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By Kathryn Jean Lopez, The Stream, May 24, 2019
“No one should be forced into lifelong parenting if they don’t want to take on that role,” Chelsea Patterson Sobolik recently wrote, writing in regard to the strict anti-abortion laws recently passed in some states around the country. “My own birth mother was unable to parent me,” she wrote. “However, she didn’t abort me in the womb. She made the brave and courageous decision for me, and allowed me to be adopted by a couple in a position to love and raise a child.”
The author of Longing for Motherhood: Holding on to Hope in the Midst of Childlessness, Sobolik explains in the book how she spent her early days in an orphanage in her native Romania. “The majority of children placed in Communist orphanages weren’t actual orphans; they were simply children whose parents were unable to care for them. Such orphanages were known as ‘slaughterhouses of souls.’
“I was one of those babies whose mother couldn’t afford to keep her child,” Sobolik writes. “My birth mother was a 19-year-old girl with no money, no husband and limited resources. Her decision to place me up for adoption wasn’t an easy one. My birth mom longed for motherhood, but instead she had to choose childlessness.”
The couple who would become her adoptive parents desired children, but they suffered the pain of infertility and miscarriage. In the midst of an “excruciatingly long” domestic adoption process, they wound up watching a 20/20 documentary called “Shame of a Nation” about Romanian orphans. “The documentary introduced the world — and Bobby and Christie Patterson — to these children, struggling to survive,” she writes. Five weeks later, the Pattersons were on a plane to Romania. After visiting several orphanages and meeting several birth mothers, they found Ana and her daughter and “immediately began the necessary paperwork to legally adopt” Chelsea. After five weeks, the new family flew home to North Carolina.
The Pattersons would go on to adopt four more children internationally (though not from Romania; adoption laws changed and foreigners could no longer adopt from there).
A Uniquely Powerful Voice
Fast-forward to Sobolik at age 19 — the same age Ana was when she placed Sobolik up for adoption — when a doctor delivered the brutal news that Sobolik, who was raised in a family of six children, who baby-sat and volunteered at summer camps — would not be able to have biological children. “I’d always anticipated the day when my husband and I would find out that I was pregnant, share the good news with our friends and family, and start planning and preparing for our little one to enter the world. This was the natural course of life I was expecting and longing for,” she writes.
She writes tenderly and transparently of her experience. Hers is a uniquely powerful voice in conversations about women and motherhood today. She writes about spiritual motherhood and mentoring. She has a sensitivity for women who don’t feel called or ready to be mothers, for women — and men — hurt by abortion, and for imminent parents desperately in need of help and resources.
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Further, she points out that “childlessness touches the lives of many women, and the precious people who love them. Infertility alone affects approximately 12 percent of the U.S. population — that’s over one in 10 couples. According to estimates, roughly 15 to 20 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. will end in miscarriage. The risk of miscarriage in known pregnancies under 12 weeks is one in five.”
And those numbers don’t even take into account couples who have experienced the devastation of a child dying because of illness or accident. It doesn’t take into account single women who want to be mothers but who are aging out of the ideal childbearing years. It is only a start in putting all of this pain in perspective.
“The world may never know how many tears you’ve cried, but you can rest in the fact that not one tear has fallen to the ground without God noticing,” Sobolik writes.
Out of the depths of love and pain, Sobolik, who is policy director for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, uses her voice to offer us an opportunity to think about the children in need of a loving home, the women and men in the world with broken hearts for children — both out of loss and longing — and invites us to enter a conversation about life, love and children and family that can be about more than the often miserable politics surrounding the long, polarizing argument over a woman’s right to choose abortion. There’s so much more to life. And a longing to get on with it.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor of National Review Online. An award-winning journalist and editor who has been praised for “editorial daring,” Lopez has covered issues as diverse as the left-wing takeover of the Girl Scouts to the war on terror. She writes frequently on bioethics, religion, feminism, education and congressional politics, among other topics.