Friday, January 18, 2008

Stopped Clock

This photograph of me and Jim The Small Child Nephew has been digitally in the back pocket of my laptop since Thanksgiving. The plan was to write a short, cheerful post about the fact that it captures a dream manifesting itself in the parking lot of the Cincinnati Zoo; for years, I have envisioned myself calling, "Stay with Aunt Beth!" and holding out a hand for a Small Child such as this to clutch. And thus it came to pass.

Why has that desire, in all this time, never morphed into "Stay with Mommy"?

This still stands as one of my favorite essays, and it still pretty much reflects my feelings concerning motherhood.

I wrote it twelve years ago.

When I did so, I was a freshman in college, still largely regarding children as I did when I was a little girl who cradled baby dolls, turning tiny toy bottles upside down against plastic mouths to watch orange or white liquid magically disappear. I would have children because, well, that's what people did. But the world has spun on, my ten-year college reunion is next year, and last week I fully realized that I feel no more inwardly compelled to bear children than I do to take up a career in real estate or law or candlestick making.

And I want to know what's wrong.

There are all sorts of practical reasons why producing a child, at least at this moment, would function as an absolute personal catastrophe of nuclear proportions. It's financially irresponsible for a couple furiously treading water against crippling student loan debt; my mental health would collapse; I've been marinating my reproductive organs in powerful SSRI's for over a decade, and the mental disorders which they regulate have genetic qualities. But when I burrow down through the recital of logic, spend a little time with that area between where my heart beats and my gut processes, I... just don't want to.

What is wrong? Stopped clocks are right twice every twenty-four hours, but my biological one, totally silent and unmoving day after day after day, seems fundamentally miswired somehow. Is it because I don't want to see myself reproduced? Is it because my own anxiety-riddled childhood, although held together by a comfortable home and heroic parenting, utterly exhausted me? Am I terrified that a child would stunt my writing career? A, B, and C? But plenty of successful writers have children, Josh The Pilot would make an excellent father, and... I... just don't want to.

This doesn't mean I hate children. I simply don't know what to do with them. I cannot get enough of babies; at this past Christmas Eve Mass, I held my finger out to the ten-month-old flung over her father's back in the pew front of me, and she beamed and grasped it. I let her hold on for so long and made so many baby-pleasing faces that Josh applied pressure gentle to my waist: Pay attention.

It's that middle-kid-age I fear. Jim The Small Child Nephew and Will The Baby Nephew are, for the moment, easy to have fun with; they have these tiny little adorable shirts, and can be flung, and find highly amusing any person placing an unexpected object upon his or her head. But the second they start enjoying belching contests and discover the phrase "This is boring," I will be lost.

Endless numbers of people have told me that it's different with one's own child, that I will learn it as we go. I don't doubt it.

But I don't want to.

The reasons I slate for having children--and yes, I do have them--are all incredibly selfish. To ensure some sort of immortality. To avoid the eternal punishment my Church says I will suffer if I don't (more on this in a paragraph.) To hedge against loneliness in old age. To fit in with my peers. To create another American of my German parts and the Norwegian and Scottish parts of my husband. To surround myself with The Cuteness. To force someone to appreciate my zealous scrapbooking in a hundred and fifty years. For attention. For writing material. For the stork-sign space in the grocery store parking lot. But never, never have I thought, "Because the love of my life I are called to do so."

Of course, all this sits horribly with the Catholic Church-- my faith, my heritage, my identity. Last week at Mass, the celebrant, while discussing vocations in his sermon, said, "Perhaps you are called to be a nun, a Bride of Christ. Maybe you're called to be a priest. Or perhaps you need to pray over whether or not to have a fifth child."

That's not a typo, people; that's strictly observant Catholicism. I am expected to not only to conceive, but conceive as much as our budget will bear. The Church considers my sister's two children a nice start.

Some women of my generation do have five children, or hunger for five. They have my deepest respect, and also my envy, for wanting what they are supposed to want. The Church does not lay down its teachings arbitrarily, spinning a gigantic Price Is Right-style wheel to discover which theological reality we shall enforce today. Christianity is not about being comfortable. It orders what is best for my spiritual development, propelling me to override my selfish human nature. Some Sunday mornings I would prefer to sleep until it's time to watch Dan Marino glare at people, but my Church reminds me that the least I can do is give God an hour a week, for crying out loud, and so I throw back the covers. Often I would rather fling money at such life necessities as The Rotato Express, but my Church reminds me that Jesus was all, "Share!" and so I pull a paper ornament off the Giving Tree in the vestibule instead. And actions become written on my heart, as I am then behaving as I ought to behave, despite my own terrible efforts in the opposite direction.

But this-- is it right to introduce a new life as a self-improvement project, to override my instincts? Do I have the strength to avoid raising a child in an atmosphere of resentment? Should little Miriam Abigail or Luke Adam ask (of course I have names chosen for the children I am not planning--I was once a twelve-year-old, you know) "Where did I come from?", what am I going to say? "A deep sense of obligation, dear"?

One of my mother's high school friends is a real-life nun. Franciscian. I could not imagine a lifetime of doing what other people told me to do, and, when I was eleven years old, I asked her why she took holy orders. She put her hand on her chest.

"Because," she said, "it was just something I felt like I had to do."

I had to become a writer and a wife. And... there it stops.

