(This is the first in a series of posts about children, parenting, and abortion.)
With so much in the news about Planned Parenthood, I wanted to speak to something that rarely gets talked about. I do this not as a pastor or citizen, but rather as a father. And what I want to talk about is not federal dollars or hidden cameras or even abortion. No, I want to talk about slogans.
Planned Parenthood’s slogan for years was “Every Child A Wanted Child”. Which sounds great. Who thinks it wouldn’t be a better world if every child that was born was greeted with joy and expectation? I love to hear someone get so excited over the little one they are about to bring into the world. And I know how important it is, what a difference it makes, for a child to be loved by people who are ready and capable.
Where I differ with Planned Parenthood, and to be honest with many people including other Christians, is how to get there.
We have become convinced that a baby should come when we say so. We use pills and condoms and iuds and shots to wait for (in our opinion) the perfect moment. When we finally have it all together. When we have just the right partner, the right job, the right financial situation. And yet…that is not how it works.
I have yet to meet a single person who claims that when they had their first child, no matter when, they were truly ready.
How do you actually prepare for the late nights with a colicky baby? Yes, we may mature as we get older (some people definitely do not!). But, while we can promote growth and self-discipline, that is not what people mean when they say they are ready for a child (or for another child).
No, what we mean is typically this: I have a feeling that says I am now ready for a baby.
Many things may or may not play into that feeling. Financial situation, marital status, age, employment and a myriad of factors that are impossible to quantify. Yet, people with no money in the bank will want a baby, and those with millions may say they are not ready. There is no factor that is magic. Because we are talking about a feeling.
So, on the one hand we seem to be waiting for a very specific feeling that says “I am ready”. But there is another side as well.
There is a logic that says that giving people access to birth control actually reduces abortion. And it makes sense. Without the birth control Planned Parenthood helps provide, some of those women would probably get an abortion.
But we have to think deeper. What if our reliance on birth control has led us to the false belief that whatever I do sexually, there shouldn’t be consequences? What if the fact that we feel like we can control when we get pregnant, leads us to believe we should completely control that whole process? Therefore, of course abortion is an option, because our mentality is that we shouldn’t have to deal with a pregnancy we don’t want. I don’t have that feeling that I am ready for a child, so…
Maybe we have more abortions, because our sexual behavior requires no maturing. What if our reliance on avoiding pregnancy while still having the pleasure of sex, is part of what keeps us immature? Think about it. The birth control industry teaches us that we should enjoy this intimate act, but we shouldn’t have to deal with a single consequence. I should be able to have sex whenever and with whomever I want without cost. We think we can make sex “safe”, but we are fooling ourselves. There is nothing “safe” about it. But, one of the things we have put to great risk by believing sex can be without consequence is our own spiritual and emotional growth.
So, the way we have sex does not require or foster maturing. And since we are not maturing, we simply wait for a feeling that tells me the time is now.
What if there is another way, a different path?
A Road Less Travelled
I must really love kids. At least that is how some people see it. They assume that having a large family means that was the goal. Others think we are crazy, or that we belong to some type of cult that worships pregnancy (I actually laughed out loud writing that.)
But the truth is much stranger.
You see, I don’t have seven children because seven times my wife and I determined that we were ready. Sure, we talked about that. Living in a society where people constantly talk about ready or not ready, or how they are “trying”, or that their youngest was an “accident”, you can’t help but think that way. But that has not been our determining factor. No, the reason we have seven kids is because…
See, you really want to know. I find this all the time. People will talk with me who are obviously flabbergasted. They can’t even imagine a reason. It is so far removed from our cultural expectations. Because we have all bought in. We may frown upon abortion, but we do believe that we know best when it comes to the exact right number and timing of children.
And that is what my wife and I have given up. We have determined that actually, we may not know best. That our “feeling” shouldn’t be the all-determining factor. That our selfishness is too great. That for every child to be wanted requires us to want whatever child comes our way. And that wanting any child is a spiritual discipline.
That doesn’t mean I look down on someone who doesn’t have children or doesn’t want children or uses birth control. I don’t. But I do believe that most people I know have never thought outside that box. Birth control is assumed. What would happen if we no longer assumed?
It certainly doesn’t mean I look with disdain on a teenage mom, or a college student who has an abortion. No. In fact, they have my utmost sympathy. They are being dragged through a culture that has taught them only one way to think: Have sex when you want-get pregnant when you want. For millennia sex and pregnancy were intimately connected. You can’t suddenly unplug them and not expect something to happen.
As a kid, my family would often go and eat Mexican food. After filling up on chips, salsa, nachos, refried beans, enchiladas and everything else, we would be very slowly making our way out of the restaurant when my father would say, “ooh, I am not ever doing that again.” And yet, a few days later, there we were once again filling up on chimichangas and tamales. If we could have taken a pill that would undue or shield us from the consequences of that meal, we probably would have. After all, we would have eaten Tex-Mex every day if we had the money and the stomach for it. Luckily, no such pill exists. Otherwise, I would never eat a vegetable or a salad. Tex-Mex all the time for me. Which would be horrible for me.
Anytime we divorce the normal consequences of an action from that action we are incentivizing behavior. That is what we are doing with birth control. It incentivizes sex on the front end, and may create a culture where abortion seems reasonable on the back-end.
So, in response to the outrage and counter-outrage about the Planned Parenthood videos, I am not calling for people who are having abortions to stop. I am calling for us to consider something much bigger. What if we changed our entire outlook on children? What if we decided to want every child? What if we looked at the tight bonds that exist between marriage, sex, pregnancy and family and held them up not simply as nice ideals but as real possibilities? What if we fostered the idea that “every child a wanted child” isn’t just a slogan, it can be a reality?
Are we at least willing to consider that there might be another way?
(Next Week: The way we talk about children and how it influences our choices)