from the outside looking in

The trip I took was supposed to be a retreat.  It was supposed to be a break from the everyday stresses of ministry.  Instead, it made me oh-so-homesick…

The Double-Ivy sitting across from me at dinner waxed on about aspiring to have children–after business school was finished, of course–I couldn’t suss out whether there was any sort of partner in the picture, but quickly remembered that the real “problems” of family building these days weren’t whether there was an emotional support network or even a partnered relationship, but whether you could produce or procure the sort of child you meant to have (with enough money, of course, these are hardly obstacles either).  Immediately, I was reminded of Expecting Adam, the book written by a Double-Ivy, about being married to another such creature, having done all sorts of strange things like getting married right after college, and having a child at 25, and accidentally getting pregnant with another two years later, as graduate school started for each of the spouses–and then doing the most-strange thing: not having an abortion.

I mentioned this book to my dinner companion, and she seemed intrigued.  Then, I mindlessly waltzed into a mine field: “Oh, and most of the book is really about how she found out that the baby she was carrying had Down syndrome, and she still didn’t abort him.”

She was confused.  “But the child would start out so far behind.  Why would a mother wish such a difficult life on her child?”  Behind what?  I ask myself, behind in what?  I knew exactly what she meant by “start out behind;” I had spent time in that world, where value is based upon one’s intellectual contribution to society, where success means climbing to the top of the academic and societal heap.  Still, I voiced my query, if only in an attempt to jar the norms of my conversation partner’s world, just a little: “So far behind?  What do you mean?”  “Well, the child would suffer so much.  It just seems unfair, if you know going in that life will be so difficult, why make someone suffer through it at all?”

My bubble is too thick; why do Downs syndrome children suffer?  It has been too long since I’ve been in that world to remember why it is exactly that this brand of eugenics is okay, how this kind of sorting and killing is fundamentally different than Nazism–choosing which lives are the ones worth nurturing (for lots, lots more, see Conceiving Parenthood).  Spoiler: it’s not okay, it’s not different.  The slippery slope is actually a cliff, and if there are babies dying, we’ve already found ourselves over the cliff’s edge.

Expecting Adam asks, as I did: how it is, exactly, that Downs children are so much more broken that they ought not even live?–and comes out the other end still wondering.  That is–how is it that a Downs person is suffering, or “far behind,” or has a “difficult” life?  The answer which the author finds is that a Downs person suffers no more than any other–than any person who has the “correct” number of chromosomes, or the wrong sort of desires, or not enough food, or not enough family.

At dinner last night, my interlocutor suggested that it was the difference between the suffering and problems that you can control, and those which you can’t–you can control whether a Downs syndrome child is born to you, you cannot control how other children treat your progeny on the playground (though that is changing, too).

Affluent, Ivy-educated people can afford to say things like that; to assert that they hold this thing called “control” and can wield it over their lives (and the lives of others).  Lots of people can’t afford to imagine that they are in control of their lives, or that children are possessions to choose and to plan for and to control.

Human control over our own lives is an illusion anyway; we cannot control whether we make babies with “abnormalities” or whether we are victims of an accident or disaster.  The more we are able to recognize and relax (lean in?) into the un-control which marks our lives, the more we are able to instead seek and cultivate a relationship with the only, only presence which is willing and able to be with us throughout all this un-control–God.


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