In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Turning Childbirth Into a Cottage Industry

By now you've heard about Nadya Suleman, the 33-year-old woman in California who gave birth to octuplets early last week by Caesarian section. And, if you're like me, you rejoiced to hear that they've all survived and are doing remarkably well under the circumstances. But facts are emerging that may, sadly, overshadow an otherwise miraculous event.

It's been reported here, here, and lots of other places, that: (a) Nadya, who has a degree in child and adolescent development from California State University, Fullerton, and has been studying for a master's degree in counseling, already has six children, ages 7, 6, 5, 3 and 2-year-old twins; (b) she's been divorced for the last year, although her former husband is not the father of the six children she already has--and that father has not been identified; (c) Nadya lives with her mother, who's been caring for the other six and supporting Nadya along with her own ex-husband after going through bankruptcy due to the debts racked up on her daughter's behalf; (d) grandma, who is fed up and says she's "going to be gone" when Nadya gets home with the new kids, says that her daughter has been obsessed with having children since she was a teenager; and (e) there were frozen embryos left over after Nadya's previous pregnancies, which also resulted from in vitro fertilization, and Nadya decided to have them implanted so they wouldn't be destroyed. As if all that weren't unfortunate enough, it's now reported by an Australian newspaper that Nadya, although still confined to a hospital bed, plans a career as a television childcare expert and intends to talk to Oprah Winfrey and Diane Sawyer in a bid to raise $3.1 million from media interviews and commercial sponsorships to help pay the cost of raising the children. According to the article,
Nadya . . . describes herself as a "professional student" who lives off education grants and parental money, [and] broke up with her boyfriend before the birth of her first child seven years ago. The identity of the octuplets' father remains unknown, but local reports suggest they were conceived with frozen sperm donated by a friend she met while working at a fertility clinic. He is the father of her twins, born two years ago.
Make no mistake--we're all ecstatic that these children are alive and doing well. Children are a gift from God, no matter how they come into this world. But one wonders whether He really intended them as a gift to Nadya, as almost everything else about this saga is wrong, on so many levels.

If childbirth is the greatest miracle there is, child rearing is the greatest responsibility there is. If the reports are true, Ms. Suleman has managed to pervert the former by using her body to incubate a bunch of "baby seeds" from a casual acquaintance at a fertility clinic, just to satisfy her personal "obsession"--or worse, to set some kind of numerical record and then use her children to cash in on her notoriety. And that, she may think, will enable her to avoid the toil, anxiety, and moral choices that are all part of the responsibility of parenthood. We can only hope for these children that some capable and devoted soul(s) are willing to shoulder that responsibility, as their mother certainly doesn't seem able or willing to do so.

Too, some serious questions remain unanswered: Will the children suffer ridicule as they grow up, if this becomes a public scandal? Where is the father, and will he play any role in his children's lives? Who has been paying for all these fertility treatments? Who is paying for the neonatal intensive care for the infants and hospital care for the mother, and for all of the doctors and nurses who delivered the children? Who is going to pay for all these children's care in the future? How much of their care can or will be provided by their mother, while she pursues her "career"? Who is enabling this troublesome conduct?

Just as disturbing is the wider social impact Ms. Suleman's conduct is likely to have. Childbirth and parenting in general will be ridiculed by the millions who already think that bringing more children into the world, let alone many at once, is crazy and socially irresponsible. Abortion-rights and family planning zealots will use this incident to disparage people who choose not to terminate pregnancies when they can. The most immediate detriment is likely to be suffered by people who in good faith need, or administer, in vitro fertilization treatment. When availed of by responsible (and hopefully, married) couples who want and can support their own children, but are incapable of producing them in the normal way, this procedure can be a godsend. Now, there will be embarrassment for worthy people who resort to vitro fertilization. And, in light of suggestions that the unnamed fertility specialists who treated Ms. Suleman implanted more embryos than are allowed by medical ethics guidelines, there may be public pressure for greater scrutiny, regulations, and limitations on the conduct of in vitro fertilization, which may make it less available for those who truly need it.

We walk such a fine line when we try to "improve" on, or supplement, the ways God ordained for bringing children into the world. Done with the utmost care by responsible medical professionals and prayerful couples, such measures can bring about great blessings. Misused by the careless, greedy, or just plain mentally imbalanced, they can open the door to endless misfortune, for individuals and society. None of this, apparently, was in Ms. Suleman's mind when she decided to have more children.

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