I may never understand pregnant women who complain about strangers who comment on their pregnancy when they’re out in public. It may be impolite to do so (especially if the comment is about a woman’s body size), but it’s something I actually missed a lot during my pandemic pregnancy. To do what I could to keep our daughter safe (my pregnancy was before scientists had collected much data on the vaccine’s safety for fetuses), I didn’t go out much while I was pregnant. And one of the things I missed was sharing my joy and excitement with strangers.
The few times I did go out while I was visibly pregnant, I noticed something interesting: People love pregnancy. It wasn’t a surprise to have people smile at me at our pro-life Catholic parish. But it was surprising how often, when at a grocery store, for instance, I’d see someone glance at my large belly and smile. These strangers would often not even make eye contact with me, so I don’t think they realized they were smiling at me. It was as if something about seeing evidence of my growing child made them a little happy.
Written in Our Hearts
I think this phenomenon is evidence that despite how off-the-rails it seems our culture has gone in terms of valuing and protecting human life, the truth is still written on the heart of every single person.
Recently, I’ve been listening to the podcast of the Sisters of Life, “Let Love.” This season, they’re discussing “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”), the 1995 encyclical by Pope St. John Paul II. On a recent episode, the sisters talked about chapter 2 and the fact that the gospel of life is “written in the heart of every man and woman,” as the great saint wrote. I saw it in the smiles of strangers at my pregnant belly. I saw it in the excitement of pro-choice friends when I shared that I was pregnant, when we announced the baby’s gender, and when I said that I would be leaving my job to stay home with my daughter. I see it now when strangers delight in my baby—even when she’s screeching in public.
Saving the World
My daughter has a onesie that says “saving the world, one hug at a time.” It’s seems silly, but maybe it reveals a greater truth: Babies can save the world.
There is something so good about a baby. Why else would couples, after weeks of morning sickness, the pain of labor and childbirth, and the long and difficult nights, choose to have more than one? Sleep deprivation-induced memory loss may well be a reason—but it’s also because babies are good. Their wonder can teach us to wonder. Their delight can teach us to delight. Their innocence can call us back to innocence. They remind us of the beauty of the human being—that, as Pope St. John Paul II said:
“‘Despite its hardships, its hidden mysteries, its suffering and its inevitable frailty, this mortal life is a most beautiful thing, a marvel ever new and moving, an event worthy of being exalted in joy and glory’ [citing St. Paul VI’s “Pensiero alla Morte”]. Moreover, man and his life appear to us not only as one of the greatest marvels of creation: for God has granted to man a dignity which is near to divine (Ps 8:5-6). In every child which is born and in every person who lives or dies we see the image of God’s glory. We celebrate this glory in every human being, a sign of the living God, an icon of Jesus Christ.”
In a recent article in “The Cut,” writer Emily Holleman wrote, “The decision to have children has always struck me as an essentially selfish one: You choose, out of a desire for fulfillment or self-betterment or curiosity or boredom or baby-mania or peer pressure, to bring a new human into this world. And it has never seemed more selfish than today.”
This woman recently became a mother, so I’m curious to know how she’s managing to be a selfish parent; I feel like parenthood is ripping every ounce of selfishness out of my body and trampling on it. It’s a painful process. I still have selfish moments throughout every day, but it’s not because I’m a parent but in spite of it.
The writer has been blasted by many on the internet, but it sounds like she does see a glimpse of the truth: “And yet,” she writes. “On some level we still believe that a baby, our baby, will bring the world, our world, so much more than his carbon footprint.”
There are selfish reasons to have a baby, though I’d argue that for anyone with some semblance of decency and love for their child, those reasons will be forgotten once the baby is born. Parenthood is dying to self and living for your child. It can make you a saint, if you let it. Ultimately, though, the reason to have a baby is simple: Babies are good, even when they’re hard, because life is good, even when it’s hard. If we could all return to that truth, the one that’s written on every person’s heart, regardless of how deeply they’ve suppressed it, well … maybe babies could save the world.