Sunday, November 1, 2009

what now?

I've had an interesting weekend. Way too exhausted way too much of the time (I know I don't sleep enough, but I caught up enormously and still found myself about to collapse). Spent a delightful afternoon with my MIL who was visiting, wandering around the town where my DH and I would like to buy a house. (The tan house came back on the market 10/22. As soon as it has an open house I am going.) Wore a silly costume to a Hallowe'en party (I do not belong to the non-Hallowe'en-celebrating phalanx of the ueber-traditional branch of the Catholic mafia. I do have huge issues with the "I've wanted to dress as a prostitute all year. What? I'm a cat. See the whiskers?" theory of costuming, however).

My DH was traveling for work this weekend. I end up hanging out with the single people more when he is gone (unsure why), and I have observed some fascinating social phenomena in these groups, so I set as a goal this weekend figuring out what's up there. I don't know whether I have enough for the published study, but I'm starting to get some insight into the DC Catholic dating scene. (Executive summary: GOOD GRIEF.) I also realized today just how good it is for me to hang out with just other young women who share my faith. I NEVER DO THIS ANY MORE. No wonder I feel my personality limping about - part of it is atrophying. I'm not turning into a man, even with all of my DH's guy friends around and my job in a man's world, but I need to nurture my femininity, other than just by watching ludicrous movies.

I went with the gals to a Mass I don't usually attend and the homily was just amazing. I focused more on being at Mass and praying than I usually do. I really need to get this back. I've basically given up on daily Mass. I need to revamp somewhere but I'm not sure where to start.

I realized that I have a particular blessing that I know others have prayed for, that I have prayed for. I don't have the burning desire for a child. I've talked about aspects of this. There's the sour grapes - I refuse to believe I'll have one and I refuse to hope. There's the life mutation - I've been tooling along not having a child(ren), and where into my goofy life would I insert one now? (That last may just be a failure of imagination.) But a lot of these ideas were predicated on bitterness. I'm not going to have a kid and SO THERE. I'm tough and I'll cry in private.

But I've realized that while I've nursed my bitterness, there's been something else going on, too. If I get pregnant in this supposedly fertile year (you know, if my DH is ever home during my fertile phase anyway), I will of course be grateful. I'm not feeling attached to that, though. I'm not expecting it. But I am expecting to try. That's good.

I read a book on discernment of vocation when I was in college that contended that the hallmark of discernment was "freedom to the opposite." You knew you were following God's call (and not your own selfish desires OR your own neuroses) if you felt confident about the way you were to go, but your heart was free, should you receive different information, to turn around and go the other way. (Even if you had a preference, as long as you were free.) I certainly knew what it felt like not to be free to the opposite, at the time.

I'm not sure that this principle applies directly to having children, but I feel pretty close to free now. I expect not to have children. I feel free to welcome them if I should. Or if I look at it the other would be a good thing to have children. I feel free to accept that I won't, if I don't. Heaven knows that doesn't mean there aren't things about which I am anxiety-ridden. I still have a lot of anger at the idea that my endo could come back every five years. I'm angry that to preserve my health I'd have to have a complete hysterectomy as a very young woman. Because it's not enough that I am, in the view of too many, incomplete as a woman because I can't bear children.

I also realize that my acceptance, such as it is, is at the psychological level, really. I've lectured my head until the gremlins that make me conflicted and tortured over every step have largely quieted. Since I've restricted my spiritual life to a smallish corner for the moment, there's not a lot of cognitive dissonance there to interfere with my calm. But I know that I do need to resolve my anger with God for putting me in a position where I had to get here in the first place. I don't have a lot of "did He not think I would make a good mother" issues. I've seen what's happened in the raising of my baby siblings. No one who's not actually abusive could be worse at parenting than their (my) parents. My prospective parenting skills are definitely not the issue. (And yes, it has crossed my mind that I could be put in the position of raising them one day if their parents can't. My DH has brought the idea up himself. If need be, we would do that.)

But I've gone through a lot of really, really hurtful roller-coaster about this IF thing (I'm on one of the uphill chugs now, but I'm sure I will be flung upside down through some hideous loop again in another five minutes), and only most of that was my fault. I can't say that God chose sufferings for me that were (are, and will be) not fair, because I don't know better than He does. But sublimating my will to His will not work if I have to pretend to think that He was right. I don't feel that He was. He is going to have to explain it to me so that I can understand it, if I am to get past this.

I realize that I've shoved Him out of my life - except in spots where I can get hold of it - as surely as my husband has, even though I am superficially dogmatic as I always have been. (I do believe. I always believe. But, I suppose, I don't trust. I thought kids from a broken home with no strong relationship with either parent were supposed to be showered with graces to allow them to trust in God - not with challenges to estrange them from Him. I don't think I needed a tutorial on estrangement. I am an expert. On the other hand, I suppose my graces on the subject of trust were - my husband. He's flawed, but he has loved me as the other adults in my life never could. I would be lost, more lost than I am, without his love.) When he gets back, I will try very hard to convince him that we both should go on an intense weekend retreat. I'm not sure how to pitch this to him. But I think we both need it.

