I’ve debated whether or not to write this post for the last couple of years. I’ve hesitated to write this post because Kelli Goff is right: The most controversial thing for a woman (especially a married woman) to say is “I don’t want to have children.”
For some reason the idea that not all people, including plenty of women, have the desire to become parents, and more specifically, the idea that not all people who can have children, should, remain two of the most taboo things any person, particularly any woman, can say out loud. While endless media coverage has been devoted to the so-called “mommy wars” between working moms and stay at home moms and those who are pro-choice and those who are not, the real gulf, is one so controversial that the media hardly covers it at all: the gulf between those who do not wish to become parents and everyone else who thinks that by shear of virtue of being on this planet and not being a serial killer, you should.
I grew up in a secular world that assumed I would have kids because I’m a woman, and I grew up in a sacred world that assumed the same. In fact, the Evangelical/Fundamental tradition I grew up in told me my highest calling in life was to be a wife and mother. By my early 30s I wasn’t sure I wanted to be married or have children. I had spent a year in Barcelona in 1997, and I liked the freedom of being single. I loved the idea that I could pick up and leave tomorrow if that’s what Godde wanted me to do. I loved my freedom. I was not sure marriage and children were worth what it would cost me. I changed my mind about marriage (I am happily married to my best friend), but I did not change my mind about having children. We are not having children, not because we can’t, but because we don’t want to. I’m ready to go off the birth control pill and decided it was time to just fix what I consider to be a problem: the possibility (however slight) that I might get pregnant. Tuesday I am going in for a tubal ligation. I am relieved. Not only will I get off the pill, there will be no more pregnancy fears. If I was still in my former tradition I probably wouldn’t say anything about the surgery. Or if I did, the automatic response would be: “Well you can always adopt.” Not having kids–choosing not to have kids–is not a conscious option in my former circles.
Now I go to church with two other married woman who made the decision not to have children (and there is another couple who don’t have children–I don’t know if they chose that or it just happened that way). Both of them are on the other side of 50 and have no regrets that they did not have children. The church I attend is fine with our decision not to have children. They don’t treat us like errant children who aren’t getting in line to go to recess. I no longer hear, “Oh you’ll change your mind” in that voice denoting someone patting your head because you’re the silliest, little kid they ever saw. I know how lucky I am. Even in the most progressive and liberal Protestant churches the assumption is, if you’re a woman, you’ll have children.
I was reminded when Elena Kagan was nominated to the Supreme Court how taboo it was for a woman not to choose to have children. As Keri Goff points out in her article:
Why has every major profile of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed the fact that they do not have children, as if it represents some boat they missed on the world tour known as life? Not to mention the veiled (and not so veiled) references about their sexuality that permeate cyberspace. As though no children = gay by default.
Could a political couple, who chose not to have children, even get elected in our country with its obsession over “family values” (whatever that is; hard to tell with all the family-values politicians committing adultery or some kind of fraud)? So with trepidation I confess that I do not want to have children, and that I am taking steps to make sure there are no future surprises. I know it’s the right thing for me and my family, and yes, my husband and I do make a family, children or no children. I grew tired of narrow definitions of family a decade ago when no one in society or church would recognize that I was part of a family, even if I wasn’t married. It didn’t seem to matter that I was a daughter, sister, aunt, and niece. What I wasn’t was all that mattered: I wasn’t a wife or mother. I still find this to be true now that I’m married. My husband and I aren’t a “real family” because we don’t want children. It’s not enough that we’re husband and wife.
I know there are those who will think I am selfish for not having children, and you’re right. I am selfish. I know how much time and energy it takes to raise kids. I know how large of an investment it is, and there is no return policy. I do not want to spend my time and energy raising kids. I want to spend my time and energy writing books. I am going to give birth and create new life: I’m just going to stick to giving birth in a metaphorical and spiritual sense.
I keep thinking that, of all places this should be OK is within the church. After all, Jesus redefined “family” in his teachings. For him family was not your biological kin but those who obeyed Godde: “But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother'” (Matthew 12:48-50). It should be fine for a Christian woman not have to have kids to fully follow the calling Jesus placed on her life, but it isn’t. It’s assumed that all other callings will be subsumed under The Call to Motherhood. My only response is no. My highest calling is not to be a mother. My highest calling is to be a writer. I can’t even say that my calling to be a wife beats out my call to write. I’ve been a writer ever since I could write (a good 34 or 35 years now), and I was making up stores before I could write them down. I’ve only been a wife for four years. This idea that I should suppress who I really am–a writer–to be something I am not and have no desire to be–a mother–is just un-Christlike considering what Jesus thought of biological families and how he treated women, especially single women.
I am glad that I found a church that does not believe every woman’s highest calling is to be a mother. I’m glad I’m in a place that recognizes my gifts and talents and encourages me to use them to build Godde’s kingdom in our world. Because there are plenty of Godde’s children that need our love and care who are not part of any other family. I’m hoping that my writing reaches a few of these people and draws them closer to Godde.