I didn’t think I would be a mother. As a newlywed I did want children someday, but not any time soon. That was something for the future. And when you’re twenty, that future exists in a whole other lifetime. It’s funny, because I do feel as if I have lived many lifetimes since then.
The longer you wait, the bigger the decision becomes. Except it never felt like a decision. Children were just something I had assumed would happen from the first time I stuffed a pillow under my shirt and pretended to be rushed to the hospital. It was a promise I made to myself long before I knew where babies came from.
Looking back, I think by the time I was thirty I had become the type of woman who didn’t want children. I was happy with my life and my freedom. Was I selfish? Maybe. Or maybe I was just set in my ways and could not imagine turning my world upside down. But by then we were three years into the realization that I probably couldn’t get pregnant—and that made having children a miracle worth wanting. So I held onto the idea a little bit longer.
I have no regrets. Children are people who enter our lives and we fall in love with them. And as with any relationship, whatever we thought we wanted doesn’t matter once they are here. We want the people we love.
I knew exactly what kind of parent I would be, and I couldn’t wait to plunge our family into church life. I wanted all of it for my children. I wanted the Sunday tradition and the connections that would be made at Sunday school. I fantasized about youth group activities and church potlucks.
I did not have a bad experience with religion. Sure, there were ideas floating around in my head that I now realize were dangerous—but I didn’t know it then. I survived. Even now when I enter a church it feels like home. It’s familiar, and I fit in. No one ever suspects I’m not a believer. Heck, in the last year alone I have had three separate strangers tell me they can tell I love Jesus just by looking at me.
(What does that even mean?)
The turning point in my faith began around the time my daughter was born. Finally having a family inspired me to find a new church, but my faith had evolved, and I wasn’t sure where we belonged. Over the next few years my faith would completely unravel. One of the most devastating casualties of that unraveling was the dream of raising my kids in the church.
Little did I know what the future held. I didn’t know my daughter had a disability that would make Sunday school (or even church) nearly impossible for us—or that more children would never come. It would have been useful knowledge during my faith crisis to know the dream was destined to fail with or without my faith.
Ex-Christians often seek replacements for the traditions we have lost. It’s strange to raise our children in unfamiliar territory, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing they need something like what we had. It’s even more difficult for my husband, whose parents made Jesus a part of everything they did. My own parents did not attend church with me, and never mentioned God at home.
Sometimes I wonder how the last decade would have looked if I had remained a Christian. What plan would I have believed God intended for me? Would I be unhappy? I don’t think I would be more or less happy. Losing faith cleared my head…. but it didn’t change everything. I struggled during the time when I was trying to hold on to God, but the time before and after? It wasn’t tragic or even stressful.
I love talking about religion, and the way we relate to each other where religion is concerned is of particular interest to me. I can’t help it. I have always been curious about how people socialize and connect, and I love to overthink the possibilities. Knowing what it feels like to live with God and without him means I have a lot to say about a topic I already enjoy– so here I am. There are times it does hit me hard that my daughter may never understand the concept of religion. These discussions which I love so much will most likely never be something we can share.
Is this how I imagined motherhood? Of course not. But wouldn’t it be weird if it had turned out exactly how I imagined? For years there was a feeling of dread I could not shake; a fear that maybe children were not in the cards for us. It would have been okay, I know that. But I was missing a basic experience so many others stumbled upon effortlessly. There was this difference in me that made me feel broken. And even though my parenting experience is not what I thought it would be, that hole has been completely filled ever since my daughter was born.
When things get difficult, I try to remember what it felt like before– and I am forever grateful she is here.
There are no guarantees in life. No master plan. And in many ways that is comforting. With or without God, we are all challenged to face the reality that life is not under our control. We make plans, and those plans get derailed. We each attempt to carve out our place in this world and pass something meaningful on to the next generation. Sometimes we have to start from scratch. And we have more in common than some of us are willing to admit.
I do my best to remember that, too.