Supposing I fix all this (ahem, supposing I and my notions clear out of the way long enough for God's grace to fix all this) - I understand about the not having kids thing (and it would be nice to be working through these issues about the time I am closing on a house!), but I'm not sure where to go from here. I don't really care that everyone will always think I'm the defective (or bad-decision-making?) broad with no babies, but I do flounder for a way to present myself. At 27 and four years of marriage, absolutely everyone has put me in the box of "no kids yet." Someday that yet will be an obvious joke. It's silly to me even now, but others don't see it quite yet. What do I show - how do I project myself, my life - what witness do I bear with my life - once it's obviously "no kids ever"? To borrow/paraphrase/butcher from one-hit wonder, I know of no normative identity for a married female observant (we hope) Catholic woman with no children.

And more than how I present myself to the world, what will I do with myself? I think, in the next ten years, if I don't get pregnant (that, in the next year), or adopt (we wouldn't do any kind of agencies, but God does work in mysterious ways at times), I will want a different job. I don't have the passion for working with abused children I did in law school (I wasn't able to find a job in that field). After all the IF stuff, I don't know if I can be there the rest of my life for children other people failed. My heart for that is sort of closed off. (Maybe these things will change.) Since I'm in DC, I will eventually "buy my lottery ticket" and apply for the jackpot of all young-attorney jobs (for which I do not have the requisite resume, but I will apply anyway). But what I want to do long-term, I don't know. A decent job with good pay and nice coworkers is not really what I want for good and all. I do love being home. Absent a passel of children, I am going to need a good excuse. Maybe that's what I should work on in the interim.

I know I have blessings to which my sadness has long blinded me. Our single friends (heh - perhaps that should tell me something) have long commented that my DH and I have an enviable marriage. We have strong personalities, and when we fight, we really raise the roof. We bicker on a fairly regular basis. But the people who know us say we're perfect for each other. We love each other more every day. Though I see the incompleteness in the childlessness, I am not sure that other people see that in us. (There are many years to go, and I do not know how this may change.) I think they look at us and see that...we're happy. We're not perfectly happy. We're not every day, heaven knows. But maybe I miss the joy that is there, that other people can see. I'd like that to be our legacy - not the couple everyone is sorry for, but one that makes everyone smile.

To do that, we need to avoid grasping at our consolation prizes - material enjoyments that are just a bit too ostentatious, because we have the money we're not saving for college tuition; scheduling liberties that are just a bit too obviously out of reach to our friends with children; gallivanting a bit too young and untethered to far-flung locations. That stuff is great when you're single, of course. But I'd like us to be able to live our married life settled, contented, and peaceful - children or no. This is a balance I have no idea how to strike.

What now?


  1. I'd like a balance too. I feel like all our time and money go toward trying to have kids, that we're really missing out on some awesome experiences we could have had. We never travel. We don't have the money to travel after paying for trying to have kids. Stuff like that. It just sucks. I hate this interim phase.

  2. I think this is a great reflection! Balance is something definitely well-sought after. Maybe you could get into some volunteer work together- I really enjoyed my time volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House- but there are tons of other options that you could become invested in- both personally, and heck, financially if you really wanted to put some of that college money to use!

  3. I used to think that I would wait to stay home until we had kids. Then, I realized, I wanted to stay home, not just to take care of our kids, but to take care of our home, to be able to do things like cook and clean and run errands. And that I shouldn't postpone my dream waiting for kids...because it may take many more years for that to happen (whether by adoption or whatever).
    If you feel like you and your husband would benefit by you staying home, then I don't think there's anything wrong with that at all. My husband is starting to see the value in having the house clean, laundry done, dinner prepared (or at least groceries bought) every day. We'd then have evenings and weekends free for us to spend time together, too.
    I guess the question would be whether you would feel something lacking if you stayed home without kids?

  4. Great post. Very reflective. On a lighter note, I admit, I'm a bit jealous of the DC Catholic scene. Up here in New England, most Catholics have white hair. It's hard to find a group of young(ish) people in church. I guess in my early 30s, I'm not THAT young anymore. But my hair's not even gray yet.

  5. I really enjoyed reading this; I like the way you think. I struggled with some similar thoughts and feelings with regard to how to project myself as a person. I mean, I was married over 10 years by the time we adopted and my only models for being a childless Christian woman were to be all about kids, working in the nursery etc. or to be bitter and avoid children entirely. I didn't have a role model for a middle road and it was tough to know how to act.

  6. i don't know the balance: i don't think anyone does. regarding that identity quotation, have you read the book from which i cribbed it? adrienne rich's of woman born. i think you'd be interested in it.

  7. further to my last comment:

    i should add the disclaimer that rich was a very fertile woman, so she approaches the topic of motherhood and identity - which was groundbreaking at the time - from that perspective. however, it's a fascinating read about how women don't have an identity apart from motherhood (or the lack of...).

  8. Very nice blog!!!