Newborn babies are hands-down the best thing on the planet. Never had one myself, but I’ve never met one that didn’t make me gush.
It’s no surprise that new mum Josie Gagliano is partial to a bit of gushing when it comes to her twins.
Josie says: “So now I am a mum, I’d love the whole world to experience the joy of motherhood, particularly the women who are having difficulty falling pregnant. That’s why I am so supportive of IVF.”
She goes further, defending the right of parents to select their baby’s gender, if that’s what they really want.
Josie has every right to gush. She’s earned it. And it would indeed be nice if, as Josie wishes, everyone in the world could experience the joys of motherhood. But that joy shouldn’t be viewed in isolation. Having a baby is the beginning of a (hopefully) lifelong job, one which allows no holidays, no sick leave, no overtime and no option to quit.
The aim of the job is to successfully raise a child. Or rather, to paraphrase American parenting expert James B. Stenson, the aim of successful parenting is to raise children into adults; to educate small, helpless people so that one day they will be able to look after themselves, and more importantly, look after others.
In short, having a child is not about making parents feel good. Parental joy may be a nice by-product, but it’s not the main game.
Parenthood is about accepting the daunting full-time responsibility of teaching a new human being how to be a successful human being. Parents carry this responsibility regardless of how they feel about their children.
A friend of mine who recently became a dad for the first time told me how, when his son was born, everyone (me included) kept asking him what it felt like. “It must be magical,” they said. “This must be the best day of your life.”
It wasn’t. He was petrified. The arrival of this leaky little bundle of terror had simply made his life more complicated. Regardless, he told me, there was a job to be done. Nose to the grindstone and all that.
Parenthood demands a kind of selflessness that is rarely mentioned these days. Right from the moment of conception, children earnestly set about testing the limits of their parents’ love. For parents, the task is simple, if seemingly impossible: keep on loving, no matter what.
Unfortunately modern reproductive technology is feeding an attitude which is totally at odds with the selflessness good parenting demands. Already we exercise obsessive control over the “how” and the “when” of conception and childbirth through contraception, IVF and abortion. We’ll have a child when it suits us, thank you very much.
Now, more and more, we are seeking control over the kind of child we’d like to have. Witness the massive decline in the number of children born with Down Syndrome. Most are aborted. For that small number of women who choose to proceed with a Downs pregnancy, the reaction is usually along the lines of “I don’t know how you manage.”
But why shouldn’t they manage? The only reason we are no longer giving these children a chance is because, through no fault of their own, they don’t meet our expectations. Parenthood, and the love that it entails, is becoming increasingly conditional.
Sex-selection is just the next step in parents being picky about what kind of child they’d be willing to love. By specifying which sex they’d like, parents turn their children into items on a bucket list.
This isn’t healthy. Too many adults are pursuing parenthood for all the wrong reasons. When choosing to have a child, there’s just no room for selfish motives. The joys of parenthood are fickle, and there is no guarantee that having the boy or girl you always dreamed of will bring satisfaction.
Only one thing is for sure: your child deserves unconditional love, regardless of his or her genes. For the sake of the kids, let’s not be picky.
Tim Cannon’s article first appeared in the Australian opinion magazine The Punch (July 29, 2010).