What Is a Child Worth? What If They’re Not Perfectly Healthy?
On facebook the other day, a friend linked to an article in Cosmo, of all places, about a woman’s experience with her abortion and subsequent testimony before the hearings in Texas on limiting abortions on a number of fronts, including no abortions after 20 weeks unless the life of the mother was in grave harm. The author described her difficult road of infertility and after treatments, voila! A baby girl on the way! Much rejoicing. Until at 19 weeks she learned her daughter had spinal bifida, a serious medical condition needing multiple surgeries, and probably a slew of other health conditions related to it. She wouldn’t have a healthy baby. Her daughter wouldn’t have a normal life.
She opted to abort her daughter, citing the horror of a bad medical condition, the difficulty their family would face, and the awful quality of her daughter’s life. She and her husband were comfortable with their decision, and wanted to ensure that other families faced with this knowledge after 20 weeks could opt for the same.
This isn’t a post about being pro-life or pro-choice or anti-choice or pro-abortion, whatever you want to call it. I really was struck by the notion of how a medical diagnosis could set the value on human life. On the worth of the child. On the decision to keep or not to keep. When people are handicapped or developmentally different or special needs, are they as valued by us? Not by our society as a blanket whole, but by you and me. Let’s make this personal. What do we actually think?
I think I pray for a healthy child. I’m scared that this baby will be not perfect. My other two children have no health issues. I’m scared I wouldn’t be up to the task of caring for a child who needed more from me, more physically, more emotionally, more financially. At the same time, my staunch belief that every life has the same value, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and the guy with Down’s Syndrome who works in the checkout line at my local grocery store. This belief overrides my fear. My concern over my child being a “contributing and productive” member of society. My want for them to lead totally happy normal lives with little to no pain.
So this question of what a child’s worth goes to a bigger question of what our purpose in life is. Is it to lead a totally normal happy life without too much inconvenience, pain, and suffering? Or is it to enter into the suffering that is part of the human existence with as much love and compassion for those around us as possible, recognizing and admitting to our failures, and trying harder to be better than ourselves? If the former is what we want, we are in for a rough ride filled with lots of disappointment and a desperate sense of escapism into sex, alcohol, drugs, tv, social media, anything to avoid the rawness.
If human life is worth it, at any stage of development, in utero to elderly, then embracing the suffering that comes along with children with special needs, aging parents who develop special needs, and seeing this as the way of life to live means life is filled with little joys. Little gifts. Little moments of pure love. Because of the suffering.
Ask the parent who has children with special needs. Do they wish they could go back and abort that kid so their lives would have been easier? Do they wish they’d done embryonic selection to avoid that kid? Ask your dear friend who lost their baby after a month due to health complications–would it have been more “therapeutic” to abort so they didn’t have to lose their daughter outside the womb?
Maybe this is easy for me to write, with my two perfectly healthy kids and seemingly (we don’t do screening tests) healthy third in utero. Maybe. I pray for the strength to love and embrace any child with special needs, as I see my friends do. Their families are some of the most loving and wonderful environments because of, not in spite of, their special needs child or children.
The article made me stop and really consider, what is a child worth if they’re not healthy. What is it worth to me? I hope you think about it to and consider this when you think that all you want is healthy baby. What would you do with an unhealthy baby?
Love this piece. I always cringe a little when people say “as long as the baby’s healthy, that’s all that matters!” Because I don’t actually believe that. For me it was working at L’Arche with adults with developmental and physical disabilities that helped to open my eyes to the reality that life has so much value even when it is deemed “unhealthy” or even painful by society’s standards. There is rich joy to be found even when the body or mind is severely compromised. I think this quite often with my pregnancies. Maybe part of my maternal instinct is to hope for a healthy child, but in fact a deeper faith reminds me all along that this baby is a gift no matter what comes. Even the idea of wishing for my children’s happiness is one I have let go of, because I think we define “happiness” in skewed ways as a society. Do I wish them to know deep joy? Of course. But I know their lives will be filled with suffering and loss, too, as every life will be. Unhappiness will not mean that they or I have failed. But if they can know love in their life, whatever form that takes, and if I can help to show them love and to be love for others, then theirs will be a life well lived.
What an experience, actually working with “unhealthy” people and seeing their value. Wow–what powerful words “If they can know love in their life . . . then theirs will be a life well lived.” May we all believe this for our children. Thank you, Laura, for your beautiful input, as always.
Great piece, Nell! This issue really needs a lot more conversation. Having grown up with a special needs sibling and earlier this year lived through my dad’s final decline with Alzheimer’s, it’s important for me to add a note that such situations must not be romanticized as compared to the typical/healthy family situation. Some parts are just plain difficult and we’d just as soon not deal with them, and it’s normal to feel that way at times. I like what Laura said about happiness not being the ultimate goal for one’s children, at least not as society defines it. Our kids went to a farm camp for years, where the owner/director told them they were not there to have fun, though they might, nor were they there to learn, though they might. The purpose of the program was for them to experience satisfaction in farm life, whether the projects and chores were easy or hard, fun or not, etc. We have drawn on that distinction many times, often in challenging situations, and it’s kind of how I think of the responsibility to care for the vulnerable in our families and communities. It’s simply what we’re called to do, no matter how it feels at a particular moment. And my kids loved their farm experiences, partly because they adore the people, the land, the animals, but more profoundly, I think they intuited the authenticity of life there that provided a sense of purpose and connection.
One of the things that most frustrated me about that Cosmo article was the title: “The Devastating Abortion Story That Could Change the Way You Vote.” If they truly understood my position, they would know that the article would do nothing but make me feel profoundly sad for the entire family, including the mother AND child. Thanks for addressing this. And great timing in light of Pope Francis’s “Evangelii Gaudium.”
Exactly, LDR! That was my same sentiment: sorrow for everyone involved. And it was so mother-centric. All about her, her pregnancy, her birth, her needs, her wants, no consideration that another person, HER daughter, was at play here too.
I guess Papa Francis and I are just in sync!! 🙂
Thank you for writing this Nell. As you know, our son was born with several birth defects, none of which we knew about before he was born He’s 6 months old and has had two surgeries already and will have at least one more. While his health issues are not as serious as spinal bifida, they will affect his quality of life on a daily basis. And life has been more stressful, and inconvenient for my husband and me than it probably is for parents of a “normal, healthy” child. But despite all he’s been through he is such a bright and joyful baby. And because of all we’ve experienced together my relationship with my husband has a special strength and our love for our baby is so fierce.
It’s true, who are we to say what kind of a life has value. I think our society also doesn’t acknowledge the value of going through hardships. Everyone wants their life to be easy. Yes, hardships are….hard, but perseverance and strength of character are so evident in the lives of people who have gone through great trials. We too prayed for a healthy baby and it was hard when we discovered our baby was not healthy, but we wouldn’t change anything!!!
You run a beautiful blog chronically your own story, Anna, and I believe the world’s a richer place for that story. What a testimony to the hardship and the love, what your experience is really truly like. And it’s humbling to hear you & your husband are closer through this. We all want life to be easy and full of fun things, but you’re so right that the life without a trial is a boring, dull life with no character! Thank you for weighing in here.