When I was engaged, and beginning to attempt to manufacture maternal instincts, or at the very least flailing to come to terms with my lack thereof, I sought advice, relief, affirmation. I posted a message on an e-board for observant Catholics describing my situation, asking to hear from other married Catholics who had not reproduced. What I got back still twists and shreds: "If you don't want to have children, you shouldn't get married." "Entering a marriage without openness to childbearing invalidates the sacrament. You will be living in an invalid marriage, a grave mortal sin." "If I were invited to your wedding, I wouldn't come." "You won't find a support group for married Catholics who haven't had children, because children are the point of marriage." (I imagine this might come as news to infertile couples and those who marry past childbearing age.)

UPDATE from Amy The Reader: Here's a good bit of fun from the other side of the road--she's presented anecdotal evidence of people with larger broods receiving visits from the Department of Children and Families, tipped by neighbors concerned because Mom was expecting #4 or #5. Margaret Sanger on a pogo stick, you just can't win.

I took my panic to the kind priest who was to marry us, as well as a former theology professor, and both assured me that avoiding children, at least for the moment, was simply prudent. That is what the priest said-- "prudent." You have no idea how much I cling to "prudent" in the darker hours.

No tubes have been tied, no vas deferens snipped. I sob, unbidden and uncontrollably, whenever we even broach the possibility of permanent sterilization, because my gut is telling me that's not right for us, either. And so the door is ajar, precisely .7% ajar. I've got this top-of-the line fertility monitor which promises a 99.3% no-babies effectiveness rating, and it has a function which will allow us to use it in the opposite direction, even suggesting the best hour of the day to conceive a boy baby or a girl baby. If we use this setting, a tiny bathroom sign-style icon will illuminate at the proper time. So every morning, when I lay with the thermometer of the monitor under my tongue, I watch the orange numbers rise, the backlight of the reading barely, just barely, making the girl shape and the boy shape visible. And then they disappear into blackness again.

Nightmares to the contrary notwithstanding, should I ever pee on a white stick and watch it, with amazement and trepidation, turn blue, I would indeed put on the big-girl pants. The pregnancy would either end in a much-grieved natural miscarriage or on a delivery table. I know, intellectually, that this child would not exist if he or she were not meant to exist, and I would likely emerge on the other side of motherhood a better, more giving, changed person. Grace sufficient, and all. And maybe someday Josh and I will come across a child who desperately needs us, and we will discern a spiritual hand at our backs pushing us to make that child our own. Or maybe I'll wake up tomorrow on fire to start a registry at Babies R Us. I hope so. I desperately hope so.

But in the same way that popular culture endlessly insists that I find Tina Fey just wonderful and I endlessly fail to, here is where I am. When beholding the open staircases in our home for the first time, I first thought, "Well, that's cool," and then, "If our nephews ever come to visit, perhaps we shouldn't let them crawl around those huge gaping holes twenty feet in the air unsupervised," and, finally, "No step backs = less vacuuming. AWESOME."

Never, never did I regard them as obstacles for my own children.

anybody else out there at: mbe@drinktothelasses.com

46 comments:

Cruising for Diamonds said...

MB,
I know exactly of what you speak. I will be 39 in July, I'm still single and I have no desire to have children. One year at our big family Thanksgiving, I announced that I didn't want children (at this time, my cousin was nursing her baby at the dinner table. So pleasant!). The only one who didn't undertsand was my Dad. He still doesn't understand. When I was little, playing house with my dolls was my favorite game but now, I think any maternal instinct is long gone or buried deep and I am okay with that. People say that when I meet Mr. Right it will change but who knows? I love my nieces and nephews and have loved them since they popped out of their mother's wombs but I'm also just as happy to see them go home as to see them come over. One of my friends says I have tons of maternal instinct because she sees how I am with my dog. Okay, I can lock my dog in his kennel for 8 hours without being arrested. I don't think I can do that with a kid.
Just know that there are other women out there who feel the same way you do. I applaud you for your honesty and thank you for writing such great things that make me smile!

Sara N

Johanna said...

MB you are not alone. We spend most of our lives doing what we think we are supposed to do. What our mothers and grandmothers did.
Don't beat your self up for not feeling compelled to have children. The feeling will come (or not). Either way, you are the person you were meant to be, leading the life you were meant to live. We were not meant to follow blindly, hence our gift of free will.
The answer will come, just don't feel guilty if its not the answer you think it should be.

Cbell said...

I am right there with you! AND I am older and probably not wiser... but older still. Get ready... I can confidently say, it will only get worse! :)

While my protestant church does not hold the same views as the Catholic Church (per se) they have their own ways of making those without children and/or spouses feel inferior. For six weeks out of every year, I will typically be faced with a sermon series on "the Family". Being single and without children... this is six weeks I can do without. But I try to wade through. I've been told that the wisdom and words I am receiving will be put to good use in my future, but I don't see that happening anytime soon, because I. Don't. Want. Children.

Over the Christmas holiday my cousin, while doing nothing as her overly rambunctious boys were tearing through my home, said to me "Have you really not ever even wanted kids? Really."

Really. I have three fabulous nieces and one nephew and various friends with children to cuddle when that maternal cycle ends... but I have never had a desire to have children, and the fact that I am considered second rate for it actually bites.

But, that's just my opinion. So, you are not alone in this realm.

Kris said...

MB,
What a great thing to read today. I am 33, married for 5 years, and if ONE MORE PERSON ASKS "When are YOU GUYS going to have kids?" I might just kill them. No, I probably won't but I will sigh heavily and repeat the same thing I've been repeating for umpteen years now. "We're not having kids." Which always leads to the WHY question. Why do people that I don't even know feel the need to ask me WHY I don't want to have children??? But, I generally just say, "You know, I love kids, I just don't want the responsibility of raising one." And then I have to say that I admire good parents and blah blah blah because people who have kids realllllly get offended when you tell them that you don't want kids. I mean, they're your horrors, not mine...no offense.
Anyway, don't let anyone (your parents, the Church, some nosy neighbor) pressure you into doing something you don't want to do.

