In Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I stared at the Gospel reading, thinking about Mary, and how she promised her virginity to God. Which meant, contrary to the unexcepted practice of faithful Jews, she wasn't going to have a big family. (There were no celibate nuns then - female religious now follow her example. She was the first.) That would qualify as a bigger sacrifice than me living childless, given that I don't also have a celibate marriage.
Would I have been willing to do that? It wouldn't have been easy, that's for sure. If I had done so, would I be so angry and unhappy now? I don't think so. Because Mary made a joyful sacrifice of something she was otherwise entitled to do (certainly it was morally acceptable), to honor God. Sacrifices are costly, but they're also joyful, because what is sacrificed is a gift. And I thought to myself, I didn't get to choose. That really hurts. I can't tell myself or anyone else that I offered up my children to honor God. I didn't. There was no generosity and no offer. Instead, the ordinary joyful family life was taken away.
Moreover, as TCIE pointed out in her very thoughtful post, since I don't know for sure whether I'm to have children or not, I have spent (and may still spend) years hoping for the thing that (had it been voluntary) I would simply have given up, and even pursuing medical and legal options to become a mother. All that pursuit is perfectly legitimate - we should strive against obstacles, to fulfill our vocation - but if motherhood is not our calling, the loss is not a joyful gift, but a wound made more severe by every pill, doctor's visit, surgery, diagnostic procedure, diet change, pregnancy test, item of adoption paperwork, vial of blood taken, and prayer for a child we will never have. Not choosing is totally and completely different. (Which is not to say that Mary wouldn't have done a far better job with this life. Her mother did, after all.)
Then, on the way to work yesterday, I was musing about possible items to add to the kitty I'd brought for our holiday door decorating contest. (We won, by the way!) I was thinking about printing a Christmas legend on parchment to work into the background. So I found the Christmas story of the three trees. I've read it before, but still, as I scrolled through it on the bus, I blinked as fast as I could, to keep from crying over my Blackberry like a loon in front of a bunch of strangers. If you haven't read it, here is the story:
Once upon a time on a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up. The first little tree looked up at the stars and said: "I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I'll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!"
The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean. "I want to be traveling mighty waters and carrying powerful kings. I'll be the strongest ship in the world!"
The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women worked in a busy town. "I don't want to leave the mountain top at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me, they'll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world."
Years passed. The rain came, the sun shone, and the little trees grew tall. One day three woodcutters climbed the mountain.
The first woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, "This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me." With a swoop of his shining axe, the first tree fell.
"Now I shall be made into a beautiful chest, I shall hold wonderful treasure!" The first tree said.
The second woodcutter looked at the second tree and said, "This tree is strong. It is perfect for me." With a swoop of his shining axe, the second tree fell.
"Now I shall sail mighty waters!" thought the second tree. "I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!"
The third tree felt her heart sink when the last woodcutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven.
But the woodcutter never even looked up. "Any kind of tree will do for me." He muttered. With a swoop of his shining axe, the third tree fell.
The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter brought her to a carpenter's shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a feedbox for animals. The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold, with treasure. She was coated with saw dust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals.
The second tree smiled when the woodcutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ship was made that day. Instead the once strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat. She was too small and too weak to sail to an ocean, or even a river; instead she was taken to a little lake.
The third tree was confused when the woodcutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard.
"What happened?" the once tall tree wondered. "All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God..."
Many, many days and nights passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams. But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feedbox.
"I wish I could make a cradle for him." her husband whispered. The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the sturdy wood. "This manger is beautiful." she said. And suddenly the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.
One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveler feel asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake.
Soon a thundering and thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. She knew she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through with the wind and the rain.
The tired man awakened. He stood up, stretched out his hand, and said, "Peace." The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. And suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the king of heaven and earth.
One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten woodpile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man's hands to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel.
But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God's love had changed everything. It had made the third tree strong.
And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God's love. That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.
IFers are the third tree, right? We wanted to be a joyful proclamation of God's love with our beautiful families, and instead we're the sign of suffering and loss. And we didn't have a choice about it. The third tree certainly has a better attitude about that than I do. On the other hand, it's a tree. How do I translate having a good tree-attitude into living a joyful life in the world, as a human being? No idea.
And finally, last night, I chatted with my husband (who is traveling for work). At the Abbey where his brother lives (he's a monk - great guy), a family is currently staying. They have a pregnant 17yo daughter. My dh's brother and sister have already discussed, with each other and then him, whether they should run this matter by us. He wanted to run it by me.
I told him that if she hadn't mentioned wanting to give the baby up, then broaching the subject of adoption was inappropriate. (If she were considering killing it, that would be different, of course.) If she wants to raise it herself, she should. If she does raise the subject, it would be well to find out what the baby's father will say. But if she's discussing it seriously, then as far as I am concerned my BIL is welcome to mention that he could find a Catholic family who would be happy to give a home to a baby. I would take in a child who needed a home. Obviously, I also know lots of other wonderful Catholic couples, who are waiting to adopt!
My husband didn't know whether the girl had ever uttered the word "adoption." I have no impression that this baby will be ours, or even given up by its mother. I'm not even daydreaming that it will :), but I know I would be open if we were asked. After being wrenched emotionally back and forth by infertility treatments, I feel absolutely serene about this conversation. I know I said the right thing.
So, I am not suggesting that any great Christmas gift is about to occur here. And I don't want to get anyone's hopes up, because that would be mean, and unjustified. But if anybody wanted to email me about any couples waiting to adopt (I imagine the family would want to give the baby to a Catholic family, but I don't know for sure) who live in New England, that would be good to know.
And, please pray for this girl. I've been childless for more than four years, but I've never been pregnant and unmarried at 17. I know it will be hard for her whatever she chooses, and she'll need a lot of grace to do right by her child.