I had always hated domestic life. I hated cleaning, I hated cooking, I hated childcare. I’d experienced all of these in plentiful amounts during my childhood, teen years and while working. I believed domestic existence was my duty, though. God wanted a man and a woman to pair up in a committed relationship and have children and raise them to be godly people. This was one of the teachings about God’s will that I’d never found reason to believe was false. So when my boyfriend and I discussed issues like children, we agreed that we wanted at least three. The truth was that I didn’t want to be a mother at all, but I felt guilty for that. It was clearly some sign of selfish sin that still needed to be weeded out.
My husband did want a domestic existence. He was no good at cleaning, or cooking, and had never spent significant time taking care of children, but he wanted a home and a family and an ordinary, nesting sort of life. He proposed getting legally married, with the argument it would be better for our eventual children. I agreed, and a few months later we tied the knot in the local courthouse and had a potluck for friends and family that night in the basement of a friend’s church. We watched Invader Zim with our friends until midnight.
Not long after the legal marriage my husband said we should start having kids. This brought me face to face with the fact that I still believed in one of the main ideas conservative Christianity taught: sex-based hierarchy. I could register my opinion about things but ultimately, I had to submit to whatever my husband wanted for our relationship and let him lead. I said I wanted to wait longer before having kids. Neither of us had finished college and we had no financial stability. My husband sailed past those objections, saying we couldn’t know the future and might never feel we were financially stable, so we might as well have kids now instead of denying ourselves the chance.
I had a long dark night of the soul. I concluded that my husband’s desire for children was godly, and that my desire to remain childless at least a few years longer was just selfishness, so I agreed we would start trying to have children. This was his dream, and I didn’t want to deny him his dream when it was only my own selfishness standing in the way. Maybe I might even like my kids once they were old enough that they could talk. I went off birth control while secretly hoping the scare tactics used to try and keep Christian women from using it were correct, and that it might permanently ruin my fertility or make it take a very long time to get pregnant.
I was pregnant with our first child about three months after I stopped using birth control. The mirror had cracked from side to side and the curse had come upon me.
Pregnancy was awful. There was no glow or extra energy or better sex. There was a lot of vomiting and bad skin and bad sleep. One of my close friends at the time told me later she was seriously worried and wondered if, when I had the child, I’d actually be able to bond with it.
I had used to proclaim that I didn’t want kids when I was a teenager, at a time when it was safe to do so because I pessimistically believed I’d die single or that Jesus would come back before I had a chance to do normal things like get married. Sometimes my family acted like the fact that I’d gotten married and was having children was the seventh wonder of the world, but they certainly never suggested that maybe I shouldn’t be walking that path in life. My mom, especially, believed marriage and motherhood were the highest and holiest calling of a woman’s life.
Biology did its thing. I gave birth to my first child before my 23rd birthday and I loved him more than I had ever thought I could love a human being. My worried friend was very relieved. Of course, now that I knew what it was like to love so deeply I learned the other side of that coin, the one people never talk about when they recommend parenting and say it’s wonderful to have children: with that great love will come great fear. That first year was rough. My husband got laid off and for a time he sank into depression, staying up all night and sleeping all day while I handled childcare.
That’s what we’d decided, you see. We knew we wanted at least three children, and since I’d be pregnant and breastfeeding, and he’d have better career opportunities, I’d be the one to stay home with the children. We’d do the traditional sex-based roles where the husband worked and the wife handled the children and the house. Childcare was so expensive, anyway, that any job I got would simply go to pay someone else to take care of my children. I’d agreed to have children and now that I’d agreed to that, I wanted to do it well, to the best of my ability.
We were on unemployment and SNAP and WIC and it was barely enough to cover our expenses. One month my husband made an impulse purchase and because of that purchase we were short on our rent and had to borrow from his parents. The stress was enormous and our relationship suffered and we both secretly wondered if we’d get divorced. Then my husband was offered a job. It wasn’t a great job, but it was a job, and he cleaned up his act and started biking to work 3 miles each way and I was proud of him for deciding to be a good dad after all.
It was during this time, sleep-deprived and nursing my first child in the small hours of the morning that I got sucked back into the conservative beliefs of my childhood, the ones that had only softened, not disappeared. My mom sent me a link to a website called Ladies Against Feminism and I devoured the content. It reinforced my belief that I was supposed to submit to my husband’s leading in my life. This was how God would transform my heart and eliminate the selfishness that still plagued me and turn me into someone that could love and be happy being obedient to His will. That website led to an entire blog community of Christians that were adamantly against feminism and had a whole lot of reasons for why it ruined society.
If there was one thing to be grateful for during all of this, it was that natural spacing worked for us. Our second child was born exactly two and a half years after our first. Pregnancy was terrible, again. I wondered if I had it in me to love more than one child and was pleased to find out that it was. He was a much easier child than my firstborn. I wasn’t happy with my life but I was surviving. Some day my hard work would pay off and I would feel joy over fulfilling God’s role for me. I just had to let Him chip away at all that selfishness I contained.