Some Women Are Just Built For It

Last spring, I noticed that I had gradually begun to feel sluggish, heavy, foggy-headed, and depressed. If you have hypothyroidism (which I do) you know that means it’s time to check in with the doctor about your hormone levels. The doctor I’d seen last had left her practice to go have a baby of her own, so I didn’t really know who to call. I needed to get in pretty quickly, though, so I did the roulette thing where you call and say “Oh, whoever can work me in is fine.”

It’s just TSH levels and a little palpating of the neck, right? Anybody can handle that. No worries! A few days after making my appointment, I found myself in an exam room with a young doctor of the male persuasion.  Since I hadn’t been to this office in three years, updating my information in the computer meant adding two new pregnancies and births to the record.

The gang“So you have four kids now? And what kind of birth control are you using?”

“Um. None. I don’t believe in messing with things that are working the way they’re supposed to.”

“And you want more kids?”

“If that’s what happens, then I’m good with that, yes!”

“Well, I guess some women are just built for that. Whatever suits you!” he said, in a too-chipper, holy-cow-you’re-weird voice. And he said the same thing twice more during the course of our visit, even though my reproductive choices had very little to do with my reason for being there. (I won’t even get into what I think of the rest of the visit, even though it was very interesting. Let’s just say it was obvious he was new to this whole doctoring thing.)

I hear these same comments about our outlandish number of children pretty much every time we leave the house. (I know you’ve heard these before. I’ve blogged about it at length, but it’s an inexhaustible topic.)

“You’re so brave!”
“You were born to be a mommy!”
“You. Are. Amazing. It takes talent to raise that many kids!”
“That must be all your sad little mind can handle, huh?” (Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s what the (young, male) doctor was really thinking.)

I usually just accept it and move on with the conversation. I only have so much time and energy to expend, after all. But this kind of talk still rubs me the wrong way, even when it’s meant in the nicest way possible. Each time someone behaves as though there’s something special about me because of the size of our family, it’s a little bit harder for me to move the conversation along without discomfort.

In a sense, of course, I was built for this. Physically, I am female, and built to birth many children, as are all other reproductively healthy women. That’s quite obvious. Unless something breaks or contraceptive measures are taken, wombs are able to grow babies!

Coffee Cup

Even my morning coffee mocks me.

Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I’m as broken as any mother I know, and more broken than some. I am not “just built” for motherhood.

I know that the nice (and not-so-nice) things people say to me about our bizarre willingness to accept whatever number of children God grants us are often meant to deflect the uncomfortable fact that I don’t share our culture’s assumptions about childbearing. I’m not so completely naïve that I think that what’s really on the minds of all these people is always admiration. Often it is puzzlement, dismay, discomfort, or even anger.

But for the most part, people really do seem to think that raising children is so hard that normal people can be expected to throw in the towel after just one or two, and that there must be something different in my wiring that makes me like it more. This is simply not so!

I’m not doing this mommy thing because there’s something special about my relationship with my kids. Nor am I doing it because giving birth is such a pleasant way to pass the time. I was never the little girl with a dozen baby dolls lined up in a row, neatly tucked in their beds. Even if I had been, one week as a new mommy would have cured me of any notion that babies offered the kind of easy love and boundless fun that the play nursery had to offer. I’m not just loving every second of sleep-deprivation over here.

I’m not brave, or saintly, or talented, or even insane (you’re just gonna have to trust me on that one), or anything else people call me! What I am, is just a mom with a gaggle of wonderful, funny, difficult, tiresome, loud, sweet little blessings in my home.

I do have more patience than I used to. And I do like children more than I used to. I’m a better cook, and a better housekeeper, and someday I’m sure I’ll be a better teacher–hopefully before it’s too late to do my kids any good.

But I didn’t start out “built for it”. Nobody does. Kids require things of us—selflessness, hard work, physical and mental endurance—that none of us is fully equipped to provide for them. There’s no special mommy gene that I’ve got. If I can do this, anybody can.

When it’s time to make dinner and I have two crying children clinging to my legs so that I can’t walk and the one in my swelling tummy making me sick, I don’t feel particularly well-equipped for this. When the mess I just cleaned up suddenly reappears, only 20 minutes after I finally managed to get it all back in its cage, I’m pretty sure no one in his right mind would comment that I’m handling my large brood unusually well. And when I finally get to take my shower at nap time (because I got up too late again), only to realize that someone has squirted every drop of shampoo down the bathtub drain, my sputtering rage makes it clear that my temperament is most certainly not ideal for this job.

One of my favorite internet friends, The Republican Mother, once called this brand of large-family motherhood “spiritual bootcamp”. That about sums it up. I’m not yet built for motherhood any more than an 18 year old enlistee is built for war the day he arrives for basic training. The Holy Spirit is building me through motherhood. I’m getting better at this Mom thing with practice, and someday maybe I’ll really deserve that pat on the back people keep giving me. In the meantime, could we please dispense with all the happy talk about how great I am?

It’s making me feel kinda twitchy.

