Having children is always a daunting proposition. World events can make it even more daunting.
I am no historian. No high school history teacher ever ignited a passion about the past, so I preferred math and science. Thankfully, my attitude to contemplating the world’s collective past has shifted 180 degrees. Maturity has its advantages.
Retirement gave me the chance to join tour groups in New Zealand, South Africa, and Europe. Listening to experts lecture while standing in historic locales, like Nelson Mandela’s prison, is astonishing. The experience pertinent to this article was standing on Juno Beach in France where Canadians landed on D-Day – which ultimately led to Nazi defeat.
Learning about that WWII turning point was especially profound for me because I was born exactly a year later – on June 6th, 1945.
That means that my parents, who were living in Montreal at the time, likely made a conscious decision to conceive a third child sometime in September 1944 when the war was still underway. I’m unable to estimate the total number of military and civilian deaths happening around the world on each September day 1944, but I’m sure it was significant.
I wonder if Mum and Dad paid attention to the daily death toll. In contrast to today’s instant Internet communications, 1940s casualties took weeks to be tallied and reported via newspapers and radio broadcasts. Having personally lived through the Vietnam War, I recall NBC Nightly News reporting the daily death toll of Americans and North Vietnamese from 1968 to 1970, often with colour images.
From 1939 to 1945 my immediate family was subjected to repercussions of wartime: food and gasoline rationing, school-age cousins arriving from England to live with relatives, and two uncles serving in the Canadian Navy are the few I can accurately mention. There were many more. My church-going parents heard the minister read names of parishioners whose deaths had been reported during the previous week. All in all, the war must have been pressing on their hearts all the time. And yet, they went ahead and brought me into the world.
Making My Family
On October 5th, 1970, I was eight-months pregnant with my first child and living in Montreal. That was the day that James Cross, a British diplomat, was kidnapped by the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), a Marxist–Leninist and Quebec separatist guerrilla group. One week later, Canadian Forces were deployed to assist the police under provisions of the National Defence Act. Military helicopters flew overhead during a McGill football game I attended, and armed military patrolled the city.
A few days later my husband and I went to our cottage in Vermont and found it had been broken into and burgled. Intruders had taken electric items like radios and space heaters. While skulking around the cottage in the dark, candle wax they’d dripped confirmed our feeling of being violated.
Naturally, my hormones were out-of-whack with the impending birth, but I recall feeling depressed, upset, and moaning, “What kind of world are we bringing this baby into? We’ve left the city full of militia with guns, and even our cottage by a lake isn’t crime-free.”
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, a pall of distress has been cast over the world. As conflict and destruction escalated, journalists pointed out similarities between Putin’s expansionist plans and Hitler’s invasion of neighbouring countries. The war is far from over as I write. Because millions of Ukrainians have fled their homeland, babies are being born to refugee mothers far from the peaceful country in which they were conceived.
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic threw the whole world into a state of confused uncertainty, how did prospective parents feel about having a baby? What effect has the war in Ukraine had on humans’ desire to conceive and bring up a child? It takes an optimistic outlook to take on parenthood at the best of times. What happens during the worst of times?
When considering these questions, I bless my parents for agreeing on something like, “Nobody knows how long the war will continue and who will win it, but let’s take a risk and have a baby.” If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t exist.
Today at church, we prayed, “Eternal God, help us be open to unbelievable things” – a valid definition of faith, I think. When people believe in unbelievable things (like the return of peace and calm in a war-torn country) and take a big step, wonderful outcomes often follow.
Pat Butler is an author based in Toronto.
Image source: Unsplash.