Do you want children?
Oh, how the answer to this question has changed over the years. Or has it? After much reflection the past week or so, one of the benefits of extra time in the car, I am seeing my prior answers in a different light.
I apologize for the length of this, but this post, as much as it is for anyone who it might help, it is for me. I'm adding this paragraph after writing the rest, only now realizing where it was going, what it was teaching me. The title was originally that first line, the question, but that's not really what this is about. I see that now.
When The Man and I were engaged and people would ask us if we wanted children my answer was always, "yes, 4." (And The Man would kinda look at me like I was a little crazy, but he never argued the point.) I remember many conversations with my mom and Nan, them telling me I was crazy for wanting 4 children. When we picked out our first house, I knew which room would be the "nursery" and even thought how we might have our first 2 there before we moved onto our "forever home."
In 5 years
And then we got married and I was starting a new job with a long commute and The Man was still in school and our answer to the question changed to "we'll start having kids in 5 years." It seemed a reasonable response, it would give The Man time to finish school and find a good job, and we could get our new home established and settled. Then I could either work part-time or at least move to a job closer to home. Oh, and it would give us time to see if Kali lived :). When we put the fence up, we talked about how it would be so nice to have a place where the kids could play safely.
Well, we all know what happens when we plan. Over those 5 years lots of good happened, but lots that wasn't according to our "plan" happened as well. The Man had a hard time finding a good job. He also had wrist surgery (remember, he's a massage therapist) twice. Instead of loving the town we had chosen to live in, we hated it and wanted to move so badly. My job was extremely high stress. And we made bad choices. Instead of living within our means, we had a ton of debt. We also had friends all around us with none or 1 child and got very used to living life with no children. We somehow lost sight of who we were and what was important to us.
So, when we moved back to Morgantown, into a tiny one-bedroom apartment, the answer to the question changed again. My career was in limbo and The Man finally had a job with potential, but we knew it would take years for it to become the "good job" we'd planned for years earlier. Nothing about our lives had gone according to our plan. I turned 30 and instead of planning for my first child or to start trying for that first child, all I could see was failure. And when I was asked the question "do you want children" I said "no." I said "no" so many times I convinced myself of it. In fact, just a couple of weeks after my 30th birthday, I wrote a post wondering about what our life would look like, even said I didn't want children and expressed guilt over that feeling. It was probably one of the darkest times of my life and our marriage (so much beyond not having children was going on at that time). By the grace of God, (it really is all His grace, isn't it?), even in that post, I left the door open. I wonder what he had in store for us.
I even had a moment where I realized that if I felt the desire for motherhood after I was biologically capable of having them, adoption would be a wonderful option. It wasn't a "oh, we'll just adopt" kind of moment, it was a realization that gave me such peace. Looking back, I see it as the me who so desperately wanting children looking to the future with hope that some day we'd figure out how to make life work. Another grace came at the end of 2009 as we had our eyes opened to the harm contraception was causing in our marriage. We soon learned NFP and for a while as we didn't struggle at all to follow the rules to avoid pregnancy, despite some long periods of abstinence due to our waaay-conservative application of the rules, we really thought God was calling us to be the couple that isn't called to be parents to speak about the effectiveness of NFP.
As time passed, and instead of the litany of bad things that had happened, now good things started to happen. By mid-summer 2010, The Man's job started blossoming into the "good job" that we had hoped it would be, I had found a good job that I enjoyed and was close to home, lower stress and, perfectly, at a day care center. We finally had enough money to move out of our one-bedroom apartment and into a house. And all of the dreams we had made 5 years earlier starting to seem like they were coming true, and we were finding ourselves again. And now, when people asked us "the" question we generally answered with "someday" or a vague answer, I knew we wanted them, but I didn't want the whole world to know it. Most people who knew us were under the impression that we weren't going to have children, so few people that we knew well asked anymore. It was really in meeting new people that I was answering this question. I was reminded of my desire for 4 children and started imagining children running around our house again. All of a sudden, the struggles of the past few years seemed to have had a bit of a purpose and as we moved into our house I again knew exactly which room would be the nursery and imagined bringing a baby home to that room.
When God gives us one
For a while, when we were first trying, I started answering the question this way. It felt the most honest, as we were trying and knew it wasn't all up to us, but doesn't generally invite further questions. As time has gone on, I've stuck with it. For people who don't speak "IF" it is enough to answer their question and most don't ask for more information. For those who do speak "IF," it may prompt a follow-up question, or at the very least an understanding nod or smile. For now, it is what I say when asked "do you want children?" It isn't perfect, it isn't the detailed truth, but it is true.
As I said, I've found myself doing a lot of reflecting lately. In some of my most painful moments on this road, I've asked God why he didn't just leave me where I was at when I was saying "I didn't want children." Why did I have to walk this road, I was fine right where I was. I've come back to this over and over, why, if I wasn't going to be able to have children, couldn't I have stayed in that place where I didn't want them. And what I've come to realize is, I was never really in that place. Yes, I said those words, and yes, I thought I meant them. I still claim them. But the words were more a reaction to my circumstances, what I thought was the only answer I could give. We had no money, no space, and no reliable income, of course we couldn't have children, and so my answer was. And yet, if just a moment after I had said "no," we had magically been given more space, more employment, more money, the answer would have changed. Immediately. I realize that now. I've said I have no "fight" response, only "flight." And, I think, this is just one more example of my flight response. Instead of owning what my heart desired, instead of owning what I wanted my marriage to be like, I took the path of least resistance. I yielded to what society says is necessary to have children, I yielded to the idea that children are somehow a bonus for those who've "made it."
There are times I find myself wondering what could have been. Yet, I know those thoughts are not of the Lord. I know that I cannot change the past, and quite honestly given the choice, I wouldn't. It is our road and has led us to where we are today. I've been given many gifts as a result of our IF, and without it, I know I am a much different person. There are times I want to take back all of the selfish comments I made about children; all the times I said I didn't want them. But I can't. There is no going back. But what I am slowly doing is forgiving myself. Forgiving myself for losing myself, for losing that girl who wanted 4 children and laughed in the face at anyone who told her differently. I am understanding now a bit more why I am so determined to walk the line between the life I have and the life I want so carefully. I lost sight of the life I wanted once before, and I am living the regret that I so dread.
It is freeing to say that. To admit there is regret. To find a bit of a reason behind my intense desire to get this road of IF "right." To acknowledge that I can have regret, but at the same time say I wouldn't change the road we've taken. There is an awareness that the road, that has not been what I planned, got me to where I am today. And it is in that awareness that my hope is found. That despite this road leading to more pain than I ever dreamed possible, will lead to a joy beyond imagination. That somehow, someway, this cross will be lifted. That it leads to life.