Solidarity!
Kris

P.S. We are so similar! I also went to St. Mary's but not that one - the one in Southern MD, just a wee bit different. ;o) A lot of what you blog about, I can totally relate to. A friend just turned on to your blog a few weeks ago and I have really enjoyed reading it.

Red Pill Junkie said...

Dear MB, I honestly think this is your OCD what's giving you these doubts, but don't sweat it.

You guys just got married, for crying out loud! Take your time but always keep in mind that your instincts are right: You should never, EVER have children because you feel obliged too.

No matter how cool and high-tech that fertility monitor is, it will NEVER tell you the right hour to conceive a child that will have his or her success assured; it will never help you NOT to conceive a child that might create a terrible fight over a dinner with spinach, or a child who will have his attendance to Harvard Law School already reserved a-la Harry Potter. Life is messy and unexpected and full of trouble, but you cannot live always wondering about how your choices will affect you in 5, 10 or 20 years (believe me, I know). Enjoy the here and the now, be thankful that life grant you the gift of joining paths with such a wonderful man as Josh, and let each day carry its own weight.

Your friend,

RPJ

PS: Luke Adam will not do at all. Now Luke Han, or Luke Chewbakka, NOW we're talking!! ;-)

Amy =) said...

Hey MB,

Please don't feel as if you're the only one out there feeling this way. I've NEVER wanted kids and have always felt sort of persecuted (a strong word, I know, but it's apt in this case) by other people because of it. I've been married for 4 years now, and my husband is the love of my life. The constant asking and prying into when we're popping out babies has slacked off, but for a year or two after our wedding, it was pretty rough (heck, his mother announced she wanted grandkids "really soon!" to my family three days before the ceremony even happened).

I've always been told - by family, by friends, and by complete strangers - that I'll change my mind - someday, I'll want kids, and I do suppose that's still possible. My hubby and I just don't feel that we should change how we see our lives playing out just to conform to some societal norm (I should point out here that I fully respect the choice to have kids as well as women - and men - that dedicate their lives to being stay-at-home parents - they work harder than I do every day of the week).

Ultimately, it comes down to each one of us making our own individual choices. Sure, there's pressure (a lot of it in your case), but as long as you and Josh the pilot are happy with the choice you make, that's really what matters. If one day, you wake up with a burning desire to be a Mommy, by all means, do it. If you don't, well that's perfectly fine too.

A

P.S. I'm a long-time reader and first-time commenter - keep up the awesome work!

sPg said...

Mary Beth,
Thank you for such an honest glimpse at a really powerful topic that has all sorts of answers. I hardly think you are alone and even though I am starting to think a bit differently on the topic, what you say honestly and really makes sense. Brave post--bravo.

sPg

KT said...

MB,
As a practicing Catholic raised in a very strict Catholic household, I completely understand your situation, and applaud your honesty and open-ness about this subject. During our pre-cana, my husband (a Methodist!) and I heard the same speech you did, and I too, felt as if a non-child household was "wrong," and "not normal." I too, felt this class during our mandatory Natural Family Planning Courses, a must in our diocese. Hurray for you, for speaking your mind- Catholics who respond to you in the way you decribe they did on the e-board aren't practicing what the Catholic Church, and every religion, preaches- kindness and respect.

Emma said...

You really aren't alone MB, I'm the same age as you, whilst not married I have been with the same person for almost 10 years now. There are many uncertainties in my life, I do have problems with decisions sometimes (like making them for other people), but the one thing I know with all my heart, I just don't want children.

I yearn for a golden retriever, or an abysinian, but a baby? nope. Don't even get all gushy around my friend's girls.

I understand your faith is important to you, and that's a good thing, but to receive the comments you did when you questioned yourself was a little unfair. There are many reasons to be married, not just to procreate. I feel there is far too much pressure placed upon women, in society to have children. This country has a problem with children having children, thinking they're the latest accessory, not actually thinking about what it takes to bring up a child.

Don't feel bad for what you're feeling, and know you aren't alone in feeling it.

Jules said...

Just....wow. This was very moving.

Our first child was unexpected.
Our second was lost at 12 weeks to miscarriage.
Our third was planned, and so was our fourth.

Through it all, I have never really had that sense of "biological clock." I do know that we are done, since I recently turned 40, and now that everyone is out of diapers and in school (or graduated, for that matter... ;-) ) I have absolutely no desire to have any more. LOVE babies. Love to look at them, hold them, touch them, make faces at them, watch them smile and laugh. There is nothing more pure on this entire planet than a giggling, smiling baby. N.O.T.H.I.N.G.

But we're done.

I feel for you in terms of the pressure you are feeling from your denomination - actually, it makes me sad. I would never denigrate the Catholic tradition, but it is disheartening to see the kinds of responses you received from fellow Catholics about your feelings on having a family, and marriage. I am sure they were well-meaning, but compassion was clearly lacking.

Generally speaking, and this is just my opinion, people who feel deep down in their gut that they don't want or shouldn't have children, shouldn't have children. It's that simple. You are perfectly capable of leading a full, productive, and dare I say it, sincerely Christian life without children, even if you are married. :-D True, you might go all goo-goo and get in a very motherly way in a hurry if you were to have a child, but what if that doesn't happen? (and sometimes, it really doesn't.) It's not fair to you, your husband or the child. Besides, I think you have some very legitimate concerns in terms of the meds and the mental health, and your thoughtfulness about that speaks volumes about your character. I applaud you, I truly do. And I want to hug you too.

