|Harry Potter is just SUCH a good series. And has nothing to do with this post really.|
Okay this is a serious one guys, that I've been thinking of for a while. (No, it's not about hijab, though that is a fascinating topic.) But you know that scene in Harry Potter: The Order of the Phoenix at the end when Sirius Black is killed by Bellatrix Lestrange ("Avada Kedavra!") and he falls through that strange, transparent curtain in the department of mysteries and disappears? And you wonder if he's really gone or maybe not but what is that curtain and what's behind it? (In case you're wondering, yes, typing this out is making me feel as though it's more ridiculous than I was thinking it was before I started writing this.) ANYWAY, do you know the scene? Well I feel like that scene is being replicated in my life. Only the Department of Mysteries is my social group and the magical, transparent curtain is parenthood. (Avada "I'm Pregnant!")
Now before you parental types stop reading and de-friend me from Facebook, please know that I'm being serious. As I grow older and more and more of my close friends have started to have children, I've been thinking a lot about what that transition means, especially for those of us still on this side of the great divide. And it is a strange thing. Even though I have many friends who manage to balance child rearing with adult friendships, I recognize that there is something that's irrevocably changed when you have kids, not just for you but for those you're in relationship with as well. While most of me is overcome with joy for my friends striking out on the path of parenting and legitimately hopeful for the future of their family life, there is part of me that feels differently. Perhaps it's part sadness at losing what was once an easy bond to sustain, now made more difficult by the introduction of drastic changes in the lifestyle and priorities of those around me. Perhaps it is part feeling left out, wondering what's on the other side of the veil. Perhaps it's part worrying that in resisting the pull of having children, I'm missing something profoundly valuable and that by the time I realize my desire for it, it will be too late.
The God's honest truth, though, is that I'm not sure I want to have children. It might be that I'm just not ready yet, but it's also a serious area of discernment, something I want to take seriously knowing that not choosing is a form of choosing. I am clear that childbearing isn't one of the deepest desires of my heart right now. And as with all things, it's hard to know if and when it will be. One thing I do know is that I feel hesitant to give up the control (financial, spiritual, social, what have you) that I feel I have just (finally!) established over my own life. But it's painful to realize that this careful discernment might leave me unable to connect in important ways with some of my most precious friends.*
And so I wait. And I think. And I realize how much my world is changing as more evenings out end early, as more discussions at dinner are about baby swings and bottle nipples, and as the things I care about and engage with seem slightly out of joint in comparison with many of those around me.
The irony of this is that I am feeling all this as someone who (as far as I am aware having never tested it) has a choice about children. I know many friends who, struggling with fertility challenges or sexual orientation or what have you, don't feel as though they have a choice at all and who are in great pain about how to fulfill their longing to have children. I cannot imagine the agony of navigating this stage of life with awareness of one's reproductive limitations looming overhead each time a new ultrasound photo pops up on Facebook.** And I want for those voices to be part of my world too, not just in whispered private conversations, but in a public way that is valued and acknowledged as much as we value and acknowledge announcements by those who can and do have children.
If you're wondering why I'm writing this (especially on a blog mostly reserved for cynical musings about things as trivial as Self-Check Out Stands and Dress-Me Jesus'***), it's because of this: I don't know that I have a single role model of a couple who has chosen not to have children AND publicly discussed this choice. And I could use some. Where are you? Why did you choose not to have children? What does that feel like over a lifetime? How do I talk to my friends about my decision without sounding as though I am judging theirs? How do I continue to play an informed and meaningful role in the life of children not my own?
My friend Ghandi told me to be the change I want to see. So here I am. Because I think our culture could use some voices of all genders and generations and sexual orientations and life setting talking about what childbearing means and what not having children means at every different stage of life.
Despite my general feelings about Elizabeth Gilbert****, I did enjoy many parts of her most recent book, "Committed" which is loosely about the history of marriage. She claims that there are (and have always been) a consistent percentage of women (across history and geography) who don't have children. So I know you're out there. And I want to hear what you think! I hope more voices, on both sides of the veil, will be heard. I think we'll all be better for it, and so will our children (And of course I mean that in a "It takes a village" kind of way. But I'll let you know.)
* Though there is one resource for which I am profoundly grateful in this area. And that is my friend LKF, who, as I've previously mentioned, blogs here about the intersection of vocation and motherhood. Her honest reflections are a great gift to me and an open window in the challenges of deciding TO have children, and I am profoundly grateful for her generosity in sharing them.
** Please don't post your ultrasound on Facebook. I feel awkward about seeing the inside of your uterus, especially when we're not that close of friends. I'll just take your word for it, okay?.
***What on EARTH is the plural of Jesus?
**** Look, I know a lot of people out there really loved Eat, Pray, Love, which is fine. But seriously, E.G. I just canNOT bring myself to feel bad for you that you got divorced and then got PAID to travel around the world and find yourself afterward.