Responding to the UnbornDecember 23rd, 2013
Being in the third trimester of pregnancy encourages all sorts of people – friends, acquaintances, strangers – to share their advice and good wishes. It’s wonderful to see how excited people become at the thought of a new baby in the world, but there is one comment shared quite frequently that has given me pause.
When I say that we do not know if our baby is a boy or a girl, the typical response is, “As long as you have a healthy baby … that’s all that matters.”
This sentiment has been expressed to me in a myriad of ways over the last several months. Kind as it is for people to be concerned about the wellbeing of our infant, is health really all that matters?
What will happen if our son or daughter is born with a disability, a genetic disorder or some sort of anomaly? Should we be any less grateful for the gift of new life or reject a child who isn’t “perfect” in the world’s eyes?
I’m certain that those who have promoted health to the exclusion of all else are not trying to deny the inherent dignity of every human person, and yet their words are unwittingly undermining the goodness of every human life.
It’s the same with quite a bit of our pregnancy-related phraseology. We talk about pregnant women “becoming mothers” when their babies are born. But they already are mothers, even if the baby they carry is miscarried at a few weeks gestation. We use “it” when we don’t know if a baby is a boy or a girl.
Our words witness to the moments when we, perhaps unconsciously, deny the personhood of the unborn. The more consistently we believe and uphold the dignity of every human person, including those in the womb, the more our language and behavior will reflect this reality.
Recently I was filling my tank at a gas station, when a man in his sixties at the pump opposite mine approached me.
“Do you have a piggy bank yet for that baby?” he inquired.
Laughing, I told him I did not.
“Well, this is for your baby,” he said, handing me a $5 bill. He continued, “In our country today, so many women have abortions. No one ever thanks the women who keep their babies. So, I like to give pregnant women a little gift for their babies as a way to thank them. I tell them to put the money in a piggy bank for their son or daughter.”
It was a simple gesture, but one that was so meaningful. A perfect stranger – whose name I learned was Dennis – chose to recognize the personhood of an unborn child (even more a stranger to him, as the unborn are invisible – only noticed through the expanding abdomen of the mother) and to celebrate this particular child’s life through a gift. It wasn’t conditional on health or on what our baby will be able to accomplish. It was simply a recognition and a gift.
During Advent and Christmas we have a unique opportunity to reflect on what an unborn life means to the world. That Jesus Christ chose to become man as a helpless infant reveals something of the dignity of each child. What do we say to uphold this dignity? How do we respond to the unborn children in our midst? Is the most valuable aspect of the infant that he is healthy, “normal,” and fine? Or is it that a new life has been entrusted to the world – healthy or sickly, premature or late, with ten toes or nine – and we are called to receive and welcome him as a unique, unrepeatable gift?
Photo credit: Used through Creative Commons Licensing, flickr.com/kenteegardin