My daughter and son-in-law are having a baby in February. I was grateful for their response to the pregnancy. The reveal of a child set in motion a complete rearranging of their lives. The preparations upended their existence: their location, their vocation, their important plans. I am thankful for their course because I see how difficult it has become these days to take up the great work of childbirth.
There is no getting around how much of a sacrifice a couple makes to have children. They lose freedom. They incur financial burdens. Especially for a woman, the process challenges her to give up her body, give up her health, maybe give up some dreams.
These costs are supposed to be mitigated by the celebration of the new life they carry. Before they find out for themselves the value of a child, they need buoying by the cultural approval of the enterprise. The celebrity status assigned at the baby shower should linger on through the term. The long gestation is a great anticipation by one and all. It helps one to feel God’s pleasure.
But the larger culture has drained that approval. In a culture that disposes of children and demeans motherhood, it becomes harder for a woman to choose to accept the challenge, much less espy the value in what she is doing if she does. We all need encouragement that what we are giving ourselves to has worth. When the wider world assigns no worth, it is a mammoth task to keep on sacrificing for it.
This is why, last Christmas, I promoted the paradigm that the Bible gives us which shows the centrality of childbirth in human redemption. Over and over, the gendered story of the Woman Clothed with the Sun and the Shepherding Ruler plays out God’s purposes. This truth of redemption should be sufficient to keep children-bearing central to Christian life. But the meaning of childbirth goes even deeper. The triune nature of God Itself births the Fruitfulness which in creation becomes our person proceeding from the one coming into union with the other.
Yet many today, if not outright reject, relegate this glory to the sidelines of life’s meaning. Many young women today, even in the church, even those who still have children, adopt this posture: “I’ll have a child, but don’t celebrate me too much for it, lest you identify me by it.” They shudder to be named merely a “mom.” They plead, “I am much more than someone who has children!” They do not feel legitimate as persons unless they are something else (and maybe also a mom, by choice).
To which I am wont to reply, “Well, yes, you are more. But you are not less.” It is good to not limit a young single woman who does not know what her life story is. But the bad effect of this posture, whether the speaker is consigning children to a low priority in her own family or not, is a culture of sidelining children. Then we, both men and women, come ill-equipped to the demands of having a child. The sacrifice shocks us. And some are more likely to put it off, or forego it completely. And the discipling of the children may suffer. We don’t see it as the thing life is about.
The woman who disdains her mother for not having a career does so, of course, from a platform built from her mother’s devotion to her family’s well-being. Mothers are not without sin, and making children an idol can cause opposite problems for them. But you cannot produce a healthy grown-up child without parents making family a priority in the mission. By a “healthy” child, I mean, a spiritually strong soul, who both knows her value and her faults.
This is why I am thankful this Christmas for my daughter’s course of receiving the pregnancy and letting it upset her life. Because I see how hard it is, going against the tide.