“Do you want champagne? I’ll open the champagne! It’s delicious!” My friend hopped up eagerly to get the bottle and glasses.
I had driven all day to see them. We were lounging in the living room after a late dinner, catching up on the last few weeks of activity. I heard him pop the cork in the kitchen.
“We’ve been saving this bottle to drink with you, because we know you like good champagne, and,” she took a deep breath, “we have something to ask you.”
He sat down on the couch again and poured champagne for us. I made a joke about how I wasn’t interested in being a Sister Wife, but I was very flattered. We all giggled.
We toasted bravery and truth.
Then she leaned forward, holding her glass. “So, with everything that’s happened with our family recently, we’re updating our will, and we’re wondering if you would take care of our children if something ever happened to us.”
I took a gulp of champagne.He put his arm around her. “We know you don’t want kids, but we love you and want you to be our kids’ guardian if we ever aren’t around.”
When I was growing up, they had all the mothers stand up in church on Mother’s Day.
We would applaud them as someone walked the aisles with a bucket and handed them each a rose. My mom would take it graciously, because she is gracious, and pass it up and down the row so we could all smell it. That’s what polite young ladies do, of course: they sniff the rose and murmur, “Oh, very nice,” and pass it on.
The rose would sit carefully on the edge of the purple pew for the rest of the service.
Even then, I didn’t want to get a rose like that.
“How was your trip?” she asked.
I started gushing. “Absolutely amazing! My niece turned one and she’s just the most darling thing! She just started walking and she’s so smart. She’s funny and adorable. It was so good to see her!”
I pulled out my phone and started scrolling through the pictures of a bright eyed little girl eating her birthday cupcake.
“She’s so sweet,” she said, looking up at me earnestly. “You must be so sad you don’t have one yet.”
I couldn’t contain the sputter of laughter. “Oh, no. I love kids and I love being an Aunt, but I don’t want to have kids.”
I might as well have told her I was a terrorist. I could tell instantly that my admission was unacceptable.
“Of course you want kids, right? You’d be such a great mom! You have to have kids.” She was insistent and I knew backpedaling and dishonesty would be easier for all of us.
“Oh, well, I guess, um, I meant that I haven’t met anyone yet who I’d want to raise children with.” The singleness card is good for a few things.
She nodded sympathetically and then pointed to the crowd behind her. “There’re some good looking, godly men over there.”
“Is it because of your old church culture? Is that why it scares you?” She asked, flipping over the paper for a clean sheet.
“Probably,” I answered, slouching back into the fluffy couch. This stuff was so hard to talk about; it was all tangled up. We’d done so much unraveling already, but it seemed like every time I made progress, there was just another messy knot. I guess that’s the point of therapy.
“That’s part of it,” I continued. “Motherhood was the ultimate form of femininity. They talked about how to have as many babies as possible as quickly as possible. It felt like it was something I should want desperately, and I was bad if I didn’t. I didn’t know that there were other options. I didn’t want to question people following God. It just wasn’t okay to say I didn’t want kids; it would mean I didn’t love God.”
“Mmmhmmm,” she made an encouraging noise as more truth came roaring out.
“It’s like they couldn’t see that kids are people. I heard over and over that babies were “God’s Blessings,” but all I saw was using children as a status symbol. I saw neglect, because once there was a new baby, the older ones just had to fend for themselves. It was normal.”
“I can see how that could happen. What else are you afraid of?” She was writing in straight lines across her paper, even with all of my chaos.
“I’m afraid that I’m not a real woman because I don’t want to have kids. I’m afraid that people will always see me as lesser and pity me. I hate when they tease that my biological clock hasn’t kicked in, and imply that I’m selfish, or that I just don’t understand the beauty of motherly sacrifice. I do! It’s beautiful for some people, but I want to be me, not a walking womb. I want to sacrifice in other ways. I want to take care of the people who are already in the world, not just make new ones!”
“And you can, Emily. That’s so important, too.”
“Hey, I’ve thought about it a lot, but I knew my answer back when you guys first asked me. I would absolutely raise your kids, because I love them, but also, you shouldn’t die.”
I sent back my answer in a text message, which now that I think about it, is probably more flippant than the decision required. But the point is, I choose to be a guardian for those precious young humans.
I don’t believe that sacrifice and joy are unique to motherhood. I see it in all sorts of spaces in my life. It’s in the interactions I have with friends online, mentoring college students, my career, and speaking up about the truth of my life. All of this is challenging and exhausting, and all of it is good.
It takes a team to raise young humans. I see that more and more, as my friends bring them into the world and gather them up into their families. I see the struggle of growing and nurturing and transitioning and loving children. I see the exhaustion of daily emotional output and physical care. I see the beauty of God’s blessings in all sorts of creative acts. I see the delight in teaching new wonders to eager people. I see it as I made the choice to be the back-up-plan guardian for children I know and admire.
I don’t want kids, but I am learning to love the whole world.