Thursday, August 22, 2013

Childlessness and such

My sister (13 months younger) and I were raised by a single mother.  My dad was an abusive alcoholic who took off when I was 5.  I later found out Mum had given him the choice: alcohol or family.  Obviously he chose the drink.  Mum did her best, but she was working 2 job and going to school full time.  I was a difficult child, and she was still dealing with the scars of my dad's handiwork, and her own childhood abuse.  I guess you can say I come from a long line of domestic abuse and mental illness. Genetic lottery winner, that's me.
  It's an interesting thing, being raised by a single woman in a conservative Christian church.  One one hand, we're pitied, because we don't have the priesthood (male authority to act in God's name).  On the other, we were kind of scorned, because clearly Mum did something wrong to make Dad want to leave.  Coupled with that the fact that both my sister and I have now been diagnosed with severe mental disorders, but had suffered from them since childhood.  So basically we were a whole lot of crazy in one house.
   The thing about Mormons, or any conservative culture, is that women are supposed to stay home, and raise lots of children.  There are some differences between Mormon culture and Biblical Patriarchy culture.  For one, in Mormonism, birth control or NFP is OK; it's left up to each family to decide how/when procreation happens.  But still, big families are praised.  Then men who head large families always seem to be the men that get called to serve in higher areas.  Men with 6 or 7 kids seem to become Bishop more often than men with 0 or 3.  Women with lots of children are sought after for advice and sometimes contests can develop between women to see who can bear the most kids.
   It seems, at times, that the thinking is more kids=more righteous parents.  Because of the belief that children are blessings from God, there's the unspoken converse that fewer kids are God's punishment.  Coupled with that the stigma of divorce, and single mothers of few children seem to have no place. I'm not saying the church is cruel.  I'm saying that people tend to draw incorrect conclusions based on outside circumstance.
   The fallout for us kids, was we were always babysitting.  People thought we needed to know how to take care of kids so that we can raise our own one day.  So we would babysit this family and that family.  But it was never enough.  There was always that little bit of mistrust, because we hadn't been exposed to babies since the time we were toddlers.  Clearly that meant we wouldn't be as effective Mothers in the Kingdom.
   I have always felt the sting of not being good enough to be Mormon, and I wonder if it stems from my childhood.  Even after Mum remarried, she didn't have more kids.  (It's because the step-dad never wanted kids; he didn't want use either, and made that perfectly clear, but he wanted Mum) So even in high school, our family was often compared to other families with kids similar age.  The thing about church, any church, is that there is always the ONE FAMILY.  The perfect family that everyone aspires to be, but secretly hopes will fall into ruin.  My high school years were in a very small Mormon church-the area where I went to High School is far more Methodist-and there was usually 35 people on a good day.  But there was always that one family.  It was never us.  We didn't have enough kids to qualify, Mum had remarried, and our attitudes were distinctly not very Mormon.  We were too loud, too crass, and too uncontrollable.
   But still I babysat.  Hoping to learn the secrets that would make me a good wife/mother.  I would always say I didn't want to get married and have kids, that I would rather be a biologist or something.  I said that because I had always been fat and weird, and no guy had ever shown any interest in me.  I said I never wanted marriage because I didn't think I'd ever get it. I headed to college expecting to be single and isolated forever.
   Then I got married (much to some people's surprise, let me assure you).  We wanted kids right away, but that wasn't in the cards.  We went to church, and it was hard for me to look at pregnant women.  I avoided baby showers, newborns, pregnant women, and Mother's Day.  It was too painful.  I felt that the reason I wasn't "blessed" with kids is because God was punishing me for something. People would ask "When are you going to start your family?" and I would be hurt, because I thought my husband and I were a family.  I saw my lack of progeny as God's judgement upon my unrighteous life.
   I think, despite my deconversion and redefining God, I still feel infertility is a curse.  I wonder how much of it is because I had been indoctrinated with the notion that God's blessings=children.  Some days I blame myself because of my weight, my diet, my past.  Some days I hate the world.  And some days, I'm grateful I'm barren.  The addiction gene is crazy strong in my bloodlines, and so is mental illness. I would hate to screw over a kid before they were even born.  I realize that getting pregnant would mean going off meds (apparently anti-psychotics aren't good for fetuses-who knew?), getting little sleep, and dealing with hormonal fluctuations that would drive my bipolar to new levels.  Logically, I understand that.  But sometimes the thought of not being a mother tears me up.  Like today.
   We are trying to license for foster/adoption.  There was a family we saw online, 5 kids.  I felt like they would be my kids, and ever since January, have thought of them as mine.  We recently found out more information about them, and realised that their needs are more than we can adequately deal with.  I feel like I let those kids down.  We are not even licensed yet (should happen next week), but it's already been an unpleasant roller coaster ride.  I don't know what to do, I don't know what I want. I'm feeling lost and helpless.
   Holy cow. This post has turned into quite the pity party, hasn't it? I apologise.  It's just one of those days...

