Recently I posted Child-free Emotions and earlier, I’m Not Having A Baby about my choice to not have children. Following my posts, someone who has become a very dear friend discussed with me her reactions to my posts, and I invited her to share those here as a guest post. While our circumstances have been very different, a lot of the feelings she describes echo those I have had on my journey too. Here are her words…
It seems that being single and/or being childless automatically puts you in the category of having “something wrong” with you. In other words, “You must be out of your mind!!” is what people are really thinking. What they also think and sometimes are insensitive enough to say is, “That’s not normal!!” My question to you is, who are you to define what “normal” is for me? Have you ever considered there are “legitimate” reasons why I am single or why I am childless? Or do you just judge me and label me without having a clue to what has happened in my life? For those who consider it their duty to see single people and women without children as not being “normal,” here’s something for you to consider:
I grew up in a time when the “normal” thing for young girls to expect was to grow up, meet someone in either high school or college, fall in love with him, get married, have children and live happily-ever-after. You could have a job before you got married, but once you had that ring on your finger your job was to be a wife and mother. Maybe, if your husband allowed you to, once the children were in school or had left home, you might be able to have a job. Please note that it was a job, not a career. Your career, even when your children were grown and on their own, was still to be a wife and mother . . . or now a grandmother. The only exceptions seemed to be if you’d been “foolish enough” to have chosen a “lazy, good-for-nothing” husband which meant you had to work in order to keep a roof over your heads and food on the table. In which case, it was your fault for choosing the wrong man to begin with!! These “normal” things a young girl was expected to do never took into account the following scenarios:
What if you grow up in a home where your parents despised each other and you thought this was typical of married people? What if you found out this was not typical and not the what you wanted to use as a role model for your own marriage? What if all of your sisters marriages are not ones you want to use as a role model either because one sister, determined not to be dominated by a man like her father, “hen-pecked” her husband and he allowed her to do so; because another sister used sex to get a husband so she wouldn’t have to move where the family was moving and then used sex for the rest of her life to control and manipulate every man she met in order to get what she wanted to out of life; because another sister chose a man just like her father, only angrier, louder, meaner, more demanding, more verbally abusive and who played mind games with everyone he met since he thought he was so much more clever than anyone else? What if the church denomination you grew up in never made allowances for human behavior so that you were told everything was “fine” in everyone else’s home until the day one member of the family finally has the nerve to walk down the aisle for “confession” and every member of the congregation discovers to their horror that one spouse has committed adultery, one child is on drugs, one child is pregnant and unmarried and the couple is filing for divorce? What if, in this denomination, these were all horrible sins and the family members were now torn apart because they were too ashamed to seek help from their “brothers and sisters” because they knew they’d be condemned, as a child you see these once loving and loved people being condemned and shunned — or worse, “disfellowshipped,” which is the Protestant form of “excommunication”?
What if you still believed, despite all evidence to the contrary, that you would one day “meet the right fellow, fall in love, have children and live happily-ever-after” because you’re still naive enough to believe that it could happen . . . until the day one of your sisters brings home a “man” she’s fallen in love with and he starts putting his hands on you when you’re an adolescent? What if you naively believe that since he’s about to become your “big brother” that he’s just showing “natural affection”? What if this touching increases as the years go on until one day this man, being a position of power and authority in your life as he’s taken on the trustworthy role as father-figure since he’s married to the sister you trust the most who has taken on the trustworthy role as mother-figure in your life, convinces your sister to join him in laying a trap for you — a trap you don’t see because you trust these people, especially your sister, with your life? What if that trap is what he wanted from the first time he saw you when you were twelve years old: to have sex with you? What if your sister leads you to his bed? What if he never stops touching you, bothering you, flirting with you, “loving” you or simply letting you alone for the next two decades?
What if you escaped this situation as soon as you were old enough to get out on your own and began meeting men that you were still considering as “marriageable material”? What if you still didn’t know what truly loving someone and being loved by someone meant? What if you discovered that the men you met saw a beauty and a value in you that you never believed you possessed because you’d been told all your life how ugly, fat, stupid clumsy and how much of a bother you were? What if you allowed yourself to believe it for just a bit because you so desperately wanted it to be true? What if things were going along smoothly until he began talking about marriage? What if you began to panic inside because he might find out the bad thing that had happened that had been all your fault and he’d hate you for it? What if you knew that there was no way the marriage would last because even if you were able to manipulate and control everything so that he never found out your horrible secret, you still didn’t know what a good marriage looked like, you had no idea how to make a marriage work and the thought of having children, even though you’d been a great babysitter and were a good aunt to many nephews and nieces, scared you to death for reasons you didn’t understand at the time? What if that panic and fear made you run away? What if you met another man and the same thing happened, only this time you didn’t have to run away because he was transferred overseas, so now you were safe? What if you met another man, one whom you now realized you truly loved but were still terrified he’d discover your secret and blame you and hate you since it was all your fault? What if this man had the same bad characteristics as the bad characteristics of your father and you knew you’d never be able to stand up in “a house of God” and make vows before God, family and friends to do all kinds of things “until death do you part” when you knew you’d want to leave him long before death entered the picture and you didn’t want to end up divorced with a couple of children to raise on your own?
