I recently spoke at Stellenbosch University, Theology Faculty on reproductive health. The two day discussion conference was intensive with many different speakers from across 5 different universities. I spoke about my journey as a childless by choice woman, whose story is not as straight forward as you might think. I’ve been asked a number of times whether the talk was recorded or not, it was not, so I’ll be sharing my heart talk with you here, in 3 parts. Please stick around for all 3. Dividing this up, the first part is all about what I’ve heard from others regarding not having children, the second part is all about my personal observation as to why I believe the church trips up on CBC couples, and the third part is about my experience as an extended parent….
I was 14 years old when I first thought about children. I remember that day clearly, the one that first led me to think about children. I was sitting on my bed, propped between pillows and scatter cushions, my mom was reading beneath the yellow light of the green lamp shade. My mind was turning over the rather complex thoughts I always wrestled with as a child. I turned to my mother and teenage confidant and asked her a series of rhetorical questions that were essentially asked in order to discover my own answers.
“Mom,” I begun, “why does society say we need to get married, have children, own a house and settle down? Why do people do that? Why are people allowing society to tell them what to do? Why do they do that mom!”
My mom always enjoyed these kinds of conversations, her eyes always held a look of delight mixed with a shot of shock. She replied, “good point, whoever said you need to do that, I think people do that because they can’t think for themselves.”
I continued with conviction, “well when I get older mom I’m not going to do that, I’m going to build a safe house for abused women and children.”
There is no way I can look back on those words without feeling emotional about them. Something of sacred destiny and God’s call to me, was echoed through my teenage words. Ten years later after completing my degree, I started working as a non – profit trauma counsellor, my work was focussed on helping victims of trauma, as well as working with abused woman. In the same year I met a tall, dark – haired, blue eyed seminary student named Tim who would become my husband. Our first casual outing as friends, before dating, was a stroll on the beach in Milnerton. We spoke at length about our hopes, our dreams and our disappointments and then I remember the conversation moving deeper. That moment when Tim looked at me and said, “I don’t want children, I know I’m going to work in the mission field.”
“Me too,” I said, surprised. Three years later we were married.
Ten years later and we still have not changed our minds about having children, but our narrative has and continues to be, one of difficulty.
In general, society’s narrative is conditioned in such a way that the minute two individuals marry, almost everyone whether it be family, friends, church acquaintances, colleagues and even cashiers at the supermarket, begin questioning the couple about having children. The questions posed are seemingly unending and can be insensitive. My journey through these questions is relevant, not because I am an upstanding citizen of a greater society and not because I am an ordained minister, but because I am a woman. As a woman, it is largely anticipated that I would at some stage in my life, feel “broody” and desire to be a mother. Truthfully, I have felt neither the broodiness, nor the desire to birth my own child. As a childless by choice woman I have heard some of the most hideous, cruel and defamatory things.
From Christians I have heard the following:
- “I understand your decision not to have children, I was like that too once when I was young and self-centred, but then I woke up.”
- “Why don’t you want children? The Bible says you must have children or you are a sinner and will not be saved.”
- “It’s such a pity the devil has convinced you and your husband not to have children, you both have such a powerful anointing to share Gods Word, you could have at least passed that on to your kids.” (I thought the reason for possessing an anointing to share Gods Word was so that the body can come to the fullness of spiritual maturity as Paul writes in Ephesians 4, but I digress.)
- “You’ll change your mind, you still young.”
– “What denomination do you belong to?”
From a female doctor I consulted about my husband possibly having a vasectomy before my wedding day:
- “Oh no,” she objected, “don’t do that! If you not around anymore he may want children from someone else.” (this implies that I had made the decision solo)
From ordinary individuals I have heard the following:
- If I had my life over, I would not have had kids, I admire your decision.
- You have to have kids!
- You’ll change your mind, you’re still young.
- Really? You don’t want children?
- So what would you do if you fell pregnant, surely you wouldn’t mind?
- Don’t you want children after you’ve held other people’s babies?
- You obviously don’t like kids then?
These statements or sentiments have convinced me that being childless by choice, is somehow uncomfortable for society in general and I personally believe there are a number of reasons for this. While these statements have been hurtful, I have come to realise that these words reveal more than anything else, the psyche of society. In many regards, motherhood is upheld as the greatest desire of all women, this is something no one seems to question. But when a woman forges out a different path for herself, and with her lifestyle choice she challenges this belief system, discrimination follows. When challenging a commonly held cultural or societal belief, I have found there to be a deep complexity of emotion that often wells up or over, the children debate is deeply connected to our souls, our emotions and our thoughts.