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.
“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!
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.