I never would have thought it during the time that the grief was so bleeding raw and crippling. In the days and months after our miscarriage, I felt angry and sad and shocked and despairing. Losing our baby ripped my world apart and it felt like it would never, ever be quite right again. In the years since I’ve realized that while the grief lessened and the wound healed, the life – and loss – of that baby changed me forever. Losing a baby taught me things that I don’t think I could ever have understood otherwise. Perhaps greater and more important than all of these lessons, though, is this:
I don’t deserve a baby. No one does.
While mourning that baby was good and right, that baby did not ultimately belong to me. A baby is not something to which I have a right and should never be treated as anything other than the undeserved gift that he or she is, however short the time it is given. This is the lesson that crept into my heart and has grown with each subsequent pregnancy.
The Christian worldview is different from so many others throughout history – and still today – in that it sees in each and every human being the image of God. It unequivocally expects its followers to treat every person as such. Each and every human being is a separate and unique person with equal dignity, their worth never to be found in their ability, their usefulness, their attachment to another, their heritage, any personal character trait, their sex, color, or size. This is why slavery is an abomination. This is why we see the disabled as precious and equal in worth to anyone else. This is why women are to always be treated as equal in dignity to men. This is why racism is abhorrent. This is why a child is not considered the property of its parents. A child should always and every time be a gift.
And this is one of the reasons why Christians cannot accept procedures and rituals that treat a baby as something one can create at will or that someone has the right to have. No one has the right to a baby because no one has the right to another human being. Husband and wife open themselves up in their love to the gift of a child but it is never something that can be demanded or expected or earned. A child is entrusted to its parents and the parents receive the gift of caring for this irreplaceable and unique new image of God, not because they’ve somehow shown how much they deserve it but because God willed to give it. It should always and every time be freely bestowed, not demanded or manipulated. We do what we can to make sure our bodies are working according to the way He designed, that they are healthy and functional and working properly, yes. But the ultimate gift of a new life placed in that body is His to give.
Babies and children are to be treated with equal dignity and worth as any adult. Care and teaching and guidance are needed, of course, and they are not equal in intelligence or ability or usefulness. But that is of no matter to the Christian. Their inherent dignity is always equal to any other human being, from the moment, nay, even before the moment, that they exist. While natural and divine law give the husband and wife authority to welcome the gift of a child and the rights to make decisions in the care and wellbeing of that child, they are never to be seen as somehow earning or owning the child. They must be treated with respect and love and their dignity never violated. Likewise, their worth can never be attached to how much they were wanted or planned, sick or well, convenient or not.
The gift from that child we lost to his or her younger siblings was a mother who knows well she doesn’t deserve them, a mother with new eyes to see the fragility and profundity of the gift. With each new life we have since been given (and with each subsequent year as I come face to face with the extent of my own limitations and failures as a mother), this knowledge and conviction grows stronger. I am weak. I am undeserving. I am not at all worthy. There are certainly other women out there struggling with infertility who seem so much more suited to the task than I am. But His ways are not our ways. Every new life given is only and every time a gift from Him. God help me if I take that for granted or treat them as anything other than the beautiful images of God that they are. God help us to create a world where every child is seen only as an undeserved and beautiful gift.
“A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift.” Catechism of the Catholic Church 2378