Anyway, I'm just sort of babbling now, but I do want you to know that I will pray for you about this, really and truly. I can only imagine how difficult this is for you, but keep your chin up and try to keep an even keel about the situation in light of your Catholic beliefs. I really do earnestly believe that God understands.

;-)

Kell Belle said...

MB,

You may remember that when we were in school I was a bit of a mother hen to everyone. I was pretty much a good aunt then and now I am THE COOLEST AUNT IN THE WORLD. (Sorry, I do hold that title not you.)
I always cringed a little in school when people told me I'd make a great mother. (Yeah but I don't want to be a great mother. I'd rather be a great aunt.)

Now at 30 (for another 30 days anyway) I am still single and can't have kids. I truly LOVE my nieces and nephew. I still mourn the nephew that passed last summer. I always will. But I have found that being the coolest Aunt ever was my calling. I could never give the kids all the attention and gifts and love that I do, if I had my own. I absolutely LOVE that they want to come to my house b/c we do fun things, that mom and dad won't let them do. (Mostly playdough and paint. Usually really messy.)

As far as not being able to have kids, it really doesn't bother me. It is a mixed blessing b/c when you tell people that getting pregnant would literally kill me, they give you the "I'm so sorry for you, you poor thing" look. That just pisses me off. It is an easy out of explaining that I don't want kids, but I don't need the pity look cause I wouldn't be having 'em if I could. It is that simple. I don't even claim my dog as a child, as some people do. I just don't want to be a mom. (Though I would like some of that mom spit that cleans anything. I wonder if there is any way to bottle that.)

Anyhoo, know that you are not alone. And you'll always be "THE 2ND COOLEST AUNT IN THE WORLD."

KB

Janet said...

MB,
There is nothing "wrong" with your not wanting to have children. Maybe you will change your mind in a few years, maybe not. The huge amount of pressure in our society to procreate has always baffled me (especially when this same society seems not to value parenting or at least not nearly as much as financial/career success). Not everyone is cut out emotionally, physically, and/or psychologically to be a parent and I think the world would perhaps be a better place if only those people who truly and deeply wanted to have and RAISE children, had them. Too many people seem to have children just because that's what is "supposed to" come next. I think you are wise in recognizing a delight in babies and pre-schoolers is not necessarily a good basis for a 20+ year commitment.

When I married, my husband and I were both fairly confident that we did not want children, or at least not in the near future. After four years we both slowly changed our minds and felt ready and eager for children. Said children were unco-operative and didn't arrive until several years after that so I was 37 and 40 at the time of their birth. My oldest is 10 now and there are still PLENTY of days I wonder if we made the right decision (though I suppose if we had remained childless I would also be second guessing and what-iffing). It is hard work raising children, or at least it is for me. It demands energy, patience, and plenty of sacrifice to do it well. This is the point at which society in general gushes about how "it's all worth it" but I have rarely seen or heard thoughtful and in-depth discussion on the con side of this argument. I expect that those with doubts and/or regrets (which, honestly, as much as I passionately love my kids, includes me some days) feel guilty that there's something wrong with them or that they are bad parents and so keep silent. Thus the only voices you hear are the gushers.

Carrie said...

And this is why I am no longer religious - any "faith" that puts such stress and self-doubt into a person . . . but you know where I stand on that.

From someone on her own set of meds with an 8 week old - it's not for everyone. If it was, we wouldn't have wonderful Aunts who spoil them rotten (i.e. my sister).

Adrian said...

Hi MB,

I honestly don't think that ANYONE, church or otherwise, should pressure someone to have a child. It's simply to big a deal. It is a lifelong commitment that changes literally every moment of your day - sometimes in wonderful ways, and sometimes in not-so-wonderful ways. Thank God we live in America where we have the choice to have or not have children and as many or as few as we wish or can manage!

That said, I was firmly in the "no children" column when I first got married, especially since my husband came with a young stepson that I was not all that crazy about. However, after a few years, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to give it a try. 10 years later, I decided to try it again and I now have two boys ages 9 and 19 and my stepson is 26 (and I like him now). I adore my children and I couldn't imagine my life without them, but that's the beauty of it, that I had the choice to have or have not. And bless you that you have the exact same choice.

The problem is that it's a choice that is kind of like jumping off a cliff. No one can adequately explain it to you until after you've jumped off, and then it's basically too late. You cannot simply put the baby back on the shelf!

The one saving grace for me was when I asked every mother I knew if she would have made a different choice, and EVERY one of them (with the exception of my mother in law - long story!) gave a very emphatic NO and many said they wished they'd had more. That was the deciding factor in my journey over the cliff...

MB said...

See, this is why I have the best The Readers in the world.

We are having a very calm, thoughtful discussion here, for which I am deeply grateful. Those of you who take issue with the Church's position have all done so definitively, but respectfully and in a non-denigrating manner. I haven't had to reject a single comment on this post. I wish everyone were like every one of you.

Ophelia said...

MB,

I just have to share this. I grew up next door to an Irish Catholic family that was so devout they made the Pope look like a heathen.
They had 14 children.
The youngest is about a year older than you (and my bestest friend in the whole wild world)
I completely understand where you're coming from and admire your tenacity in standing up for something that you feel so strongly about.
I've gone from desperately wanting to be a mother more than anything to now willing to let things happen as they may; even so far as foregoing the idea completely.
Married life has not been all that it was cracked up to be in the first 5 years and as much as I would love to bring a child into this world, the thought of doing so scares the daylights out of me.
"There will be water if God wills it."

an-ony-moose said...

