Friday, October 24, 2008

the intentionally empty womb

posted over at the exponent
melancholy redemption.jpg
The painting shown here is one I did just before I got intentionally pregnant with our son. I found myself using art making to process some of the ambiguity I felt about that decision. The sacrifice, the sanctification, the vulnerability, the fear (and hope), the requirement. (And just because, here is something I did when I was about 9 mo pregnant with our son.)

I have wondered if it was the birth of our son that doomed my faith in the church, opened that perilous door which led to a very diminished belief in it's claims to exclusive divine direction. I'm the kind of woman who has never been 'baby hungry'. I enjoy kids (and love my son) but prefer my exposure to them to be limited to a degree (I'm a much better mother to my son when he is with someone else for a part of the day) and I have never experienced a longing to reproduce. It was with a bit of trepidation and ambivalence that I agreed to conceive; it's what Mormon couples do after getting married, hubby thought it was a good idea, I was approaching 30, clock's a ticking. I couldn't vocalize any good reason not to. So we did. The Pregnancy was fine. Labor and delivery went without a hitch. But then I was suddenly a mom... and I discovered it wasn't a role that worked very well for me. When the other young mothers around me talked about planning for their 'next one' I had a hard time relating. The only possible reason I could see for wanting another child was because it was what God wanted me to do, sort of like commanding Jonas to go to Nineveh. And I was starting to have some issues with the Father's demands upon my body.

I wrote this guest post at fMh a little over a year ago about why people have children. It was really big on my mind at the time, we were coming to that point where my husband and I were asking "do we have another one?" and I was doing some serious soul searching. This year, my son turns five, I will soon become officially "mid 30's", and I have gone through a bit of a cognitive shift. Epitomized, perhaps, by president Beck's Mother's Who Know talk; it wasn't until after I ceased believing in "Prophets, seers, and revelators who... [declare] that 'God's commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force'" that I could finally come to grips with and admit the fact that I really didn't want any more children. That our family felt complete to me. I think for my mother this is painfully personal. To her it is not only proof of my declining faith in the church, but also an indictment against her own effectiveness as a mother (she wonders if I would be more maternal if she had been a better mom.) Likewise there are women who desire (but are unable) to have a child, and my fully capable but intentionally empty womb must seem like a cruel joke. I don't have answers to those questions. This is just my personal story.

But I am curious, for me faith and family planning seemed so heavily connected, (which is silly- perpetuating the species is what we are programed for) how does this work for others? Are there faithful members of the church who don't feel any contradiction between believing in the restored gospel and happily remaining childless? On the flip side, know any atheists with lots of kids? What has been your experience with the command to multiply and replenish the earth?


Anonymous said...

G--this is such a timely post for me. I just returned from a post-op visit after having my tubes tied. Hubby was very willing to do the vasectomy, but I insisted that I wanted to do it this way, for me. It has brought a great deal of personal closure to me after having dealt with the pain and anger of infertility, the joy of adoption, and finally enabled me to give a proverbial middle finger to the God I was supposed to multiply and replenish the earth for. How can any woman in the church not be damaged by their rhetoric of motherhood? I always wondered if my life perhaps would have been vastly different if I hadn't been subjected to decades of "when I grow up, I want to be a mother, and have a family..." jingles and oh so much more (do you remember that song?) Having left the church, this last act has somehow symbolically freed me from all the gender roles that I abhorred for years. I feel as if my body (and a part of my soul) more fully belongs to me now, not a church or patriarchy or even spouse.

I love my two kids, I fought hard to get them, and I'll fight to my last breath to protect and nurture and delight in them. But this agnostic woman is lovin' her newly acquired permanent baby-free future. And hubby is excited by my rekindled enthusiasm for all things that used to be baby-making ;-) ...hmmmm.....TMI?

p.s. if you're wondering, what up with tying the tubes if you struggled with infertility? I didn't want to be 40 and suddenly have an unexpected 'miracle'. I knew I was done with any more kids when I actually started thinking: If I ever did get pregnant, that would ruin everything....

Anonymous said...

oops! Sorry for the lengthy comment. I suppose I'm celebrating a milestone today in my journey of faith and got carried away....

adam said...

I don't know if it makes me a fence sitter, but I am a believer (in the deep theology, anyway) and I also don't think that children, let alone marriage are for everyone. No way. There are so many people who are just not cut out for a marital relationship, for a myriad of reasons. Same with children: 2/3 of wives experience a significant DROP in marital satisfaction after the birth of their first child. Granted, often that is due to the husband's lack of getting on board with the whole ordeal, but it does shed some light on the myth in the church that "having babies makes us happy."

As for having children, those who want them and have the capacity/ability to raise them should have as many as they think is right. My wife and I have one right now, with plans for 1-3 more. I was way nervous at first about it all, and wasn't sure that I wanted a child then, but I absolutely love it now.

My favorite part of the proclamation that so many members don't give enough attention to is the bit about "adapting to individual circumstances." The 'commandment' remains in force, but IMO it does not override a couple's inspired use of agency.

Eris said...

I am "happily" in the church, I guess, and have three kids. I never felt forced to have the kids - I wanted each of them and am not sure if I am done yet.

The challenge for me is the way I raise them. I guess you could call me the Alpha in the family and we were happiest when Mr. Eris was the one at home with the kids. I think I am very good at making the babies, having the babies and supporting the babies. Mr. Eris is very good at nurturing the babies. This is not a popular position in the church and I have had to defend it to family and friends.

