1st Journal Entry to my Newborn Daughter

How am I going to raise a girl, and help you establish a strong self image?
How do I teach you what I myself don’t know how to be?

Advertisements

JOURNAL FROM MOM TO JRW

1/10/02

Hi JR. Welcome to the world. What to say… It’s hard to arrange all the things I’d like to say to you here, now, on this 6th day of your life, outside of me. You’re sleeping on the bed next to me as I type this into my laptop. You’re sure cute. And small!

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to have two kids. I always pictured having two boys. When I found out you were a girl it scared me a little. A lot, actually. How am I going to raise a girl, and help you establish a strong self image? It’s easier with boys. Socially, boys are indoctrinated with a strong self-image. But in my experience, that’s not been the case for girls. It’s been, and still is very hard for me to believe in myself, to trust myself, to like myself, for the greater part of my life. I don’t want that for you. So how do I teach you what I myself don’t know how to be?

I wanted two kids so that you and your brother can have someone of your own generation to grow with, to share life with, to align with. Your dad and I are older parents, two generation drops from you and your brother. We didn’t intend it to be that way. At least I didn’t. I wanted kids much younger, but even with vigorous searching I didn’t meet anyone I wanted to marry until your dad, when I was 37. We tried having kids straight away, but I had a lot of miscarriages (7), and it took us two years to have your brother and another 2 plus to have you. After losing 5 pregnancies before your brother, I was scared out of my mind that I would never get to have any children.

After your bro, I was sure all those loses were behind me, and your dad and I tried for you 6 months after your brother was born. But I lost that baby, and another one a year and a half later. And I didn’t think I could handle another loss. So we stopped trying so hard. And 4 months after that last loss, you were conceived. And I was so afraid I’d lose you too. But you hung in there, and saved my sanity. And you were born to me on January 4th, 2002. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I kiss your head with my words.

I hope I serve you well as your parent. I hope we can grow to be good friends. I’m not quite sure how to be a mom to two children and give you both what you need. As I’ve told your brother, and I am telling you now- I’m sorry for the times you will feel I was not there for you. I hope they will be few. And I hope you can forgive me for the times you will feel you are left wanting. I promise to do my very best, and to make you and your brother the highest priority in my life. I love you more than you’ll ever know, unless you get lucky, like me, and have children of your own.

I’m looking forward to you growing. Infancy is a hard stage for me, as I don’t really know anything about you, who you are, how you are, what kind of person you will want to be, and become. I hope for you that you are kind, that you care about the world around you and the people in it. I hope for you that you are strong and stand by your convictions with actions. I hope for you that you are wise and understand when compromise is necessary as it will be so much of your life. I hope for you that you choose wisely whom to love and that you understand that love is an action and takes constant work to maintain. And I pray that you will always know that I deeply and passionately love you, my beautiful daugher.

Welcome to earth, JRW! So very glad to meet ya!!

Raising Kids Without Religion

As atheists we are considered by many to be heathens– uncultured, uncivilized people.

My husband and I are the ONLY parents I know raising our children without religion, or even a religious identity (as in claiming to be Christian simply because your parents claim they are). We’re both devout atheists, and I use the term devout with purpose. We don’t believe in a higher power, or any gods, or even the possibility of one. We are not agnostic. We believe awareness begins at conception and ends at death. Our combination of chemistry defines individual uniqueness, so often mislabeled as a soul. No heaven, or hell, no rebirth awaits us after death. There are no second chances. We all end up the same place as Hitler. We cease to exist. Only our contributions in life remain when we die.

Frightening and harsh though this may seem to believers, the implausible bible stories and the ‘jealous’ (Exodus 20:4-5), malicious god described in them never resonated with either of us. Much to our parent’s chagrin, we grew further from all religious ideology with our spiritual indoctrination. Ancient dogma conjured by men to control the masses by creating an outside deity that could not, and by its own commandments, must not be questioned, religious leaders were telling us not to think, and neither my husband nor I were willing to do that.

We agreed before having kids that we’d raise them without religion. We would not teach them what we do not believe and what we both feel is fundamentally destructive at this point in human development. The value system we hope to impart is based on a keen awareness of our world, and our immense responsibility to preserve it.

Picture a bull’s-eye, we tell our kids, like the Target logo. You’re the center dot, obviously, as you can only perceive and participate in life while living. The first ring out from you is your immediate family; the next is your extended family and friends. The next ring is your community, then your country and then the world. And all rings must be considered when making choices and taking actions.

The Target philosophy is a model for a thriving society. Stopping to consider the radiating effects of our actions forces us to think before we act. Our ability to think conceptually is what separates the human race from all other life here. There is no need to sell our kids on religious dogma such as promises of heaven, or threats of hell. We teach our kids not only to be considerate and responsible to family and friends, but to humanity and all things on earth. We expect them to honor their debt to those before them by striving to deliver a better world to those yet to be.

