At the time, I couldn’t have told you why. I only knew that the path that lay before a good Christian girl was to get married and have children. If I couldn’t have kids, I thought, no one would heap shame upon my head (this was all before I watched shame piled onto my infertile friends, even as they spent countless sums of money in their quest for biological children).
I was about seven when I became interested in romance. I dreamed of the day when I would have a “real life boyfriend,” someone who would want to share life with me, someone who would choose me. My thoughts on what I would want a romantic relationship to look like have changed over time. But even though I want an equal share of the choosing, and an equal share of the life to be shared, romance still hasn’t lost her luster.
I am about relationships, even friendships, the way some people are about babies. I want to be near them, to talk about them, I dream about having one of my own. When I meet someone new, I ask them for the details of how they met and got together. When a friend starts dating, gets engaged, or married, I never tire of hearing about the everyday things that make them unique as a couple.
But part of me has shied away from a relationship for a long time. I am good at talking myself in and out of things, and so I have entered into all kinds of relationships, often with my eyes tightly shut.
I listened to the people around me with never a whisper of my feelings. They talked about the motherly hormones that were said to kick in during pregnancy. I watched my acquaintances and friends as they had children. I entered into their lives and living rooms. I babysat and fed or rocked or read to the occasional toddler, pushed a swing or sat patiently unruffled while a baby cried.
Then, I went home, took a deep breath, and waited. I waited for the man who would choose me to be the mother of his children. I didn’t want to let him down.
I’ve always been intentional. When I want to know something, I check out all of the books at the library. I talk about it to everyone I meet. I immerse myself completely.
That is what I did with children.
I started babysitting at thirteen. Once a week for five hours. I had several families whose children I would watch in the evenings, from time to time. I spent a lot of energy and concern trying to figure out what to do to keep the children entertained. It was always a relief when they were very young or a bit older. Either I didn’t have to talk, or I could talk in a normal tone of voice.
Like any good church girl, I also volunteered in the children’s ministry. I stuck to the nursery, where I was paired with the mother of my middle school youth group crush. We rocked babies together and talked about life. I always felt better with reinforcements, I knew that she would know what to do if things got overwhelming.
I watched my friendships change with marriages and babies. This was natural, I knew, and healthy. I tagged along as best I could, selecting a few close friends’ kids to befriend. I found my niche when I realized that many of my friends were hoping for a little adult conversation, even if it was peppered by interruptions. If there is anything that working in customer service has taught me, it is how to deal with interruptions. I took this on, I knew that I could be that kind of friend.
As I spent time with these men and women and little ones, I saw something lovely and resplendent. I saw people who delighted in their children, who relished the moments, even when the days were long. I saw people living into their calling with joy, even when it was difficult and sleep was rare. Even when their kids were the very people who were wrenching their hearts in two.
It was through these passionate parents (and their children) that I began to question the path I’d always assumed lay before me.
“I’m not sure I want kids.”
It wasn’t until this past summer that I said these words out loud, in the presence of a counselor, for the first time. She looked at me knowingly, with a generous smile.
“It’s okay that you feel that way,” she said. “But when you get married, you’ll want to create life with your husband.”
At the time of that appointment, and many times before and since, I was in a place of surrender about my marital status. I do not talk about marriage with words like “when” and “future.” But more than her assumption that I would find a nice young man and get married, I struggled with her conclusion that parenthood was the only way to create life.
Since that day, I’ve started speaking up about this, if only so that my friends won’t set me up with ticking biological clocks. I’ve begun sorting through the shame, the sense of inadequacy and the constant assurances that I will “change my mind.”
It’s easy to think, sometimes, that people who don’t share my opinion simply do not have all the facts, or that they need some time to process. I suppose that this is what prompts circular conversations which assume that I just don’t “get” the blessing and miracle of children, that perhaps I’m simply not taking it seriously.
But I do take children seriously.
I am painfully aware of the fact that they are people. I have always struggled to say that I like children, not because there are not children that I love, but because, for me, it denies their uniqueness. For the same reason, I struggle with saying that I like people, I want to acknowledge that some are more challenging for me to like than others.
It is because children are people, and important, to God and to the Church, that I believe that parenthood should not be a life-stage or a natural consequence of marriage, but a call.
It may seem that I am trying to escape the Genesis curse about pain in childbirth, or perhaps that I’m failing to accept my salvation (1 Timothy 2:15), but I do not believe that God has called me to be a parent. As with any other call, I think that pretense could, in fact, be far more damaging than admitting this truth. Without a certainty of call, I could not, in good conscience, attempt to bring a child into my home, hormones or no.
Since I have relaxed into this position, I have walked with less dread of the future. Instead of hoping that my eggs will shrivel or that I will disappoint those I love, I’m leaning into the callings that I have been given. As I do that, I’m learning to walk with God, our hands close together, as the Spirit shows me that living itself is a creative act.