The Corner

‘Selective Reduction’ and Self-Indulgence

While I very much appreciate Janet Morana’s compassionate words regarding the “fear and powerlessness” many women feel when faced with a multiple pregnancy, I’m afraid the issue is much more about self-indulgence. While I don’t doubt that many women feel exactly the emotions Ms. Morana described, the profiles of selective reduction in the New York Times article itself are much more damning. There’s the 45-year-old woman who endured six years of fertility treatments and couldn’t imagine handling twins; women who want one child (and one child only) with a new spouse; single women tired of waiting for the “right partner”; and women who don’t want to deal with two college tuitions or unruly teenagers in their sixties.

What is the common thread? A desire for life on their own terms. They want children (I don’t doubt some desperately want children; especially the older women seeking expensive and sometimes painful fertility treatments), but within certain boundaries. That’s not to say there aren’t profound and intense emotions involved, and those emotions are certainly rationalized in innumerable ways, but selfishness is the heart of the matter. In fact, the very “fear” that many people feel is not the fear that they will harm their children through their own parental inadequacies but instead the fear that their children will harm them — by taking from them the life they’d always imagined. 

Self-indulgence is the common thread that runs through most culture war issues. From marriage to divorce to cohabitation to abortion, the desperate desire to satisfy the longings of our heart collides with a Judeo-Christian moral tradition that calls for children to be raised in faithful, married mother-father households. And so we make endless accommodations to our desires — protecting as a legal right the quest to satisfy every personal whim — and our culture cracks and crumbles.

The paradox of the human condition is that those who seek to find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life will find it. In other words, the very act of self-denial enriches your life while selfishness destroys the soul. I like these words from Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I woke and saw that life was duty. I acted, and behold, duty was joy.”

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