Specifically: not to have children.
If my posts haven't indicated this, I've been doing a lot of soul-searching (and, I hope it will turn out, healing) over the last year or so. I feel the earth shifting under my feet, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. One supposes that's a good thing; and I have small flashes of insight, but I have no great overarching enlightenment.
The latest small flash of insight came to me last night as I was (belatedly) finishing my daily baby-Examen. And I am going to take the scenic route to explain it.
I have said before that I would have very mixed feelings if I found out I were pregnant tomorrow (not a serious possibility). The mixture heads more to "negative" every year, as I become more accustomed to my life the way it is, and my desire for a child of my own shrinks smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror. But it's not an uncomplicated "don't-want," for some reason. There are lots of other things I generally wouldn't want: an(other) irregular PAP smear, a goiter, pantry moths - just off the top of my head. I don't occasionally find myself paralyzed by the possibility that I might later turn out to have a goiter. If a friend discovers she has pantry moths, I sympathize; I do not agonize. Somehow, with pregnancy, it's all more complicated.
I interrogate myself, when I encounter these strange overly-complicated reactions. "OK, yes, it would be bad news if being several weeks late meant you were pregnant. It's understandable that you're apprehensive about how the test will turn out. But you're also horrified that it might be negative. You can't be upset about both possibilities. Why would you think that? It's not rational!"
I do not provide myself with particularly satisfying answers, but one conclusion that seems fairly confident is that a downside of my never-been-pregnant-and-never-will-be condition is that there is a blight, an incapacity, a shadow, if you will, on my life. If I once saw those two pink lines, a significant portion of that shadow would be instantly lifted, never to return. That means something huge and important entirely apart from the expectation that it will, some months later, result in a baby. (Perhaps there are more rational infertile women, who see this issue entirely in terms of its effect on their ability to have children. Obviously, I approach the matter differently.) If I continue never to have that happy (?) news, I remain under the oppressive shadow - familiar, but still dark.
What I realized last night was that, at some point in the infertility journey - and possibly not all that far into it - I lost my attachment to a baby as an outcome. (I have a near-pathological resistance to wanting things that are out of my reach.) But that didn't protect me from the pain - as Brene pointed out, it never does. What I did have was a profound, a keen appreciation of the ugliness of infertility. Its twistedness. Its absurdity. Its poisonous attack on the very ideas that undergird the Christian life. "For I know well the plans I have for you - plans to steal your hope, give you no legacy, make your attempts to live virtuously into a cautionary tale that renders the faith unattractive even to believers, empty your life of meaning, and rob your time of all that might make it valuable." I could never find words to explain the whole of what I saw, but even the explanations I could manage seemed to outstrip the ideas of other infertile women, who often seemed scandalized by my perspective.
By the way - I was right. They were just in denial.
I have lived under this shadow for years. I know it intimately. I know its banality and its malignancy. I know its power to shut out all perspective, to make us forget how much worse things could be, and how many good things there are in our lives. And I know its power to drive away blessings that seem to have nothing to do with it. To poison holy days. Undermine marriages. Tear apart families. I know its isolation of people who have asked nothing from those who reject them. I know its wholesale destruction of the human spirit. I know its power to maim, and even to kill - repeatedly (from the witness of others if not in my own life). If this were a person, none of us would hesitate to assign it the death penalty. It is a consummate evil.
I cannot know something so terrible and not want to be rid of it. A part of my soul will always long to be free of it, as long as I live. But more than I could ever want my freedom - after paying for this knowledge with so much pain, I want the truth.
If God allowed that I should have to live with this thing, there must be a reason. An adequate reason. Never has the word "adequate" demanded so much. Even if He did not will this, if He so much as allowed it, in the expectation that more good could come of it than if it had not occurred (which is unimaginable - if all the childless women had been mothers, if all the babies who are not, had been!), there must be a reason - a reason as vast and pervasive as the terrible thing itself. Everywhere its toxic fingers have reached, goodness, meaning, purpose must reach further. And this reason, as it must be God's reason, is bound to correspond to the reality that is - not the good that could have been borne of this evil had I been someone better, stronger, purer than I am, but good that can be borne of this evil by a vessel as weak and flawed as I. And as weak and flawed as is every other poor vessel who has had to carry this thing.
He owes me that much. If I am morally obliged not only to have the life I have, but to claim to the world that in spite of all this ugliness God is good, and loving, and has a singular and precious and irreplaceable plan for each person's life including mine, then He has at least this much obligation - that those words must be true. That this must all have meaning. He owes me an explanation, and it will have to be staggering. Bigger than anything I could possibly imagine, because I have a very active imagination, and I absolutely cannot come up with anything that would come close to being enough.
