Recently my husband and I celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary. It fell in the middle of the week, and since he was in the middle of his second summer session at school, I felt no need to take that day off from work. It passed by with very little ceremony. We bought some cupcakes from a college town store that offered vegan options, which were disappointingly gross at best, and then ventured over to a Thai restaurant that mildly satisfied our appetite for Asian cuisine.
I was reminded of some of our conversations before we married, conversations that centered around our belief that we should not be irresponsible and bring children into this messed up world. More than eight years ago, just a few years after 9.11.01, and with wars taking place in Afghanistan and Iraq, it seemed a good decision. Later, we talked about how we did not feel called to be parents, that it was indeed a calling. Also, my husband felt that he did not have a good role model in his own father to lean upon in formulating his own paternal identity, should the occasion arise. Overall, we decided, the decision would be moderated by God’s will. If He wanted us to be parents, He would have to make that very clear.
Five years passed without any significant status change. We began packing our little 650 square foot apartment in southern Indiana and moved to Michigan for my husband to attend seminary in the spring of 2011. Now it seemed that my life was starting to take on a shape in the otherwise-formless void of seeking my life meaning; I was putting my husband through school and bringing him through a very necessary phase of his career. He determined to obtain his Master of Divinity degree, followed by a PhD. We would be in this for quite a while, I realized, but I was okay with this because I had a job of my own that I really enjoyed. But the following year, the spring of 2012, I was derailed by a desire that came with such vicissitude I could not even talk to my husband about it for quite a while.
One of my friends, in her very late 30s, was pregnant with her first child. Suddenly I was confronted with my own desire to become a mother. Even now I do not understand why this happened. I remember sometime that summer feeling the desire so intensely that I excitedly purchased a pregnancy test at the drug store because my period was a week late. That excitement quickly faded with the negative indicator glowing mockingly on the stick, and a few short days later, my body confirmed what the stick professed. I realized that it was probably just as well, because I had no idea how I could be a full-time breadwinner and mother while my husband continued his studies.
However, since that time, I have not shaken the desire, and two more years have passed since the desire began. My husband teases me about my loudly ticking biological clock. I, in turn, remind him that it’s perfectly normal for a woman to think about having children. I even remind him that several of his seminarian colleagues are managing scholastic life with family life. I just turned 36; I have crossed a threshold in my mind that tells me that time is quickly ticking away. I warn my husband that I am entering a twilight of the ovaries, but it’s a nebulous twilight; women do not get an expiration date on their ovaries, a two-minute warning of sorts to know just how much time is left. We get medical guesses, perhaps an idea from the menopause histories from the women in our family, but nothing certain. We don’t even get evidence that we are capable of carrying a child until we actually start trying. So can we start trying? I ask him jokingly, promising him that the trying part will be a lot of fun. I even wink for extra motivation.
But he is not ready. Not ready to be a dad, not ready for the extraordinary life change that it brings, not ready to surrender what precious time we have together (“It’s hard enough having quality time with you as it is,” he says. “Having kids would make it even more difficult.”). He has no pattern on which to base his knowledge of fatherhood. He grew up with a father who was abusive, emotionally stunted, incapable of proper parenting. I remind him that many guys grew up with bad dads, no role models, and by the way, no history is too hard for God to overcome. Of course he knows this. But he doesn’t feel called. Wants to get through school. Wants to keep our time together.
I completely understand this. I, too, still oscillate around the questions of whether I am truly ready to be a mom. I am impatient and unsteady sometimes. I work too much and enjoy too little. It seems that now truly is not the best time for us to start our parenting lives together. But my ovaries are quickly slipping away, riding off into a sunset that I will never see. I am fearful of missing that chance.
Obviously the fear of missing the chance is a different struggle from those couples who are actively trying and cannot conceive, but it is no less a struggle. So when I was part of a conversation yesterday about bringing socially shunned people into homes and how it could negatively impact one’s children, I was not prepared when, I was told, “Well, you don’t understand because you don’t have kids.”
Translation: Your opinion has no merit because you don’t meet the criteria to be in this conversation.
While it may not seem like it, I have forgiven this woman who made this ill-timed and insensitive comment. I believe she is entitled to her opinion, however insensitive it may be. I will likely talk to her about this because she has made a similar comment to another childless couple a few weeks ago, and I believe she needs to understand that this comment is an unnecessary argument to support her opinions.
We are living in an age where political correctness has scared many people into silence, afraid of speaking against the sociopolitical flavor-of-the day. I am glad this woman felt comfortable stating her opinion. I would hope that my labeling it “insensitive” does not give the opposite impression. But she does not understand the weight of her statement. Perhaps I am wrong and being too sensitive, but making a statement like that sends the message that only women who are mothers have a right to comment on anything to do with children. I am smart enough to keep my mouth tightly closed and do not express opinions about how to disciple or raise children. But over the years, my childlessness has caused women to say some pretty ridiculous things to me (and perhaps others) about my somehow-incomplete adulthood because of my barren womb (by choice, for now).
For example, several years ago, a well-meaning friend who is my age must have assumed I was younger because she felt the need to say “You’ll mature when you have kids.” I politely reminded her that we were the same age. The same friend, and countless others, have stated that motherhood makes you “less selfish” (miraculously, this appears to be an automatic process). I counter this argument by saying that there are plenty of selfish parents in the world. From my Christian perspective, only God can help a person’s selfishness, not children. If children removed one’s selfishness, we wouldn’t have needed Jesus. And then yesterday, to be told that I couldn’t understand a position because I didn’t have children, well, I began to wonder if motherhood was now a new women’s rights movement, a sort of opposition to the women’s rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
Those of us who postpone parenthood because of the very difficult struggle with whether to become parents are no less human because we have not taken that brave step. We are not less human because we struggle with whether we are truly called to parenthood. I admire all of my mother-friends and family members who have braved this complex and challenging adventure. I do not criticize them or patronize them for their decision. I imagine that many of them faced the same struggle before they plunged themselves into the world of parenthood. I believe they do have a different perspective of the world because of it, a perspective I value and admire because I do not have it.
The woman who made the comment about not understanding because I do not have children did not seem to value this struggle; even worse, she did not seem to consider that some people don’t have children because they can’t. Perhaps there is an opportunity to educate, in a non-condescending way, a person who simply did not think about what she was saying.
And perhaps by writing this, I am reminding myself to be careful about how I think about someone who says something contrary to my beliefs or opinions. We do not know the roads that have been traveled, often difficult roads that bring a person to their current position. My hope is that this is not a new type of women’s movement (silencing the childless minority and flaunting motherhood as the only valuable life experience). My belief is that a barren womb does not disqualify a woman from being a valuable, informed and yes, authentic woman.