I totally agree with many of the posts on here (Jules for instance).
I do have kids, and I very much wanted them, but as a mom I can totally understand NOT wanting them too. Every day I see people that should not be parents, and people who don't act like parents to their own children, or don't really seem to LOVE the fact that they are now parents even when they thought it was what they wanted.
I am really saddened that you got little support from the Catholic community, but not suprised on that particular subject. But I am not for organized religion so I will digress...
The main point is, if you aren't into it, don't do it. If you change your mind someday, well..whatever! Some people own, some people rent. Each has it's own advantage. Everyone knows an owner who should really just be a renter. It's all good.
Plus, people who don't have kids pay all the taxes. Since I have my little tax exemptions I can keep more of my money every April!
Yay for me! hehehe.
And just for the record, I am so uber thankful that my sister doesn't have kids. I would rather have the "coolest aunt ever!" who gives 100% of her attention to my kids than my husband's sister-who should have rented her 3 kids and not owned them.
Keep your chin up!

ShannJ said...

. . . wow . . . this made me cry. **hugs**

Having two beautiful kids, I can tell you what I've figured out so far -

* being a mommy is definitely for me. It has it's moments, but I wouldn't trade it for the world

* being a mommy is not for everyone. Since I'm not one of those people, it is difficult for me to fully comprehend, but I know there are things I'm not into that others are, and it's not my place to judge.

* being a mommy is something that everyone else feels the right to use to judge others. No matter what number of children you decide to have (or not have) it will always be either too many, or not enough, for whoever feels the need to comment. And *everyone* feels the need to comment. However, no matter what the rest of the world says, no one has the right to tell you how to live your life, or to make you feel bad about how you are living your life. You are living the life that is best for you. God loves you for it. I love you for it.

*hugs*

WiserlemmingAZ said...

MB,

I am writing this as I fight off tears that just keep welling up. I had no idea that I was not the only one who felt so conflicted about this. I stand at the crux of my final year in my 30s and I am still single. Still alone in the world. And.....I'm okay with that.
I don't feel this burning desire to rush out and get married or have a baby just because I'm nearly 40. I'm happy being the Aunt who cuddles the beautiful 5-year-old niece and the adorable 3-year-old nephew when I fly home at holidays.
I am also devoted to my dear friend and his daughter. We have a unique relationship that spans 10 states and involves a whole lot of long-distance phone calls and e-mails, but I have been able to be there for them as he raises his daughter on his own while fighting terminal cancer. I couldn't do that if I had my own family.
I also have 27 third graders who rely on me to be there for them five days a week, 9 months of the year. I know other women teach school and raise families all at the same time, but I don't know if I could do both without feeling as though I was truly able to give either one the time it truly deserved.
In short, I believe I have become what I was always meant to be: someone who is there for others. I feel complete. I wish everyone could somehow understand that, and stop regarding me with pity that I don't have a family to go home to at the end of each school day. I have begun telling them, "The cat and I are fine. Really. We understand each other."
That usually stops them in their tracks.

Laura in Virginia said...

I admire your openness in speaking about this--I don't know that I could ever be so honest with the vast world that is the interent. Although, I want children someday--quite desperately, actually, considering I'm only 22, I get that not everyone does. Know and have faith in the fact that everything happens for a reason and works out the way it is meant to and that there is a plan for you regardless of how you feel. You have a great community of readers who love and support you and pray for you no matter how things end up, and I am one of them.

kelebek }{ said...

My desire to have a baby changes almost daily. I am either horrified at the thought of having one or I think it might not be so bad. I have told my hubby when the moments I am horrified is less than the moments I like the idea we can try.
There are no nieces or nephews around for me. My only sibling is my brother who's 13. No kids from him any time soon I hope!
And the hubby's 38 year old sister never got married and is not planning on having kids. So it is pretty much up to us to produce the long awaited grandchild from both sides of the family!
You know what's right for you and your family MB. Don't feel guilty about that!

2xgtld said...

It's all that song's fault "First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage". Our society is programmed to follow that order (well, except for Hollywood, but they're different).

The only thing I would encourage you and JTP to do is talk about it every now and then (every two years on your anniversary, no OCD allowed here). You BOTH have the right to change your mind at some point- and make sure that you're on the same page. If you box yourself into a corner, you have impacted a really nice relationship. Keep it open- but realize that it is YOUR choice- and no one else's.

I am the tired and very happy mother of two- but didn't have them until late in my 30s. There was so much to do first. I CAN say that they're much, much more than "children"- they are "family" and ground me to the world on a daily basis in ways that I would never have imagined.

Yes, I get a kick out of knowing that my habit of sitting cross-legged will continue in my son and I am irritated that my mother-in-law's screaming at the sight of blood will also continue in my daughter, and that there are other people in the world now who LOVE the Little House books, but having a child is so much more than that. It's learning to fly- and some people's wings aren't developed yet.

Life choices are huge- and you just take life one day at a time. In the paraphrased words of Scarlett "You can think about it tomorrow". Happy comes from YOU- not from having or not having a child, or even having or not having a sweetheart. They simply make the journey more interesting.

Amy said...

MB:

I can understand. I always liked kids...but it's weird when it's other people's kids. Perhaps it's different when it's your sibling's kids because you grew up with your brother/sister and have a pretty good idea of what their parenting style is.

But it always terrified me to interact with other people's kids because what if I did/said something wrong? What if little Timmy was misbehaving and I politely said, "That's not nice" only to get a smack down from Mom or Dad for disciplining their child?

So I totally thought I would be a terrible mom, since I was so nervous around other kids. But it's night and day with your own because you are free to do what *you* feel is appropriate as a parent.

