It seems unfortunate that a young woman would be afraid of being a mother. It’s an ancient fear and not unfounded. Pregnancy can be exhausting and stressful, childbirth can be painful and terrifying, and parenthood can be even more of the same. If I was honest with myself, I’d have to say that the concept of being a mother frightens me more than any war, torture, or adversity I’d experience as an American soldier. My fear is not irrational and progressed into silent anxiety as I’ve gotten older. What if I was raped? What if I became pregnant by accident?
I’ve only recently admitted this to myself and the rush of emotions makes me sick to my stomach. When I was a little kid I didn’t play with Barbie’s or baby-dolls; I played with G.I. Joes and swords and Lego’s. I was the very definition of Tomboy. I didn’t have someone there to show me how to treat a baby, or be nurturing and caring. I never wanted to hold babies, and I think it offended a few family members, but as a kid I was wary of babies. They were small and fragile and I knew nothing about them. I made it a habit to avoid small children and babies for fear of the constricting feeling in my chest it gave me. So when a new baby was introduced to my parents and someone offered for me to hold them, I’d run for the hills.
Watching birth scenes in movies and on TV always gave me a feeling of embarrassment, as if every eye was on me to see how I would react. It always gave me that same constricted feeling in my chest, anxiety. I was embarrassed that something so private and personal was on display for all to see, as if it was meant to be seen. In my opinion, even though birth is a joyous occasion for some, the mother, father, and health care specialist should be the only participates in the process. Our society sees women as a public utility as it is, however, that’s an issue for another time. Birth should be something sacred and private as it always has been before hospital births became available.
What’s worse is that my own family held this awkwardness over my head. My stepmother would make off-handed comments when there was a baby in our house. If I refused to hold a baby, even after years of knowing me, there would be a scoff and a look my way. That was one of the reason I made like the wind when someone brought a baby into our home. As a young adult they still make comments about “grandchildren” which I’m sure will increase the older I get. They don’t take me seriously when I tell them I don’t want children. They would never listen to my reasons. To my fears.
I think I should explain myself because thus far, I haven’t given much thought to why the subject scared me. But it hit me that what I was scared of was losing my identity. When I would see women with newborn babies, or watch birth scenes it always seemed to me that they had lost a part of themselves during the process. That the person I had known them to be was gone. I watched with discomfiture as they cooed over what was essentially a nuisance, a thing that couldn’t take care of itself or form a coherent thought. This was an adolescent view, I admit, because God tells us children are closest to the kingdom of heaven. But there was a block there like a wall in my mind and heart, and I couldn’t cross it or break through it.
Kids give me a funny look when they interact with me, and my stepmother would always comment that “children could see evil better than anyone”. That notion hurt me, because I was just nervous around small children. My apprehension is understandable considering the family I grew up in; the woman who gave birth to me was such a coward she demanded so much pain medicine that she couldn’t push. So I had to be pried from her with forceps, and subsequently received a permanent injury to my eye. I always blamed that woman for being so weak. I hated her as a child, inexplicably, and gravitated towards my father. My father already had a dilemma on his hands; with his sexist view of women, how was he supposed to accept his daughter had no intentions of making him a grandfather? I’ve tried to be more like the women I see around me, the ones who make it seem so easy to be around children. But like I said, I couldn’t “activate” that secret code, for me it was as if the coding never even existed.
Before one of my good friend’s wedding last year, I had to pay a visit to one of her family friend’s home to try on a bridesmaid dress. When I walked in the door, I was greeted by a little girl about 3-4 years old with a huge smile on her face. Her grandmother laughed and shooed her off. When I was finished trying the dress on, this girl who I’d never met pulled on my shirt and motioned for me to pick her up. All of the hurt and anger and anxiety I had felt about kids came rushing back, but I knew I couldn’t look rude in front of this woman who knew my friend, so I obliged and pick the girl up. My chest ached for hours after. My anxiety hadn’t gotten the better of me, but it had only forced me to question my stepmother’s view of me.
I can’t find the feelings women talk about, the ones where they can accept children for how they are and find enjoyment in them. I’m a soldier. I’ve been trained to kill and maim and to heal the wounded in war. I’m not trained to take care of babies. I see little kids now that my training is over and I think, “if only you knew…”, because what I’ve learned is the world is ugly and evil at times.
I guess that is one of the reasons I’m afraid of having kids; that one day they’ll look through my closet and see who I was and ask why I’m not that person anymore. Maybe they’d see a hero, or maybe they’d see a villain. Would they love me less given my fears and anxiety and personal misgivings? Would I lose parts of myself as I got older? Would I lose my character and fade into the life of a caretaker? All these questions were hidden inside of me until now.
I’m afraid that when the pain is all over and I have to hold my newborn baby, I’ll falter and I’ll fail them, like my parents have failed me time and again. I’m scared I won’t have any love in my heart for a baby. I don’t dream about a big house with children. I dream about changing the world and saving people’s lives. I dream about good versus evil and justice for those who need it. When I dream about a kid that’s mine, it’s all about saving that kid from someone, not about being a housewife or nurturer.
Motherhood is an ethical dilemma, a cultural conundrum. A woman can achieve anything a man can and yet society expects her to bring more humans into the world, without heed to her achievements or dreams. I don’t think I’m cut out to be a mother in this sense.
When I watched “The Walton’s”, I grew attached to Mary Ellen’s character. She was a lot like me in ways I never wanted to admit: tomboyish, vocally against traditional views, ready to go out and see the world, focused on her career. Then she got married to a patronizing older doctor and became pregnant. She let this man boss her around and tell her where she was having her firstborn and how. The same stubborn-willed woman I’d seen seemed to be gone. She’d clawed her way into nursing school only to become an assistant and secretary for her husband. But little by little she got her way and gave birth to her son on Walton’s mountain. As I struggled to watch the whole ordeal, uneasy and embarrassed, I saw that birth wasn’t as dehumanizing as I’d been sold. That she was still the same person while she struggled through the pain. And secretly I wanted things to be that way for me, to be the same person I was as I brought a new person into the world. For it to be private and sacred and meditative.
I don’t think that the wound in my soul will be healed until I hold my own baby. Until I break the cycle my mother, father, and stepmother’s families cursed me and my brothers with. Until I teach my own kid that family is love like God is love.