Friday, April 29, 2011

The Veil

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.


  1. This is a great and wonderfully honest reflection. Speaking as someone on the other side of the veil (and dang, another shoutout to thank you for - love it!), I have to say that I experience the change in friendships/adult relationships similarly: I love the change that my son has brought to my life, but I still mourn some of the changes that it brought to my friendships. I don't have the same time for hour-long catch-up chats with good friends like I used to, and I find that this is understandably harder for friends sans kids to really grasp. I didn't get it either before I had S. And yet I think in many of those relationships, there remains a profound gratefulness for the diversity in our life experiences - e.g. I don't know what it's like to be in the dating scene in your 30s, but I am glad to learn about this from my friends who are. It broadens my perspective and keeps my mind open; it reminds me that my norm is not The Norm. But I was really struck by your statement that you don't have a single role model of a couple who chose not to have children and were public about their decision. All the child-free couples I know fall into that category as well, keeping their feelings around the decision mostly private. And while I understand that it's an intensely private decision for a couple, we all still need role models in our relationships/vocations. So I'm intrigued to hear what others think about this. How do we broaden the conversation and not alienate others by the public face we give to our private decisions? How do we mutually support each other when we make different life choices?
    Also: re ** - I apologize that I am one of those FB friends who has posted the occasional in-utero pic of offspring. But dang, I am mesmerized by those shots - the sheer tiny humanness that we are, so early on. But you don't ever have to comment on those albums. I understand. ;)
    And: re **** - I appreciated that aspect of "Committed" as well. It was a refreshing perspective. But yeah, Liz Gilbert is more to be envied (or scorned) than anything else, really. All I want is pasta and yoga and deep passionate love, too, but someone also has to wash the dishes, darn it.

  2. When we drink G and Ts and watch Mark Wahlberg movies we should make some time to talk about this. D and I are going to have beh-behs, but not for a while yet, and I seriously weirded about about it a lot of the time. I went through a period where I was very seriously considering not having kids at all, and for a lot of the same reasons. My life just got good and under my control and I'm not sure I'm ready to give that up...ever. On the other side from what you are experiencing, when we do have kids we'll probably be the first of our friends to have kids and I am really scared about that, too. I don't want them to think they don't have anything in common with me anymore. I don't want to have to go to bed early or stop prioritizing friends and wine. I don't want my friends to think that I've "changed" and I don't want to "change' although DUH I WILL.

    We have several sets of couple-friends who are unabashedly not having kids and I am so thankful for them (even as I fear their responses whwen we do have kids). Also, check out my girl Lauren's writing about this:

    also: I've never read Elizabeth Gilbert but I think she can suck it. Also I will NEVER post my ultrasound on facebook. Gross.