With the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade having just passed, Catholics have (rightly) been focusing quite a bit lately on the subject of life. I love that people are using Facebook, Twitter and blogging platforms to share God\’s beautiful vision for the dignity of the human person–and I know that people are listening. The scourge of abortion is really only able to flourish so long as the realities of abortion, life and humanity remain cloaked in darkness, obscured from the public view.
My own family–kids and all–participated in our local Denver March for Life this year. It was wonderful, and so worth the effort of being out all day with six little ones (one of our children was recovering from tonsil surgery and so stayed home)–in large part because it is yet another way for them to experience something that is of great value to our family and to our faith. I am, you see, a big believer in the idea that cultural renewal and conscience formation must begin in the home. Within the context of family. That is, after all, part of why God created marriage in the first place: it is the building block of community, the perfect catalyst for the procreation and education of children.
Of course for our family, the annual remembrance of a horrific Supreme Court decision is not the only time we engage in these types of conversations. On the contrary, we have regular and ongoing discussions about life issues in our home, being that we have four adopted children, including two daughters with Down syndrome. Meaning we really don\’t have a choice in terms of tackling big topics like marriage, relinquishment, poverty, and children born to desperate women. Instead, we have an up-close and personal view of what happens when families of origin deteriorate and when children are rendered extra vulnerable. We don\’t have the option of limiting these sorts of conversations to one pro-life weekend per year.
We really kind of live them.
Two years ago, we met the respective birth mothers of our adopted children. We\’ve seen their tears and heard their stories. It was wonderful and uncomfortable and devastating all at once. And I could see, in those painful moments, just why exactly God\’s plan for children and for families is so incredibly important. And why without it, things have the potential to go horribly wrong. Children need a mother and a father. Marriage as an institution was designed by God to protect society\’s most vulnerable members.
And so when something breaks down, when a mother is not able to raise her child herself, she has the ability to make an incredibly difficult sacrifice: the relinquishment of her child in hopes that he or she may find an adoptive family.
Sadly, not all children do find adoptive families. My own adopted children hail from Ethiopia, and I can tell you that there are countless orphans living there who will never be chosen. They will, instead, age out of their respective orphanages and most likely turn to a life of begging or prostitution on the streets, in a country where the average life expectancy is a mere 40 years. Orphaned children in some parts of Eastern Europe are sent to die in mental asylums once they reach a certain age. And even in the United States, there are high numbers of children in the foster care system, legally cleared for adoption, who will never actually be adopted.
Children need families. Many are living without. We must consider how we as Catholics can address this complex and difficult issue.
Please hear me when I say that I don\’t believe every single married couple is morally obligated or called by God to adopt a child in need. Each family ought to evaluate their own life circumstances to see if they might be a good fit for adoption–and some will be, and some will not.
But oh how I would love to see more and more Catholic families taking up this particular brand of openness to life–not in lieu of being open to more biological children, but in addition to it. We Catholics are in a unique position, after all, in having the fullness of the faith, which of course includes a comprehensive understanding of conjugal love and the institution of marriage. We have a lens through which to view suffering and pain. We have a tradition that says holiness and true joy are cultivated through self-giving. And, we have a faith marked by the belief that the human person, body and soul, has a natural and God-given dignity that must be upheld and maintained from conception until natural death.
Catholics, of all people, possess a framework for the often-difficult yet life-affirming choice of adoption.
And of course there are countless ways to participate in the pro-life movement apart from adoption. You don\’t have to be an adoptive or foster parent to be unequivocally pro-life. You don\’t have to be an adoptive or foster parent to cultivate a culture of life in your home. There are limitless opportunities to teach your children about human dignity, sacrifice, love, and care for one\’s neighbor without personally travelling the road of adoption.
Basically, I can\’t tell you that you should adopt. Or that if you do adopt, it will be easy. Odds are that it will not be.
But I can tell you that neither my kids nor I will ever be tempted to question whether it is better for a person to be born into difficult circumstances, or to be killed in the womb.
We will never believe the lie that an extra chromosome inherently translates into a lesser quality of life.
My kids know what it looks like to visit their four-year-old, newly adopted sister in the Cardiac ICU after she\’s had open heart surgery. They know what it means to pray–hard–that she will be okay.
We know, first-hand, that life comes directly from God, and that the value of one\’s life lies not in the circumstances of their conception or birth, but in the fact that they bear the very image of this loving, personal and creative God.
So in spite of challenges that may arise in raising children who come from difficult circumstances–and yes, there are challenges–it is a profound and mysterious gift to participate in the culture of life each and every day, in my very home. To live my beliefs in this way. Ultimately, my adopted children are simply my children, but their life stories do stand as unique testaments to God\’s grace and provision.
And while I do not pretend to know why God chose our particular family for this journey, I humbly (and often clumsily) seek to emulate the Blessed Virgin Mary as I offer my humble \”yes\” to God, through openness to life by way of adoption.
© Brianna Heldt. All Rights Reserved.