As atheists we are considered by many to be heathens– uncultured, uncivilized people. Our parents are constantly trying to convert us to Judaism, under the delusion that we are whether we admit it or not. They vehemently express their disgust in our ‘denial’ and barrage us with threats that our children will be lost without a religious upbringing. My brother, a born again Christian, assures us that Christ died for our sins. He promises my children will be ‘saved’ after death from all wrongdoing if they just accept Him as their savior, without considering the catastrophic lack of responsibility this ideology instills in individual behavior.

By everyone’s reckoning who knows them, from family to teachers to friends, my kids are well liked and well respected. They are courteous and conscientious, and more considerate than most adults, and 90% of their so called ‘god-fearing’ peers. They are team players in sports, strive for excellence in their studies [to enable them to become contributing members of society]. They share what they have, and compromise to ensure fair play. And they do all this because they understand their role in, and responsibility to humanity and this planet we inhabit, not by threats of eternal damnation. My children are not lost and experience no spiritual void. They find beauty and wonder in many things, like nature, and sometimes even in the nature of man.

With the advent of technology and advanced weaponry our world has become so very small and fragile. We must stop pretending we are powerless, under the will of various deities, or follow the divisive rhetoric of religious leaders who preach if Christ exists than Judaism is wrong. If Allah rules than Christianity is a lie. Religion has become the problem, giving excuses, or worst, forgiveness for whatever crimes we commit. Christ will not save us from global annihilation. We are all responsible to save us from ourselves.

My husband asked our 3 and 5 year old kids a simple question: “What are you?” Both answered: “Human.” Touché! Religion, skin color, and/or economic status, my children see no division between themselves and other people. This position is mandatory for the survival of our race. We teach our children to recognize their radiating effects on all they touch, and not only acknowledge their mighty power, but embrace the responsibility that comes with it. Humanities future depends on each of us taking individual responsibility for the actions we take in life, not for rewards in an afterlife, but to make it possible for those yet to be to experience living.

Raising Atheists in a World of Believers

I didn’t stop to consider the religious leanings of the San Francisco suburb we chose to raise our kids. I am deeply saddened that my children are being ostracized because our beliefs don’t fit in with the neighborhood.

It was early December in 2001, three months after 9/11, when I went down to the end of the cul-de-sac to meet the new neighbors. We had just moved into the seemingly family friendly San Francisco suburb a few months earlier ourselves. It promised good public schools, and a safe environment in which to raise our kids. Several others from our block were hanging out with the new neighbors that afternoon, sharing beers and casual conversation, watching their children play together. I joined them, introduced myself, my 1 year old daughter and 3 year old son, who both ran off to play with the other kids.

The new neighbors asked me about my children, their ages, where we had moved from, and the like. Then the woman asked me to repeat my last name.

When I told her again she said, “Oh, you’re the Jewish couple then? I heard that there was a Jewish family that had moved in recently.”

It was clear that she was tickled by the idea of living near Jews. Unlike L.A., or New York, the Bay Area has little Jewish population to speak of. Suddenly, the three other couples standing there plugged into our conversation. Though our last name was often mistaken for Jewish, it’s derivation was German, and isn’t always a Jewish moniker. The woman’s assumption was ignorant, but typical, especially in an area where Jews were such a novelty.

“Actually, we’re Atheist. We don’t practice any religion.” I tried to sound casual.

Blank stares. Total silence. It was like I had just said that we were registered child molesters. My words hung like lead in the dead air until one of the neighbors we’d previously met broke the silence.

“You know,” she tried to sound casual too. “I heard this broadcast on NPR the other day about Atheists. They’re actually very non-violent, friendly people. The Atheist on the air pointed out that you never hear of Atheists blowing up buildings.”

The vacuum that followed her comment made it clear that the new neighbors would have preferred we were practicing Jews, or Mormons, or even Muslims at that point. “You mean you don’t participate in the holidays?” the new neighbor asked, mystified. “Not even Christmas?”

“No. Not even Christmas.”

“Well, Christmas isn’t a religious holiday.” As absurd as her comment was, I hear it all the time. I refrained from reminding her that Christmas celebrated the birth of Christ, the very foundation of Christianity.

“We have five nights of winter presents which compensates quite nicely,” I explained. “And we celebrate birthday’s, special occasions, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and so forth.”

She bobbed her head up and down, but I could tell I’d already lost her. I was the anti-Christ, the infidel, the soulless she was so afraid of. And though her fear was unwarranted, there isn’t a religious person I can recall that I didn’t get the same bounce from when I revealed I was an atheist. No God? No values. It’s common wisdom, right?

I didn’t set out to set myself apart. My brief stint in Sunday school was forced upon me until I was 13, when my parents had to acquiesce to my unshakeable conviction that there was no God. My mother spent the next 30 years convinced that I would come back to religion when I grew up, got married, had kids. But the certainty of a godless universe, one ruled by entropy, not empathy, still resonates with me.

