I remember the close warmth of the Texas night, the small bedroom with its peach-toned walls, and the humid air punctuated by my mother’s swift, hard breath. I remember the smell: the pungent scent of the herbs I’d been told to boil, the greenish scent of olive oil, and a scent I’d never fully encountered before, that of skin and blood and sweat in a heady mingling of sour and sweet.
“Stand closer, hon,” said Tami, my mother’s impromptu midwife. “I need you to hand me that towel as soon as the baby comes.” She looked at my mother, my exhausted, tense-muscled mother, and nodded. “One more hard push.”
I watched my mother close her eyes in a sheet-white face blank of every emotion except hard concentration and pain. I watched her sweat-soaked chest rise, saw her teeth set at the last, and I witnessed the cost of that push upon every nerve and muscle in her body.
And then all I saw was the baby.
She was born. In a rush of water and blood, my sister emerged, as if on a tide from another world, this small, pink, compact body, astonishingly complete. “Hello, little precious” Tami whispered, taking the tiny body in calm, firm hands, leaning over, rubbing her wet, new skin, reaching for the towel that I had at the ready.
I felt suddenly panicked at the quiet. I leaned in close and was just in time to witness my sister’s first, shuddering breath, the crinkling of her tiny eyes, and the wail, the blessed, startled cry that all babies give at finding themselves outside the warm contours of their first home.
People speak of newborns as perfect, and that is the word that comes to my fingers, but I don’t think we mean aesthetic perfection when we describe the wrinkled, raw strangeness of a newborn child. Instead, we mean perfect in the biblical sense: complete, whole, lacking nothing. A tiny human being, each detail intricately formed, emerging into our hands with soul and mind and heart already beating. Perfect, like the whole of the world at the dawn of creation. Here anew, with us.
I stared at my baby sister as she was cleaned and swaddled. It was only fair that my mother would hold her first, but I hovered near. She looked as I imagined people to look before they die, when they glimpse a world to come more beautiful than anything they have yet seen. Except, the world she glimpsed that night was the face of her newborn child. Together, we leaned over and watched the big, new eyes open. In those dusky eyes, a sweet, murky swirl of brown and blue, I encountered the kindled flame of a new, precious life.
I imagine that first look at my beloved sister, Joy, every time I see a headline screaming further uncovered atrocities in the Planned Parenthood videos. I see her newborn face every time I read another article outlining the brutal, unthinkable practices that end in dead parts ready for sale. And I think of that night every time I hear remarks from doctors like Dr. Deborah Nucatola, the Planned Parenthood official filmed impassively discussing baby parts in the first clip released by the Center for Medical Progress.
I realize the incomparable gift of my experience, at 11 years old, of watching my sister’s birth, the way it made me a witness to newborn life as a miracle. And I wonder what experiences and memories taught the doctors, nurses, and officials of Planned Parenthood to see babies so differently.
I ask myself: What killed their imagination? Because amid the outrage, calls for action, and rush to a fresh pro-life apologetic, I am struck by a deeper divide in our country. We who hold human life to be precious are faced not merely with the loss of an argument, but with the loss of meaning. Nucatola and others can look at the same sum of parts that I saw in my sister and see medicine and merchandise where I see a miracle.
We face a failure of imagination, that faculty that C. S. Lewis called “the organ of meaning.” Meaning isn’t restored by the operation of reason, but by our narratives, by the stories both lived and imagined that immerse us in a certain way of seeing people, a certain quality of consciousness to the world around us.
I am convicted that one of the best ways I can affirm the value of the unborn child is through narratives that uphold children as a gift from God. I hope these videos will lead us to embrace anew the hard and beautiful work of raising, training, educating, watching, and caring for the children in our lives with love, grace, and verve. And I hope that we learn to invite those who don’t recognize the sheer perfection of a newborn, the beauty of childhood, or the value of all life, into the stories we create and tell. Stories like my memory of watching Joy’s birth.
We need to condemn what is outrageously wrong, but condemnation alone won’t create the good we desire. Saying no only creates a void. It is the yes of love, of new creation that brings life where there was death. I once heard a speaker say that “only the loved can love, only the found can find.” We who love, who consider ourselves found and rooted in a Love that orders our value for unborn life must present to those we consider offensive, not just a face of outrage, but a countenance reflecting the love that makes beloved children of us all in the first place.
This excerpt comes from a longer post entitled “A Failure of Imagination,” which you can read in full at Sarah Clarkson’s blog, Thoroughly Alive. Reposted with permission.