and He Remembers the Barren: God Remembers You in Jesus, the blog for the book that covers many topics related to infertility and Christianity, particularly Lutheranism. Three other Lutheran women who have experienced infertility contribute to the blog, too. I highly recommend both the book and the blog to any Christian.
Katie and Scott Sanders, at Beautiful Pieces of Us: Support for Parents with Leftover Frozen Embryos, share their story of embracing life through their experience with IVF and giving their unborn, frozen children a chance at life. Their blog is one of the few places I have found that addresses the heart-wrenching quandary of Christians who have undergone IVF and now struggle to live out their responsibilities to both their born and unborn children.
All of these writers point to Christ, and they can help us understand and articulate the difficult cross that is infertility and the hope we and loved ones can find in Him.
Fifth, we should pray.
All Christians should pray for the infertile in our pews. We should pray for peace for them, for Christ to continually remind them that He will never leave them. We should pray that infertile couples carefully consider their choices, learning about the huge financial market that is the infertility industry, weighing what their most ethical, God-pleasing options are and if and when to decide to pursue medical treatment. We should pray that we might help share their grief and struggle, that they bear with fortitude and patience the cross that they bear. We should pray that the cross of infertility, while a marker of time on this sinful earth, and the internal and external scars it leaves of our wandering in this wilderness, can be understood as signs pointing us to Christ. Infertility does not last forever, but Christ does.
Christians do well to remember that God does not give the same gifts to everyone, even good gifts like marriage and children. That knowledge can temper the pressure on all of us, infertile and fertile alike, to see all those suffering from infertility as losers or as desperate, no-holds-barred seekers. God loves all people, not because we loved Him, or because we are parents or not, but because He gave us Christ, His Son, to bear our sins (1 John 4:10). We should pray that all of us remember that blessed truth.
How can you say there are too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.
Spring has sprung, and with it will soon come flowers. And flowers make me think of children–mainly, the children God has given to Jon and I.
Next week our baby turns two. We’re shocked about this the way most parents are, that time has turned our helpless, fragile newborn into a thriving, talking, moving toddler. We love her so much. And I find myself wondering a little, too. A few months ago, we expected to soon hold another sweet baby. But another child was not in God’s divine plan for us in 2019. So this is the first time one of our children will turn two and we do not have another baby in utero or a newborn in arms.
That fact all by itself usually provokes a shocked response from people: “Wow.” And it is truly amazing. How blessed I have been by God to have the privilege of bearing, birthing, breastfeeding, and bundling up six babies, and all of them in less than ten years. It’s been a blur at times, that’s absolutely certain–there are periods in there that I don’t quite remember. But these years have also been overwhelmingly good. Jon and I are so grateful for what we have. Our family garden, so to speak, has abundantly multiplied and grown, and like good farmers, we thank the only One who has the ability to create and sustain life. We are merely receivers of His great generosity.
With our larger-than-normal family, we get questions sometimes. “Did you always want a big family?” “How do you do it?” and the niggling one that most people wonder: “Are you open to more children?” At least, that’s the tactful way questioners put it. Others phrase it as our cultural is wont to, in terms of choices and personal desires: “Do you want any more children?”
We can answer this with a short response, and we usually do. We say something like, “We’re open to as many as God wants to give us.” Another version we’ve shared is “We’ve left that in God’s hands.” Both of these answers imply our heartfelt feelings, hopefully, that we do, in fact, love children, both our own and the idea of more.
Our answer, and our life, is weird to most people. That’s why we get questions to begin with. Our culture doesn’t understand our family or our perspective on children, because our culture idolizes control and autonomy and definitely–definitely–human ways to avoid children at almost any cost.
Because of this, our short answer isn’t really enough to explain to people where we’re coming from in terms of children. If we had time, we’d sit down and chat for a few hours about God’s gift of fertility. That’s not possible in a grocery store checkout line, but it is possible on a blog! So if you’re curious and want to know the extended version of why we’ve welcomed children so readily into our family, read ahead.
The Typical Marriage Start
Jon and I have been blessed with nearly fifteen years of marriage. In the last ten, we have become one of “those” families—one that people smile at in parks, gawk at in stores, and probably run away from in airports and other confined spaces.
