Disclaimer #2: I am a hypocrite. Those hyper-repetitive auto-fill questions I condemned as tedious in part one (Are you seeing anyone? When are you going to have kids? Et cetera), I’ve asked them all—and I expect I’ll ask them again (even though I try not to). There’s a reason they’re conversational defaults. Sometimes they’re all the brain can think of. Grace must flow both ways. I can forgive careless inquisitors, just as I hope to be forgiven for my offhand inquiries.
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As a woman of faith who has no desire to procreate, I’ve often felt like an anomaly…a mutant. Considering the various church communities I’ve called home at one time or another, I’ve been hard-pressed to find a significant number of Christian women like me—happily married without children…intentionally and unapologetically.
For a long time, I was left to assume that I’d either have to forgo marriage or compromise and have a child on behalf of my husband. And I could imagine both—lifelong singleness or loving a man so much that I couldn’t deprive him of the joys and privileges of paternity—that my desire to see him be a father would outweigh my disinterest in becoming a mother. What I found it impossible to imagine was that there could be another anomaly out there like me—a man who would love me and marry me without having to sacrifice his parental dreams.
I can’t speak for the atheists (or agnostics), but I wonder if they have it easier when they decide to not have children. I am tempted to think that parenthood is more expected of me as a Christian woman. Here’s what I see when I look at the Bible: The repeated imperative to “be fruitful and multiply.” God uses an abundance of progeny as a blessing bestowed on those He favors. Being barren is treated as gravely unfortunate—a curse to be avoided.
As a woman, and perhaps especially as a Christian woman, I run into assumptions about my being childless all the time. A significant number of people seem to expect that childbearing and child rearing is something I want to do, but simply haven’t gotten around to. So often I hear, “When you have kids…” (Notice the when as opposed to if there.) These are the people who ask when I’m going to have children as though it’s a task that’s slipped my mind. Sometimes I wonder if they’re expecting me to respond to their inquiry by running off in harried haste yelling, “Oh my goodness! I knew there was something I was forgetting to do! I really must get going. Sorry! Bye!”
I haven’t forgotten to become a mother. I’m not procrastinating. I’m aware that my womb won’t be willing and able forever, so I keep checking in on that part of me. My decision to remain childless is one I’ve revisited repeatedly—a regular internal temperature reading I take to see if I’ve warmed to the idea of doing the expected thing. Are you still absolutely sure you don’t want children? My answer has remained fixed so far—unchanging and unwavering.
I’m not apathetic to the affect my choice has on others. I’ll admit to feeling small pangs of guilt and sadness—pinpricks in my conscience—for not giving my father or my in-laws their first grandchild (especially as the eldest and first to marry). It comes out of my tendency towards people pleasing—not to mention my always-go-for-the-“A”-or-the-“win” mentality. But I can’t have a child for someone else—to make another person happy—not even family.
I had a fake fight with my sister a while back when she asked (hypothetically) if I’d be her surrogate if she turned out to be infertile and wanted children. I said no without hesitating, which made her play angry or really angry (sometimes it’s hard to tell with us—we both really like a good, spirited debate, even if it’s heated artificially).
What I realize now, but couldn’t fully articulate for her then, is that not only do I not want to have a baby, but I also don’t want to have a baby—literally speaking, as in carry a fetus to term and then give birth to a baby. And I can’t do for someone else what I won’t do for myself—not on that level. But above and beyond all of that, as much as I know I don’t want to have a baby, I also know that I definitely don’t want to have a baby and then give it away. I am in awe of those who are able to do this—give another person such an astounding and incalculable, sacrificial gift—but I know it to be beyond me. I would gladly give my fertility to the infertile, but not lend it.
It all comes down to self-knowledge and vision—what I am able to see for myself in the present and the future. I was not a child who knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. All I knew was that I didn’t want to be a mother or a lawyer. There are things I’m still discovering about myself, but then there are things I know for certain.
Wanting to be a writer is a desire I’ve had to carefully mine out of my heart. It took years for me to admit it to myself, and many years more to utter the dream aloud. I think I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer on some deep level, but I also thought I had to be given the permission and authority to do so by someone with clout—any one of my high school English teachers or professors in college, for example. I thought of becoming a writer as somewhat akin to being knighted—an honor that must be bequeathed, never self-asserted.
In hindsight I can see that even before I felt I had permission to be (or want to be) a writer, writing is something I’ve always loved doing. I remember wanting praise for my writing as early as grade school. In the third or fourth grade I wrote a piece in which I compared the sound of raindrops on the roof to the sounds of a tap dancer’s performance. I was so proud of my simile, metaphor, or personification (I can’t remember exactly how I worded it), that I reused it at least twice (if not more) in future writing assignments. I impressed myself so much, in fact, that I half-expected to win an esteemed award solely on the basis of that literary device.
When I was bored during my long vacations in the Caribbean with my paternal grandparents (and I was bored often), I’d write plays for my Barbie dolls. As a student, I was elated when my teachers or professors favorably graded my essays—and devastated by any indication that they thought my work less than perfect. I find creating with words energizing and life affirming. The same way I used to love playing with my LEGO set, I now enjoy playing with the pieces in my personal lexicon.
A few years ago I finally admitted it aloud—uttering what my heart had already known. With fear and trepidation, qualifications, self-consciousness, and rampant insecurities, I gave voice to my dream: “I want to be a writer. I want to make my living working with words.” Some time later, I put it on my business cards (and even apologetically handed a few out). And now when people ask me what I do, even though the words still sometimes stick in my throat and exit begrudgingly, I say, “I am an editor and a writer.” (I wonder if I’ll ever be able to say writer first.)
As a freelancer, whether I feel self-employed or unemployed varies day by day. It was easier when I had a job at a magazine and someone else picked the title for me—editor. Now that I’m assigning a designation to myself, it’s hard to not feel like a fraud—to feel no different than if I’d begun to insist others address me with an honorific I don’t really deserve—as in: You will henceforth refer to me as Your Royal Highness or Duchess of New York. Am I really a writer if no one is currently paying me for my words? What is the criterion for asserting that title?
When I need to muster a modicum of confidence, I often rely on a priori logic: At the very least I am a writer if I am writing, in the same way that I’d be a runner if I was running. It might feel more like my hobby than my occupation when the last or next check is beyond the horizon. But whether it feels like my profession or just a beloved pastime, I will profess it as my vocation—my calling.
What I have not been called to is motherhood. I will not have a child just because that’s what others expect (or hope). I cannot live in opposition to myself or keep pace with someone else’s biological clock. Not every woman—not even every Christian woman—wants to have a child. Not all Christians view marriage as a stepping-stone to starting their own family.
God didn’t build me with maternal affinities. What He gave me was a passion for words. The ever-evolving lexicon seduces me. I enjoy text. I carry my ideas to term until my mind has been sufficiently stretched. I have chosen to answer the directive “be fruitful and multiply” one syllable at a time. My mental womb is fertile. I am full of words. And so I write.