When my mother tells stories about me from when I was young, she often highlights the fact that I never wanted to play with baby dolls. I never willingly pretended to be a mother. I liked stuffed animals. Theywould be my children, and I would brush them and care for them rather than baby dolls.
“That girl would step over a screaming baby to pet a puppy,” my mother would say to family and friends, forcing a cheery tone, but I could sense the ice behind the humor. I always thought this was just another criticism of my less feminine qualities, such as softball and basketball. However, she seemed personally offended at my lack of interest in babies. I always protested at comments such as these, claiming that, No, I loved babies, even though she was right. I never wanted to babysit for the children of family friends, nor did I ever fantasize about being a mother like my other female friends.
Growing up in a Christian community, the idea of the traditional family was important to my own family. My mother did most of the childrearing while my father did most of the financial heavy lifting. Perhaps it was this emphasis on what it means to be a Christian woman that had my mother worried about my lack of interest in raising children. Maybe she thought that I would never achieve the goal of biblical womanhood if I never showed interest in babies. This idea was certainly not limited to my own household; it circulated throughout the populations of our church and my private, Christian school.
When I was in Kindergarten, my teacher asked each student to announce what they wanted to be when they grew up. I proudly stated that I wanted to be a cowgirl who dabbled in modern art. My best friend just as proudly said that she wanted to be a mom. I looked at her in confusion.
“What about a job? What about college?” I asked.
“Thatwill be my job!” she replied with a smile. “My mom didn’t go to college, and she had five kids!”I rolled my eyes, dismissive; I figured that I would eventually find the desire to have a child, but I was much more interested in my unrealistic career goals than being a mother.
As time passed, my ideas surrounding motherhood did indeed change. There was never any bolt of lightning that suddenly shackled me with maternal instincts; I simply matured and developed a certain fondness for the idea of having a few kids. I decided that I wanted to have one boy and one girl, just like my parents did, and they would be the cutest children in the world. This fantasy flourished when I began dating my boyfriend, Zach. We had partnered on that stupid flour sack-baby project the year before. We swaddled our little faux-child and carried him everywhere to fulfill the assignment for our freshman health class, and our new relationship quickly led to deep conversations about marriage and children.
As my relationship with Zach progressed, I became more and more enamored with the idea of motherhood, and I firmly cemented the images of these children into my plans for the future. Zach and I had very similar aspirations when it came to family. We wanted two or three kids, at least one of each gender. It even seemed that we had both received a desire from God to adopt during the same period of time. It was decided: we would have two children biologically and then adopt a third. As I explained these plans to my mother, she was thrilled that I had warmed so fully to the idea of motherhood. While I had always been close with my mother, I felt like we understood each other better than we ever had before. I carried these plans with me into college, and though Zach and I attended different universities, we continued to plan our future, promising marriage but missing the ring that would make it official.
During my sophomore year of college, I began to notice that something was wrong with me. Rather than having cramps only during my period, I started feeling stomach pains almost every day. It got worse throughout the year, but I felt uncomfortable sharing my symptoms with others. I knew that talking about periods makes most people uncomfortable, and I figured that what I was experiencing was probably somewhat normal. However, I found myself in so much pain that I was often forced to miss several classes in a row, and finally, my mother insisted that I go to a gynecologist that summer.
I was nineteen. Technically an adult. I could vote go to college in a different state. However, as someone who was nowhere close to having sex, the idea of a visit to the OBGYN had never crossed my mind. This was grownup stuff. I asked my mom to come with me, but she had errands to run. I had to make the visit by myself. Thankfully, my doctor works at an office with an all-female staff, so I felt a bit more comfortable than I might have otherwise. I sat in the waiting room and filled out the medical form attached to a clip board that the nice young lady at the front desk handed to me when I signed in.
Sexual activity? Nope.
I handed back the clip board and waited. I idly flipped through some of the magazines stacked haphazardly on the table next to my chair, but I couldn’t focus on the articles. Instead I glanced around the waiting room, taking in the large windows that bathed the office in the hot August sun. There were a few other women in the room with me, but none of them seemed nervous. They all looked so worldly, so womanly. A trip to the OBGYN was nothing to them.
