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Dear Albert Garland,
Greetings! I hope this letter finds you well. I recently read your piece in the Huffington Post, “My Wife is Expecting Twins and I’m Not Happy About It.” In your piece you describe at length your attempts to conceive another child involving passionless sex and in vitro fertilization. $100,000 dollars later, you and your wife received the good news that you would not only be having one child, but twin boys. You then proceed to write of your terror, grief, and guilt. Why? Because you both wanted a girl.
Perhaps prudently, you chose to write under a pseudonym. Perhaps you were thinking of protecting your future sons from the pain of knowing their father considering murdering one of them in the womb (“reduction” is quite the clever euphemism), despite your unanswered prayers for one of them to be conceived with some deformity to justify his killing. Maybe you wanted to save yourself from the intense judgment you would receive from the internet community for appearing so ungrateful.
I’m not here to tell you that you are an evil man. I think you understand that the feelings you have are shameful, hence the pseudonym. Your efforts to stop calling your first son “the free one” and one of your twin boys “the extra one” seems to indicate that you are trying not to feel this way. For that I commend you.
However, your letter comes off as immensely ungrateful and selfish. I know people who have struggled to have just one child and some who can’t conceive at all. How do you think they felt when they read your letter? You offer this brusque line to comfort those praying for one healthy child, “I’m sympathetic to people who can’t get pregnant, or who spend a couple of years trying IVF after IVF. But having kids is a selfish endeavor, and in these cases it’s all very relative and highly personal.”
This is precisely the problem. You think that having children is essentially a “selfish endeavor.” You assume that all couples are having children for their own benefit, like shopping for furniture. Children are just one more thing to add to your perfect suburban life. If you think that, it’s no wonder that you feel terror, anxiety and guilt at having more children than you expected. You think that having children is “relative,” i.e. that the parents are the one’s imparting meaning and significance to the lives for their children.
Even as a young man who has never had a child I can see the error in your thinking. Children are not for you, and the significance and meaning of their lives is not given by you to them. Children are human beings, having infinite worth independent of why you wanted to have them. Having children is not a right, and neither is it a right to have less of them than you have already been given. Siring children is not in any way commensurable to talking matching the curtains with the carpet, buying the latest gadget, or paying off the mortgage on your house. Humans are creatures that have thoughts, feelings, and emotions of incredible depth and understanding. They have made paintings, literature, and music beautiful enough to make one weep. They have made awe-inspiring monuments of architecture and technology. A man today can communicate with nearly anyone in the entire world instantly and travel into space thanks to this ingenuity! Piercing the veil of nature with empirical science, they have harnessed power that could destroy the entire planet many times and conceived of methods that allow for a couple late in life to bear children! And you feel dread and terror because you had one more of these amazing beings than you hoped and neither of them are the sex you desired? Perhaps you should start thinking of yourself as blessed with two beautiful sons, instead of burdened. Disabuse yourself of the notion that you are entitled to pick the sex and number of your children and see them instead as a gift.
I will be praying for you and your family. I’m not sure if you are religious (I wouldn’t be surprised if you aren’t. A human being who elevates his own desires so highly probably has no interest in what God would have him do), but, if you are, please pray for me. I write this not to condemn you, but to open your eyes. If I’m guilty of condemnation please forgive me, a sinner. I sincerely hope you begin to see the sons you’ve been given as a miracle.
Nathaniel D. Torrey (@nathanieltorrey)