Responses:

  1. Yep…Spiritual bootcamp…I think that definitely sums it up! and add homeschool to it…it takes it to a whole new level. Though, I don’t like being in the car…so, maybe I’m being lazy by not taking my kids to school….and car pool and other such stuff! LOL! Yep….you were built for it!!! Wishing we had put more faith and control in God’s hands where it came to children….I admire you for placing his call on your life first. I’m not going to feel guilt for not having done that, but am thankful for friends like you….who grow me and show me….so that I can teach my daughter a better way to grow for him and not for the world!

    • Yeah. This particular doctor seemed more focused on saving me from the horrible mental ravages of my lifestyle (I’m extremely happy!) than actually treating the illness I *know* I have. I imagine he thought he was treating the whole person. Everybody has prejudices, I guess.

  2. I relate to this post on so many levels. I could have written it.

    (except I am not pregnant at the current time)

  3. Um, yeah, I get the same looks and comments with my 4 (and I don’t think of 4 as many compared to some of my friends). Plus more when they find out I homeschool them. Because surely I must be a saint if I’m willing to devote so much of my time to my progeny. Yeah, right. ;0)

    I think there are people who feel threatened by my family (not really sure why my lifestyle choices should threaten complete strangers), and it’s easier for them to stick me in the “loony” or “saintly” box so they don’t have to compare themselves to me.

    The world would go much more smoothly if people didn’t feel the need to compare themselves to everybody else and instead saw each of us (and themselves) as individuals.

  4. Ummmm- YES! ABSOLUTELY TRUE!!! Since we are adopting people assume we are super heroes, and although that thought would be great! I could totally use a cape and some super powers! Ummmmmmm…..I am NOT a super hero. I am not a perfect mommy. I am not the world’s most patient person although God has grown me a lot in this area- which is great for the kids!!!! And my hubby!!! I can barely cook. I love to teach, but sometimes am not the best teacher either.

    LISTEN UP FOLKS!!! IT IS ALL ABOUT GOD!!! IT IS NOT ABOUT ME :)

  5. Oh Cindy, I love the honesty in this post!

    Motherhood is most beautiful hardest calling in a women’s life, I agree we might me “created” to carry babies and give birth,but being a mother is something that we need to grow into :-) I’m still very much learning.

  6. Thanks for the linky. Yes, I’ve been fortunate to avoid the Dr’s and any such prying questions. At my last OB, you’d check whether you wanted birth control or not so you could bypass the discussion. Now I’m going to have to find someone news and my insurance doesn’t seem to do holistic…

    I’ve been so blessed to be going to a church where I’m not laughed at for having, um KIDS! They seem to be really interested in my homeschooling lifestyle, which is pretty cool.

  7. I also have four kids, and I think most of the comments are because people don’t know what to say when they are confronted with people who make different life choices. FWIW, my general doctor and my OB (both men) have more kids than me, and they make the same kinds of comments you’re talking about. I think they’re trying to be supportive in their way.

    With respect, I think you may be reading too much into things. My general doctor asks about birth control, and I think it does have to do with my health in general. It’s part of my health history, and changes in birth control can change my body’s chemistry and affect other medications I may at some point need. The possiblity/likelihood of pregnancy also can change the way my doctor treats things. I just don’t see the problem with a doctor wanting to add that info to the chart.

    • Oh, I think you misunderstand me! I don’t mind at all that he asked the questions, got up to date on my history and so forth. Docs need to know these things! There’s a lot about this particular visit that I didn’t put in the post, for privacy reasons. Suffice it to say that I am not an overly sensitive person, but I know when I’m being stereotyped. Trust me, I am not over-reacting. Besides, this post wasn’t, strictly speaking, about the thyroid issue, but about the things people say that just don’t line up with reality about my life. I just thought the doc made a great example, because he was really, really uncomfortable about the whole idea.

  8. I LOVE this. While I only have 3 children, 5 and under- we plan to have more, but after the last one people started making comments about how we must not know how children are created…etc etc! oh geeze! As a homeschool mom myself, I’m feel like I’m just now getting the hang of keeping the house clean (NOT!), cooking (sometimes), and teaching my 5 year old (without yelling too much), while taking care of the constantly nursing 2 month old and the teething 17 month old… yes we MUST be crazy or blessed or built for it or something. I never could figure out what I wanted to BE when I was growing up…Mommy is enough for me too.

  9. But, you are special – SO special, Cindy!! I honestly do admire you and anyone else who trusts God completely in the number of children that you have. I had the opportunity taken away from me to be able to have more, but I’m not sure that I would have made the same decision (back then) as you have – but I think that now I would :) Ahhh, funny how life works isn’t it?

    But, to that hypothyroidism thing – girl, we need to talk! Lately, I feel like I can’t put two words behind each other to create a sentence…it’s so bad that I’m avoiding people in public so that I don’t have to get into conversations…. having lost all my female parts 8 yrs ago, hormones are tricky business…..

