Since I tiptoed into a tricky topic by writing about abortion last week, let’s take it a step farther and talk about religion. I know you all have different beliefs, and that’s good. This post will not challenge what you believe, just perhaps how we all apply our beliefs.
We know that Catholics believe abortion is a mortal sin, grounds for excommunication. But do you also know that when couples get married in the Catholic Church they promise to accept the gift of children from God? To refuse could mean not being allowed to marry in the church.
The church maintains that sex should only happen between people who are married and that its only purpose is procreation—making babies. Birth control is not allowed. Do millions of Catholics break these rules? All the time. So did I. It’s hard to ignore the fact that if I had followed the rules of the church back when I could have gotten pregnant, I would probably have children now. And grandchildren. My whole life would have been different. I would still have gotten divorced from my first husband and God knows how I would have supported myself and the kids, but I would be a mom.
So you could say religion, or ignoring my religion, is a factor in why I’m childless. But when people ask me why I don’t have kids, I rarely mention my religion or God or the church. And neither do most of the people I talk to, even though most religions see children as a blessing if not a requirement. I can’t name one faith that suggests we don’t have babies. Not one. And yet, it doesn’t seem to be part of the decision.
With all the people I interviewed for my Childless by Marriage book and the countless folks who have joined the discussion here at the blog, any mention of religion is rare. Why is that? Is it that our culture seems to make fun of people who are visibly religious? Try bringing it up with somebody you meet today and watch for the uncomfortable reaction.
Or is it that our faith doesn’t factor at all into our decisions about having children? I get comments every day about what he wants and what she wants, what I need and what he needs, will I regret it in my old age, and who will take care of me, but not a word about what God wants us to do. If you don’t believe in God, that makes sense. But a July 2016 Gallup poll shows that 89 percent of Americans claim to believe in God or a higher power. So where does God fit into our decisions about children? Do we consult Him/Her/It at all? If we don’t, why not? And if we do, why don’t we talk about it?
Are we afraid of being mocked? Afraid we don’t want what God wants? Do we figure it’s none of God’s business, part of our right to free will? When I was using birth control with my first husband or the men who followed; when I married a man who had a vasectomy and didn’t want more children; when I was feeling bad because I didn’t get to be a mom, did I think about God? Not much. Oh, I’d shake my fist and ask how He could let this happen to me, but that’s not the same thing.
How about you? I know religion is an itchy uncomfortable subject for lots of people, but let’s try to talk about it. How does/did your belief in God or a higher power fit into your decisions about having children?
I promise to write about something easy, like puppies, next week. Tomorrow’s my dog Annie’s ninth birthday! But we need to look at the big issues sometimes. And maybe sending up a prayer will help someone who’s trying to figure things out.
15 thoughts on “What’s God got to do with childlessness?”
Well, I waited until I was married to go off birth control since there was/is a certain stigma about having children before marriage in Ireland. Now I wish we had started trying earlier. Sometimes I wonder if God is annoyed with me about something and teaching me some kind of lesson by making it so hard to have children. When others write about getting their “miracle” babies or God answering their prayers, I wonder why he doesn’t answer mine. Going through infertility has made me question my faith a lot more.
May God bless you on your journey. As I was once told by my priest–and I did not like what he said at the time–“your heaviest cross to bear usually is your biggest blessing.” I can tell you that he was right. God is right there with you through all of your struggles, and will create beauty through it.
Associating infertility with a deity is a slippery slope. It is one reason I turned agnostic. Dont blame yourself and think of the positives of no kids. Think of the drug addicts who have kids. Where is “God” here? That’s what I do on the rare occasion I get sad over no kids.
The biggest question I’ve ever asked in my life is “God, why didn’t you allow me to have children?” He hasn’t given me an answer, other than that I need to trust him. Trusting Him is hard because I feel he has let me down. Yet I do trust Him, because He’s God and, in spite of my life experiences, I still believe He is good.
I went to Catholic school from the 2nd grade through high school, but I never really bought into the whole religion thing. I mocked it most of the time, and wondered how people could believe such crazy, ridiculous things. When I finally graduated HS, I put as much distance between myself and religion as possible. I surrounded myself with other like-minded people who were also atheists or just generally more cynical. I was happy at the time, but now, as I find myself in a very lonely place in life, I can’t help but wonder…if I had embraced religion instead of making fun of it, would things be different now? Maybe if I had been willing to surround myself with people who did believe in God..or believed in anything really , I would have been around nice people, who wanted to create families and maybe were just kinder and less selfish in their relationships. I wonder who I missed out on meeting because I was so busy thinking that I was better, or smarter than “weirdos” who went to church. I still don’t know that I believe in God personally, but I’ve realized that people who do believe seem so much happier, and I sure could have used some of that in my life.
