‘No one should be forced into lifelong parenting if they don’t want to take on that role,” Chelsea Patterson Sobolik recently wrote, responding to some of the confusion in the recent, frenzied abortion debates across the country. “My own birth mother was unable to parent me. However, she didn’t abort me in the womb. She made the brave and courageous decision for me and allowed me to be adopted by a couple in a position to love and raise a child. I’m able to advocate for the lives of others, particularly for the little ones in the womb, who can’t speak for themselves.”
In her book Longing for Motherhood: Holding On to Hope in the Midst of Childlessness, Sobolik describes her early days in an orphanage in her native Romania:
The majority of children placed in communist orphanages weren’t actual orphans; they were simply children whose parents were unable to care for them. Such orphanages were known as “slaughterhouses of souls.” . . . I was one of those babies whose mother couldn’t afford to keep her child. My birth mother was a nineteen-year-old girl with no money, no husband, and limited resources. Her decision to place me up for adoption wasn’t an easy one. My birth mom longed for motherhood, but instead she had to choose childlessness.
The couple who would become her adoptive parents desired children, but they suffered the pain of infertility and miscarriage. In the middle of an “excruciatingly long” domestic adoption process, they wound up watching a 20/20 documentary called “Shame of a Nation” about Romanian orphans. “The documentary introduced the world — and Bobby and Christie Patterson — to these children, struggling to survive,” she writes. “In the days following, my parents prayed about what they’d just witnessed. Starving children. Disabled children. Children who had experienced massive amounts of trauma.” Five weeks later, the Pattersons were on a plane to Romania. After visiting several orphanages and meeting several birth mothers, they found Ana and her daughter and “immediately began the necessary paperwork to legally adopt” Chelsea. After five weeks, the new family flew home to North Carolina.
The Pattersons would go on to adopt four more children internationally (though not from Romania, as adoption laws changed and foreigners could no longer adopt from there).
Fast forward to 19 — the same age Ana was when she placed Chelsea up for adoption — and a doctor delivers the brutal news that Chelsea, who was raised in a family of six children, who babysat and volunteered at summer camps — surrounded by other children for as long as she can remember — would never be able to have biological children:
Sure, I was looking forward to going to college, starting a career, meeting someone, falling in love, and getting married. But I’d always anticipated the day when my husband and I would find out that I was pregnant, share the good news with our friends and family, and start planning and preparing for our little one to enter the world. This was the natural course of life I was expecting and longing for.
She writes tenderly and transparently. In conversations about women and motherhood today, hers is a uniquely powerful voice, as a young married woman sorting through what longing for motherhood looks like in a culture with orphans of all kinds. She writes about spiritual motherhood and mentoring. She has a sensitivity to women who don’t feel called or ready to be mothers, to women — and men — hurt by abortion, and women and men choosing life but desperately in need of help and resources. She represents so many women and men who not only talk about being pro-life but also work toward a revolutionary reality, one in which every child’s life is treasured.
“Childlessness touches the lives of many women and the precious people who love them,” she writes.
Infertility alone affects approximately 12 percent of the US population — that’s over one in ten couples. According to estimates, roughly 15 to 20 percent of all pregnancies in the US will end in miscarriage. The risk of miscarriage in known pregnancies under twelve weeks is one in five.
And those numbers don’t even take into account couples who have experienced the devastation of a child dying because of illness or accident. It doesn’t take into account single women who are reaching the end of their ideal childbearing years and who nonetheless want to be mothers. It is only a start in putting all of this pain in perspective. We never do really know the pain another bears.
“The world may never know how many tears you’ve cried, but you can rest in the fact that not one tear has fallen to the ground without God noticing,” Sobolik notes too, having shed more than a few herself.
Out of the depths of love and pain, Sobolik, who is the policy director for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, uses her voice to offer us an opportunity to think about the children who need a loving home today, the women and men with broken hearts for children — both out of loss and longing. She invites us to have a conversation about life and love and children and family that can be about more than our often miserable politics, which seem stuck in one long argument over a woman’s right to choose abortion. There’s so much more to life — and a longing to get on with it.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.