The Path Not Taken

A friend had an unexpected pregnancy, and was struggling with her choices. She really wanted the baby. She really didn't want the baby. She didn't know what to do. As I thought of the advice I would give, then listened to another friend's very different point of view, I was reminded of how hard it is to be helpful to someone when we feel strongly about what they should do.

And I don't know any area that's harder than this one about babies and children. There are so many heart-tugging choices. Should we take the traditional path of motherhood or take full advantage of the life of independence so newly available for women? Should we protect ourselves from having unwanted children--with abortion as the ultimate protection? If we do have children, should we stay at home with them as much as we possibly can? Or is it more important to take career and a full life outside of motherhood seriously?

Many of us feel passionately about these issues. They are about life itself--our life, the life of children, born and unborn. And when we have clearly committed ourselves in one direction or other we want to defend the choices we've made, and support those who have chosen with us.

We struggle to come to terms with our own choices that did not seem clear, or with circumstances that forced us along unchosen paths. And we struggle to support, or even find a bond with, women who have chosen different paths.

In this struggle, I am sure of two things. It helps to respect ourselves and others, and the paths we have taken. Each of us is doing the very best she can, in a rapidly-changing, stressful and confusing world, to love and nurture life. If a woman makes a decision we deplore--whether it be aborting an unwanted baby, bringing an unwanted baby into the world, giving up a career for the sake of children, giving up children for the sake of a career--deploring that decision doesn't move the situation forward. If we really want them to change, we have to start by communicating how much we respect them right at that moment.

It's also very useful to remember that one common element of all these choices is that they involve a loss. By taking one path, we have lost the opportunity to take another. By choosing to have children, we lose the opportunity to put our career first. By choosing not to have children, we lose a chance at motherhood. By choosing to abort, we lose a very specific potential life. By choosing to stay at home, we lose the chance to be valued in the workplace. By choosing to work, we lose contact with our children.

These losses are real, and often very deep, even if we are happy with our choices. We can help each other grieve them. Grieve the loss of a child we decided not to have. Grieve the loss of independence that having children brought. Grieve the loss of time with our children that a career involves.

Valuing the path that we--and others--have chosen, and grieving the losses of the path not taken, seem to be intertwined. The more fully we can do both, the more clearly we can all see our way ahead, and choose well among the paths of the future.