“Are they all yours?” “Are you guys going to have any more?” “Are you all done?”
These questions are pretty common for young families, and I believe the comments are rarely from a judgmental or negative place. People are genuinely curious and they often don’t know what else to say. They, perhaps, have even been posed with the same questions and therefore feel it is commonly acceptable to discuss family size. However, for many parents these questions can feel judgmental and it is particularly true if they have felt unsupported by loved ones in the past. These comments, it seems, tend to sting the most for mothers. Perhaps that is because mothers are often judging themselves in harsh and negative ways to begin with.
Out of all those who see our life from the outside, nobody is more surprised to see me playing the role of mother than myself. If you had asked me when I was little, “what are you going to be when you grow up?” Being a homeschooling mother of 5 was nowhere in mind. Even 10 years ago, I would never have thought this is what my life would look like. I was perfectly content to climb the corporate ladder in healthcare and perhaps have 3 children. That felt like a good number to me. This became especially true when we found it difficult to conceive.
I had a moment the first year of our marriage where I thought I was pregnant. I wasn’t, and it really wasn’t even on our radar at the time. I was, like most young married women today, on birth control and was happy about it. However, something changed when I thought I was pregnant. I began to fantasize about it. I started to long to be pregnant. I was devastated when the test came back negative. From that moment on, I wanted babies. It wasn’t until 6 months later that we went to see the OB. I still wasn’t pregnant. She wanted me to wait a year and keep trying. That year seemed to take forever. My calendar was marked by ovulation kit and pregnancy test after ovulation kit and pregnancy test. Finally, after that year ended we were referred to an endocrinologist for testing. With her help, we conceived our first 3 children. However, during this time it also became abundantly clear to me that I was not the person I believed myself to be.
I had never considered myself an angry person. I actually had considered myself to be a relatively happy person, yet nothing tests you the way children do. Looking back, I firmly believe that God lovingly withheld children from me because He knows better than I do. He knew that, mentally, physically and spiritually I was in no place to be a parent. He had a better life in store for me than I did, and He was going to lead me on a heartbreaking journey into the higher calling of motherhood.
I suppose when I look back, I can see the tell tale signs of rage sprinkled throughout my adolescent and young adult years. They were rare, but they were definitely there. I would get angry about little things and take it out on my pets or I would scream with a pillow over my face when I was alone. I would get into fights and blow up at a friend over minute details. I described myself as someone who “pushed down emotions and then blew up later.” I never thought there was anything wrong with this, until I had a tiny, helpless little child who was trapped with me and had no escape. I reflect on my early years with my daughter in agonizing heartbreak. My chest crushes within me when I think about it. I held her to these ridiculous expectations and would scream in anger when she failed to comply. I can still see the fear on her face, as she undoubtedly could not understand what she had done so wrong. She tried so hard to meet my expectations, but what 2 year old possibly could? I would fall into a dark depression after I would rage at her. I would cry, go to her, apologize and hold her close. Then, devastatingly, the whole cycle would repeat itself. This continued on until one day brought it all to a head.
At the time, my husband and I shared a car and I would have to drive him to downtown Dallas in the morning if I needed the car. One morning, with our 2 children in tow we took Daddy to work. On the way back I had a few appointments to attend to. I packed a bag with colors, a coloring book and one of my daughter’s favorite books to read. Along the way, she had inadvertently left the bag somewhere, and didn’t realize it until we got home. As I was unloading my son from the car I told her to “make sure she grabbed the bag.” She panicked and told me that she had forgotten it. I immediately lost it over that stupid bag. I began screaming at her. I forcefully yanked her out of the car and spanked her in anger. The whole time though, I knew I was being irrational, that I was overreacting, but I couldn’t stop myself. I continued to verbally spew at her in all my rage until I was out of breath. That evening, as I drove to Dallas to get my husband, she slept. I cried as I told my husband about it, and he replied, “babe, this is really bad.” All I could choke out was, “I know. I know.”
Later that night I wept as I read a blog posted by my good friend. I felt so much shame. There are so many parents out there who are doing it right, I thought. I cried out to God and begged Him to help me. I told Him that if my children had to be taken from me to be safe, then please take them from me. I told God to put me somewhere far from them, where I could never hurt them again. I was so very broken inside. I felt intensely unworthy to be their mother, intensely unworthy to be my husband’s wife. I felt crushing shame, heartbreak and despair.
I lived in fear, the next few weeks, that God would indeed send CPS to my house to take my children. I made a vow to never again speak to my children while in anger. I vowed to never spank my children or even touch them again while in anger. I bought book after book on how to control my temper. God probably shook His head at me for that. I prayed for God to take away all my anger, yet I still felt anger and still struggled to control my temper. It would be another 2 years of struggle (and the birth of our third baby) before I finally surrendered. I finally went to God in total surrender and found that He is the Living Water. It is one thing to know who God is and come to Him with your requests. It is a completely different thing to surrender to Him and ask Him to live in you and work through you. It is not by my power or might that I will be able to parent. It is by the Holy Spirit, dwelling within me that I can and will be the parent I have been called to be. Embracing His grace and mercy, I finally am changing. This is a process. During this time, with no help from the endocrinologist, God gifted us 2 more precious children when we weren’t even expecting them.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying when someone struggles with fertility that it is because they have hidden sin in their life. I believe that God knows us and has written our days. For me, this is how my story was to be. I am also not saying that the struggle ends completely when we are in Christ. We still live in a very broken world. I find that when I draw near to God I struggle less. I find with God I am able to handle much more with abundant grace and love. Additionally, I firmly believe that we are made in the image of God and should treat our bodies with the utmost care. Post natal depletion is real. Good nutrition is vital for moms. I also believe that postpartum rage is very real and is often overlooked and under (or never) treated. Even within the Church we discount mental health issues. We fail to offer much needed support, and fellow sisters feel shame when they struggle. Our sisters and brothers need to know that Biblical counseling is an option when needed and they should feel no shame in seeking it out. Furthermore, we are not meant to do this alone. We must surround ourselves with other believers, especially moms who are believers. Community is critically important.
Finally, please know that if you are at the feet of Christ begging Him to take something from you and He isn’t, you are in good company. I, like Paul, will gladly boast in my weakness because I remember what I was like without Christ. It is only by Him that I have been transformed.
One thing I have learned, from other Holy Spirit filled women, is that each child is a blessing. Each child God has given us has made me a much better person in their own way. Each child has drawn me to the cross of Christ asking for wisdom, discernment, mercy and grace. Even though we had only planned on 3, I could never pick one and say my life would be better without them. Will God give us more children? I don’t know. However, I have to believe that the same God who spoke all of creation into existence, and will make all things right in the end is the same God who knows what is best for our lives. How could I deny what He knows we need?
So, I wait with open arms, expectant to see what is next.