16 comments:

  1. So now I've started this comment four different times. I'm just gonna let the words flow and I can apologize/explain better if I offend/hurt you.

    I don't believe that your infertility is the Divine holding back blessings from you. I feel like you've been blessed with a man who loves you, a relatively stable home and the opportunity to be a seeker of truth. And now, as you get closer to becoming a foster family, you are offering to share your blessings and love with children who need it more than anything else in the world. You are stepping into a calling of love; how could you and your husband not be blessed? Yes, this will be roller coaster but I feel like you and your husband know that it's worth it because in the end you will have been able to share love and touch the lives of the most vulnerable.

    I'm sorry for the pain that your infertility has caused you. I look forward to reading the joys and fears as you begin to touch and shape the lives of children you welcome into your home and heart.

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    1. You neither offended nor hurt me. I was feeling sorry for myself, and you said what I needed to hear. I AM blessed; perhaps not in the way I expect, but blessings nonetheless.
      Thank you so much for all of your wise words. I really look forward to hearing from you all the time. :)
      Thank you for being what I need right now.

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    2. Oh good, sometimes I worry too much. And you're very welcome.

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  2. I love your blog! Sounds exactly what I dealt with growing up though I had a dad. I took care of foster Tweens for two years. Definitely go into it knowing their issues, and even there, you still will not have the complete picture.

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    1. Any advice you can give with fostering?

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    2. Sorry I was not able to reply over my ipod. Anyway, no, I was taking care of some troubled kids over in Asia (I am from the US but been living over in Asia), so I wasn't dealing with the system, and don't know much about that. But as a whole, the key was learning to balance the conditionals with the unconditional. Riding a bike is conditioned on our ability to make safe choices on where to go and what to buy. With troubled kids, everything is in possibilities to go wrong. I had to learn to back away from consequences and think of it more as boundaries that make them feel safe. Unconditionals however are things like food and love. An unconditional is spending time doing something fun with me (example: play basketball for an hour a night, or a board game) even if they had stolen from me or raged or whatever. I had a difficult situation because one boy was not safe with anything and so had to stay by an adult side at all times (even at school); it was all trauma related. Yet he still needed to experience tastes of freedom, so he did not loose hope when fighting through theraphy, etc. Finding that balance when I was constantly drained was difficult.

      Anyway, I know not every foster child is troubled, but you are wise to believe the documents. Most people don't believe it until they see it.

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  3. Infertility is not a curse, but I get that emotional response too. I also struggle to feel that miscarriages are. Again, I'm not saying I intellectually feel that wa, and I blame bad theology on this NOT women. I hope you find freedom in the truth.

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    1. I agree. It is bad theology-and even worse culture! Still, it's hard for me to think of church without hearing "I know God loves me because he blessed me with such beautiful children..."
      Ugh. I'm sorry for your losses, it would be heartbreaking. Maybe one day we'll both be free...

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  4. I totally understand where you were coming from, hurting when you saw pregnant women. Unfortunately I can't offer you any advice on how to deal with that, because the practical "this wouldn't be a good idea" never had any effect on me. (I always assumed that my early diagnosis with fertility issues was a factor in my emotional response.)

    I am so happy to hear that you will be able to foster and/or adopt. While I have been able to get pregnant, and will hopefully some day be able to have another biological child, it still pains me to realise that I my family size will be limited by the number of children I bear. I wish you much joy with your future children.

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    1. Thank you! Much joy to you and yours as well. :)

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  5. Ouch. I remember feeling that way. My wife and I were married 11 years (together 12) before we conceived. Most of those years were spent in conservative Christianity. Our reasons were financial. It felt like a curse. It took a long time to get over feeling that way.

    Now, she's two. Being forced to wait ended up being a blessing to us. We needed the years to heal and grow from our abusive childhoods. We're now the kind of people we want to be as parents.

    I don't know how it feels for you, or how it will feel when you begin fostering, but I am sorry for the pain it brings now. I hope that you will find wholeness and healing as you move forward. The world needs more loving, compassionate and honest people like you.

