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The other week, at a maternal health clinic in Barea, a province of Lesotho, I listened as someone asked an HIV-positive mother why she’d wanted to have a baby, even though she knew that she was HIV-positive.
Because a baby is hope, she said. A baby is life. I want life.
I fought tears. I don’t know what it feels like to be HIV-positive, but I understood what she meant. There are all sorts of reasons for wanting children – selfish reasons and unselfish reasons and every kind of reason in between – but I think that for many of us, children represent a broadened horizon, a more expansive future. They represent hope, and life. They represent looking forward and moving forward and reaching forward and continuing onward and onward, beyond the limits of our own lives. Not everyone wants to expand the horizon of their existence by having children – there’s nothing wrong with not wanting that – but many do, and among that many there have long been many who have been told they can’t, or shouldn’t. That Basotho woman, not too long ago, would have been among the many being told they shouldn’t.
Dr. Robert Edward, who just won the Nobel prize in medicine, made his career by helping those who had long been told they couldn’t.
Helping more women have babies is a controversial enterprise. There are some who recoil at the idea of more births being facilitated when the world population is climbing. There are some who think that it’s a waste of medical resources to help women have children when such help falls into the category of fulfilling desires and wishes rather than meeting serious medical need. There are others – hello, Catholic Church – who believe that assisting reproduction via means such as IVF (Dr. Edward’s hand in the development of which was recognized by the Nobel committee) is not all that much better than preventing reproduction, and that any such interference in the processes of reproduction should be condemned. There are still more, and many of the same, who insist that the stem-cell research and pre-implantion diagnosis techniques that emerged out of IVF research represent humanity’s effort to play God and to create and destroy life at will. But for anyone who, simply, really wanted a baby but wasn’t sure they could succeed; anyone who tried really, really hard to have a baby, and struggled with the trying; anyone who ever really felt, deep in their heart and soul and bones, that having a baby would make all the difference – and that, moreover, the effort to promote and encourage life does make all the difference – Dr. Edward’s work has been a godsend.
And I, for one, am standing to congratulate him.