But in the first few years, we looked like many young married Americans. We didn’t have kids.
This wasn’t exactly what I’d envisioned growing up. As far back as I can remember, I always wanted a big family. The play “Cheaper By the Dozen” and a number of books influenced my thinking, as did my loving, supportive parents who cared for me and my two siblings and made a wonderful home for us. I am also sure that God gave me a natural and good desire for a Godly husband and children during numerous babysitting jobs and summer camp counseling. Before Jon and I met, he, too, hoped God would give him a Godly wife and children—though he didn’t quite visualize a half-dozen children in his future. But on one of our first dates, when I mentioned I’d like six sons, he said, “That’s enough for a basketball team and a sixth man.” And he meant that in a good way! Suffice it to say that I was relieved that I hadn’t scared him off.
But in 2004, Jon and I were influenced by cultural norms, even among many Christians, regarding birth control. In particular, I was pretty sure we weren’t “ready” right away for children. I thought that we needed time to “get used to one another.” I was sure I needed to work at least a little bit to use my expensive undergraduate education and help out with the bills. I was confident of any number of popular ideas about early marriage that circulate, most of which involve materialistic acquisition and experiences, like saving up for a house and all the trappings and traveling. Mostly, I was sure that I should use birth control at least in the beginning of our marriage. I didn’t feel extremely dogmatic about it, but I definitely felt like it was something we should do–because that’s just what people did. And it just made so much sense, given all of my preconceptions going into marriage. Jon agreed with me in this. My gynecologist encouraged me, of course, and the example of countless friends and relatives silently supported it.
So just before we got married, I got a prescription for a birth control patch that I would stick on my skin and change once a month (I never remembered to take vitamins every day, so I figured the patch was my best bet). I immediately started using it.
In those first few months after our wedding, Jon and I didn’t really think much at all about God when it came to preventing conception. Despite both of us being raised in Lutheran churches our entire lives, we had no clear understanding of how God intended marriage, including our marriage, to be blessed by children. We had swallowed the cultural norm, hook, line, and sinker, that while children are great, responsible, educated, married people always plan for them, and they usually don’t have more than two or three, maybe four at the maximum. Those days of thinking of a basketball team and a spare seemed naive and heedless.
But after about six months, I was ready to stop using contraception, and Jon was supportive. I didn’t like the mood swings or the feelings I had when I used it. I didn’t like the discoloration on my skin and the tight stick of the patch. I also think both of us had pricked consciences. We felt like something was missing from our marriage, and I think we’d realized that most of our rationale involving contraception revolved around fear rather than trust—hardly the way to build a Godly marriage. I wish we’d had a thorough theological conversation about it, but we didn’t–not until later. Instead, we simply realized that we wanted to be open to children instead of trying to prevent them. So I stopped using contraception. And a month or so later, I took a pregnancy test, and it was positive.
A Brief Life
Those of you who are parents can understand the joy we felt at learning that new life was growing inside of me. We were thrilled. We were also kind of terrified. I began to feel exhausted and nauseated right away, and while questions about our ability to parent and provide for our child began cropping up in our minds, we were extremely thankful for our child. We told our parents and some close friends, and I bought a little book with flowers on it to record questions I had for my first prenatal appointment.
Just a few weeks later, we got a chance to really consider how precious God’s gifts are. I began bleeding, and after several doctor visits, ultrasounds, and a hospital run, we were told a blood clot was pressuring our baby’s placenta. Shortly after that, I began cramping intensely, and we knew. On April 26, 2005, our daughter died.
What could we do? Nothing. We could do nothing. Jon felt helpless. I felt like a murderer. Doctors told me that sometimes the mother’s body attacks an inutero child as something foreign. That was bad enough to hear, but some of what I learned also pointed to my recent use of the patch as a likely reason why the blood clot appeared. But regardless of the “why,” we were both overwhelmed with grief, loss, and guilt. We had been so glib, assuming we were in charge and taking life for granted. Both Jon and I, like Peter, could only plead, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
God in Christ gave us comfort during that time. When I was miscarrying in the emergency room, a gentle nurse leaned over me to check my heart rate. A gold necklace around her neck slipped from beneath her uniform and swung just before my face. On it was a crucifix. Seeing that was a lifeline for me. I knew God was with me, despite my pain and anguish, and that He fully understood physical suffering and loss.
