I know, I know. I hear you already. It’s hard to be childless no matter who you are. It’s hard to be a Christian. It’s hard to want things your peers don’t want. It’s hard to be single, to be married, to be different. Life is hard, period.
Our four year wedding anniversary is coming up, and we’ve been reflecting on how our relationship has changed in the six years we’ve known each other. Our decision not to have children – yep, we decided that before my diagnosis, and it was a good thing we did – has been questioned, praised, shamed. We knew it was the right thing for us to do. We didn’t know why, but some circumstances have led us to follow instincts the Holy Spirit has anchored in our hearts even though we can’t clearly see why.
Fear of disappointment
As a kid, I was driven to excel by the desire to avoid disappointment, and to fulfill the expectations of my peers and family. I enjoyed school and most of the tasks to which I set my mind. But disappointment chased me down, and being the one left behind – that was my deepest fear.
So here, at 28, finally embedded in both a career and church I love, I can safely name everyone’s primary expectation for me. According to the way of all things, I have checked off all the other things I should do first, and now, pushing 30, we should probably hurry up and have some kids.
I feel a little bit naked writing this, letting all these strangers into our lives and our marriage. Please share a little grace with me as you read the rest.
Fighting the narrative
At first, I felt angry. The Christian narrative about being “fruitful” made me feel sinful and selfish, and more than anything, I didn’t want to disappoint people. The conflicting forces resulted in someone who felt really quite hostile about the topic. (If you were the recipient of this hostility, I apologize. I wish I understood then what I do now.) I felt helpless to fight back when people were quoting a “commandment” to “be fruitful” from Genesis. I didn’t have a Bible verse. I just had an instinct, a feeling.
Then I remembered a time when some “wiser” person quoted scripture to prove me wrong. As a teenager, I gave all the money I raised to another kid in youth group who couldn’t afford to go to camp, and I stayed home. The youth pastor asked me why God would lead me to stay home from such a wonderful experience, and I told him I felt this was the Holy Spirit’s direction. He interrogated me, as if I’d have some irrefutable scripture to quote, but I had nothing. All I knew was someone needed money, and I had it, so I gave it away. I acted on nothing but an urging from the Spirit.
The “ah-ha” moment
When I was diagnosed with ITP (chronically low platelets), we had this ah-ha moment when everything made sense. Our desire to wait for children, or maybe never have children, possibly saved my life. (In case you were wondering, low platelet counts are pretty dangerous for pregnant women. You can read more about my ITP story here.) The diagnosis, as scary as it is, brought me relief I can’t explain. It freed me from these scripture-mongers trying to run my life with their literal interpretations. And it freed me to start fighting against the narrative that childless Christians by choice are sinful and selfish.
I read this terrific article by Raymond Van Leeuwen in Christianity Today, written from the perspective of a parent with adult children, who explains this “be fruitful” phrase is not a commandment but a blessing. Children are a gift from God, and choosing not to have children can also be a blessing. God does not call us all to the same end.
Different, but okay
Here’s the gist of our experience: we feel our decision not to have children has been God-ordained, but we also understand that with this blessing comes other work God has asked us to do. This blessing has allowed us the privilege to follow God’s call to places and commitments that would be difficult with children.
None of this is to discount the blessing and extraordinary call to parenthood. I admire my peers who parent so gracefully, who have such lovely children. At times, I feel left behind when I look at them and realize how different our lives would look had we chosen that route. Either way, God would have seen us through. We just look different from most of our peers, and that’s okay.