After a few minutes, I was called back into an exam room. I sat in the small, chilly room and fretted. Despite the temperature, I was sweating, and my short-clad thighs began to stick to the rubber covering on the small bench. Thoughts ran rapid-fire and disorganized through my head. Should I take my clothes off? Will I have to put my legs in the stirrups? I was paralyzed with anxiety, but it didn’t take too long for my doctor to enter. She was beautiful. She had a soft voice and a firm handshake, and I finally relaxed a bit. She asked why I had made an appointment as she perused my medical forms; I was a bit too young to start my yearly visits, and if I really wasn’t sexually active, there must be a specific problem that brought me in. I explained my situation, detailing the continuous and painful cramps, and she probed a bit deeper with carefully-worded questions and comforting looks. After a short conversation with me, she claimed that she might know what the problem was. I was excited to receive an explanation for my pain. And just like that, I was diagnosed with endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a condition that causes the lining of the uterus to grow on the outside rather than the inside, and when the lining is removed during a period, it causes a great amount of pain in the uterus. One of the symptoms is pain during intercourse. The misplaced lining can also cause scar tissue that can fuse organs together and prevent conception as well as cause other medical complications. My doctor explained that I would have almost no chance of having any biological children.
As I heard that fact, I felt as if God was taking my determination to follow his will to adopt and saying, “Let’s see how serious you were about that.” Immediately, my emotions took a back seat, and the feminist part of my mind spoke out in a fierce voice: You do not have to have children to live a full life! You are a strong woman of God,and your fertility does not define you! You can adopt!
Underneaththe echo of this booming voice, I heard my doctor say that while there is no cure for endometriosis, the best treatment for the condition is birth control. Instantly, the strong feminist portion of my brain turned tail and ranas it was overtaken by the strength of memories from my conservative childhood. As a young woman who had grown up in a Christian household and attended a Christian school, I balked at the idea of taking birth control. In my community, only two groups of people took birth control: married women who wanted to control the pace of their procreation, and whores. This time, my mother’s voice sounded in my head: What will people say?!I breathlessly asked my doctor if there was any other treatment for endometriosis. She paused before telling me that some people just use a prescription-strength daily dosage of Ibuprofen to combat the pain, but it was not a very effectivetreatment plan; it eased the pain without suspending the actual damage being done to the body. I jumped at the opportunity, thinking nothing of her warning, and she wrote me a prescription.
On the drive home, I thought about what it would mean for me if I was never able to become pregnant. I tried to keep others’ opinions out of my head for the moment and continued to reign in my emotions. I had never been very comfortable around babies having never really spent much time around them. As the youngest of my almost innumerable cousins, I did not have the experiences of watching babies or toddlers while parents and aunts talked or watched a football game together. I often felt awkward when a friend at church would hand me a squirming child. However, I had always assumed that once I had my own child, a child I had carried in my own body for nine months, I would instantly adjust to motherhood. My baby would love me, I would love my baby, and I would then be ready for more children, whether adopted or biological. Now, I was unsure. What if I never became comfortable with children? What if I tried to adopt, and I never developed a bond with a baby whom I potentially could not breastfeed, who did not have an established physical connection with me? Such thoughts swirled through my head as I drove through the streets, distracted by my broken stereo that jumped from station to station with every slight bump in the road, too hot because the air conditioning in my car was broken, too.
Once I got home, I called my mother, explaining the situation. She was quiet for a moment when I told her that I might not be able to have children, then cheerfully said, “God can perform miracles; don’t worry about that just yet!” She applauded my choice to opt for painkillers over birth control, and then she hung up to get back to her errands. Then Zach came over. When I opened the door and saw him standing there, smiling, all the emotions that had not made an appearance yet came overflowing out of me. I began sobbing uncontrollably.He gave me a big hug and took me over to the couch. He calmly let me cry on his shoulder before asking me what the doctor had said. Between sobs, I told him about my diagnosis; luckily, he had learned a bit about endometriosis in one of his nursing classes, so I did not have to go into too much detail. He smiled brightly and expressed his relief that it was not something more serious, but I was not satisfied with this reaction to the news; I had some pressing questions for him.
“What if it hurts me to have sex? What if I don’t want to after the first time?” I asked him, crying so hard that I’m sure he had a bit of trouble understanding me.
“Then we won’t have sex,” he replied flippantly. I laughed through tears, completely hysterical.
