ABED AL HASHLAMOUN
A Palestinian carpenter carves a wooden sculpture of Virgin Mary and baby Jesus at a workshop in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, 12 December 2012.
“Mother. Don’t you ever say that again. And, there is nothing left to say in this conversation!”
I was 35-years-old when my mother with trepidation broached what she knew was a sore subject for me, and said the words that went too far. It was a spring afternoon. I was wearing blue cut-off jeans and a raggedy grass green tee-shirt with the word “YES” printed on it. I was leaning on a kitchen stool holding the phone and staring out the screen door while having a casual conversation with my mother. And then out of the blue she said this, “So don’t get mad but I’ve been thinking…have you thought of freezing your eggs?” I stood up on impulse and turned my body around with a sudden jerk as though my mother had beamed herself up into my kitchen.
“I just mean, you’re not married yet and I don’t know maybe it’s…”
And that’s when I ended the conversation and got off the phone before I said things I’d regret. I sank back onto the stool in awe and defeat. I couldn’t believe it. My own mother who for so long had been the champion of faith and hope and encouragement when it came to my “late blooming” as a potential wife and mother, if my mom was giving up hope what the heck did that mean?
I knew I was not getting any younger and that with each passing year science informed me that my chances of being a mommy with a healthy child were decreasing exponentially. I never considered having a child without being married and at the time of that conversation I was unwed. Plus I was finally just getting some sense of vocational identity and since I hadn’t found a suitable husband I was rightfully fully 100 percent engaged with my growing profession as a writer and speaker. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t aware of the proverbial ticking clock. It didn’t mean I wasn’t occasionally already prone to worry that the suitable guy might come too late. How could I not be aware of such things in a culture that insists on telling women when, how, why, and if they should have babies, and with science to back up nearly every major public opinion? I have nothing against women who freeze their eggs. But for me, such action would go against my spiritual belief to trust God for any future pregnancy to happen naturally it was to happen at all.
That conversation with my mother was four years ago. I am not 35 anymore. No suitable man has shown up since. I am still unmarried and without child. So one can imagine how uncomfortable it was for me to read the latest nearly-viral article, “How Older Parenthood Will Upend American Society: The scary consequences of the grayest generation” published last month in The New Republic and written by respected journalist Judith Shulevitz. The article is an in-depth, clearly researched piece about the high-risk dangers and pitfalls of having children later in adult life. Ultimately readers are left to ask themselves if it’s both fair and wise for adults, mainly women, over 35 to bear children. I will be honest. I did not finish the article. For one thing, informative and well written as it was, it was too depressing. But for another slightly more compelling reason, I didn’t finish the article because I happened to be reading it in the midst of the Advent season, that liturgical time of year in which Christians are invited to relieve the story of a God who works beyond reason and logic.
By the time I chanced upon Shulevitz’s article I had already been meditating on the first chapter of the gospel of Luke for several days. A different narrative had already captured my imagination about motherhood, about what is fair, wise, advisable and possible. The story of Elizabeth and Zachariah is of two old Jewish people whose story sets the Advent and Christmas season in motion. They are the faithful couple who did not have a child until “they were both getting on in years” because Elizabeth “was barren.” And then God stepped in and they gave birth to John the Baptist, who according to Christian tradition was the forerunner to the Christ, the scruffy honey sucking wilderness man whose sole purpose was to announce that God does keep God’s promises. In this case a promise to fully reconcile humanity to the God of creation. Just a small little thing really. I sometimes wonder if part of the reason Zachariah was struck dumb after he got the message that his old wife would be pregnant was because God wanted to spear him the certain guffawing and ridicule that would follow any conversation in which he might have shared “the news.”
I am not suggesting that we refute or ignore science when it comes to trying to make wise decisions about when to parent. But I am saying that my perspective on what is possible and wise is also largely determined by a narrative that begins with the impossible reality of a God who engages with humanity in often times illogical and seemingly foolish ways. As a Christian woman who is in the “high-risk” bracket and not in a position right now to have a child there is this crazy, but convicting element of trust, and hope. I have to trust that if raising children is in my future then God will make a way even if the “facts” say there is no way, or that the way is full or risk and danger. I have to trust that when it comes to my desire to one day be a parent that God’s imagination is larger than mine with regards to how that might come about. I also have to trust and hope in the sustaining power of God to help bear the weight of desire that may very well go unmet. Those are risky moves too.
I can’t help but wonder what a time traveling Elizabeth might feel and think while reading Shulevitz’s article. I wonder what Elizabeth might have put in the “comments” section.
Enuma Okoro is a speaker and an award-winning author of three books on the call and challenge of the spiritual life.