As for Church teaching, I really respect the polite tone of the comments. I follow the teaching - right down to NFP - and people can get pretty...hostile about it. Downright rude, frankly. I've known people who've had *child services* called on them simply because they're expecting Child #4 or #5.

That being said, you are going to run the gamut of people who are so extreme they believe NFP is immoral (because it is technically contraception) to people who are way on the other side of the spectrum. Neither of these extreme views is right, either.

As your priest said, there ARE prudent circumstances that would warrant not having children. And - guess what - they don't have an expiration date.

If you struggle financially, or if you have mental/emotional health issues, or physical health issues - those are all very appropriate reasons *not* to have children. If that lasts five years or fifty, they're still prudent reasons.

And I totally respect people who decide not to because they know they perhaps wouldn't make good parents (for whatever reason). I just ask they respect my decision *to* have children (and perhaps four or five before all's said and done).

I think it's okay to ask - once - if a couple is planning to have children. But if they say no, drop it. Likewise, if your friend is having baby #3, it's okay to ask if she's planning to have more but not okay to ask her if she knows how to use birth control. Both inquiries are rude.

And you know what - you may find your calling elsewhere. A co-worker was single, didn't want to have kids of her own, and eventually became a foster mother and she's fantastic at it. Or perhaps you're meant to be the Coolest Aunt in the World (with respect to kell belle) to Jim, Will and any other nieces or nephews.

Oh, and as a sudden aunt to three teenage boys (my husband's nephews), I can tell you that those middle years aren't so bad if you know how to play video games. His nephews actually like me. :)

Anyway, I'm rambling. But those are my two...no, twenty cents on the issue.

Good luck to you, MB. Everything will work out.

HunterHouseMom said...

MB

The "coolest aunt" award always goes to the one without kids. Every generation of our family should be blessed with one. My mother had THREE cool aunts. I have ONE. JTP and his siblings had one for their growing up years (she married later and had a son at 40 - but she's still a cool aunt.)

If you want to be that cool aunt for your generation, that frees Esther to persue her dream of having lots of kids. :) There are others who will help us become grandparents.

We love you and we love your writing. Enjoy doing what you're so good at. Enjoy living in a country where we are free to make choices and have the resources to live out those choices.

Pleased to be your MIL.

MB said...

What a perfectly wonderful grandma you will make; as everyone can see here, you're already a top-notch MIL. I am *privileged* to be your DIL.

Actually, one of the aspects of not having children which Josh and I have discussed is that it will financially free us to help support a large Wycliffe or other missionary family, not to mention our parents. That's right! We just might pick out a nursing home for you with solid gold bedpans.

Katie! said...

MB,
I agree with all of these fine people who have posted their stories and feelings. I firmly believe that you should only have children if you WANT them. Your line about "a deep sense of obligation" is perfect - that is no environment into which to bring a child.

I had always felt the way that you do now. I've been married for several years, to a man that I've been with for almost 10. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I envision us having children. I had no such desire or interest. I felt that I would be pleased enough with my sisters' kids.

However, FOR ME, that changed last year. I don't know why. It was associated with the birth of my closest sister's first child, but that wasn't the reason. Something just awoke in me - something that had always been there but I'd never known about. It was the desire to be a mother. It was the desire to share my life with a child, to pass on all the love that I had for my husband and family to another. And it came out of NOWHERE.

I'm still grappling with this discovery. I still don't know how to handle this or when in the world to do such a ridiculous thing as procreate.

I say this to tell you that, as you can plainly see by your comments section, YOU ARE NOT ALONE, nor are you a freak or blasphemous woman who should be excommunicated. You are NORMAL.

You may or may not change your mind. The important thing is to be true to your own self. That is the only thing that would truly please God.

Best wishes,
Katie

logans_mom00 said...

MB, thank you so much for your openness and honesty. I am not Catholic, so I cannot relate to the extreme pressure you are under from the Church, but I did get quite a bit of "be fruitful and multiply" in my Southern Baptist upbringing.

I differ from you in that I always just "knew" I wanted two kids. So I eagerly had my first child and it was like getting hit by a train. I was overwhelmed with PPD (I have always had anxiety issues) and from the time my son was about an hour old, literaly, I knew I'd never conceive another one willingly. I say "willingly" because I know, as a faithful Christian, *my* will is all I can speak for. God's, on the other hand, is the final say. When people give me grief for only having one, I tell them that if God had wanted me to have more He would have given me twins or triplets. But I firmly believe that He knows I can only handle one. I, too, am now on SSRIs and find that with Divine guidance, meds and the best hubby a gal could ask for, I am very happy with one child.

I also firmly believe that God is truly in control of your family as well. People can argue that contraception, even NFP, is trying to thwart God's will, to which I ask if they honestly think our awesome God would let a little thing like birth control stop Him? If you are meant to have a child, I believe your NPF will result in one. If God has other plans for you and Josh, then you will never get pregnant. I know that sounds too simple a way of looking at it, but that's just how I feel. So when folks ask you when you are going to have a child, tell them "When God wills it". And that will be the absolute truth.

Keep the faith,

Katrina

waseom said...

I don't think not wanting children makes you a terrible person. My mom didn't want kids for a different reason--she felt the world was a really cruel place that no child should have to suffer through--but she still went through all the crap of people demanding that she have them. She eventually gave in, and even though she loves me and my sisters, she occasionally admits that she was right all along. Watching us have to go through all of life's hardships hurts her deeply and she wishes she didn't have to do it. Now my older sister, who is getting married in June, has decided she doesn't ever want children (for reasons like yours), and already relatives are saying, "Oh, sure, you say that now, but you just wait until you've been married a few years." How do they know? Having kids isn't for everyone.

