The Gift a Newborn Brings, and How It Shows the Worth of Every Child’s Life
Read or listen:
My heart almost stopped. I’d never felt anything like it, never even imagined it.
My wife and I were away for almost two weeks in June and July, visiting our grandchildren and of course their parents and other family members, hundreds of miles from our Ohio home. Our granddaughter was just six weeks old, barely over 8 pounds. She was sleeping in the crook of my arm. It was the first time I’d held her.
My daughter, her husband, and his parents were there in the room. Somehow the topic of abortion came up in conversation. They’re all believers in Christ, each of them as conservative as I am both spiritually and politically, so this was no family debate or any such thing. My daughter said something I’ve heard and said many times before, but this time it got my attention like never before: that it’s just “wrong to kill babies.”
There I was with a baby in my arm. A baby that just two months ago would have been a candidate for killing in some jurisdictions, and in many people’s minds. A few months earlier she could have been legally killed almost anywhere.
I have been anti-abortion for a very long time, but I have never been so opposed to it as I was in that moment. Kill babies? This is my granddaughter! I would die to protect her!
Her parents would, too, a thousand times more so, and with hardly a thought.
The Love Every True Parent Feels
I know that loving, protective motivation — in fact, I’ve lived it in a way. It was in the early 1990s when we were living in the mountains in California. Our nine-month old son was sleeping upstairs, when we got hit with a very serious earthquake — magnitude 7.4, we later learned. It took just seconds before I was upstairs grabbing him out of his crib. With everything shaking so hard, there was no chance of walking back downstairs safely, so I sat down and quite literally bounced down on my bottom, holding him in my arms. Here’s the point, though: It didn’t even occur to me, not for hours or maybe even days, that Californians don’t go upstairs during big earthquakes. You can die doing that. I knew that rule well enough, but what did it matter? My son was up there!
I don’t see that action as one bit heroic. It was just normal. It’s easy enough to say you’d die for your children, but I’m no cynic on this point. I think most parents would find it just as easy to decide to do it, if and when the moment came, no question about it. Or like me, they’d do whatever it took, without even thinking about making a “decision” about it.
Back now to my granddaughter: I loved this little girl in my arms, even though she hadn’t done a thing for me yet. She hadn’t smiled at me. She was too young to focus eyes on me. She couldn’t even grab my finger. She had nothing to offer me, yet I loved her. It almost sounds kind of strange when you think of it that way, doesn’t it? And yet millions and millions of grandparents know exactly what I’m talking about.
Parents know it even more. A real parent loves the child long before it’s even born. The proof of that comes painfully for some. It did for my wife and me: We lost our first child to miscarriage. I’ll never forget the grief, and how badly it caught me off guard. I kept asking, “How could I miss someone so much that I’ve never even met?” I’ve heard the same from many others who’ve suffered that pain.
Almost Paradoxical Love
Nevertheless, a parent’s love turns almost paradoxical when the child is born. When my granddaughter cried, I handed her off to her mom. Who did her mom hand her off to? A grandparent might still help, if one is around, but most of the time, it’s the parents and no one else. A lot of the time it’s actually Mom and no one else. You might go so far as saying she’s stuck with the child. And what does she get out of it? Babies come with nothing to offer but with hours and hours (and hours and hours and hours and hours…) of exquisitely disruptive demands. Still their parents love them like crazy.
They love them even though they’re so small. They love them even though they’re absolutely dependent on them for everything. Children in the womb can’t do much of anything except grow. Being born doesn’t suddenly give them every skill they need. For survival purposes, they can breathe, nurse, and swallow. And that’s about it.
Along with that, they can (ahem) eliminate, make loud noises, disrupt sleep schedules, demand feeding, need changing, and require transportation in expensive, bulky carriages and car seats. They also acquire the skill to mystify: “What on earth is she crying for this time!?”
Newborns offer their parents nothing, really: nothing but the opportunity to love them at enormous sacrifice. And every parent worthy of the name does exactly that, willingly, gladly, and joyfully.
People who clamor for abortion “rights” sometimes argue that it’s wrong to “force” a woman to keep another person inside her in a state of absolute dependence on her. It’s as if there’s something wrong with having someone depend on you so much. But the child is no less dependent after he or she is born. Either daddy or mommy is there watching and helping, or else the child dies.
If “dependency” is reason to kill a baby in the womb, it’s just as good a reason to kill the girl I was holding in my arms — the girl I fell in love with the moment I saw her. The girl I would protect with my life.
People who use the “dependency” argument for abortion have to think hard about whether they’d use it for doing away with a six-week old. Just don’t try coming after any babies in my family. Someone might die, but I promise you it won’t be the child.
The Gift That Babies Give
That’s what a parent’s or grandparent’s love is like. It’s normal, it’s right, and there’s nothing unusual in it. What is unusual is the urge to abort a child in the womb; to kill the child, that is. I don’t understand the heart that could do that.
It’s not just wrong, though it certainly is that. It’s grievous, too, not only for the child, but also for the mother and father who — for whatever reason — give up that chance to love a person in ways that only a parent can love. For the gift of love is best learned by receiving love, but is best experienced by giving love, freely and without expectation. When the child dies, that opportunity for the parents to experience love like never before dies, too.
And in that we see the truth of baby’s first gift: By receiving mom and dad’s care so helplessly, the child gives them opportunity to love self-sacrificially. There’s not much else a newborn can offer his or her parents, but it’s still a gift beyond measure.
Sorry to disappoint: Much as I’d love to show you a whole album of grandchild photos, there will be none here and no real identifying information, either. Her parents quite wisely don’t want her on the internet that way. Same for her big brother, who wasn’t the subject of this column, but whom I love every bit as much!
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.