    • Honestly, Gidget, if it hadn’t been for the light of a lot of large-family moms on the internet (especially Life in a Shoe) and the fact that my grandfather (who had his own issues, but was right about some things) didn’t believe in birth control, it never would have occurred to me that a normal person should have more than a couple of kids either! Women don’t make the choice to have fewer kids out of hardheartedness or selfishness. Not in this generation. In our generation, it’s just a matter of that being the social order. We do what we do because that’s what we do, I guess. ;-) God seems to have sent me some unique influences most women don’t encounter to push me in this direction, however ill-prepared I am for it. I couldn’t conceive for the first five years of my marriage, so it really never occurred to me that I’d end up with this many! Once we got started, though, I couldn’t imagine saying no to blessings I’d longed for for so long.

      I hope nobody ever thinks I looking down on women who opted to quit after one or two. I’m not preaching that we all need to have as many kids as we can, no matter what our circumstances. I’m not! There are some very good reasons for not having more kids. I just wish more women thought that having to stop having children was a tragedy, rather than a relief. If our nation had a clearer and more accurate vision of motherhood, people would be telling me how happy and blessed and lucky my life is, not how hard I have it or how crazy I am. Because I am so very, very blessed!

      • I never feel that you’re looking down on anyone – and yes, you are definitely blessed! :)

  10. This post made me smile, and sigh. Our pediatrician was off for the summer (guess he’s practicing retirement) so I took our 5th child to a different, much younger, doc for his 1 year check up. I was completely taken aback when he asked what I was using for birth control as a)he wasn’t my doctor and b)this appointment wasn’t for me. When my answer echoed yours he changed the subject.

    We just found out we are expecting baby #6. It completely shocked us…I am 38 years old, I kind of assumed at our age we would have to really try to get pregnant. Try as in pay very close attention to cycles and plan our “activities” accordingly. That month was so crazy busy it didn’t seem possible that it could happen! Proves to me that God is the one who controls the womb.

    • Well, congratulations, happy mama! That’s a neat surprise. :-) And did you tell the pediatrician to mind his own business? Yeesh! At least my doctor had a medical reason for asking these things! Not that his response was entirely appropriate. If he’d said it once, that wouldn’t have bothered me, but he just could NOT let go of it. Bless his heart. I think he meant well, but it really colored his whole assessment of my situation.

  11. I am so glad that I came across your blog! I am a homeschooling mom of four, and it is just so encouraging to know that we are not the only “crazy” ones out there! :) I have definitely found that people were very excited for us when we announced our first two. When I announced our third pregnancy, we started receiving a lot of comments about how we should really be done. With number four, things went from somewhat subtle to outright rude. (And a lot of this from family!) I also don’t feel like I have any special qualification that make me a “better” mom than anyone else (and there are MANY times when I am really glad that there are no cameras filming our lives, because there are things I don’t want to see again, let alone have others see!) It is by God’s grace that I am doing what I am doing. I have also definitely found that the more children we have, the more I am growing in my faith and the more I am leaning on God’s grace, and that it making me a much better mom! :) So quite honestly, I am MUCH less stressed out with four than I was with one or two! :)

  12. I am pretty sure that I could just sit here and read every blog post you have written… we are SO much alike and I don’t know you from Adam… well perhaps I do know you from Adam…LOL! Anyways. Just thought I’d let you know in a nerdy way that I have laughed and “snorted” at all these blog posts so far because I can totally relate. Even down to the TSH and the comments from the doctor. When I told my OB that we didn’t want to use any birth control what so ever he asked if we were ok with having more. LOL… just thought that was pretty funny. Of course he didn’t complain… job security right? :P

    • My midwife didn’t even ask this time. Just kinda said “birth control…no.” Other docs might complain, but the ones who make money from it don’t. Our pediatrician is pretty sanguine about the whole thing, too. ;-)

  13. I just recently came upon your site. We have 4 children at the moment, and I’ve been enjoying many of your posts, but this one – AMEN! Exactly how I feel. If there were no other blessing or benefit to having children, the simple fact of how much God uses them to make ME grow and understand Him better makes it all worth it (and there are so MANY other much more important blessings). And I really don’t like comments about ‘Super Mommy’ (though all the ones I’ve had I know were meant as encouraging compliments). But, as my husband points out, I need to learn to graciously turn that toward Christ, and use those moments to glorify Him. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  14. Loved this! We were only able to have two children (infertility issues) and one with the Lord, so I have never had to deal with any of these type of comments.

    But I homeschooled for 16 years (all the way through) and so I heard many similar comments, as if I was supermom or amazingly patient just because I homeschooled and managed not to strangle my children during that time.

    When people commented “Oh I could NEVER do that, I just don’t have the patience,” I commented “Oh believe me, you learn patience. God is faithful! After all, it’s rather hard to effectively teach your children when you’re screaming at them.”

    Sometimes I went in a different direction and said “You don’t learn patience, it’s forced on you,” lol! Or “Well, it’s either learn patience or wind up in prison for life.”

  15. So true! I so want people to understand it’s God who helps me. We’re expecting our 13th so we’re either saints or something really, really bad!

Comments are closed.