G said...

anonymous- hahahahaha! the proverbial middle finger to god..?!? wow. yeah, I was raised to "when I grow up..." with the refrain "one little two little three little children of my own..." (all the way up to six or more?!?) Yes, I got that programing loud and clear. congradulations on your, /ahem, renewed enthusiasm? (and it is never tmi here. share away!)

adam, thank you! it is so refreshing to hear that: "it might not be for everyone". Mostly, I got the line that it IS for everyone, and if it ISN'T working for you, with enough faith, scripture study and prayer it would. thank you for your knowledge on the matter (and the reminder that the proc can be interpreted far more liberally than so many do)

eris, I LOVE it! you go, you alpha fem, you! my own lover is exceptional with children, he makes such a good stay at home dad... but he also makes so much more $$$ than I do. I mostly feel dumb that I sabotaged my own education/work experience so that I am still not worth much more than min wage. Rather a bad move to make if one is trying to escape the stay-at-hm-mom routine. working to correct that mistake now... but to be realistic: it's a long shot. so we just work it out as best we are able.
thank you so much for sharing how it works for you.

D'Arcy said...

G--good post as usual.

I have a lot to say, as usual.

I just turned 31, not married, no kids.

From 19-24 I kept telling everyone I wanted marriage and kids...but in the back of my mind I always wondered (hmm, do I?) And I would fight myself. Yes, you do, of course you do.

Then they never came.

Then I was pissed because I planned this whole life and how it would be for these people that never came.

It was finally when I moved to New York at 27 that I realized I was good. I didn't want a husband yet (maybe one day) and I DID NOT want kids, didn't really like kids, was annoyed by kids. All this time my friends were having more and more babies (most of them up to 5 kids now)...and at least two of them kept saying "well, I feel that I am SUPPOSED to have another one, even though I don't really want it."

And I thought, wtf!?!

Today is a weird day to answer this question because I just spent the whole day with my nieces and nephews and I loved it. I have actually been having some hormonal (the explanation I am using right now?) reactions to babies and I feel like I want one. But wanting one and having one are still two different things for me.

Chandelle said...

Very interesting, G. (And I LOVE that piece!! It might be my favorite so far.)

This is such a near and dear issue for me, especially as we are planning J's vasectomy. He's all about it. He feels like we are "so done" having kids. And I do too, completely. There's this little piece inside me, though, that thinks, "Hey, maybe being sleep-deprived and agitated and frustrated and exhausted and confused for four years is making your head a little unreliable!" I'm only 24, Jeremy is just shy of 30, and I'm concerned that our kids will get older, our finances will improve, our life will smooth out, and we'll want more kids, but we'll have effectively cut off our options.

But then I think, if I ever get baby-hungry, I can just think, Hm, why didn't we want the vasectomy in the first place? Oh yeah! Because we were exhausted, we had no time to work on our relationship, the kids sucked us dry every minute of every day, and we almost never got to be alone.

I love my kids to death; I am so grateful that I have them, and even grateful that we had them close together. Everything important in my life has sprouted up as a result of those two children. But I definitely feel done with the family-building part of my life; now it's time to build my career, engage with my community, and raise children instead of birthing them.

Of course, then the LDS question comes in; my husband's family believes that we aren't having more children because we no longer have "the spirit" telling us to do it. We did have profound spiritual experiences when we decided to have these two kids. But there is no lack of spiritual experience in my life as an essentially-atheist post-Mormon, so I don't think that theory holds water.

Either way, it's nobody else's damn business.

Every time I see a pregnant woman or a small baby, I feel myself out for baby hunger. So far, not even a smidge. All I think is, THANK GOD (or whatever :) it's not me.

Chandelle said...

And Eris, I'm totally with you. I'm all about birthing the kids, and supporting them, and being like the fun/disciplinary parent, while my husband is the mama, totally nurturing. We've had the same situation as G, however, in that he makes a lot more money than me, so I've been an unplanned SAHM for the past four years. It's been a ride, and I'm really glad I had the opportunity, but as they get older I just can't wait to do other things, to be a better mother because I'm not spread so thinly or trying to shove myself into a box where I really don't fit.

G said...

d'arcy- I had a bit of a similar experience in that while dating, it seemed somehow necessary to talk about how I wanted kids. even in casual dating situations it felt like it always came up and part of the routine I played was talking up my maternal desires (ignoring the little nagging voice questioning that).

To be honest, my husband would still like more children, he'd like our son to have siblings. But he also values my sanity and he thought he almost lost me during our little buddy's earlier years (I thought I was lost beyond help myself a few times).

as for your friends having babies mostly out of a sense of obligation... wtf indeed!

chandelle- my mom feels a bit the same way; my not having another child right away was one of the first signs of my decreasing testimony. God will ALWAYS tell you to have another child, so to not have one means you are not talking to God about the subject.

and I frequently do a bit of re-evaluation myself each time I get some baby time: cuddle cuddle, coochi coo! then hand the baby back to it's mother and do a self-scan: do I want one for myself? nope. glad to be getting on with my life.

I will admit I'm still conflicted on the subject. because of my age. I'll be 35 at the beginning of next year, the clock is definitely winding down... what if I suddenly change my heart in a few years, ya know, in my LATE 30's suddenly have regret that I didn't have more children?
I dont' believe that having children as insurance against regret is the wisest route... but I do understand a bit of that fear.

xJane said...

These are both very powerful pieces (as is your post!). My choice to get my tubes tied was nearly instantaneous—I knew it was exactly what I wanted—but I still needed (and, thankfully, was able to take) time to grieve for the children I'll never have. I'm impressed by women who are mothers. It's something I could never do. But I miss the being pregnant & the giving birth. I need reminders that they're not the only thing that make me a woman.

G said...

thank you, xjane!

Allie said...

I don't believe that God will always say you should have another. I think God likes us to use our own minds a little more than some people might think.

I'd imagine that God views it similarly as my Mister. I'm the one who it affects the most, so ultimately, it's up to me whether we have another baby or not.