Most of human progress, since around 1500, has aimed at reversing the curse of Genesis 3—easing burdens, reducing sweat, relieving pain. Who isn’t grateful for that? But there is a downside: When we reverse the curse, we can easily lose sight of the promise.
The major aspect of the curse for women rested squarely on motherhood. The pain that Eve incurred not only applied to childbirth itself, but also to the whole fraught enterprise of bonding with a tiny person who would someday break that bond, whether through normal growth or rebellion or early death. A mother’s joy at receiving a wrapped, squalling infant into her arms was always threaded with pain, sometimes seething with resentment. Roe v. Wade was a formal declaration of war.
A few years after that Supreme Court decision, I read The Feminine Mystique, the battle cry for women’s rights that had contributed significantly to the pro-abortion “victory” in 1973. It was surprisingly effective: Betty Friedan’s passion and clarity seemed to admit no counter-argument to my immature mind. Until I reached the appendix, and read this (paraphrased from memory): “We will do future generations of women no favor unless we secure a right to abortion now.” Wait a minute, I thought—how do you serve future … by eliminating them?
That’s the paradox at the heart of Roe v. Wade. The first woman was named Eve: “mother of all living.” Her lot was cast, not only biologically but also spiritually. Whatever the pain she endured, the fulfillment, the sacrifice, the heartache, the joy—it was for life.
Now it is for me. Every child in America today is alive, theoretically, at her mother’s sufferance. Women permit the next generation to exist. And the founding principle of the feminist movement was that women must put their own interests first, a proposition with obvious consequences for parenthood.
Ironically, women of 2013 seem no happier than their mothers (and grandmothers) of 1973—probably much less happy, now that the thrill of battle is over. They’ve got their rights: The stress of involuntary childbearing and -raising is (theoretically, again) a thing of the past. But removing stress from the body only seems to drive it deeper into the soul and spirit. As opportunities for women have expanded, their horizons have shrunk. When they once were dedicated to a destiny larger than themselves, they are now focused on today’s pleasures and ambitions. The granddaughters of the “sisterhood” that stormed the barricades in the early 1970s are competing for desirable men and their mothers are working overtime to pay the bills, because fathers all too readily bought the rhetoric that they weren’t necessary.
When motherhood is optional, it’s nothing more than an opportunity for personal development—and it soon it gets in the way of both the personal and the development. Whether chosen or not, motherhood complicates daily life exponentially, takes huge chunks out of personal time and space, and sometimes doesn’t turn out well. On an actuarial level, it doesn’t pay. No wonder birthrates are dropping. Children are an obstacle, or worse, an enemy.