When the office party chatter turned to childbirth, I knew I was in trouble. My coworkers began sharing their birthing experiences, each one filled with more pain and agony than the last. As one saga would end, the next would begin with the mom saying, "And with my second baby. " After 20 hours in labor, enduring an enema, an epidural, and an episiotomy, how could anyone have the courage to do it again? As I shook my head in amazed admiration, all eyes turned to me. I braced myself for the inevitable question: "So when are you going to have one?"
"After listening to these stories?" I replied, smiling. "I don't think so!"
"I've never met anyone who didn't want to have children before," said one mother of a five year old, mouth twisted into a confused smile. "You must be teasing. Why wouldn't you want any?"
"I just don't."
No childhood trauma led me to this decision. True, my father left us early on, and my mother raised three kids with the help of my grandmother. But being without a dad never became an issuewe were too busy! We didn't own a television, and with no extra money, we filled our evenings with games and laughing and talking. Weekends meant taco night, the swimming hole, walks in the woods, Scouts, youth group, and church services. My siblings and I wereand still areclose.
One person did plant seeds for a child-free decision, thoughmy Aunt Wilma. She never had children; instead, she traveled the world as a missionary. Aunt Wilma was an adventuress in the truest sense of the word: Her thrilling tales of climbing the Eiffel Tower and Swiss Alps, boating down Amsterdam's canals, and riding the tram in Israel up to Masada captured my imagination. By age 13, I'd watch airplanes fly by, tugging white contrails behind, and long to be on them. I realized, even at a young age, that children might hinder that dream.
No booming voice from the sky told me not to have children. When I was 17, several moms from my church discussed these feelings with me and gave me a wide range of advice. Some said I'd change my mind once I grew up and met the right man. One said I'd spent too much time babysitting others' children to be able to make an unbiased decision. "Small children take and take, they rarely give," another friend said. When her third child was born, her older two were still under four years old. She allowed me to spend several days with her and her three babies, helping to feed, change, and play with them. It was a tremendous amount of work, but more importantly, an eye-opening experience. I've never lost the respect I gained that week for women patient and strong enough to raise children.
The world situation also influenced my decision. Violence seemed to permeate the world around me, and I feared bringing a life into such an evil world. Jesus spoke of this in Luke 23:29-30 as he made his way to the cross. He turned to a sobbing group of women as they followed the procession in horrified anguish, and said, "The time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' Then 'they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!"'"
Jesus was speaking of the end times, but I was so affected by the violence I saw daily in the newspaper headlines and then in my job as a police officer, that I didn't want to risk bringing a child into that.
At 22, I met and married Steve, a 36-year-old police sergeant, who had custody of 2 sons, ages 11 and 7, and a daughter, 3, from a previous marriage.
We discussed having children of our own at great length. Neither of us wanted any, and I continued to pray to know God's will. My young age was a large part of my misgivings. Was I mature enough to make that decision? Would I miss not having a little "us"? Was I selfish? If something happened to Steve, would I wish we'd had a child together? My only fear was being left alone in old age, but having children is no guarantee of company in later years. Through all my questioning, my heart remained at peace with my decision to remain childless. I knew that was the right decision for meeven during the many times when I felt as though I were a social outcast.
Steve and I were both so certain we didn't want children of our own that after a little more than a year of marriage, we broached the subject with a physician, who refused to consider tubal ligation. "You're only 23 and still young. You'll change your mind," he told me. Another physician was just as reluctant to perform a vasectomy on Steve. But after much counseling, soul-searching, warnings, and many signed waiver forms, he finally performed the surgery. The finality of my childhood decision became an adult reality, and the certainty of that decision had never been stronger. I was still convinced that bringing a life into the world was a responsibility, not an obligation.
I've never regretted that permanency, even when I've had to face other people's misunderstandings. But it took several years and an unexpected teacher before I could bypass their comments without hurt. Aware of my decision and the many comments I'd received about it, my sister suggested I make an appointment with her gynecologist for an annual checkup. I agreed, and once I was in the exam room, the doctor and nurse asked the routine questions and wrote in my chart. When the inevitable "child-free" truth came out, they both stared.
"When did you know you didn't want any children?" the doctor asked.
"When I was 13."
"Really?" He looked at me wide-eyed. I braced myself against the comments that might follow.
"What about your mother? Doesn't she want grandchildren?" the nurse questioned, pen motionless above the clipboard.
"My brother and sister both have children," I offered.
"Yes, but" The doctor motioned the nurse outside.
"My wife decided she didn't want children when she was 16," he then told me. "You're the first woman I've met besides her who's made that decision."
It was my turn to look wide-eyed. I heard myself saying something I never dreamed I'd say: "Why?"
"She just doesn't."
And I understood. As we talked, the tears on my cheeks revealed all I'd been through because of my child-free decision. The doctor encouraged me not to let society's expectations push me into parenting. And he reaffirmed that it's okay not to have children!
God has a plan for everyone, and sometimes that plan may involve being child-free. Isaiah 54 says, "'Sing, O barren, you who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman,' says the Lord. 'Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings'" (vs. 1-2, NKJV). While this verse refers symbolically to Israel, it encourages me to desire to "stretch out the curtains of my dwelling" as well.
Being child-free has opened up career opportunities. After four years as a police officer, I took a job with the federal government that involves frequent travel. I travel the country to work on unsolved homicide cases, many involving children subjected to abuse and murder at the hands of caregivers. Beth, Amberlyn, Kevin, Hailey, Jonathan, all the unwanted children whose cases end up on my deskthese are the children for whom I've stretched the tents of my heart. As I talk with the investigating officers, they share the frustration that comes with feeling they alone care about the child's suffering and death. Police officers see all that's ugly in society, the unspeakable things that never make the morning headlines. While they aren't usually receptive to traditional ministries, they need Christ as much as the people they arrest. Taking the hope that I've found in my faith in Christ behind the "Iron Curtain" of law enforcement challenges me dailyand each new opportunity gives me reason to rejoice. Being child-free has afforded me the time, energy, and emotional strength to concentrate on these casesand to have this kind of out-reachthat I wouldn't be able to do otherwise.
When I fly around the country, I often look down on the green fields and smile at the memory of myself as that little girl who gazed up at those contrails and daydreamed about traveling across the sky. I know somewhere there's another little girl who's also looking up and wishing she were stuffed into a plane seat. I pray for her, asking God to protect her and to answer her dreams, just as he's answered mine.
After 11 years together, Steve and I are living the greatest adventure of all: working at great jobs, loving our extended family, traveling together, and best of all, serving a great God. The Lord is real and alive in our hearts. He's with us on business trips as well as trips to the grocery store, and he'll be with us in our old age, making each day a new experience. Life's full and exciting. What more could I possibly want?
Laura M. Vandiver, a criminal intelligence analyst, lives in Missouri.
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