And if I were pregnant tomorrow, then He would be weaseling out of it. He wouldn't not owe me the explanation - after ten years I have earned it, many times over, and that's to say nothing of the years and years of suffering that so many other women have endured - but by the idiotic shackles of Christian practice, I would be prevented from demanding it.
I would be expected by all my acquaintance to laud my "miracle" - the miracle of not conceiving for ten years! I would be expected to show an overwhelming gratitude - for a decade of barrenness, because it was not two decades! It would be demanded that I exceed all others in glorifying God. But He wouldn't deserve it. Not for that. Because a baby tomorrow wouldn't give me back my ten years and they matter. All the money in the whole world would not be enough to purchase ten years of a healthy life. The value is beyond counting. And if He wants to be God, if He deserves our reverence, our faith, our love, He needs a reason good enough for those ten years (and all the decades to come).
After all these years, I realize, as much as I've hoped for a reprieve, above all I live in a horror of cheap grace. A parent doesn't get to abandon his child for sixteen years and then become father of the year by showing up and buying him a car. I would argue that that's nastier than never showing up at all, but being willing to admit that you're a deadbeat.
And as I've seen more and more - and more, and more - infertile women conceive, or adopt, or both, I realize that it is becoming possible for people to imagine childlessness as something that will ultimately happen only to me. (And, yes, there are other long-term childless women, even some beyond "reproductive age" altogether - but have you noticed that after infertile women realize that conception will not be happening, and conclude that adoption is not their path, they tend to vanish from the internet? You're actually relieved they've left, aren't you?) For an infertile woman who conceives (or adopts), the motivation is strong to believe that becoming a mother does not merely discontinue her pain, but annuls it, as if it had never been. There are many rewards to this line of thinking - to seeing oneself as having suffered so that a dearly desired outcome can occur (as if infertility caused pregnancy); and to seeing oneself as the recipient of particular favor (rather than as the sufferer of a particular cross - a much less attractive self-understanding).
Although I cannot say so from experience, I obviously am convinced that much of this belief is self-delusion - a natural self-protective reaction of the brain, and not at all an accurate perception of how God is working in these women's lives. As a logical matter, the only woman who is in a position to say reliably how infertility has been a blessing in her life is one who did not ultimately have a child, and who does not expect to. (And I am not prepared to say that infertility has been a blessing in my life. I am still waiting on that explanation.)
If I am correct that the infertility-was-worth-it-because-now-I-have-this-wonderful-child reaction is largely self-protection, then it will necessarily follow that people who believe this will be hostile to any influence that might undermine their belief. (And this would be as true for atheists as for Christians, I think; atheists often want to believe in a benevolent universe even if not a god.) This would result in, I would think, viewing anyone who has not crossed with them into the blessed condition of motherhood as either (a) someone whose "miracle" of motherhood merely has not happened yet; or (b) someone whose miracle is not happening because she does not share the special favor - in other words, because she's unworthy of motherhood. And if we're all honest with ourselves, I think we can admit that these two things are both happening a lot. Not universally - but with disturbing frequency.
I will not have all my suffering - and that of so many others, whether they now disown their suffering or not - made nonsense. We as a (former) community should be pursuing this answer, which we all need, even if many are scared to want it. It is now more comfortable, in the main, to sweep exceptions like me under the rug, and refuse to have the conversation. But I won't shut down the conversation in my own life.
I don't need a baby, but I need God's "love" not to be what would pass for hate if it came from anyone else. I need His benevolence to be real benevolence. I have to hold Him to all His extravagant promises. He didn't have to make them; but He chose to, and He doesn't have the luxury of lying. He has demanded too much of me - and everyone else - to go back on His word. I can't continue to tell others why they should believe in Him, why He is the truth and the answer, that He loved us enough to die for us and there is nothing He would not do to make us happy, unless it is true. I will not be schizophrenic to cover for Him or anybody else. This is the ugliest thing that has ever happened in my own life, and it's not even huge, like a war or a famine. It's just a little thing: my reproductive system hasn't worked for ten years when it was supposed to.
If He can't make that right, make it meaningful, make my life more good on the whole with that than it would have been without that, then He is not God, and nobody is.
In the end, I have what I wanted more - because if I had had a baby, then I would have been prompted to live a terrible lie, a lie I probably could not have survived. As it stands, of course, I don't have my answer. I don't have meaning and purpose and healing. I am locked in a fearsome struggle - but a struggle with at least the possibility of redemption. If the benevolent God I teach about is who He really is, then perhaps He has allowed me to stay on this path because, some day, He plans to offer me an adequate answer. That would be worth more to me than anything else I have ever wished for.