In my BC (“before children”) days when I was still a full-time working girl, I was on the staff of a regional women’s publication that was decidedly left-leaning. When my boss (whom I also considered a friend) asked me to do a write-up on a pro-choice event, I declined, explaining that I was pro-life and refused to promote anything that was in direct conflict with my belief system.
I’m not sure how this would have panned out had I been working on the editorial staff of some glossy based out of New York City, but my colleague was respectful of my position and didn’t force me to write about the event – and, in fact, didn’t publish anything about it in the end.
My pro-life revelation sparked an ongoing dialogue between us about why I was pro-life and, conversely, why she was pro-choice. Like so many of my pro-choice friends, she stressed that she would never think of getting an abortion, but that she just didn’t feel like it was the government’s right – or anyone else’s – to tell a woman what she should do with her body.
But therein lay the irony: This same woman was a devoted mom and lactivist. Aside from working on the women’s publication, we also collaborated on a parenting publication where we both wrote numerous pro-breastfeeding articles. My colleague practiced extended breastfeeding with all of her children, and she worked tirelessly to support breastfeeding in the workplace, including promoting a support group for working, breastfeeding moms and helping to get a designated pumping room in one of her previous places of employment. But more than that, she was one of the most loving, attentive, and selfless mothers I’ve ever known.
Since becoming a mother myself, I’ve encountered many devoted moms like her who are vehement defenders of babies, children, and their needs. Some of these same women are also pro-choice. It’s a juxtaposition that confounds me: These women often have no problem with shaking their heads over moms who don’t breastfeed their babies, or those parents who allow their little ones to “cry it out” alone in their cribs. But they see no reason to give babies in utero any defense whatsoever.
“Breast is best!” and “Give babies the best start and breastfeed!” they shout from the rooftops. But isn’t life the best start of all?
I look at these admirable moms who ply their tots with nothing but organic food, read endless board books to stimulate their babes’ burgeoning minds, and do everything in their power to give kids of all ages a voice – and I can’t help but wonder why they don’t see the need to do the same for the most helpless children of all.
Why does our society only advocate for the children who make it safely out of their mothers’ wombs, or those lucky “fetuses” who become babies as soon as the woman carrying them decides they are wanted? How is it that so many of us can be passionately concerned with a baby’s entitlement to be breastfed or to be nurtured in a loving, sensitive way, but completely disregard her entitlement to life?
Why is it that, before a child is in her mother’s arms, she is nothing more than a disposable commodity, a choice – not a human being that deserves respect, love, care, and above all, the chance at life?
I’ve asked these questions over and over, sometimes to my friends who have different views, sometimes during prayer, sometimes in the silence of the night when I’m watching one of my children sleep or cradling a nursing baby to my chest.
One day, my colleague and I were talking about the challenges of nursing and why it was so important to encourage and support breastfeeding moms. At the time, I was pregnant with my first child and knew I wanted to breastfeed, and I agreed with my supervisor’s strong views on the subject – but something struck me that day listening to her impassioned speech on why breast is best.
I asked a not-so-innocent question: “What about the moms who have all the support they need? Maybe they’re at-home moms who don’t ever have to worry about pumping, and they don’t experience any real problems with nursing, but they just don’t like it. What do you think about them?”
My colleague suggested that women who don’t breastfeed only because it’s not convenient or easy or something they enjoy were being selfish.
She had fallen right into my trap. “But it’s their body, their breasts,” I retorted. “Don’t they have the right to do what they want with them?”
“Not when it’s at the expense of their baby,” she said. “Babies deserve better.”
My point exactly. Babies do deserve better. They deserve life.
This column was originally published at InsideCatholic.com, an online journal of Catholic faith, culture, and politics.
Copyright 2009 Kate Wicker