Moth­erly love should be a bea­con for the rest of us

The Standard Journal - - COMMENTARY - By Kathryn Jean Lopez NEA Con­trib­u­tor

Jen Gann de­scribes her­self as “a mother whose big­gest mis­take was be­com­ing one.” She de­scribes her son who has “blue eyes, curly blond hair, slightly crooked teeth. He’s dar­ing, most of the time. He’s afraid of doc­tors and any­one in a flap­ping coat.” He also has cys­tic fi­bro­sis, and Gann writes mov­ingly of her con­flicted feel­ings for her son in the cover story of a re­cent New York mag­a­zine.

Gann and her hus­band are cur­rently plain­tiffs in a “wrong­ful birth” case. Al­though she had ge­netic test­ing to rule out cys­tic fi­bro­sis (CF) dur­ing her preg­nancy, the pos­i­tive re­sults of the test were never de­liv­ered to her. She ex­plains, “While my fam­ily’s life is now shaped around a dis­ease I would never will­ingly have brought into the world, we are a fam­ily be­cause of (the de­fen­dants in her suit) — un­wit­tingly, they gave me my most pre­cious gift.”

It’s a heart-wrench­ing piece to read, full of lov­ing de­tails and tragic des­per­a­tion. Speak­ing of her son and re­fer­ring to the peo­ple who failed to de­liver the test re­sults to her, she writes: “I want them to be able to smell his soft breath in the morn­ing, just be­fore I strap a mask over his face so he can in­hale med­i­ca­tion. I want them to fathom telling a child no amount of treat­ment can make his dis­ease go away, that peo­ple with CF are so likely to pass bac­te­ria be­tween each other they can’t be in the same room, that most men with CF are in­fer­tile, that ev­ery drink­ing foun­tain holds the risk of a lung in­fec­tion. I want them to feel all the mo­ments in a life af­fected by this dis­ease and ex­pe­ri­ence what it’s go­ing to be like, to be Dud­ley. I want to take all the pain and dis­ap­point­ment he’ll have and drown them in it.”

Think about that. “This is where we are in the world. The life of a tod­dler ... is a source of em­bar­rass­ment,” Domingo adds. “Jen Gann’s piece is one very long apol­ogy. She is apol­o­giz­ing for not be­ing smart enough to get a sec­ond opin­ion, apol­o­giz­ing that her time is now tied up with treat­ments rather than smarter ac­tiv­i­ties, apol­o­giz­ing most of all that her son ex­ists and takes up time and space on this Earth that would have been bet­ter al­lo­cated to a healthy child, the one she in­tended to have all along.

“Now that abor­tion has been nor­mal­ized and made read­ily avail­able in our cul­ture, women no longer feel com­pelled to pro­vide a rea­son for ob­tain­ing one, but for not ob­tain­ing one,” Domingo ob­serves. “The over­whelm­ing sense in this piece is that Ms. Gann feels the great need to apol­o­gize for the life of her son. You feel the very clear pain she is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, the huge bur­den she is un­der.”

Gann should be the kind of woman we cel­e­brate, as she gives of her­self with more love than she knew pos­si­ble. In­stead, she feels wrong, so much so that she is go­ing to court be­cause her son is alive. An­gry that she is a mother, while she is clearly in love with this suf­fer­ing son of hers. Don’t we want to be a cul­ture that only nur­tures love and sees no life, no mat­ter how chal­leng­ing, as wrong?

At one point in the es­say, Gann writes: “There’s no es­cape from know­ing that the op­por­tu­nity for mercy qui­etly slipped by and that some­thing as id­i­otic as a cler­i­cal er­ror is re­spon­si­ble.” There’s mercy in love, in the em­brace of a mother and child, in the giv­ing that this em­brace in­spires. Life can al­ways be mercy. It’s why the cur­rent pope so fre­quently ap­pears to be beg­ging peo­ple to go to the pe­riph­eries of so­ci­ety with self-sac­ri­fi­cial love. A mom who feels such pain for even be­ing a mother is an out­sider in a cul­ture that has so de­val­ued the moth­erly love that should be a bea­con for the rest of us.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is se­nior fel­low at the Na­tional Re­view In­sti­tute, editor-at-large of Na­tional Re­view On­line and found­ing di­rec­tor of Catholic Voices USA. She can be con­tacted at klopez@na­tion­al­re­view.com.

Kath­eryn Jean Lopez

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