'I'm a Mother of Three, But I Never Wanted Children'

I was 12 years old when I realized that motherhood was my destiny—or, at least, that it was supposed to be.

It was the mid-1990s, the heyday of the so-called purity movement, when the True Love Waits campaign arrived at our small, Catholic parish in the suburbs of Chicago. A pious child who wanted to please God, I dutifully signed a pledge to my "future mate"—and strangely my "future children" too—that I would wait to have sex until I was married.

This prescribed only two good scripts for my life: Mother or Mother Superior. Either I married a man and mothered my own children, or I remained celibate, as a nun or a spinster, and mothered the world's children.

My views changed when we moved to the progressive enclave of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

At high school, the idea of romantic love loomed large in my teenage heart. But when it came to the question of children, the fervor faded. Not to mention I was a terrible babysitter, easily drained and often bored. I began to entertain a third option for a life well-lived: marriage without motherhood.

I met my husband during my freshman year of college, in the Bible Belt no less. He was a lifelong Methodist, I was still Christian but no longer a practicing Catholic.

After three years of dating, he agreed to marry me on the condition I gave him; that I probably never wanted children. He wasn't sold either, as he worked with children in his job as a youth pastor. He adored the curiosity of young minds but preferred a quieter home life. I felt similarly. Being childless meant I had more energy and attention to give to my emerging writing career and to our local community.

Photo of Erin Lane
Erin Lane at home in North Carolina. Lane and her husband decided to be childfree Erin Lane

We wed in a Protestant church ceremony on a blistering summer day in July, 2006. We were what we would later describe as "childfree for the common good" and what my Catholic grandmother would call "interesting."

Nobody in the polite, southern town where we got married openly criticized our decision to be childless. The shame tactics were more subtle. "Motherhood is the toughest job in the world," neighbors would assert, as if I was lazy not to take it on. "But you'd make a great mom," friends would insist, as if my lack of confidence was the problem.

Even strangers thought they knew me better than I knew myself when they'd swoon, "You don't know love until you become a mother." How dismissive, I thought, of all other kinds of love. And yet it still stung.

Even though we didn't want children of our own, we got certified as foster parents after 10 years of marriage. We had devoted our twenties to being available to our friends and their first children. But on the cusp of 30, a little bit lonely and with capacity to spare, we felt called to help children with less systemic support. We didn't expect that six months into our first placement—three school-aged sisters—we'd be asked to consider adoption.

It's hard, even now, to explain why we said yes. We initially thought it would be temporary. We were hoping they'd be able to return home to be with their biological family. They hoped so, too. But circumstances didn't allow that.

Maybe it's enough to say that we saw a need and we knew we were capable. But it's also true that we thought they'd be good for us—an interruption into our carefully thought-out lives. And we thought we'd be good for them——another set of adults who didn't need to birth them to love them.

After the adoption, our community rallied around us with an outpouring of casseroles and back-pats that had long been missing when we weren't parents. The goodwill felt nice at first. But when the shock wore off, the sadness set in. Most people, I think, assumed that the adoption was an about-face from our childfree decision—that this was me finally stepping into my role as a mother.

This wasn't how I felt, so I did what writers do. I wrote a book to make sense of my story—and to help other women rewrite the scripts of motherhood, too.

Our girls are now teenagers. They are beautiful, defiant, exhausting. On days where parental resentment creeps in, we remind ourselves that this is what we signed-up for. We had a choice. And I want the same for my girls. I want them to know motherhood is better discerned than destined.

Erin S. Lane is the author of Someone Other Than a Mother, which is available to order now. She is on Twitter at @heyerinlane

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.