Late last week, the three-year old niece of a longtime friend died, after being in a coma for several days. From all accounts the circumstantial cause of her death involved some very poor choices made by a parent. As it happened, the day she died was also the birthday of a young woman who is the birth-mother of my daughter, a woman who made the brave choice to not be a parent.
These two coincident events inspired me to think about what “pro-choice” means. That is, to be, or not to be, a parent by intention and not by accident. The pro-choice label has a fluid meaning, depending on who you are speaking with and the tenor of the times. For me, a simple fact is a the heart of the meaning of the term “pro-choice”: I have a daughter because a young woman who was not ready for parenthood made a very difficult choice to carry her baby to term and place her daughter in our hands, to raise as our own. Abortion was not the right choice for her. She could have chosen to be a parent, and, knowing her fairly well I am certain she would have been the best mother she could be given her limited financial resources. Those are all valid choices that embrace the daunting responsibility of parenting, when considered with reflection on one’s own personal limitations and place in life.
Unfortunately, too many young people choose to be parents through sheer self-delusion, believing that “love and the Lord” will make them good parents, dogma leading them inexorably to parenthood. Some people may quibble that following dogma is the only moral choice. I disagree, for action based solely on dogma is not choice. To accept dogma, as most believers would attest, is an act of faith. When faith motivates a person, they act without considering alternatives precluded by dogma. True choice, on the other hand, is action based on consideration of all options. In short, a “choice” based on dogma is not a choice.
But, at least the faithful parent embarks on parenthood with, we hope, their heart in the right place. Most kids born through an awkward act of faith will probably end up doing ok. Far worse fates await the children of those parents who, failing to recognize their own limitations, neglect the responsibilities of raising a child. From all accounts, the mother of my friend’s niece allowed an abusive man to live with her, a man now in custody and under suspicion of pushing the child down the stairs.
I know domestic violence is a complicated dance. Women stay with abusers for psychological and financial reasons that baffle those closest to them, and even learned experts. But when there is a child involved, should we make excuses because of abuse? Should we accept a child’s death as collateral damage in a psychological war we can’t understand?
I don’t have answers for these questions. My only thought as a parent is to share this advice: parenting is a choice, an act of intention and great, life-altering consequence. Don’t take that choice lightly.