This Mother’s Day, I jumped into a Facebook conversation in which I quickly found myself an outsider. It was a lamentation of sorts from women who’ve experienced infertility, and even more, the applauding of at least one pandemic positive. Restricted Mass would mean, for them, not having to sit through the annual Mother’s Day blessing, and, in those parishes that take part in this, the handing out of roses to moms in the pews. They could welcome a pass from the suffering they experience each year during this offering in the month of 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 hopefully won’t completely erase 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.
Undoubtedly, losing a child, or struggling to conceive, can cause deep suffering. And this brings me to a related, highlighted topic in this age: surrogacy. My question: Are we aware of the grief involved in a premeditated loss, such as in the case of surrogacy? Here, a mother agrees in advance, for reasons that mystify me, 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. This is a horrible tragedy for both mother and child, but somehow, we’re slow to see it. So dazzled are we by the technology that allows this, and the money that makes it possible, that we’ve overlooked the reality at the center.
The National Catholic Register piece on Anderson Cooper’s newly touted “fatherhood,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It: Surrogacy for the Rich and Famous,” by Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., brought this to a head for me, and made for painful reading. It torments me to think of 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.
Morse noted in her piece that with surrogacy, 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 grieve.
She lists a variety of complications that have become infused into the life of this particular child by design and intention. At the very least, she notes (based on facts of the situation she outlines): “Wyatt will grow up in a single-parent family…a pre-divorced family,” adding, “The one and only genetic parent in Wyatt’s life, his father, is too busy to take time out of his hectic schedule to be with him as a newborn.” Finally, she writes, the child likely will never have a person to call “mother” in his life.
I would add that each Mother’s Day likely will be a day of sadness that the child will not feel free to express.
As Catholics, Morse rightly points out, we’re bound to consider this question above all: “What is owed to the child?” 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 from this: “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.”
After mentioning some of the risks involved in surrogacy, she finalizes her thoughts with this stark statement on Anderson Cooper’s situation: “Cooper paid for an egg. He paid for womb rental. He is paying for the bulk of the hands-on care for the child. Children have become commodities, bought and sold on the open market.”
Children have become commodities, and the birth mothers, meanwhile, are 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?
What are we doing to our children by not considering the ramifications of these actions? What are we doing to ourselves?
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.