“Bullshit,”I sobbed, my body wracked with violent shudders. He just held me tighter, chuckling. I then managed to blurt out the question that I had been agonizing over since he had arrived at my doorstep, even since I had left the doctor’s office.
“What if I can’t have children?” I asked, the words nearly overtaken with my crying. In my mind, I saw the picture of my perfect family melt away in an instant. How could Zach marry someone who could not give him the family that he had dreamed about for so many years?
“Well, we’ll adopt. We already wanted to, now we’ll just adopt all three!” I was then sobbing from both grief and disbelief, stunned by the kindness of this man I loved and heartbroken by the persuasive idea that he would absolutely change his mind at some point. I was sure that he would become disappointed in me, bitter at the woman who could not provide him with a child to whom he was related. However, in that moment, I just let him hold me and wished everything could be the way it should be.
Months passed, and I went back to school in Colorado. Only a few weeks into the fall semester of my junior year, I realized that my doctor had been right; the painkillers were a stupid idea. They didn’t really help with the pain, and I knew that they were not helping my actual condition. My reputation thrown to the wind, I called my doctor and got a prescription for a year of birth control. The symptoms of the pill are migraines, an irregular cycle, and the embarrassed scorn of my parents.Even still, after a while, my endometriosis symptoms began to subside, not that there was not an adjustment period as I ventured into this new, grownup world.
My body reacted wildly to the regiment. Suddenly, my cycle was nonexistent, and I went through violent mood swings, crying at the drop of a hat. After a while on the pill, my body settled into a normal routine. I was thrilled with my newfound relief, until one day I was talking on the phone with my mother.
I had been successfully dealing with the idea of never getting pregnant with Zach’s quiet and firm support; I was finally coming to terms with my situation, excited to pursue the path of adoption that I felt, and still feel, was God’s plan for my life. My mother, on the other hand, had a different idea about what path my life should take.
“Don’t rule out having your own child, Allie!” she exclaimed when I mentioned my idea of refraining from trying to have biological kids at all. “You should at least try!” I explained that in order to try to have biological children, I would have to go off the birth control, putting myself back into excruciating pain and scarring my uterus even more in the process. I also argued that any child I adopted wouldbe my “own child.”
We continued to have the same discussion over and over throughout that year and into the next summer. The pressure only magnified when Zach proposed to me on the fourth anniversary of our relationship. My mother was overjoyed at the impending marriage, but it also caused her to double down on her argument for “your own children.” At one point, I blew up at her, venomously asking her why she was so obsessed with having grandchildren that looked like her. She stopped, turned, and left the room without a word. I knew that I had hurt her feelings. I felt bad, but I felt vindicated; hadn’t she driven me to that point? Finally, she stopped pestering me about my plans for motherhood, and I stopped discussing adoption with her. Now when we discuss my plans, we simply talk about my future children, never about how they might arrive into my life.
Through conversations with my mother, I recently learned that she suffered two miscarriages before she got pregnant with my brother, and she had another before getting pregnant with me. Perhaps it is these children, her own children that never got to grow up, that she is picturing when she thinks of the children that I may never have. Knowing that she fought so hard, went through so much pain, in order to have her children makes me better understand why she would expect the same from me. I admire my mother’s capacity for both love and determination, and I hope to bring those same qualities into my fight to provide a loving family to a child who has been left without one.
As a twenty-one-year-old woman, I am currently at peace with my condition and my plans for adoption. Sometimes, when I see pregnant women on the street or at church or when I play with young children, I feel a tug in my chest. I think to myself, Would it really be so bad to just try? Other times, when Zach tells me disgusting horror stories from his many grueling clinical hours in the maternity ward, I’m satisfied with my decision to eventually sell my eggs to some rich person and use the money for our adoption fund. Regardless, we plan, and God laughs.
This friend is in grad school now, single, childless, and loving it.
Bombshell: A person can be both a feminist and a Christian.
Zach later told me that he immediately expected the worst: cervical cancer, ovarian cancer. I guess it could always be worse.
I had picked up cursing at my Christian college.
For about a year, my mother insisted I refer to my pills as “medication,” even when we were speaking alone. She didn’t want anyone to overhear and get the wrong idea about me or my values.
- Allison Lapporte
Allison Lapporte is a twenty-one year old college student from Southern California.