Our wonderful pastor arrived soon after that and prayed with us. A few days later, he held a private memorial service for us at church for our child and read Martin Luther’s “Comfort for Women Who Have Had a Miscarriage.” Both Jon and I were deeply gratified to be reminded that our child had received Christ through me when I had received His body and blood in the Sacrament. God had formed our child, and He had taken care of her. Someday, we will see her again.
The Waiting and Hoping
Months passed. We learned to grieve alone and grieve together. Jon’s seminary studies caused us to move several times, and we prayerfully weighed big decisions involving schooling and housing. And we waited. Several years went by. We no longer used birth control, but God chose to close my womb. I didn’t recognize it at the time, probably willfully, but we were experiencing infertility. Thankfully, our desire for children gave us opportunities to learn.
Those years of wondering and waiting, praying for children, taught us many things about God and His goodness. They were hard. Doctors told us everything was normal, and so we did not pursue any special medical treatment. Every month I wondered if this month, we would be pregnant again. And every month that we weren’t, God will still reassure us of His eternal love and mercy. “Be content with what you have,” His Word reminded us. “I will never leave you nor forsake you… Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” No matter what happened, we knew this was the Truth that would sustain us.
God blessed me with greater insight during that time. I learned not to judge so quickly when I saw married women without children. I learned to be more patient and trusting of God’s will for me, for my husband, and for our marriage. I especially learned that my worth is not bound to my ability to conceive or bear children. My worth is bound in the blood of Christ, who died for all of my sins. “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16).
Answering the Question–and Trusting in God’s Provision
exactly did our views on family change?
By the time our oldest son arrived in 2008, both Jon and I were so thankful to more deeply understand that he, and every child, is a gift. As the years passed, and God added to our family, we learned through long nights and busy days that He knew exactly what He was doing, even when we didn’t–and we usually didn’t, and we still don’t. By now, we have learned countless more lessons in understanding and receiving children as a gift. God knew, in our case, that we needed to suffer before we began to grasp how precious life really is. We’d heard this countless times in pro-life circles, at church, and in the Bible, but we’d been influenced by our culture into thinking about children as acquisitions, as planned, as ultimately items and objects that we could, and even should, control.
In these full days, when I’m often frazzled, the thought of more children makes me pause. I know I’ve got more than enough to keep me busy right now, and for years. I know what pregnancy is like, and all the risks and dangers involved, especially as I get older. I also know in my marrow that regardless of how exhausted or overwhelmed or frustrated we might get with our brood, we are neither in control of creating life, nor do we want to be. We’ve sailed that ship, and we have no desire to do so again. And I am so reassured to know that my subjective feelings on the subject are moot, because God knows what is best.
So when people ask, “Do you want more kids?” my immediate, heartfelt thought is “Yes, but my wants don’t matter. Only God can give life.”
We also know that what people are really asking is “Will you do anything to prevent the conception of more of your children?” And our answer is an unequivocal “No.” In fact, when people ask us, testing our clairvoyance, “Will you have any more children?” We can say with frank and candid honesty, “We don’t know.” God might bless us with more children. He also might not. Either way, we trust His provision for us, both if He opens His hand to grant new life and how He will provide for that life. He’s got us either way. We are not God, and we do not know the future. But He does, and He knows what is good for us.
(And I’ll be honest: Jon is much more willing and adept at turning the tables on curious questioners. Once or twice, he’s said, straight-faced, “We really like sex, and that’s not ending any time soon.” So be careful what you ask! :))
What Our Children Learn
Awhile back, Jon and I played the board game of Life with our older sons. On their own, the boys both chose to follow the route labeled “Family” rather the route labeled “Life.” And both were extremely excited when they “won” a son or daughter, little blue and pink pegs. “Mom!” our oldest yelled. “I had so many kids, I had to get another car!” He was thrilled at the abundance he’d been given.
The boys’ excitement and genuine joy at having a family, even in a game, was so gratifying to us. Our children are young, and they have so much to learn in terms of the great responsibility God gives to fathers and mothers. But we are so thankful that they are already learning to view children as a priceless gift.
