In light of the recent news story about "Storm," the child whose parents have chosen to conceal his or her gender, Ellyn von Huben reflects upon the mysteries of parenting and why children are not a means to an end. Read her commentary below.
The word of the LORD came to me thus: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you…
The first of my children was born in 1979 and last in 1993. Touching on three decades of childbearing has given me a perspective that many do not have. (I’m not exactly the Gordie Howe of childbirth, but I gave it my best.) Things changed a lot over those fourteen + years. And by the year 2011? When I tell that girl who was born in 1979 (now a mother of two daughters herself) what it was like to have a baby at the end of the seventies, one would think that I was relating some experiences reminiscent of Little House in the Big Woods. Things have changed that much.
I am still taken aback by the number of prenatal ultrasounds administered to mothers. Back in the olden days, let’s say late 1978, ultrasound was used as a diagnostic tool in exceptional situations. Parents did not, as a rule, see or know many specifics about their unborn children. No framed ultrasound snapshots, no opportunities to pick gender related nursery decor.
Since I have no medical background beyond watching Doctors Kildare, Casey and Welby plus obsessively Googling any and all symptoms I might have, I really have no professional opinion about the medical risks and benefits of prenatal ultrasound. And praise God for the window that this technology has given to shed light upon the truth of life in the womb. But technology has left the door open for an obsession with details, especially gender, that robs the unborn of the one time in life they can be totally, unconditionally loved. And by that I mean that they are spared some of the expectations that are put upon us as soon as we are known as boy or girl, big or small. It is all conjecture; all in the parents’ imaginations. Once the details are known, the expectations are not far behind.
This phenomenon might arise from a culture in which parents don’t anticipate having more than one or two children and they want to make sure that they get the details exactly right. And the big reveal, as in “It’s a Girl,” is now delivered long before birth and perhaps, if one is fond of surprises, the name will not be revealed until the birth day. My age and curmudgeonly tendencies must be showing as I watch a batch of Gender Cake parties on YouTube, with my mouth slightly open and head shaking from side to side. Really? Now parents don’t even want to hear the gender from the doctor or ultrasound technician? They want the gender written down and delivered to a baker who will bake a cake with a pink or blue filling that will ooze forth at the climactic moment of a baby shower. (Having had some bad experiences with bakeries that could not be trusted to not fill a cake with raspberry preserves rather than lemon custard, I am not so sure that I would trust them to deliver news of such import. Just getting the cake right and spelling the guest of honor’s name correctly is asking quite a lot.)
Contrast the fawning over brightly colored butter-cream with those parents who have decided not to reveal their children’s genders at all. Most recently, the news has made mention of a couple in Canada who have a 4 month-old child named Storm - don’t even get me started on names - whose gender is known only to them, the midwives, and Storm’s siblings, age five and two. And really don’t get me started on expecting five and two year-olds to keep a secret. It’s not right. I also doubt if it is possible.
Storm’s parents think gender traits are mostly something that an antiquated, stuffy culture lays on unsuspecting children to bollix the trajectory of their lives; that gender is so personal an issue as to be totally private - as in “Nobody need know.” And they are using Storm to make their point. (Anyone else thinking of LN and Roderick from Away We Go?) I really want to emphasize the word using. As in a mere commodity.
The cake parties and the allegedly genderless Storm are two extremes. But both point to a rather sinister misunderstanding of the gift of children. “Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons.” (CCC 2222) They are not possessions nor are they extensions of our egos. We are not owed children. Our children are gifts from God entrusted to us to love and nurture. Human persons that we hold in sacred trust. Not pets or minions or status symbols.
I know that I have crossed the line in the past. I still do. While I can no longer dress everyone in coordinating outfits or watch with a certain degree of pride as everyone would jump out of our oversized van as if it were a clown car, I can still blog about amusing foibles and turn to Facebook to announce accomplishments.
The learning curve can be steep. I may not have been as obsessed with any one of my babies to have planned a party with a “big reveal.” And my children have been spared the dubious privilege of being the blunt object used to drive home a philosophical point of view. I pray that my love has truly been the willing of the ‘good of the other as other,’ and that they can forgive me for the times I have failed.
And when I pray a prayer of thanks for the blessing of those children, it certainly includes some thanks for what they have done for me. “Children in turn contribute to the growth in holiness of their parents.” (CCC 2227) Now that is a powerful statement. I hope I have given them my best. I love them. I owe them. Without them, I don’t know what I would be.
Ellyn von Huben is a regular contributor to the Word on Fire Blog. She also moderates her own blog, Oblique House.