Today’s post is by Samantha Field from Defeating the Dragons, where she blogs about her experiences with and life after Christian patriarchy and fundamentalism. Samantha is guest-posting as part of the “Voices of Sister-Moms” series here on Becoming Worldly.
If you have a Quiverfull “sister-Mom” story you would like to share, email me at becomingworldly (at) gmail (dot) com.
“Barren” – Samantha’s Story
My mother was in labor with me for almost three days, and by the time she finally delivered, she was nearly dead. If it hadn’t been for my father, she probably would have died. But, in 1987, no one was familiar enough with my mother’s medical condition to tell her what her safe options were. When my sister was born, my mother’s uterus prolapsed. Doctors warned her against getting pregnant again. Within a year, she ended up needing a complete hysterectomy.
My mother used to refer to herself as barren.
However, I never remember hearing her use that word to describe herself until we had been attending an Independent Fundamental Baptist
ChurchCult (IFB) for a few years. When we first began attending, the Quiverfull teachings weren’t readily apparent. Quiverfull ran underneath the surface of almost anything having to do with women, but not obviously. However, when I was thirteen years old, my cult-leader’s wife became pregnant with twins when she was already past 50 years old.
At that point, Quiverfull ideas jumped to the forefront. Other members joined, many with large families, and I remember families coming through our church (usually to perform music) that the cult-leader held up and praised. These honored families usually had at least a dozen children, and one family in particular had 20. Women in our church were first encouraged, then compelled, and then ordered by the “word of God” to have as many children as possible, from whence comes their salvation.
One day, when I was fourteen years old, I remember asking my mother if she had ever wanted more children than just me and my sister. Her response was an automatic “of course.” And she cried for the rest of the afternoon.
That was the first time I heard the word barren.
When I was fifteen years old, I sat in a cold doctor’s office, shocked and trying to constrain myself from breaking down in front of my doctor. She was telling me that I had poly cystic ovary syndrome, possibly endometriosis, and it was bad enough that I would probably struggle with having children and I would likely need a hysterectomy before I was 30. She offered what I’m sure she thought were assurances– that women who have hysterectomies today have plenty of options to delay menopause and that there wasn’t anything to be concerned about.
I might be barren.
When I was attending a fundamentalist college, I formed a friendship with another young man in my major. At the end of our sophomore year together, when my PCOS was causing me severe enough problems that even the faculty in my department was aware of it, I confessed that I might not be able to have children.
“Oh, Samantha. You’re never going to be able to get married. That’s so sad.”
The sliver of me that had always known this wilted inside. “Wait… what… what do you mean I’ll never be able to get married?”
“No Christian man will want to marry a woman who can’t have children.”
I went back to my dorm room and sobbed.
Growing up in the intensely fundamentalist environment not only taught me that my value– not as a person, but as a woman— was largely based on my ability to bear children. The fact that my anatomy threatened that ability terrified me because becoming a wife and mother had been what I had been trained to do. The only thing that I was allowed to do.
Because the leaders at my church-cult knew that I would not have younger siblings, many of the women took me under their wing. While I was not permitted to baby sit for money– only the cult leader’s daughters had that privilege –I was assigned to work in the nursery during services far more often than any other “young lady” at my church-cult. I was frequently tasked with managing the children in a variety of capacities and at different functions when others were given the freedom to play and roam. All of this was done in the name of “preparing me for motherhood.”
Everything I did around children was sharply monitored and harshly criticized. Other “young ladies” who had the experience of looking after younger siblings at home were not watched as closely, and were trusted to perform basic tasks like bottle feeding and diaper changing while I was not allowed to do any of those things on my own for months. It was humiliating that I couldn’t be trusted to change a diaper on my own, that I had to do every single task with the utmost perfection or risk a lecture.
I was mocked because I didn’t know how to operate a diaper genie the first time I tried to use one. The first time I burped a baby, the older nursery worked literally held my hand and patted the baby’s back with it. Every experience was degrading because I wasn’t lucky enough to have had younger siblings to look after. I was given the most onerous, tedious tasks. Even when I grew older and other “young ladies” were coming up underneath me, I was still considered their inferior because these young teenage girls were considered more “domestic” than I was. I was not lady like enough. I was not as interested in the feminine arts like everyone else was. I was considered an unfortunate aberration.
The barren daughter of a barren woman.
Sometime after I started dating my now-husband, I was kneeling in the middle of my hallway at home, talking with him over the phone. Because of my medical conditions, my periods had steadily grown worse over the years– to the point where now they are almost unendurable.
In the environment I’d been raised in, the very idea of considering a hysterectomy (the only real long-term ‘cure’ for me, although it has its own set of problems that may or may not be better) was anathema, blasphemy. Heresy. It was not to be considered. I would do everything humanly possible to preserve my fertility, and that was it. No other option was available. It was fertility or ruination.
But, that day, on the phone, talking with the man who I was already becoming certain I would marry, I asked him the question. What would he think if I decided to have a hysterectomy. If we never had children together. If I gave all of that up, all these years of “protecting my fertility” because I couldn’t stand the pain anymore? If I wasn’t willing to do whatever it took?
“You need to do whatever is best for you, beautiful. If we never have kids, we never have kids. I love you and I want to be with you. You matter more to me than anything else. And this is your decision, not mine. It’s your body, and you get to decide what happens.”
My decision. Mine.
He’d made it clear over the course of our relationship that he was open to all the options– childlessness, adoption, fostering, or pursuing fertility treatments if that was what I wanted.
What I wanted.
Not what I was expected to do. Not what I’d been trained to do. Not what I’d been taught was my ultimate and best purpose.
What I wanted. For the first time, that mattered to me. And, for the first time, when I again decided not to pursue a hysterectomy, I made that choice not because it was what I believed was the “only right thing,” but what I decided I wanted. I looked at my husband’s twinkling eyes and mischievous grin, his mop of red hair, his cleverness, motivation, loyalty, and empathy, and decided I wanted to have children with that man. Someday. After I’ve written a book or two, after we can buy a house . . . when I’m ready.