Do I know what God has in store for us regarding family size? No. I also do not know what God has in store for us regarding earthly wealth, health, opportunities–you name it. Not surprisingly, I don’t know exactly what God has in store for us tomorrow. I can guess, but I don’t know. All I know is that He promises to provide for us and care for us, and He is faithful even unto death. I know he will open His hand as He sees fit, and we will receive what He gives.
And this is our hope as individuals, as parents, as a family, and as pro-life, proliferating people: that our children will live out the thankfulness of God’s gracious, giving hand in regards to family, freedom, and faith. We hope that they will be brave enough to live the lives before them, making choices to serve their neighbors near and far, not in the hope that their choices will save them or anyone else, but trusting in Christ, who has promised to hold each of them in His hand–guiding them, blessing them, and taking care of them.
An excellent resource for questions about Lutheranism, problems with contraception, and the blessings of procreation can be found at Lutherans and Procreation.
This year, Americans can’t pretend that other motives, more practical or even “altruistic,” provoke the murder of our children. As Hans Fiene has written, abortion supporters have found themselves, intentionally or not, climbing what amounts to an enormous skyscraper as they’ve had to justify increasingly more barbaric practices for the sake of preserving abortion. Now, even infanticide is okay.
Our very own U.S. Senate, just this week, blocked a bill that would require doctors to provide care to children born alive after botched abortions. Abortion advocates insist that such a bill is unnecessary because infanticide is illegal. They purposely misinterpret this bill. Abortion–and tellingly, abortion up to the moment of a child’s birth–is now legal in parts of the U.S. (see above). And so now doctors are faced with terrible quandaries. They must preserve the life of infants in every situation they encounter them–except after abortions. Some lives, it seems, are more deserving of care than others.
This entire debate has always passionately interested me, mostly because I was taught–and I deeply believe–that every human being, from the moment of conception, deserves a chance at life, no matter how difficult or short that life might be. It’s occurred to me in the last month or so, though, that as abortion supporters are attempting to codify limitless access to abortion, and by extension, encourage infanticide when it’s connected to abortion, I need to share my own small beginning. My story is just one example, among many, of what can happen when doctors and other medical personnel strive mightily to give even very small children a chance to live.
Our Birth Story
Last weekend, I came across some family papers. They included family trees, copies of old documents, things like that. One of them was a November-December 1981 copy of Hi-Lines, a publication of Illinois Power Company (which has since been bought by Amren). My father, Stephen, worked for Illinois Power in the 1980s. On the cover of this particular issue was a picture of him, my mother Talitha, and my twin sister Amilia and I.
The title of the article in which we were featured was “The Most Precious Gift.” At the beginning, the columnist Glenda Collins wrote, “Each of us possesses this gift, but many of us take it for granted acting as if ‘we’ are in control of the situation. This gift is as fleeting as vapor… here one minute and, without warning, gone the next. No human can give this gift, but many are guilty of taking it away from others. When given, this gift is accepted without thought or choice. The most precious gift is… the gift of LIFE!”
I wonder if most people in state of Illinois even believe Collins’ comments anymore.
My parents found out in May of 1981 that my mother was expecting. In August, they found out they were expecting twins. In October, right before they were supposed to begin their prenatal classes, my mother went into labor at about 29 weeks–at the very beginning of her third trimester.
Thankfully, Mom was able to receive care at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, which included a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). She was given intravenous (IV) drugs, then oral medication, and then IV drugs again in multiple attempts to stop labor. After some tests, doctors confirmed that the babies’ lungs were undeveloped. My parents were told that if labor didn’t stop and their children were born, the babies could be blind, that they could have permanent disabilities, and that, frankly, they could die. The doctors gave the babies’ chances of survival at between 25-50%.
My parents were overwhelmed. Mom was 22, and Dad was was 25. As they prayed, they struggled. Mom remembered: “[We] couldn’t rejoice in the fact of two new lives because we weren’t sure if that was what God had chosen for us. I guess that’s the hardest thing to ask God; for strength to accept His will.”
Just over twenty-four hours after my mother was admitted to the hospital, her labor was unstoppable. My dad remembered what happened next.
By 8 p.m., in the words of the doctor, ‘the party was over.’ The labor and delivery ward went from calm to a ‘controlled’ pandemonium. The doctor was a general in the midst of the battle…directing his personnel in strategic moves which had been made many times before.
