Joys and travails of motherhood
Many developed countries in both the West and the East face the serious problem of depopulation because of very low fertility rates. Whereas the replacement rate (zero population growth) is at 2.1 babies per fertile woman, some of these countries have fertility rates as low as 1.2 or 1.3. Their economic problem is obvious. Their population is rapidly ageing and their work force is shrinking. There are stop gap measures like prolonging the working age and getting more and more women into the work force. Some, like China that had long promoted a one-child policy, are now encouraging married couples to have more children through all sorts of economic incentives. For a long time now, Singapore had been trying to get their women to have more children, shifting from “Stop at Two” to “Please Have Four if Possible More.” But as the late Founder of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, realized it was not easy to convince the educated Singaporean women to have more children. Because of the long-term bias about being pregnant, considered not only as an economic burden but also a hindrance to self-fulfillment, the economic incentives given to larger families have not worked. I think that the Chinese will face a similar problem as they try to wean their married couples from the one-child policy. With consumerism and individualism, a contraceptive mentality is almost impossible to reverse.
We must admit that pregnancy is not a walk in the park. There are enough reasons among educated women to want to avoid being pregnant. That is why we in the Philippines must try our best to make sure that women in the middle and higher-income segments of society do not develop a contraceptive mentality as a result of all the propaganda on the so-called reproductive health law. Without denying that the poor need a lot of guidance in exercising responsible parenthood, using methods that are morally acceptable to them, there are already signs that smaller family sizes are becoming a norm among the educated women. Already, one can observe many couples among the educated classes having only one or two children. As can be gleaned from the demographic crises facing such countries as Japan, South Korea, Singapore and other high-income Asian countries (even Thailand, still an emerging market, is already facing rapid ageing and a serious shortage of workers), we should make sure that we help women in the Philippines to avoid developing a contraceptive mentality.
Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family, gives married couples reasons to aspire for large family sizes, without ignoring the demands of responsible parenthood. Only spiritual motives can counteract the reluctance of women to be mothers in a consumerist society. At the beginning of Chapter 5 of the document, he quotes St. John Paul II: “Love always gives life. Conjugal love does not end with the couple… The couple, in giving themselves to one another, give not just themselves but also the reality of children, who are a living reflection of their love and permanent sign of their conjugal unity and a living and inseparable synthesis of their being a father and a mother.” Addressing himself especially to the mother, the Pope talks about pregnancy as a difficult but wonderful time: “A mother joins with God to bring forth the miracle of a new life. Motherhood is the fruit of a ‘particular creative potential of the female body, directed to the conception and birth of a new human being. Each woman shares in the “mystery of creation, which is renewed with each birth. The Psalmist says: “You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Every child growing within the mother’s womb is part of the eternal loving plan of God the Father. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” Each child has a place in God’s heart from all eternity; once he or she is conceived, the Creators’ eternal dream comes true. Let us pause to think of the great value of that embryo from the moment of conception. We need to see it with the eyes of God, who always looks beyond mere appearances.”
“With great affection I urge all future mothers: Keep happy and let nothing rob you of the interior joy of motherhood. Your child deserves your happiness. Don’t let fears, worries, other people’s comments of problems lessen your joy at being God’s means of bringing a new life to the world. Prepare yourself for the birth of your child but without obsessing, and join in Mary’s song of joy: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.’ Try to experience this serene excitement amid all your many concerns, and ask the Lord to preserve your joy, so that you can pass it on to your child.”
True, motherhood involves a great deal of self-sacrifice and sufferings, starting with the inconveniences of pregnancy and the birth pangs. As Pope Francis observes, however, “mothers are the strongest antidote to the spread of self-centered individualism… It is they who testify to the beauty of life. Certainly, a society without mothers would be dehumanized, for mothers are always, even in the worst of times, witnesses to tenderness, dedication and moral strength. Mothers often communicate the deepest meaning of religious practice in the first prayers and acts of devotion that their children learn… Without mothers, not only would there no new faithful, but the faith itself would lose a good part of its simple and profound warmth… Dear mothers: Thank you! Thank you for what you are in your family and for what you give to the Church and the world.”
On a personal note, I would like to give tribute to a niece of mine whose intense desire for motherhood made her risk pregnancy at quite a late age. She is in her late 40s but she and her husband are very happy to welcome the baby in her womb. They are expecting the baby in January of next year. I pray every day for a safe delivery. Her generosity is highlighted by the fact that she and her husband reside in Vancouver, Canada. This poses a greater challenge than being in the Philippines where they can get all sort of help from caregivers and household helpers. Now that more and more are getting married at a late age, my niece shows that later marriages should be no deterrent to having children. With the help of modern medicine and the power of prayers, late marriages should not be an excuse for being childless. Wearing my hat as an economist, may I also add that this selfless behavior of openness to motherhood is also good for the economy of a country. A country with very low fertility rates is doomed to self-extinction.