I say, if you don't want kids, there's nothing wrong with it. I think a lot of women today are deciding they'd just rather not.

catchmyfancy said...

MB

I want kids - I really really do.

But I'm also an Aunt (the jury's out on the "Cool" thing for my four utterly adorable nieces till they're older I guess), and I also really REALLY like my quiet house and being able to stay out all hours and that I don't know what I will be doing on Thursday.

You have sane and sensible reasons for Not Wanting Kids Right Now. Maybe it will change, maybe it won't.

And it must be uncomfortable knowing that the tenets of your faith don't encourage such thoughts.

But such openness and honesty about the issue was breathtaking (and really heartening to know someone else also likes babies and kids who are, say, off to college, but Flinches Visibly at the idea of all the years inbetween).

I am really glad you are teasing out all these thoughts (and letting us come along on your journey with you) and have support from your beloved and family.

Please keep talking - we're all listening.

Alexandra

aazmom said...

MB - you are such a gifted writer. You usually make me grin or laugh, but sometimes - like this post here, you bring me to tears. Thank you for your honesty, and humanity. I hope you have gotten comfort by all the love in the responses. I was moved again reading replies to you.

The one constant ambition in my life has been my desire to raise children. Notice, please - "raise." With much sacrifice and hard work, I have made a life in which I realize this life-long dream. I have felt castigated thoughout the process of chasing this ambition, been accused of having "done nothing" with my mind, certainly been um, encouraged, let's say, to find more "fulfilling" (lucrative?)things to do with my time.

It is such a short emotional hop to flip these reactions over and imagine pressure to raise children. I cried over the clear articulation in your post of a woman - a human - who is trying to hear God's sweet, gently individual call over the mindless braying of society and the worried admonishment of tradtion.

Fredrick Beuchner (sp?!) defines "call" as where our great joy meets society's great need. Let me tell you that I am weepy again now, thinking of the joy-filled men and women who "uncle" and "aunt" the children in my home, and the children we encounter in great need in the world. Your nephews are so blessed to have your love in their lives, and my life has been blessed yet again by your writing.

with respect and affection, and in prayer for you and J....

Mike Marchand said...

There was once when I faced almost the opposite situation. I still may again.

I want kids. Obviously not NOW, as I'd like to do it "in order," if you will, but it's definitely in my future.

Not too long ago I was seeing someone who told me she couldn't have kids. Now even though we weren't anywhere close to the marriage/kids talk, she was very special to me. But it still gave me pause. I was very very close to breaking that relationship off right then and there. Eventually, though, it had to come to an end.

But I may have to face a similar situation sometime later if I start seeing someone who either can't have kids or just doesn't want to. Or, as is becoming increasingly common these days, I may fall in love with someone who already has a child and has no interest in another. And I'm going to have to decide how important having kids truly is to me.

MB said...

Many thanks to all for your very kind and thoughtful comments. Your compassion is most moving.

MissDirected said...

Girl, don't sweat it. I know plenty of women (self included) who have no desire for children. Personally, I feel I'm way to selfish for children. Buying diapers instead of a fabulous pair of Guess shoes would surely lead me to resent my own child. Besides, I don't even have a savings account. I can barely keep myself afloat, so there's no need to throw a child into the mix. If a time comes when the time is right for you, great. But if that time doesn't come, it doesn't make you any less of a good woman, wife, or Catholic.

Hollee said...

Quite possible the most beautiful post you have ever written. I applaud you for your gut-wrenching honesty.
I never wanted children, but have three beautiful daughters because birth control failed me--the artificial kind, that is. Seems my baby machine was too strong. I love them, adore them, would not trade them--but I, as a lifelong writer type person--thought I would be a horrible mother. Maybe I wasn't great, but the girls lived and thrived and don't hate me. Better than I thought I'd get, y'know.
Anyway, 'nuff about me--I love this post, and you dearheart.

HelloBettyLou said...

Dear MB - You are not alone in this arena of lions and it's OK to have these thoughts. They may stay forever, they may not. My mother tells the story of how I came to be as: "I never wanted kids, ever, until one day, 4 years after getting married, I woke up and said, "I want a baby."" 10 months later I was born. So, love your husband, live your life, all will be right.

BettyLou

Josh The Pilot said...

Thank you all for your supportive and kind comments. Mary Beth has been torturing herself over this subject, and hopefully knowing there are others who think the same as she will calm her down. I've told her I would love to have kids, but I'm also totally fine with not having kids. Unlike the days when everyone had to have kids to help work the family farm, children these days are a total financial liability, of which we have enough already. Our married life budget is consumed by the massive student loans I brought with me, and it would be much harder to pay those off with children to support.
I've told her I'm very happy with the two nephews she gave me (thanks Julie!) and I look forward to possibly giving her more nephews/nieces via my brothers and sister (no pressure, dear siblings).

MB said...

"Unlike the days when everyone had to have kids to help work the family farm..."

We do have our 1/16 of an acre. The back 40 consists of a tree in a pot and some poison ivy.

Shauna said...

MB and Josh, my prayer for you is that your marriage will reflect Matthew 19:5: "For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."

I believe THAT is the reason for marriage.

I believe the Lord blesses some couples with children, and that he frees other couples for paths of service that would not be possible with children.
God is more interested in your heart than your womb...it took me years to make peace with that, but now I thank Him all the time for the ways I can serve him with the freedom he's given me.
I pray that you'll feel His guiding hand...regardless of whether or not He wants you to have kids, He loves you completely and utterly. May you feel His profound peace.
Shauna

jcat said...