Emotions in the waiting room hit a new high. In times of great uncertainty, especially when the matter becomes life or death, one turns to God. Everyone has probably experienced the feeling whether it is the life of a friend, relative, or even your own life. Now I was asking God for two lives. ‘Thy will be done’ almost caught in my throat. I felt selfish asking God for both babies. I didn’t want to accept the possibility of one life without the other.
“The Most Precious Gift,” Hi-Lines. November-December 1981.
At 8:19, I was born. I weighed two pounds, eleven ounces. My sister was born at 8:20. She weighed one pound, fourteen ounces. Each one of us could be held in a palm of our father’s hand.
We spent months in the NICU. Countless nurses, doctors, and other dedicated medical personnel cared for us. Relatives poured out support and help to my parents. My sister developed hydrocephalus in her brain and underwent several procedures before receiving a ventriculoperiteneal (VP) shunt to correct the blockage. She had to have surgery as a small child to have the shunt lengthened, which was successful. Amilia will always live with the shunt. She also developed viral pneumonia just after being released in late 1981 and had to be airlifted back to the hospital for treatment. Thankfully, she fully recovered. In early 1982, we were both finally at home with my parents.
Thirty-seven years later after our traumatic birth, my sister and I are not blind. We have no disabilities. We survived, and we believe we have thrived, in the quotidian ways of millions of Americans. We are college graduates. Both of us are married and cherish our families. We work at jobs and engage in our communities. We both have always lived with deep gratitude that we live. It would have been so easy, so remarkably easy, for us to have died.
Though we live far apart, Amilia and I talk regularly about our lives, books, culture, and our shared Lutheran faith. We have no doubt that God has blessed us with our lives, and that He has directed the hands of many hundreds, if not thousands of others, to preserve them.
What happens to small beginnings now?
In 1981, no doctor could fully foresee the kinds of challenges and blessings that lay in store for my sister and I. And the fact is, aside from speculating to my parents about certain risks we faced, the doctors who cared for my sister and I never tried to argue that our lives weren’t worth saving. It wasn’t even a conversation. For one thing, U.S. and Missouri law prohibited them from wrapping us in blankets and leaving us in a corner to die. For another, the ethical oath of their practice, a version of the Hippocratic Oath, bound them to do right. One early translation of the Hippocratic Oath reads: “I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm.” Our physicians assumed, as doctors have historically always done, that their jobs were to use all of the skills and tools at their disposal to keep us alive, regardless of the outcome.
But what happens now when children are born alive who, just a moment before, physicians were trying to kill? I can hardly believe that doctors would be so callous and unloving to deny care to any child. But then, doctors have been actively killing children in utero for decades. It is not a bridge too far to see that children ex utero will likewise be targeted for death, whether through intentional harm or passive neglect. Both options are abhorrent beyond belief.
And then there’s the parental role in baby death. My parents had no idea what kind of lives we, their daughters, would have in 1981–if they would be short or long, if they would include ongoing medical treatment. They were frightened by the prospect of our deaths, but also by the possibility that we would live with terrible physical or neurological problems. My sister and I can rest in the knowledge that even if my parents had somehow been given the choice to determine whether we would receive care and thus live or die, they would have chosen care.
But many parents now hold both the awesome and appalling power to both choose death for their small ones deliberately through abortion and passively through neglect. It breaks my heart that doctors in several states in our country will now be obligated to cease treatment for babies like my sister and I due to the fears, both real and speculative, of the mothers and perhaps fathers of those babies.
And as a mother myself, I empathize with mothers and fathers who believe that aborting their children is their best choice. Birthing and raising children, no matter their health needs, is hard. But my empathy does not extend to support for death. We can all acknowledge that life itself is hard. Ending the lives of helpless children of any age or condition is neither caring nor loving. Too many of us are afraid of what might happen. We fear that our unborn child might need expensive or involved care. We fear that she will suffer physical or other pain. We fear that he will die and we won’t be able to handle it. We fear that whatever might happen might just be too much for us to take, physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially. These are the fears that can overwhelm us, that can make abortion seem necessary, even merciful.
