My mum was 17 when she had me. She had very little help with the pregnancy. She faced rejection, abandonment, and confusion at the onset, and 18 hours of labor, six weeks early, at the outset. She recently told me that, besides praying, she had resorted to telling herself, “Millions of women have done this before and made it through.” She recited the mantra over and over and over for nine months. I’m sure there were countless times that she thought to herself, “I can’t believe this is happening.”
Naturally, getting pregnant meant a drastic change in her life plans. On top of the months of sickness and stress, she now had to figure out how to fend for a scrawny, yet perfectly proportioned and angelic, little boy. Granted, from what I can remember, I was flawless, both in appearance and behavior, but I’m sure it still affected her greatly.
To be 17 and to know with utter certainty that your future is now fundamentally and unavoidably altered, no matter how you respond, must’ve been an incredible weight to bear. To be any age and come to that realization is a hefty burden.
I’ve asked myself many times over the years why she did it, why she chose to receive the monkey wrench in all of her plans. Why did she choose to forego any and all of her current life goals to be an unwed mother in a small, fundamentalist church community? Why stomach the whispered gossip? Why fight the feelings of shame, embarrassment, and failure?
The answer is written and explained in every day of my upbringing. In every sacrifice she made, every extra hour worked, and every single time she let me crawl into bed with her in the middle of the night, she eloquently explained her thoughts on that time in her life, back in 1977.
In the swirling midst of emotion and anxiety, my mum sifted it all out and saw the truth of the matter: I was worth it. Somehow, despite everything else, she was able to weigh all the possible futures set out in front of her and saw her unborn child as worth more. Even though she hadn’t wanted the drastic veer “off course” that she was experiencing, even though–to be brutally honest–she hadn’t wanted a child prior to my conception, she didn’t let her wants and desires pull her from what was to what might have been. Want it or not, she was pregnant. Every motherly and loving act ingrained in me one enduring fact:
I wasn’t worthwhile because she wanted me; she wanted me because I was worthwhile.
There is a stark difference between the two approaches. If worth depends on desire or convenience, then an unwanted pregnancy will always fall somewhere between a hiccup and a disaster. However, if worth is intrinsic and essential to each human’s existence, then even the most unforeseen and undesired conception must necessarily fall somewhere between a joyful giggle and staggering “thank you”. When a human life is set on the scales, there is nothing else that can come close to balancing it, let alone weighing more. My mum knew that and taught it to me.
Jump ahead 38 years. I’ve chronicled our adoptions in-depth, and all the joys and priceless anecdotes that have accompanied them, however, I have never taken much time to expound on our struggles with infertility. Apart from the first couple of years of our marriage, we have always been open to life and conception happening at any point. In the months leading up to moving away to the Caribbean, we were even intentionally trying to get pregnant. However, in spite of our efforts, were never able to conceive.
Last summer, my wife and I celebrated our 15-year anniversary. She’d just completed her first year of medical residency. Things were pretty even keeled. Then, after over a decade of waiting and wondering, we found out she was pregnant. We were overjoyed and giddy and excited and all of the synonyms. We gleefully informed the children that the Justice League would be getting a new member. Apparently a bit of clarification was needed, because my 5-year-old said, “We’re getting a dog?”
So began the blur of pregnancy during residency. My wife plodded on, shift after shift. Along the way, there have been countless times we’ve thought to ourselves, “I can’t believe this is happening.” We are, daily, astounded and surprised by the fact that there’s been an extra human tagging along with us for the last 9 months. We’ve had the blessing and benefit of not only having wanted a child for so long, but also of being able to get fully prepared for it’s emersion, for its crawl onto this mortal coil.
The kicker? She’s due today, January 27. Yes, she’s due on the March for Life. As if we couldn’t get any cheesier or heavy-handed or over-the-top. But, that’s how we roll in the Justice League.
I struggled to find a hard-hitting, thought-provoking, hyphen-laden point to this post. Usually, I have something specific to say, and I won’t click “publish” until I at least feel like I’ve said it as coherently as possible. This time, though, I just knew I wanted to say something today. I’ve been excited and eager to post, but I couldn’t figure out what the tie-in would be. It took me a while to put my finger on it. I think what it boils down to today is this.
There is so much dang truth, beauty, and goodness in the world that I don’t just want everyone around me to see and know it; I want them to be ecstatic when there’s one more person in the world who gets to see it and know it! A new kid on the block can never be a bad thing, not objectively, because it means that one more beacon of infinite goodness is now advancing through this life!
From the first embryo, until the moment my mum found out she was pregnant, until the moment I wrote this, until the last breath of the last person, the worth and gorgeous complexity of each human life quietly calls to us, from each stage of development, to revere this life, to protect this life, to polish this life to a sheen.
Cherish each second of human existence, from conception to natural death, because each of those seconds are inextricably linked with each second of yours and mine. Protect our first moments to insure all the subsequent ones. And, please, please, always be willing to toss aside any and every timeline if someone threatens to intrude, regardless of how small and quiet they may be.