What if you had a miscarriage? What if you later discovered you had several mental and emotional illnesses? What if you’d gone ahead and married that man despite all the red-flag warnings? What if you’d been able to carry a baby to full term, but had a breakdown going through postpartum depression? Would that postpartum depression have caused a breakdown? Would that postpartum depression and/or subsequent breakdown cause you to harm your own innocent baby and/or yourself? Would your new husband, not understanding what was going on, stand by you? Would he seek help for you? Would he stay by your side? Would he divorce you because you’re “crazy”? Would he now hate you for being “crazy” and for putting his child in danger? Would he now discover the secret and despise you on top of everything else? Would he have you committed? Would you have to go to jail and then to prison for acts committed when you were “out of your mind”, because you’d never consider doing such things if you were in your “right mind”?
Now that you’ve considered these things, I hope you’ve really had a chance to think about each question, taking your time to wonder what you would do in each of these scenarios. I don’t have to wonder what I would have done because I’ve experienced every single one of these things, and many more, except that I never carried a baby to full term and I never went through with the marriage. Because of the secret shame and loathing I carried around inside of me for what two people did to me, having cold-bloodedly and pre-meditatively planned to do to me, one of those people being the one person I trusted the most in this world, my sister, I never thought I deserved a family of my own. I thought I wasn’t worthy. I was terrified someone would find out how bad I was, how despicable I was, how dirty I was, since I was led to believe that what happened and continued to happen was all my fault, and I was terrified that if the one man I truly loved ever found out about my secret and forgave me for being such a bad person, he’d go after my brother-in-law and kill him or be killed by him.
Once I discovered I had several mental and emotional illnesses, I wondered if the breakdown I had, which came about because I’d kept the secret inside me for so long it was slowly killing me and it had to come out, would have occurred earlier if I’d gone through with what the man I loved wanted and married him. I know we would have had children, if I’d been able to carry one full-term, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would have had postpartum depression. Having heard many stories on the news of women who kill their children during this state of mind, I cannot help but wonder if the mental and emotional illnesses that made the chemicals in my brain unbalanced would have made me join their ranks. If I had survived the inevitable postpartum depression, I would have passed on my inherited mental and emotional illnesses and I would have, as my parents did to me, hurt my children verbally and emotionally — but I pray not physically — because whereas I might have had better parenting skills, having learned from my parents what not to do, I still might not have had enough skills to have known the best way to raise my children.
I still never gave up on the idea of marriage, until I had a breakdown and this illness-I-never-knew-I-had got out of control. In order, subconsciously, to protect myself from ever being sexually abused again, and because the secret had to come out, I began gaining weight in the years preceding the breakdown. Since then, I have gained an enormous amount of weight and have kept it on, except for a short time in my life. When I lost a good deal of weight I began to feel good about myself. I began to feel prettier. Men began to notice me again. I slowly began to panic. Then I began to eat, both for comfort and as a means of stuffing my feelings down . . . and as a safety measure. The layers of fat on my body are really layers of walls that I have built between the real me inside this body and the scary things that men will down to pretty, thin women — especially my brother-in-law who to this day still looks at me with that “knowing” look!! Apparently no matter how fat I am, he’ll still think of me as that vulnerable young girl he wants to have in his bed.
I could never write these things on my own blog because family members who don’t know the truth would be meaninglessly made to suffer if I were to reveal my secret. My dear, kind and generous friend, Cate, has allowed me to take up space on her blog to let my voice be heard. My name is Kathy and I have been the victim of mental, emotional, verbal, physical, spiritual and sexual abuse. Due to this violence against my person and due to the genes I inherited, I now live with many mental and emotional illnesses, the two main ones being bipolar disorder and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder.) I’ve spent the last nineteen years of my life with these illnesses barely under control by medication. I’ve done the best I can with doctors, counselors and my God and Lord, Jesus, the Christ, to overcome my past and to place the responsibility for wrongs done to me onto those who did those wrongs and off of me, an innocent child and young woman. I am still a work in progress, because once a child is harmed the scars are on that soul forever. God, in His wisdom, love, grace and mercy has been teaching me and is continuing to teach me how to live with these things and how to live past these things. I am 55 years old. I am a survivor!! Therefore those of you who know me on WordPress know me as survivor55.