This is my niece. She’s just about to turn five years old, and she is absolutely the joy of my family’s life. She is funny and inquisitive and incredibly empathetic. She’s smart as a whip and full of curiosity. If there is something she decides to do, it gets done. She is silly and sweet and markedly independent.
My sister is 23. I’ll do the math for you. She got pregnant at 17, in the fall of her senior year of high school, and had Kaelyn when she was 18. She was enormously pregnant at her high school graduation. We come from a small town and a conservative family. My sister enlisted my help to tell our mom that she was pregnant, because neither of us had any idea how she would react. When she first told me, it seemed like the end of the world. I remember feeling like the whole future had just shifted and I couldn’t see around the next corner. I felt weighed down by the difficulties I knew were ahead of her. She’s my little sister. I want to protect her and help her to have the best life possible. Having a baby when she was barely a legal adult was not in my plans for her. “What are you going to do?” I asked her nervously, very soon after she told me the news. She looked straight at me and said matter-of-factly, “I’m going to have a baby.”
It was hard. It was hard for her to tell my parents, the rest of our family, the whole world that seems to reside in our small town. It was scary and there were a lot of questions and unknowns. It was hard for me to watch her going through it. I watched some nurses at the OB/GYN glance at Karissa’s empty ring finger, check her birthdate on the chart, and then treat her differently. I saw the judgmental looks, from older women especially, as her belly started growing larger. They would look at her distastefully and then look away quickly, as though pregnancy is catching. There were relationships that were strained.
And then Kaelyn was born. I was in the room. My mom and I both dissolved into tears the second she arrived. This little girl, who we already loved more than we could imagine, was finally here for us to touch and see. The first time I got to hold her, I was struck by a thought. This was the same baby that we saw in all the ultrasounds. The heartbeat I could feel was the same heartbeat that we all burst into tears upon hearing for the first time months before. Lord willing, it’s the same heartbeat that will still be going strong many decades from now. It was her tiny legs and fingernails and ears that we were tracking the development of for so long. It was her all along. The idea that it would have been legal for my sister to end her life, to stop her heart from beating even after it had already begun, is heartrending. The idea that some would have encouraged that decision, even celebrated it in the name of freedom and feminism, tears me to shreds.
It’s why we mourn our miscarriages. Lost babies, at any stage of pregnancy, are something to grieve and lament and weep over. Each one is a miracle, a creation of life where there was no life, a unique combination of DNA that never was before and never will be again. In those very first few weeks of pregnancy, there are miraculous events occurring all the time, something where there was nothing. A human being formed, knit together intricately and beautifully. A human that is distinct from its mother. A human that is completely dependent on its mother, vulnerable and helpless and voiceless.
The God that I serve is the defender of the defenseless. He is a warrior who fights for his people and a king who lays down his life for his subjects. He is a father to the fatherless, a protector to the widow. He watches over the sojourner and frees the oppressed and helps the helpless. If we, as Christians, are to be his hands and feet in the world, who better to defend than those who cannot defend themselves? Who better to speak for than those who cannot speak? We have all already been in the most vulnerable place we will ever be, in our mother’s womb, totally dependent on her to sustain and protect and nurture us.
We live in a time and place where it is legal for a mother to end her baby’s life. She has the right to choose herself, her convenience, her plans, over the life of her unborn child. We call it a human right. When has it ever been our prerogative, our right as a human being, to end someone else’s life just because we can, and it would make things easier for us? We condemn the taking of innocent lives in one context, then rejoice over legislature that allows the same result in another. We call it a win for women’s rights. What about that same woman’s rights when she’s still in the womb? Is she not worthy of her right to life at that point? When does she become worthy? Do you get to decide? Do you have the right to choose that, too?
The summer that Kaelyn was born, I was between college apartments and living with my parents. I am probably closer with her than the typical aunt/niece relationship because I spent so much time with her in the months following her birth. We were all consistently around her. My mom and sister and I would often find ourselves gathered in a room, circled around Kaelyn, just watching her sleep. Three grown women fascinated with one tiny one. At that point, she hadn’t demonstrated any of her numerous lovable personality traits. She wasn’t contributing anything to the household except for large quantities of dirty diapers and sleep interruptions. Even then, any one of us would have given our lives for her. She is inherently valuable and worthy because she is a human being, made in the image of God, unique and distinct and deserving of dignity. We often joke as a family that we don’t know what we talked about before Kaelyn came along. We get to know her now, see her grow and develop, enjoy the person that she is, because my sister made a choice. She chose her daughter’s life over her own convenience. She chose to protect the life that was growing inside her, regardless of how it changed her own plans. I am grateful for that choice. She chose her daughter over herself, and she was right to choose her.