Some people collect stamps. Others collect dolls or figurines or Beanie Babies (hello, 1995). Apparently, I like collecting things too, because it seems that I have begun collecting phobias.
My first and most intense phobia is emetophobia – the phobia of vomiting. This phobia has taken over my life and has been my biggest struggle. My emetophobia began at age 8. However, I have acquired more phobias along the way.
I also have a phobia of allergic reactions (I am not sure if this one has a name). This one mostly affects me when I have to take a new medication, but occasionally I freak out about food too. I acquired this lovely phobia after I reacted to an acid reflux medication at age 12.
At age 15, I developed a very intense phobia of developing a brain tumour. Although I have health anxiety and worry about any and all illnesses, I became completely fixated and obsessed with my brain and convinced myself for FOUR years that I had a slow-growing brain tumour.
And now for my latest phobia: tokophobia. The phobia of pregnancy and childbirth.
I have never met anyone who told me that they were excited to actually give birth – I can’t imagine it’s any fun. Nerves and some anxiety are totally normal for expecting mothers, but this is not just nerves. Thinking about myself (or others) going into labour causes me to have a panic attack. I cannot imagine voluntarily signing up for what, to me, is equivalent to hours of torture and potentially death.
Because I have severe health anxiety, this phobia is strongly related to my fear of getting sick or injured or requiring surgery (therefore, the option of a C-section does not make me feel any better).
Now, what does this have to do with my faith?
Whether we want to face this issue or not, there is extreme pressure in the Christian church to have children. In some cases, that pressure is obvious, like the people who write blogs about or preach that having children is a “Christian duty” (re: “be fruitful and multiply.”)
I have even heard the argument that you cannot TRULY be selfless unless you have children (which is extremely offensive to so many people, not just to those who choose to be child-free for whatever reason).
There is also subtle pressure in the Christian church to have children too, it is not always obvious. In her blog post On Being Christian and Childfree, blogger Debi writes this:
It seems most churches are geared towards families – parents and children. There are some with good singles ministries, but I haven’t come across any that are geared towards the married without children, unless they are newly married and haven’t had any kids yet.
There is nothing wrong with family and children’s ministry – my husband is a youth pastor and we have both been involved in children’s ministry for many years, both before we got together and after!
However, the fact that the church in general lacks resources and ministries geared towards married couples without children should tell you something.
Being married to someone who works in ministry, it’s like I already have a label on my forehead: “Countdown to Pregnancy Announcement!” So many people think it’s acceptable to ask me and my husband, “So, when are you going to have kids?” They think it’s okay to tell me “Oh, you’ll change your mind” when I respond that I am unsure if we ever will.
Since I got married, I became “The Pastor’s Wife” – do you know a “pastor’s wife” without kids? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I sometimes feel like if we choose to not have children, that will someone reflect badly on my husband, our marriage, and even his ministry. I feel like people in the Christian world will judge not only me but also my husband and think less of us. I feel like I won’t belong with other Christian women and other married couples.
Those are just my fears, however, and I work to overcome them all the time. I don’t think anyone in my life right now would EVER think less of us for choosing to not have kids – but the pressure remains and those deeply ingrained fears won’t disappear overnight.
I do not consider myself a “Pastor’s Wife” (capital P and W) any more than I consider my husband a “Writer’s Husband.” However, whether I like it or not, some people will see me that way and I have to accept that and also learn to accept that I cannot change the way other people see me.
I do not know if we will ever have kids. I do not know if we will have biological kids or choose to adopt some day or remain child-free by choice. I do not want my phobias to control my life, but at this point, I am not even sure if I want children at all, let alone the pregnancy (and it makes me sad that writing it out makes me feel terrified and guilty).
Like, I sort of feel that maybe if there’s a “real” reason we aren’t having kids people will be more forgiving. But just choosing it because, well, that’s what we want? What will people think of us?
I think in general the church is moving in a good direction when it comes to this. I mostly hear “All good Christians have kids” in passing or quoted from other outraged Christian women online.
Maybe one day I will overcome my tokophobia, and my husband and I will have a little happy family. Maybe I won’t. Maybe we will choose to remain child-free by choice – and that is nobody’s business but our own.