I’ve seen a lot of articles in the media lately about the choice to be childfree (even by WYSK’s own Cynthia Hornig), and at this stage in my life, these pieces are affirming and encouraging to me. They make me feel like I’m not a crazy, selfish, baby-hating pariah and that there are other people out there who I can play mahjong with when I’m old and alone, stuck in some retirement community in tropical paradise.
When I was visiting home recently, I stopped by my childhood church to talk to the pastor about my upcoming wedding ceremony. While I was waiting for him, a lady I’ve known since I was no taller than her knee came up to me, offered congratulations on the wedding, said things must be so busy, and then… “The Lord always brings a baby in a time of chaos.”
My immediate, knee-jerk response to this was confused shock and, “Oh, we’re not planning to have kids.” Seeing the look of sheer horror on her face, I tried to explain that I really hoped people would respect our decision… and I’m very happy in my work… and we have a lot going on… and it’s never been something I’ve really desired. She then told me to “keep my heart soft” and not “shut any doors”, before walking away… sadly.
Suggestions, questions, advice… what gives us the right to speak into the lives of others on very weighty matters as though we have a cure-all for their current situation?
While I know this woman’s words were well intentioned, they once again opened the abyss of doubt inside of me that yawns agape with the question, “Am I good enough?” Aside from the fact that I have absolutely no idea what her quasi-prophetic “time of chaos” comment was referring to, Lord knows if I found out I was pregnant, a time of chaos would surely ensue.
This has nothing to do with me wanting to be childfree though because while I feel this way now, and have always felt this way, I realize that life has surprises and unexpected turns that we can’t always control. And maybe one day at 38, I’ll wake up and be like, “You know what, I want a kid.” While I do not see the reality of this happening in my wildest fantasies, I understand there is always room for life to work its magic.
However, this particular conversation got me thinking about the words that we speak into the lives of those around us. Are they words of encouragement? Do they build the other person up? Do they convey without judgment or hesitance the unconditional acceptance of that person as they are now? Do they open holes of doubt or fill voids where love is absent? Do they heal, or do they hurt?
I throw these questions out there, and ask them of myself because every day I find myself offering advice, some of which I’m sure is unwarranted, and I hope with all my heart that any advice given is given out of love and in solidarity.
A friend of mine lost her husband last year to cancer and has been in the depths of a tough grieving season in her life. There are some people who have walked beside her, cried with her, sat in her darkness, and accepted where she is, loving her in this uncharted territory of the heart. There are others who have looked at her and determined that she should be farther along in her healing process, instructing her to do this or do that, with a complete lack of understanding that this is her journey and we are here to walk beside, not direct the way.
I have other friends who are in the process of adopting children and have fielded countless questions about their fertility or lack thereof, who have tried to skirt around answers that are no one’s business but their own, while still preserving the dignity of this personal decision.
Another friend has an illness that she has struggled with for years on end, enduring hospital visits, dietary restrictions, and even surgeries to get this figured out. My mind reels each time someone hears about her condition and casually suggests she go gluten free, or try juicing and taking some kind of supplement. Like she hasn’t tried every possible option available to her. Like “gluten free” is some revelation that will cause all her pain and suffering to vanish.
“Shut up!” I just want to tell everyone to shut the heck up sometimes!
Suggestions, questions, advice… unless we are a trusted confidant or a best friend (and even sometimes not then), what gives us the right to speak into the lives of others on very weighty matters of the heart and body as though we have a cure-all for their current situation? And, more importantly, if we truly love these people, why can we not accept them as they are and encourage them in their journey through life without making them feel they are less than in some way?
The gaping chasm of doubt that causes me to question my own value as a person without a child looks different for each of us. For some people, it might bear the questions:
- “Am I pretty enough?”
- “Did I marry the right person?”
- “Am I making a horrible decision?”
- “Is this method of treatment the right one?”
- “Can I really love these kids as my own?”
- “Will I be alone forever?”
- “Will I ever be good enough?”
- “Will my friends who are ‘settled down’ actually accept the fact that I don’t want to get married?”
- “Is this what I’m supposed to do for the rest of my life?”
One of my favorite quotes from the Harry Potter series is when Dumbledore says, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” As someone with a major lack of filter, an Italian background (translation… big mouth), and a tendency to argue like a lawyer, I have regular moments of deep regret for words I wish I could take back the instant they are spoken.
“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” – Dumbledore (Harry Potter series)
I have inflicted injury on people I love dearly, but also remedied it in cases where a friend needed a shoulder to cry on. Every time someone asks me when I’m having kids, I hope my response is gracious, but I already know there are days when I will let it fly and it won’t be.
So let this be a reminder in my own life to speak with intentions of love, to not hastily judge or assume, and to say, “I’m sorry” when the line is blurred.