You should applaud yourself for being logical about children. Having children is not something that you are suppose to do just because you got married, no matter what the church or 'people' say. It is a major life decision, and not one to be taken lightly. If you have kids because you are suppose to instead of because you want to, that mindset will affect how you view your life and your children. You and JTP have to live your own life, the people telling you that you need to have children are not going to raise those kids, you and JTP are, and that makes it your decision and yours alone.
Another thing to remember is that birth control, NFP or otherwise, has come along way in the last 50 years. Before that children were often considered the price you paid for the, ah, pleasures of married life, whether you wanted children or not. No one should fault you for making the decision just because it is in your power to do so.
I just have to say that the people who responded to your posting should be ashamed of themselves. I get the feeling that many of them had children because they were 'suppose to' and berate anyone who might actually see it as a choice.

CA Sailing Lady said...

If you haven't already, please read "Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. She gives an amazingly honest portayal of her battle with herself - and those around her - about having her not wanting children. You're not alone! I'm a 49 year old (soon to be 50!) practicing Catholic with two grown girls (29 & 27) whom I love very much. Yes, I started young and if given the time to think about it, may have found myself in your shoes and may never have had children. Neither of my girls want kids, which is fine with me and my (second) husband. Don't torture yourself! You're a wonderful Aunt who is giving your adorable nephews a great gift - yourself! Think about birth control for more control over that thermometer (remember the old joke "What do you call people who practice Natural Family Planning (rhythm method)? Parents!"). The Church is out of touch on many issues, birth control is one of the biggies. You're a good person with a wonderful heart. You and Josh will make the right decisions.

WanderingUpNorth said...

GOTTA comment on this one.

First - you're a lovely person. Stop being so hard on yourself.

Second - if all the Catholics jumped off a cliff would you?

Third - Plenty of people never get the itch for kids, plenty of people get it after 2, 5, 10 years of being married. The world is filled with followers, we certainly don't need any more. Rejoice in your own uniqueness.

Fourth - Have a GREAT day!

boblawblogger said...

As a practicing Catholic, I often feel hypocritical for not quite ascribing to 100% (more like 75%) of the Church's theology. I have a hard time coming to terms with the idea that at some point, when we, as Catholics have to answer to God for the content and path of our live that he will point to us and say "you did not do what man (read: Church/Pope etc.) told you to do." Whereas I do believe he would point to you and say that he was upset that you did not do what He told you to do. If you don't feel that children are right for you now, or ever, that is an emotion or situation only He can change. Be at peace with the way you are feeling. When it comes down to a tie between God and the "Church" follow God . . . that's the only person you have to please, and the only one to whom you have to answer. I may now be on the heretic list . . . Oh well. :)

J in Cincy said...

MB,
You are SO not alone. I, too, have gone through the "what's wrong with me?" about not feeling maternal twinges about having children. I've just never had it. Even now, whenever people bring their babies in to show them off at work, I'm the one who stays at my desk so everyone else can go visit and ooh-aah over them(it's actually more like ooh-ick for me). Coming from a Catholic upbringing it wasn't easy feeling that way. Thank goodness I've gotten over that self-questioning and am comfortable with who I am and how I feel. But it didn't happen overnight.

During my lifetime (I'm 43 now) I've gone from "maybe I'd like to have kids" to "NO WAY WILL I EVER HAVE KIDS" to "gee, I'd LOVE to have kids" to "wow, I'd better get off my butt and have kids before I'm too old" to "my life is absolutely complete with just my wonderful husband and our cats - why screw it up with kids?"

As newlyweds, I'm sorry to say that you and JTP may as well just get used to people asking that MOST PERSONAL question about when (not IF) you're going to have kids. I honestly think that most people believe in the equation: marriage = children. Well, some people, like my husband and myself, have never felt the need to have children of our own to feel complete and fulfilled in our lives together. There's no empty space - no yearning. And, thank heavens, people have FINALLY stopped asking whether we're going to kids (it only took 15 years).

Please don't beat yourself up about it. You're young, you've just gotten married, and you may change your mind 5 times - or 25 times - before you know what's right for you.

So, in the meantime, be happy! ENJOY your life with your husband, and give yourself some time.

biologyteacher said...

Mb,
I am not religious, so I feel the pressure of "Hurry up and have kids!" from a different venue. I am not sure what to say to my older female friends who tell me I will change my mind. "You would make a great mother." I make a great surrogate mother, be that a biological aunt or an "aunt" to friends' children.

I don't doubt that I would take over parenting duties, if called, to these children. Until then, I can be "No Rules Auntie Stacey" and yet help raise them to be decent, kind human beings.

Here's to being true to ourselves and our ability to choose.

Stacey

regina said...

This is the first post by you i have ever read and i know i'll be back for more!
I started my own married life with a bun in the oven (we were engaged and oops!) and even though i really wanted kids (and still want more eventually) I sometimes wish we had waited or thought about it more.. married life is hard enough in the first years and adjusting has been really hard; plus throw my student loans on top of it and the fact we live in the most expensive city ever and it makes our heads spin.
The pressure's never end either, now its not 'oh when are you having kids?' 'it's when are you having another' and when i mumble 'not for a long time' the looks i get are akin to if i said 'actually i am thinking of selling the one i have'

To each his own, and doesn't the Bible say something about everyone answering the Call of G-D in his/her own way?

MB said...

Hi Regina,
I am so glad you stopped by BlondeChampagne, and truly do hope you return here to the Tasting Room to let us know what you think. You and your hubby must have had such a hard time being newlyweds AND brand-new parents, and you are to be congratulated for making it through! I appreciate the encouragement-- from you and all of my other much-appreciated The Readers.

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