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Mothers must sacrifice but should still ask for help
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Fake trads are worse than feminists

By downplaying the physical and mental burdens of childbearing, conservative pronatalists risk alienating future moms.

Starting a family wasn’t an ideological choice, but it began to feel like one during my first pregnancy.

I was 24 years old and fielding the same question over and over, from women young and old, all coastal urbanites: "Why don't you wait until you're 30?" You’d think I was a child bride.

Conservatives should know better than to minimize or deny the toll motherhood can take on a woman.

It’s breathtaking, the way people talk about pregnancy to a pregnant woman. I wouldn’t want to ruin my body. You’re never going to sleep again. Say goodbye to the good times. These jabs hurt. I turned to the internet in my irascible frustration and, frankly, loneliness.

There, I found traditional conservatives and crunchy midwives forming an unlikely Venn diagram. Both offered a more openly positive and hopeful message: Women’s aversion to birth was all simply a matter of media brainwashing. Thanks to them, I came to believe that my body was built for birth; I would trust God with the rest. I assumed I’d be able to handle difficulty as it came. I was right, in a certain sense, and so were they. But in my naivete, I couldn’t imagine how difficult difficulty could be.

The culture of abortionist feminism produces mothers who view motherhood primarily as a consumer choice and treat female bodies more like machines than mothers. If this is how you think of your kids, you’re bound to resent them for the resources they consume: your time, energy, and youth — all of which you could’ve allocated to your career. When every baby is “optional,” subjecting his or her existence to a rigorous cost/benefit analysis makes perfect sense.

By rightly refusing to reduce children to a kind of luxury good that sacrifices a woman’s earning potential, the conservative Christian view offers an escape from this resentment. Motherhood is a vocation pointing toward eternity, a scheme under which our suffering is redemptive.

Without equivocation, I place this basic worldview firmly in the realm of truth. But in practice, especially for women of childbearing years, the notion that we overcome suffering exclusively by gritting our teeth and giving it up to God can lend itself to a unique form of Pelagianism, by which women start to reject all earthly support for their bodies and even their babies’ bodies.

Instead, they choose to view every maternal challenge as a spiritual problem rather than a legitimate mental, material, or, yes, medical issue. Baby not descending in labor? Clearly, mom has an “emotional blockage.” Breastfeeding making your hair fall out? Might want to address your “unwillingness to suffer.” God forbid you supplement with formula. I had a friend tell me recently that she felt paralyzingly guilty for leaving her children in another caregiver’s hands for an hour so she could pursue the diastasis recti therapy she needed to safely carry her present and future children.

It’s as if any acknowledgment of a real, treatable condition will open the door to all manners of “secular” medical intervention and lukewarm living, and all roads lead to abortion. This concern is understandable, but choosing life doesn’t automatically transport you to a soft-focus realm of cooing infants and blissful, smiling sacrifice. Pretending that’s the case risks alienating many would-be conservative women and undoing the pronatalist movement from within.

There is nearly endless Christian theological material on escaping the body, transcending the body, and denying the body, through fasting, withstanding torture, and fighting unto death. Motherhood presents a different kind of challenge: listening to the body, feeding the body, and nurturing the body inside your body to new life. In this more embodied state, there are ample opportunities to sanctify suffering, but it needn’t mean that we neglect legitimate strategies to improve our bodily health as mothers.

Besides, isn’t there something a little naively utopian about the right's vision of motherhood these days? Something a little ... progressive? Conservatives should know better than to minimize or deny the toll motherhood can take on a woman. God knows she’s willing to give until it hurts and then some if it means getting the next generation across the finish line. But even the most selfless mom could use a little help now and then.

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