August 09, 2003

Honoring wives

The Orthodox Christian Church has very strict rules on the ritual of holy communion. Lengthy fasts and confession are required ahead of time (rules vary in detail by bishop as with any apostolic church). Once I read in a manual of two major exceptions occur to the regular rules, one for each sex. For men, they are permitted communion right before battle and women are permitted it any time in their pregnancy. These two exceptions are right next to each other in the tome where I read them and last night I found out why.

Back when I was just posting to the flitters commentary forum that's attached to this blog, I made the happy announcement that my wife was pregnant. This is our third child and it is due in January/February 2004. My wife is a physician (internist) and when she says something is wrong medically, I pay strict attention.

Last night, during a grocery shopping trip she suddenly announced that she was bleeding and that we needed to go home. By the parking lot, the destination had changed to the emergency room and we started tossing words like miscarriage between us. I'm just a computer guy but I know that miscarriages are sometimes fatal. She also let me know that at this stage of the pregnancy, there really isn't anything they can do, just extract the body of our child if it dies so that she doesn't die from infection herself.

After an initial exam, we're told that it's just spotting but that we need to have an ultrasound done to check the health of the baby. As we were waiting to hear the results of the ultrasound, my very practical wife examines herself and starts asking for tissues, further saying that "that's not just spotting" and "that's a lot of blood". I looked and saw a small and growing pool of blood beneath my wife as she started handing me bloody tissues to dispose in the little red biowaste pail in the corner.

The only thing that went through my mind at that point was that there was a small but nonzero chance that my wife would die, that this truly might be our last night together. I put my brave face on and followed orders because the last thing anybody needed to hear were my fears and doubts.

Fortunately, the bleeding stopped, the baby lives, and his heartbeat is ok which means that there is a good chance of an eventual normal delivery. But looking back at things 24 hours later one thing really gnaws at me. In the normal course of a heterosexual marriage, without disease, without anything abnormal going on, society expects women to risk their lives to create the next generation. Together, my wife and I had a tiny brush with this deadly reality. Others get to bury their wives because of it.

Marriage is an ancient heuristic. Part of that heuristic is the honor and status that we assign to the couple together or individually. Those orthodox priests who wrote those communion rules knew what they were doing when they gave honor to women in pregnancy equivalent to men going to battle.

I've previously written about gay marriage and gotten responses in flitters about the equivalency of love and how we should not condemn gays to 2nd class status. In all my writing and thoughts, I actually never considered women's role as risk takers in childbirth. Now that I've gotten a celestial 2x4 reminding me of the real and unique risks that wives encounter, I'm even more convinced that marriage is a special state that homosexuals have no business entering into.

Getting back to that other special status in those communion rules, men going into battle, it's normal in modern warfare that only a minority of soldiers ever get shot at. The supply clerk, the mechanic, the trainer, and a great many other roles are filled by people who are likely to never hear a shot in anger (unless things go really, really badly). But after they've served their term they all get labeled as veterans and all are rightly honored by society for their sacrifice.

Wives, by their marriage vow, whether they actually ever get pregnant, enroll in their own special sorority and deserve similar honor as men in uniform deserve. Part of what they deserve is codified by the rule limiting marriage to relationships between one man and one woman. We should not strip our wives of this to raise up people who, in the normal course of affairs, will never place their bodies on the line for society as wives are expected to do as a matter of course.

Posted by TMLutas at August 9, 2003 08:24 PM