Erica, I feel some of what you are saying. I am Catholic and yes, there is a lot of “stuff” that goes along with the faith. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a “half-assed Catholic and full time Christian”. And it’s true. I enjoy the beauty and community of attending Mass, but I don’t feel it’s important to go every Sunday and those “holy days of obligation.” I have reached out to a priest in a time of need but I don’t believe that I NEED to go to reconciliation and formally confess my sins to a priest in order to be “okay” with God. You grew up with this stuff, you know what I’m talking about.
A family member (excuse me, a very religious family member) hurt me a few years ago and doesn’t care. Well, Catholics forgive. Christians forgive. Even if the offender doesn’t apologize. This whole theory has me confused because none of it is fair.
The last couple of years I’ve privately questioned things like prayer (does it work? For instance, do my prayers for an abducted woman a few states over really help? Does God have some sort of barometer and if enough people pray he tips the scales?) In the end I decided that I pray for myself. It’s a way of releasing my fears and doubts to an unseen friend. This clears my mind and my heart and spurs me to be a better person to myself and to others in need.
My relationship with God is separate from being Catholic. I still haven’t figured it all out for myself, and that is why I enjoy reading about people like you who also doubt. Makes me feel less alone in the whole thing.
It’s never too late to live joyfully. Limit the more cynical people from your life and see if you miss them. Replace one or two with a new friend that is unlike one you’ve ever had. I’ve been doing that and slowly life is more fun. Maybe revisit a Catholic Church and see how it feels to you these days. Sit in the back – soak it in and see. Or try a church of a general Christian faith to see how that fits. Or just actively practice more kindness to others and the universe (instead of God) will eventually reward you with blessings.
Hi Sue, I think I’ve mentioned before on here that I have very strong faith. The other reason I didn’t bother with IVF besides the fact that it is brutal on a woman’s body is if it is part of God’s plan for me to get pregnant, carry full term and deliver and raise a baby, then He is more than capable of bringing it to pass. The fact He hasn’t is the number one test of my faith. I’ve had 30 years to process. We’re all at different places on our journey. While the pain of childlessness is as sharp as ever, I find great joy in embracing who I’m called to be rather than lamenting over what I don’t have. I found great freedom when I let go of control about who I am, allowing Him to define me. I have a long way to go, but the key to freedom is trusting God to know what is right for me. It’s a choice. He loves me which makes it easier to choose Him over myself and what I think is right for me.
Thank you, Silver Shiloh. Your comment really inspired me, and I will carry it with me.
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100% agree… I like what you said about freedom. I actually started to feel free when I decided to leave everything in God’s hands. But I have my ups and downs; I think this is an internal battle to let go of our plans and embrace God’s.
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This reminds me of a part I read in a biography I’m reading of Lucille Ball and Desi. They attributed Lucy’s miscarriages to getting married outside of the Catholic faith. The Arnazes were staunch Catholic, got remarried in a Catholic church, but she still had a miscarriage before Lucie. Desi had tried to convert before Ms Ball but without success, and she still never officially became Catholic. Desi’s parents divorced, which was rare for Latin American Catholics at the time, and then Lucy and Desi divorced. She told the doctor having kids later in life made her appreciate them more.
I feel attributing infertility or miscarriages to lack of faith is a slippery slope when those who practice faith experience it, too, and, as I said above, drug addicts have kids. I also believe we want something to blame or give credit to at our convenience. It’s like blaming cats for infertility or some other old wives’ tale. It’s so easy to do. No Deity, or animal for that matter, is the cause of it.
P.S. No one should ask why you don’t have kids. I find it rude.
For me it was clear since the beginning that having kids is not my choice nor my husband’s. We believe that God has a plan for us and that we should be open to His will. That’s why we never took birth control. Of course we wanted to be parents, so when we saw I didn’t get pregnant, we went to the doctor. We treated some things but we decided not to do IVF because it would be like shunning God’s will. Of course it’s painful not to get what we want, but we are now trying to accept God’s plan for us. Maybe He will give us kids in the future and maybe not, but we pray to find happiness and be thankful either way. I have to admit that sometimes I get angry with God, but I also know that He knows what is better for me and my husband. It’s a daily battle.
People who are not willing and open to procreation should not even be allowed to marry in the first place. In the Catholic faith, marriage is only valid under the condition of both partners being open to having children, which in no way means that the union MUST result in an offspring, since this result is not necessarily derived from the mere willingness of and openness to life.
Procreation is not the unique goal of marriage, but one that is contingent in marriage, which is another thing. Having said that, I need to say that, under the aforementioned premises, your marriage was actually invalid.
And that’s what the church decreed, that the marriage was invalid.
Disgusting comment. Even though this is an older thread, I feel compelled to reply. Some of us were never blessed with a loving spouse, and even if you are one of the lucky ones, things don’t always turn out the way you had hoped, infertility, illness, financial circumstances, etc. What about feeling ill equipped to be a parent? Perfectly acceptable. Can’t tell you how many rotten ‘parents’ I see daily. Being ALLOWED? Who made you the marriage police? Having a companion to grow old with is enough-being without children does not make you a better person. Any loving marriage is valid……any. (Children should always, always, be born out of love, not some religious obligation). Anything else is invalid, period.