Note to readers: I’ve been sitting on this post for a while now. Issues of family planning, fertility and infertility, woman/motherhood, identity and the like are simultaneously deeply personal and frustratingly political. There isn’t always space for every woman’s story, unless we make that space exist for each other. Never one to shy away from a tough conversation, I hope my sisters reading can accept my perspective for what it is…mine alone, as I don’t claim to speak for all of us at once, presented without pretense and with as much sensitivity as possible.
I have held a dear friend in my arms as she mourned a miscarriage. I have sat beside women as they shared with their families that they do not plan to have children, ever. I have celebrated the adoptions of children who were so incredibly wanted and chosen, although their parents’ story may have started with infertility. I have cheered blended families on as they took the next step to grow their family in countless combinations of biological, step, adopted, and fostered children. I have shared advice and prayers with gay and transgender friends who were navigating how to grow their family. And of course I have talked, and tweeted, and blogged, and ‘grammed, and texted, and more about the benefits and joys of foster care and adoption.
In all of this, I have encountered few others like me. I have never had the physical, emotional, or spiritual desire to be pregnant. To be a mother, yes. That’s a different story. My heart aches for giggles at the dinner table, bedtime stories, messy playrooms and parent teacher conferences. To not be a mother would be the greatest loss of my life. But to not birth? Meh.
I get it, I’m a bit of an anomaly. There are plenty of women who don’t want to be mothers, but not necessarily a bunch who want to be mothers, don’t want to birth a child, and have no idea whether they are fertile or not (and furthermore, don’t care). It’s not something I can easily explain, though I do grapple with this emotionally, especially knowing so many women who battle infertility. If I am fertile, shouldn’t I want to birth a child? Can I really know that I don’t want to get pregnant if I don’t even know whether I can?
Chances are, any question you may have for me is already something I’ve considered myself. And trust me, I do endure a lot of questions, stories, and attempted persuasions because of this. Some of people are kind, some not so much. Everything from, “But why wouldn’t you want to have your own child?” to “Well, I never felt like a real woman until I [got pregnant, gave birth, breastfed, etc.].” I have left rooms of women–mostly mothers–to cry in the bathroom and wonder, Will I ever be considered a ‘real woman’ if I don’t want any of that? What is this exclusive-access club I can’t get into? Isn’t wanting to be a mother enough? Isn’t BEING A WOMAN enough?
Because there are many individuals and couples who come to adoption from a path of infertility, I also encounter a lot of inappropriate questions and assumptions about my body. I empathize with women who are infertile, because the process of diagnosing and treating infertility can be invasive physically and emotionally, putting your body at the forefront of the conversation. In both cases, passerby think our bodies are their business. I recently read this from Rebecca Todd Peters:
“Despite the differences that have attended social attitudes toward women’s fertility, society has consistently believed that it is socially, culturally, and politically acceptable for external forces to control women’s fertility–whether through the encouragement or discouragement of (or the permitting or prohibiting of) pregnancies…”
Trust Women: A Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice (p. 118)
In this season at least, my partner and I know for certain that foster care adoption is what we are called to do. So ask me about it, but don’t try to talk me out of it. If you want to know why we decided to adopt, just ask! You might be surprised to learn that a lack of desire to birth a child is not our primary motivation to do this work. Our story is no secret.
With no ill intent to ostracize anyone struggling with infertility, we proudly shout from the rooftops that adoption is our “Plan A” because we are so passionate about it and the good it can do for children and society. I believe it is my calling in life to mother in this way, and my mission to share this path with others so they can decide if it is right for them. But if it isn’t? You do you. What’s more important is that you can validate and honor my family as legitimate, whole, worthy, loving, “mine,” and equal to yours. In turn, I promise to do the same for you.
Peters later writes:
…discerning who God is calling you to be is ultimately a process between and individual and God. A willingness to accept one’s calling is an expression of honoring God and resting the holiness of life that is at the heart of living life as a Christian. Christians regard parenting as a sacred trust in which parents enter a covenant relationship to care for, nurture, and bring up a child to love and know God. It is not a responsibility to be taken lightly…”
Trust Women: A Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice (p. 174)
God calls us in different and unique ways, and each of our journeys is for us alone to walk with Him. The best thing we can do as women, without judgment or preconceived notions, without assigning value or lack thereof, is to be a listening ear and to hold the hearts of our sisters in our own, praying for them the same kind of close, purposeful walk with God we hope for ourselves.
So whether you’re child-free and loving it, saving money for a round of IVF in hopes of birthing a biological child, nervously asking a friend to be a surrogate or donor, trudging through paperwork to get your foster care license, pursuing adoption of a teenager or waiting to be matched with a birth mother so you can adopt an infant, there is space for your story here.
I have come to this:
just as the infertile woman should not have to justify why she desires to birth,
so too should the fertile woman not have to justify why she doesn’t,
so too should the wombless woman not have to justify her motherhood,
so too should the childless woman not have to justify her womanhood.
I know that it’s impossible to capture every part of a woman’s journey with her body, her fertility, her motherhood, her womanhood, in one little blog post. But I want all of us to know: your status as mother (or not yet, or not ever) may be integral to who you are as a woman, but it is not ALL of who you are as a woman, and our womanhood is not contingent on motherhood or anything else.
You are whole, real, and complete to God, and to me, and in this space, exactly as you are.