Moving in months earlier, I noticed several of the families in the cul-de-sac had adorned their front lawns with small cement statues of Mother Mary and Baby Jesus. They were subtly placed, though clearly visible in clumps of bushes and at the base of towering Redwoods. Christmas lights went up weeks before Thanksgiving on most of the houses in our neighborhood.

I expressed my warmest welcome to the new neighbor, then excused myself from the deafening silence, called my kids and went back home. Since that first encounter, the new couple has gone out of their way to avoid our family. She and her children ignore us, even my kids casual waves in passing are met with blank stares, or outright glares. They do not acknowledge us at the store, in restaurants. The other neighbors do not include our family in their neighborhood parties, nor have they asked my husband to join their Sunday golf group.

When we choose to move here, I didn’t stop to consider the religious leanings of the community. As an atheist, in a monotheistic society, wherever I live I’m on the fringe. I am deeply saddened that my children are being ostracized because of our beliefs. In allowing them to define their own spirituality, I fear I have inadvertently set them up for rejection, condemned them to the fringes, which is a very lonely place to live. But I do not foresee bringing religion into my home. I cannot teach them what I do not believe.

This last holiday season, in a brief lapse of reason, I thought of throwing a Hanukkah party and inviting the neighborhood. If they needed us to be something, we could pretend to be Jewish. But, the thing is, I am proud of who we are and our spiritual choices. It’s unfortunate, as an American, where we are free to practice any religion, or none at all, that that freedom is often an illusion, challenged by ignorance, and tainted by blind prejudice.

Technology and Choice

Technology, like amniocentesis, gives women a window into the future of their child’s health. But it also poses an impossible choice when the view is not the healthy baby all parents pray for…

I was 17 weeks pregnant, with my first baby, when the results of an amnio told me that the wanted child I was carrying was not healthy. I have always been pro-choice, and never considered it a moral dilemma to terminate a fetus with severe Down’s Syndrome, or other life threatening, or debilitating abnormalities. Although I was aware that my advanced age of 39 increased my risk of potential problems, I was totally unprepared for the results from this technology, and the choice I would have to make.

We received the news on a gray Thursday afternoon in late December that the baby girl inside of me had an extra X chromosome, also known as Trisomy 47, XXX. While waiting for clarification from a genetic counselor on the following Monday, I spent the next three days searching for information. I sat in the old, stone library crying uncontrollably with each line I read from a Psychology Today article on XXX. “Severe learning disabilities.” “Severe emotional disabilities.” “Slow motor development.” “Shy.” “Withdrawn.” I rubbed my swollen belly, trying to feel my daughter inside of me, fear welling up and gathering momentum. My stoic husband sat next to me, silently reading along. On the way home we talked, we cried, we argued about what to do next. We decided to wait to make any decisions until we could get more information, except there was little out there, and everyone we spoke with had some kind of agenda.

The genetic counselor insisted that the information we had gathered over the weekend was outdated and biased. A few minutes later she called in a staff OB/GYN who showed us a picture of a beautiful 8-month old XXX baby, swinging in her electric swing on a whitewashed, sun drenched porch, smiling happily for the camera. The doctor then asked us if we would be willing to participate in her study if we decided to “keep our daughter.” During the following week, we spoke with doctors from around the world with any knowledge of XXX, who gave us a positive or negative spin depending on their personal views on abortion. We spoke with a social worker that dealt with the parents of handicapped children, who was subtly but clearly for termination. I solicited advice from my parents. My father (who never changed a diaper in his life) told me to keep her. My mother said not to. We spoke with parents of XXX children. All of the children had suffered learning disabilities, delayed motor skills, were withdrawn, and had required special education. But all the parents loved their daughters.

A decision had to be made quickly, before I felt her moving inside me. I knew if I felt her I could never give her up. To a certain degree, she was still an abstraction, even though on ultrasound I had seen her entire body, each vertebrae of her backbone, the two hemispheres of her brain, her tiny feet and hands moving about. “The ghost in the machine,” my husband had called her. I held my belly and begged my daughter to tell me what she wanted me to do, knowing the decision would be mine, feeling the weight of that decision ripping apart the fabric of my tightly woven self-image. What kind of person was I that I would kill my daughter because she wasn’t perfect? Faced with the probability of a slow child, I realized my expectations for [and from] my children were more than I had considered. Maybe too much.

It occurred to me that most of us go through life thinking we are generally good, honest, caring people because this view is rarely challenged, as most of our actions aren’t based on critical, pivotal, character-defining decisions. From the moment I got the amnio results, I knew my life would never be the same again. Technology had given me insight and now forced me to make a choice.

Fear of the unknown was the catalyst for our decision to terminate the pregnancy. Disappointment in our expectations, and doubting our own abilities, pushed us into the decision that to this day I find shame in. But I honestly don’t know how the other decision would have played out. One of the mothers of an emotionally and physically disabled 8-year old XXX child told me that if she had known that her child had the anomaly before she gave birth, she doubts she would have chosen to keep her. I guess when we make a decision with no good choices, the decision we make will never be okay. The trick is, finding a way to live with that.