Matters of life and love

Everyone is talking about her. I mean the “octo-mom.” Now, as the primary driver of a car with the license plate “MOMOF8,” I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to hear people commenting about how terrible it is for anyone to give birth to eight children. Of course, I know that most people don’t really mean anyone. Most are simply observing that there is something wrong when a single woman who does not have adequate personal or financial resources to support the six children she already has, is somehow able to obtain infertility treatment that results in the birth of octuplets.

There’s a lot that can be said about this situation. Nadya Suleman’s mental competency has been the subject of a lot of speculation and derision. But whatever her mental state, I can’t help but wonder what doctor in his right mind would treat a woman in Suleman’s circumstances with in vitro fertilization (IVF). Why wouldn’t a prospective parent at an infertility clinic have to meet the same kind of criteria that is required of prospective adoptive parents?

Then there are concerns about the quality of medical care Suleman received. Even if there weren’t more than just a few ethical issues inherent in IVF, why would any responsible medical professional implant eight embryos and thereby risk the health of any or all of them? It is difficult not to conclude that the clinic in question is engaged in a form of human trafficking.

This kind of cultural catastrophe doesn’t fall from the sky or develop suddenly overnight. It began with the societal rejection of the Church’s most fundamental teaching on human sexuality. That is, that life and love are inseparable. The artificial divorce between sexual intimacy and reproduction has cascaded into innumerable and divergent streams of dehumanization and amorality. Whether it is having sex without babies or babies without sex, the division between love and life results in the depersonalization of both.

To be sure, our culture is still reeling from the separation of sex from marriage. But I would argue that our society’s embrace of all kinds of sex outside of marriage would not have been possible without a prior and very substantial change to the nature of sex within marriage. The contraceptive mentality inside marriage was the first real hit against sexuality as God created it to be lived. When it comes right down to it, sexual sin is where we most easily fall. Perhaps that is because human intimacy has so much potential to give us a glimpse of God’s overwhelming love.

Don’t get me wrong. Fidelity to the truth has never been about numbers, and having a fruitful Christian marriage has never been a head count. Years ago, when I was struggling to accept our growing family, I had a church friend who was battling infertility. I’d go to a mall and hear all kinds of comments about having so many kids. She’d go to Mass and be questioned about why her son was an only child. The bottom line is that having babies doesn’t make you pro-life, and not having them doesn’t make you less than pro-life either.

Regardless of all the talk, I keep coming back to the fact that there really isn’t anything wrong with a family having 14 children. The notion that it is completely impossible to raise a very large family with adequate love and attention is small-minded and prejudicial. Being part of a large family is not any more inherently abusive than being part of a small family is. Again, what is good and right has very little to do with numbers.

Nadya Suleman’s choices shouldn’t surprise any of us. These days we wake up in a world of 13 year old “dads,” pregnant celebrity teens, abortion on demand, and households that include mom’s boyfriend or dad’s third wife, as well as a host of half and step brothers and sisters. We send wedding gifts to couples who have already “been together” for years, and we hear about hooking up and breaking off, moving in and out as if nothing at all was at stake. Yet, deep down we all know that with life and love in the balance, there is so very much at stake. The question is whether we who belong to Christ Jesus will model the alternative to all this craziness in our own lives.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.