This Mother’s Day, I jumped into a Facebook conversation that was a lamentation of sorts from women who’ve experienced infertility, and were applauding how restricted Mass during the pandemic would relieve them from experiencing the annual Mother’s Day blessing, and, in some cases, the handing out of roses to moms in the pews. They welcomed a pass from the suffering they experience each year during this offering in May.
Having experienced the loss of a child in miscarriage just days before Mother’s Day (in 1999), I understand the grief one can experience at such times. The beautiful cry of a baby just before its Baptism at Mass the Sunday after we lost our Gabriel still resounds in my memory, calling me back to the sweet little wail that pierced my broken heart, which felt so empty that day. However, despite the opening of that very fresh wound, I simultaneously experienced a rush of hope from that music of new life.
Though it can be difficult, our grief, I hope, won’t completely diminish our ability to celebrate others’ blessings. I also acknowledge that grief doesn’t always follow the rules, and that these women are owed their feelings.
Losing a child, or struggling to conceive, can cause deep suffering. And this brings me to a related, highlighted topic in this age: surrogacy. Are we aware of the grief involved in a premeditated loss, such as in the case of surrogacy?
With surrogacy, a mother agrees, in advance, to give her body for a child someone else believes he or she has a right to, relinquishing her natural right to mother that child herself. I’m wondering if we’ve thought this through well enough. Is it possible we’re too dazzled by the technology allowing this possibility that we’ve overlooked the reality at the center?
The National Catholic Register piece by Jennifer Roback Morse, “What’s Love Got to Do With It: Surrogacy for the Rich and Famous,” brought my attention to the topic, and made for painful reading. I’m grieved over what we’re doing to mothers and children — and all of society — in these instances.
Losing a child due to circumstances beyond one’s control is vastly different from intentionally depriving a child of his or her own mother and father. It is more akin to the difference between miscarriage and abortion.
With surrogacy, Morse points out, the genetic mother is “completely erased,” and becomes “a legal stranger” to the child she bore. “He may have her eyes or her dimples or her freckles. But this woman … is out of the picture.” Intentionally. This should cause us all to weep.
Additionally, children in these situation likely will never have a person to call “mother” in their lives. Each Mother’s Day will be a day of sadness the child will not feel free to express.
“What is owed to the child?” It’s a question Morse asks, and I find important, too. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, while heading up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued an “Instruction on respect for human life,” Donum Vitae, observing within that love expressed by spouses is done so by “the language of the body,” and that the conjugal act is “inseparably corporal and spiritual.”
“It is in their bodies and through their bodies that the spouses consummate their marriage,” he notes, “and are able to become father and mother,” concluding that, in order for this language and “natural generosity” to be respected, “the procreation of a person must be the fruit and the result of married love.”
Morse offers, “The child is the embodiment of the parents’ love for each other. Every person has the right to come into existence as the result of the physical and spiritual union of his or her natural parents. The body matters. The identity of the parents matters. The love of the parents for each other matters.”
With surrogacy, children become commodities, and the birth mothers are often resigned to obscurity. What’s to become of the erased mother whose lifeblood has been removed from her life? Did she understand what she signed up for? Did she realize that every Mother’s Day, and each time she hears the cry of a baby, her heart will be pierced, again and again?
I pray for the children who are born with these planned losses, which will mark their lives forever. I pray for the mothers silently grieving in some dark, lonely space, having misunderstood the power of motherhood, and how no amount of money or good intention can replace the love of the person she helped create. I pray for those who see children as one more thing to acquire and cross off their bucket list — just because they can. And I pray for all the ways I’ve missed my own culpability in this Culture of Death set on the destruction of the family and our integrity as a society.
Mea culpa, oh Lord.
Copyright 2020 Roxane Salonen