Love Them Both

As the nation’s capital is flooded with hundreds of thousands from all over the country to march and proclaim the value of life, I am settled at home with my two little ones, able to reflect very tangibly on the wonder and beauty of life. Motherhood allowed me to experience being pro-life in a much deeper way, and it also gave me a different perspective on ways we can express it.

Without a doubt the most difficult time of my life thus far was during both of my pregnancies. By all standards they were uneventful (not to mention I am happily married and wanted these babies) but even then, I was stretched to limits previously unknown. It was during that time that I felt closest to Christ in His Passion and death. It may seem strange to take the March for Life as the opportunity to share such reflections, but bear with me. As we continue to focus on the value of each unique life created from the moment of conception, I believe we could also benefit from a meditation on the process that it takes to bring forth that life. Allow me to contend that it is more that process that is under attack than the babies themselves, though the babies are sadly the victims.

Abortion is the battleground where the values of modernity (physical strength, visible accomplishments, wealth) are pitted against the values of God (humility, weakness, self-sacrifice). Jesus stood as the embodiment of this battle on Calvary, and nowhere in our human experience is His death more closely mirrored than in motherhood. During pregnancy and the early years of child-rearing in particular, a woman experiences profound limitations and changes physically, mentally, emotionally, and even dietary beginning from the moment her child is conceived. Those limitations do not necessarily diminish over time, but merely change with the needs of her child, as she is constantly redefining who she is, losing and finding herself over and over again. To embrace and even grow to love these limitations and changes requires a person of profound faith, humility and the most distasteful of all virtues, surrender.

When Christ was among us, He said that He came that we should have life and have it more abundantly. He also said that in order to live we had to take up our cross daily and die to ourselves. By the values the world holds dear, these two statements stand in stark contradiction. We Christians know very different. Christ was never more Himself than when He was carrying His cross and giving His life at Calvary. Why? Because it was precisely for that purpose that He became man. It was at the moment where Christ appeared defeated and His weakest that He was victorious, that He was living His life to its full.

It is this reality that is replayed over and over again in the process by which a woman becomes a mother. This is not to say that those who are not physical mothers cannot share this too. Every woman was made to be a mother because motherhood is also of a spiritual nature. Motherhood, both spiritual and physical, is the state in which every woman can be most herself, because to be a mother is to be exactly woman in all of her glory. It requires above all embracing one’s own weakness, and it is we women who were once called “the weaker sex” (blasphemy to say today, of course). Modernity has not made this an easy feat. Mothers are typically at their weakest when they are carrying their children, just as Christ appeared to be His weakest as He carried His heavy cross to Calvary.

Abortion then is a direct attack on what it means to be woman. It is no coincidence that the words of feminists used to claim bodily autonomy are a perfect inversion of those Christ used to surrender His. At every mass, we hear the words, “This is my body, and it will be given up for you,” echoing what Christ said before he handed Himself over to be crucified. Every mother can say those same words to her children in the most real and tangible way imaginable. Our bodies are literally taken over and given over so that our children can grow and come into the world. In this light, it makes perfect sense that Satan should attack motherhood with something as vicious as abortion. Every woman who claims the right to abortion (as if the death of her own womanhood could ever be sanctified as a right) cries out, “This is my body! And I will give it up for no one!” The very same words that once heralded our eternal life are twisted to condemn the innocent. Satan cannot create, but only corrupt what already exists.

At the root of this culture of death is this rejection of the truth that our weakness is merely a prelude to victory, as Christ’s death preceded His Resurrection, as a pregnancy precedes birth. The language of the beauty in weakness, of the value of losing our lives in order to keep them is ours and who better than us to spread it! We need to steal it back from the mouths of those who seek to kill not just the innocent but their own selves, those concerned only with profits and dollars than with the liberation of woman. We need to shout louder than these that womanhood and all the weakness that it embodies is not something to be cured or liberated from, but is liberating in itself and should be cherished and lived fully.

Or perhaps better than shouting (though slower in efficacy), we just need to live it.

When I was pregnant with my first, I remember having a hard time processing just how difficult it is to grow new life. A colleague asked me one day how I was doing, and instead of hiding the truth, I shared my reality. She responded that it was still so amazing to be growing a baby, and dismissed my pain. I know that to her my situation was enviable, and she would get no argument that what my body was doing was a miracle. But she missed a great opportunity. It is not a threat to life to say that bearing it is painful. We do not do Christ any credit if we refuse to acknowledge that His Resurrection was made possible only because it was preceded by a Passion and Death.

Celebrate and proclaim the beauty of life, yes! But celebrate too the life-long sacrifice it requires to bring it forth. Celebrate the woman no matter her situation who gets to be like Christ, carrying a heavy cross for the purpose of giving life, who is bravely living her unique mission to the derision of the world. Praise her for living the values that the world despises, for continuing on while some around her may jeer and cut her down. Be her Simon of Cyrene, there to help her as she stumbles. Be her Mary Magdalene, the first to rejoice with her as she learns that her weakness and death brought forth life.

As I’ve been writing this post, I can’t help but think that it is perhaps easier in some ways to appeal to our sensibilities of justice with a precious child than with the realities of bringing them forth, but we can and should recognize both. It makes me recall a quote from my favorite writer, and so I will leave you with it.

“The tragedy of the world is that so many are unloved. Roses always look beautiful and smell sweet, and hence they are a prize to be possessed. Sweetbriar, however, has fragrant leaves, and they are never so fragrant as when it rains. … Anyone can love a rose; but it takes a great heart to love a leaf.” – Archbishop Fulton Sheen