Every once in a while, I come across a story that stops me in my tracks. Like the Italian high court’s decision to overturn a pedophile’s conviction because his 11-year-old victim says she’s “in love.” Or the Australian judge who pointed out that easy access to abortion and contraception may lead to the legal sanction of incest, as it has to once-taboo homosexual relationships. Today’s story stayed with me all day, as I pondered the implications of a gay actor describing his joy at being able to create children with his partner–while he’s HIV-positive.
As a faithful Catholic, I have dozens of theological reasons for believing it’s wrong for two men or two women to use in vitro fertilization or surrogacy to obtain a child. But I actually don’t need a theological reason, because I’ve had six children with my husband over the past 20 years. And what I’ve learned is that the relationship between a woman and her child is primal, sacred, and written in my very flesh.
We used to know this intuitively. But as we’ve fixated more and more on fulfilling our personal desires to the detriment of everything (and everyone) else, inconvenient truths about the irreplaceable relationship between a child and his mother, between a child and her father, were sacrificed at the alter of Me, Myself, and I. Facts, though, are stubborn things, to quote John Adams. And the facts are clear: a child needs a mother and father for the best chance to be emotionally, psychologically, and even physically healthy.
The psychological and biological inter-dependency of a mother and her child, from conception through infancy, is well established. A baby is born with eyes that can focus just about the distance from his mother’s breast to her face; his cry will cause her body to involuntarily release milk to nourish him. A newborn allowed skin contact with his mother has a more stable temperature, higher blood sugar levels (a good thing), and more normal heart and breathing rates. A mother and child who sleep together even synchronize their breathing. There are dozens of studies showing the many ways in which a child depends on his mother’s actual presence to gain the best footing upon entering the world.
Despite all this, I find myself a growing minority in refusing to celebrate the scenario of two men creating twin boys with an egg donor to raise as their own, as happened in Texas last year. I’ve carried a child and then held him to my chest, feeling the spiritual connection between us reflected in my very body, which responds reflexively and unconsciously to his needs. I saw the picture of the two Texas dads holding their baby boys to their naked chests right after birth to mimic the skin-to-skin contact recommended for moms and babies. I cried about it for days. Because instead of celebrating the victory for gay rights, as everyone else seemed to be, all I could think about was the confusion and incalculable loss to those two little boys, who instinctively sought the warm haven of their mother’s arms–and were denied them by adults whose priority was their wants over the children’s needs. Because that’s what good parents do, right?
After infancy, mothers are just as indispensable to their children. I have four daughters and it’s primarily my job to help them navigate the emotional, social and physical challenges of growing into a woman. Even the most compassionate gay dad will never be an adequate substitute for a loving mother who shares your unique feminine biology and struggles. A girl doesn’t want her dad or even her gay dad’s best female friend to help her when she gets her first period; she wants–she deserves–a mother there with her.
And what about fathers? Despite the secular portrayal of fathers as incidental to children’s development, the facts are stubborn here, too: fathers have a profound effect on their children’s development. Girls who grow up apart from their biological father are more likely to experience early puberty and a teen pregnancy than girls who spend their childhood with both parents. Research suggests that a father’s pheromones may influence his daughter’s biological development and that his presence provides the security and confidence she needs to avoid “looking for love in all the wrong places.”
It should go without saying that a boy needs a father to guide him into manhood, but conventional wisdom now says that two women can do the same job for a boy that a father would. Yet I’m certain my preteen son would disagree. Even the most caring mother can’t speak to a boy’s struggle to embrace his masculinity–both biologically and psychologically–like a father can. A boy wants a father to show him how to shave, not a mother. A boy with a father can look at his dad and know that he, too, will survive all the bodily and emotional changes that have turned his world upside down.
Yes, life is messy and sometimes we can’t provide our children with a mother and a father. Their father left us; our spouse died. Her addiction or his abuse forced us to divorce to keep everyone safe. But here’s the difference: single parents always intended to give their child the two parents they need. These men and woman are making the best of a bad situation and I know God blesses these families with abundant graces. Most single-parent families also still have the opposite-sex parent as part of the child’s life; though separated, the mother and father are still available to the child and can provide the guidance and model he needs while growing up. Even when regrettable circumstances separate a child from his biological parents, adoption can still provide him with a loving mother and father so that he can thrive despite that loss.
But that’s not what happens when gay couples start a family–these folks deliberately create a child that will never have a father or mother, for which there is no hope of ever having both of the vital relationships so important to our development as persons. It is fundamentally wrong–not from a religious perspective, but from a human rights one–to purposefully deprive a child of so basic a need as a mother and father, so that gay men and women may have what they WANT.
A girl needs a mother to learn how to be a woman. A boy needs a father to learn how to be a man. Children need the opposite sex parent, too; a girl needs a father and a boy needs a mother, for both provide example and guidance unique to their sex. A mother and father provide the fullest education in what it means to be human–and this is simple wisdom that no amount of social engineering will change.