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    1. How did you get over feeling cursed? Is it just something that faded with time?
      I'm glad that it worked out well with y'all. Hopefully we get a happy ending, too.
      And as usual, thank you tons for your lovely comments. You consistently brighten my day. :)

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  6. I'm fairly new to your blog. As a former Mormon much of what you write resonates with me. I too relate to the pressure to have large families although my situation is different. In my case my husband and I already have 2 kids and although we're probably capable of producing more we don't want to. We have a lot of good reasons not to have more kids and we're perfectly happy with the ones we've got so I don't question our choice, but it's still hard to shake the feelings of guilt and inadequacy. This especially true since it seems like everyone around us is having at least 3-4 kids (often more) and so I feel guilty if I ever get overwhelmed. I feel selfish for thinking that having fewer kids will make it easier to pursue some of my own goals such as grad school and also to be involved parents, save for their college, etc.

    And of course I have family members who feel free to offer their unsolicited advice too. I can't count how many times I've been counseled to take a leap of faith and that God will provide. Or that love is about multiplication not division. That's great except that one only has to look around to see that God doesn't always provide for families and that while love is infinite time, money, and other resources are not. I've even been told that because other people experience infertility that it's selfish of me to choose not to have more children (as though my continuing to have babies somehow makes infertility more bearable for others).

    Anyway, I want to make it really clear that I'm in no way comparing my frustrations to your struggles with infertility. Infertility is heartbreaking whereas my problems are more of an irritation. I just wanted to acknowledge that I completely understand the pressure you feel. I don't feel like Mormon culture ever really encouraged me to develop any other identity than wife/mother (even before I was married with kids I was preparing to be one) and I also get that Mormon culture doesn't really have a place for those who remain unmarried or childless. I too have found that despite leaving Mormonism it's hard to shake the guilt that was pounded into me. I don't have any answers for you, especially as I haven't ever dealt with your situation but I hope that you find a happy resolution.

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    1. Wow. I'm sorry for the pressure you've been under. Even though I grew up with the stigma of "only" two kids, it must be infinitely worse being the parent of said kiddos. Good for you, though, for having goals outside that of the Holy Housewife. I've often heard in RS that love multiplies, but I've always wanted to say that paychecks don't.
      May I ask why/when/how/etc you left the church? Have you left most of the thinking behind? What are your current religious inclinations (if any)?
      I, too, have been irritated that my pre-marriage life was all about gearing me towards marriage. If I got schooling, great, it'll help me raise the kids. Then after marriage, it's all geared to bearing and raising kids. It's sad that most Mormon women base their worth on their uteruses.
      Thanks for your comments, and welcome! Lovely to meet you. :)

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    2. I’m happy to answer your questions although it will be a bit lengthy. I left the church after graduating from BYU and getting married in the temple (which complicates things because my husband is still a faithful member, though lately he’s wavering). He’s been very supportive of my choices however and understands why I’ve made them. Fortunately my faith crisis occurred before we had children so we had a chance to discuss parenting issues ahead of time. It’s helped that he’s a convert to the church and his parents strongly disapproved. My parents were devastated when I left the church and neither of us want to put that kind of pressure on our own kids. Basically we have some common core values (integrity, compassion, work ethic, etc) that we will strive to pass on to our kids but are leaving the rest up to them. I am fine if he wants to take them to church, but only if they want to go. My oldest is only 4 but he still gets to decide for himself whether he attends (unless for some reason I’m unable to stay home with him and then he has to go if my husband does simply because he’s obviously too young to stay home alone). I know that he’s too young to really understand what he’s choosing now but I also feel like he will be able to revisit his choices throughout his life.

      I identify as atheist/agnostic although I do appreciate many of the Buddhist philosophies and try to incorporate mindfulness and meditation into my life. I do miss the sense of community I got from church as well and have attended our local UU congregation on occasion but mostly I enjoy staying home on Sundays. As my kids get older I’d like to expose them to various types of worship so that they can learn that spirituality can take many forms and hopefully foster some respect for those who believe differently.

      As for why I left the church there’s no one answer to that. I was troubled by polygamy and patriarchal doctrines, many aspects of church history, their stance on homosexuality, and compelling evidence that contradicted church teachings (such as modern translations of the Book of Abraham).

      At this point (it’s been about 6 years) I’ve left most of the thinking behind. I haven’t rejected every single thing I was taught. I still believe in being honest, in the value of service, etc. but I no longer feel compelled to allow Mormonism to shape my beliefs and am open to other points of view. One of the last things to fall away was when I had my first alcoholic drink just a few months ago. I know you’ve mentioned a family history of alcoholism and I’m certainly not advocating this for everyone but for me it was a very freeing step to prove to myself that the world will not collapse if I have an occasional glass of wine in the evening.

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    3. Thank you for sharing. I noted a lot of similarities between your story and mine, and it was very reassuring. I'm glad to know that eventually, I'll be able to think without being shaped by Mormonism. I guess 1.5 months is too soon to expect total change.
      :)

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