History can guide us here. In 1949, medical utilitarianism, or the idea that lives could be judged worthy of care based on a set of increasingly subjective qualities, was rightly under assault. Why? The world had seen, in awful example after awful example, how the argument for merciful death could lead to the Holocaust. Wesley Smith wrote, “Writing after the revelation of the depraved practices of the Nazi regime’s doctors, who engaged in infanticide, the killing of disabled adults, and many other infamies in the name of science, Leo Alexander, a psychiatrist and medical adviser to the office of chief counsel at the Nuremberg war crimes trials, warned that the utilitarian infection that destroyed German medical ethics could spread:
Whatever proportions these crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all who investigated them that they had started from small beginnings. The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the acceptance of the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived.
Quoted in “As Doctors Euthanize Patients and Harvest Their Organs, the Hippocratic Oath is Dead.” LifeNews.com. 17 September 2018.
Small beginnings are, in fact, not small at all. How we view them, and treat them, reveals how we view life itself. Medical utilitarianism doesn’t spring up overnight. For over forty years in America, abortion has been a depraved and horrific practice hidden in plain view. Millions upon millions of our children have died–and they have died legally. Now we can see the natural, slippery progression of attitude shifts and thus actions. Doctors kill lives in the womb, and now they are allowed to leave others to die outside of it. This is no fallacy; this is actually happening. We must never forget that some gas chambers built to euthanize people in Germany during the mid-twentieth century were built on hospital grounds. Once some lives are deemed not worthy to be lived, others will be, too. They already are. If my sister and I were born in 2019 at twenty-nine weeks to parents who decided we shouldn’t receive care, then who is to say our lives now, thirty-seven years later, are worth keeping or saving? Will doctors act as “[generals] in the midst of [battles]…directing [their] personnel in strategic moves which [have] been made many times before,” as my father noted, in efforts to preserve life? How will they treat small beginnings, and how will they treat others?
No matter how dark our way forward looks, though, we can reject the fears that drive us to seek solace in death as the lies they are. We don’t know what will happen, and we don’t know how we will handle whatever comes. But Someone does, and He always has a plan for us and for our children. We can admit, no matter how long we’ve believed that abortion and infanticide are acceptable, that they are, in fact, wrong. All children deserve life, no matter their ages or conditions. We can embrace this fundamental truth. If you haven’t, know that God still loves you. He knows your entire life, from your worst thoughts and failings and actions. Despite them, He still wants you —small, little, mortal you–to live, from your very beginning to your God-deemed end. Hans Fiene again:
So, yes, voters, you should have stopped voting for pro-choice candidates a long time ago. Yes, politicians, from day one you should have feared the wrath of God more than the wrath of NARAL. But it’s not too late to do that now. It’s not too late to escape condemnation and find peace with the God who has already written out of existence every sin you committed against your most innocent and defenseless neighbors.
So don’t be afraid to take the plunge out the window. Don’t be afraid to jump. Don’t think that your father in heaven wants to watch you splatter on the sidewalk. He doesn’t. He wants to watch you land safely in the hands that have been waiting to catch you from before the foundation of the world. And don’t worry that you’ve doubled down on your sin one too many times. Don’t worry that you’ve climbed too high to survive the fall. Jump and see that the gravity of guilt is no match for the grace of God.
UPDATE: From my sister, Amilia.
I can’t, and won’t pretend, to be impartial about abortion. I have always been pro-life, and my own story has a role why I take that side. Though to me it’s not a sides issue – we’re all human, and we all started out small.
To me, making abortion illegal has never been about taking away someone’s rights – it’s acknowledging that there’s more than one person’s rights involved. As Dr. Seuss said, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” And in weighing the rights of the people involved in an unplanned or risky pregnancy, as a society we need to take into consideration the rights of the person who cannot speak for themselves just as much as the woman carrying her or him. It seems to be the just thing to do. Not to ignore the smaller, infinitely weaker person. That to me is what bullies do.
Our humanity is not based on how much we’re wanted by our parents, or whether we’ve got good health (mental and physical), or whether the circumstances around our births are perfect. It’s not based on how little of a burden we’ll place on others by our existence. Our humanity is established in this fact: that we EXIST, both before birth and after. No matter how many years or months or days or breaths of life that we’re given.
We don’t know the effects we have on others. Emily, thank you for sharing our story.