A Quick and Dirty Sex Ed Guide for Quiverfull Daughters: By Heather Doney

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Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on April 6, 2013.

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This post is NSFW (not safe to read at work).

I got the idea to write this because I read this and this and something saying that only 67% of women in some study of “mainstream Americans” reported having an orgasm the last time they had sex, while men reported a rate of 91%. The worst bit of info from that study was that in a “hookup” only 11% of women had an orgasm (an incredibly damning statistic for the hookup culture if you ask me). Also, 10-15% of ordinary women are thought to have never had an orgasm. I thought “Ooh, this is bad. What gives?” I imagined that among people who grew up with the Quiverfull teachings I did that that rate is likely even worse. Then it made me think of this quote by Douglas Wilson, which just makes me shudder.

“When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.”

Awful perspective, right? So that’s why, although I’ve already talked about some serious issues with the role of sex in the movement before, I decided to approach it from a different angle today. Sexuality is something that is personal, that is yours to make decisions about, no matter what you may have been talked into believing to the contrary (don’t even get me started on the “pieces of your heart” talk, the many sneakily layered meanings of the word “modesty,” or the hints starting at a young age about how a certain kind of “giving of yourself” will be required by your imaginary future husband). So that’s why today I decided to write bluntly about how to enjoy sex as a woman, particularly as a woman raised in the Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy homeschooling movement.

I figured that as someone who has taken a human sexual behavior class in college (and made an “A”), never faked an orgasm or felt there was reason to (both expecting and generally having actual real ones when getting it on with her man), and who also grew up the Quiverfull way, with the purity teachings and attending a succession of home births and whatnot, that perhaps I have some useful things I can share about sex.

Still, I want to make clear that I don’t figure I am some expert or even that I am particularly experienced in this arena. In fact, I’ve only kissed four guys in my life (which is apparently about 3 more than your average Quiverfull daughter is supposed to). Still, learning how to have good sex was a problem for me in the past, but today I thoroughly appreciate and enjoy it. Sex is a natural human thing, nothing to be ashamed or shy about, and I am happy that it exists. Thing is, wanting it is instinct, knowing how to actually do it, or be responsible about it, not as much so.

Also, I am only addressing some basics of heterosexual sex here, largely in the context of a loving relationship, because that’s my thing. If you need to know more about GLBT stuff or healing from sexual abuse, or anything regarding less “mainstream” practices, there are others that could likely provide much better resources.

Discovering What You’re Working With

I know we were raised to see masturbation as wrong, as some sin or sex addiction problem, but I don’t think they characterized that exactly right. (Although obviously it can be an issue if you are regularly choosing masturbation over sex with a willing spouse.) Anyway, regardless of how you feel about masturbation, here is my case for at least trying it: if you have never had an orgasm by yourself it’ll be a lot harder for your partner to figure out how to give you one.

Also, different people like different things and sometimes you’ll find yourself wanting different things depending on what mood (or what part of your cycle) you are in. So take some private time and check out your body. Here is a simple guide as to what you might be looking for.

If you are comfortable with it, and if you aren’t that’s okay (this is where I definitely deviate from any advice you might ever hear from Quiverfull parents), you might even want to consider getting a couple items that can be nice for a girl to own (particularly if you are forgoing sex and waiting for the right guy and/or the right wedding ring). Some women report discovering the difference between a vaginal and clitoral orgasm (even though technically they’re both clitoral, just different parts of it) with one of these. One of these can be fun and used with a partner too.

Before “Going There” 

Before ever doing the deed you should know what the main parts of the male body are and how they typically function so you can understand and enjoy them (obviously). Here’s some excellent diagrams that explain it all nicely. Then, because you likely already know that sex causes babies (and I imagine are likely already more familiar with the gestation cycle, birth, and infant care side of things than the average person) I will skip past that part (read here if you need it) and just say that if you are not up for pregnancy (and hey, I’m still not) you should find a birth control method that’s right for you. Here is a nice chart with the effectiveness levels for various kinds.

Also, I could write at least five whole posts on Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy sex myth busting but the bottom line is that no matter what people might have told you (or mistakenly believed themselves), getting on the pill does not cause abortions and condoms do significantly reduce the risk of HIV and other icky things you don’t want. We were taught a lot of garbage by people who wanted to control our fertility.

About STI’s (formerly called STD’s) – they are common and most are treatable. If you think you might have been exposed to one, go get tested. If you think he has, make him go get tested. Testing is not a big deal. Pelvic inflammatory disease is. Women are more vulnerable to the ravages of STI’s than men thanks to the shape of our bodies (yeah, um, thanks a lot mother nature!) and often women don’t have symptoms or know they caught one. Some untreated STI’s can cause cervical cancer or fertility problems due to Fallopian tube scarring. (Not meaning to scare you here, just being straight up.) When in doubt, get tested. Anyway, I put STI’s up here near the top because they are important, but I want to clarify that you don’t generally contract STI’s without doing explicitly sexual things with someone who has an STI (and you generally can’t tell if someone does or not just by looking). Also, if someone says they got an STI from a toilet seat it is exceedingly likely that they just found it to be a more comfortable explanation than saying how they really got it. Anyway, on to happier topics…

Chemistry and Choosing Who to Sleep With

So I am a romantic and I also love this poem. I think good sex has a lot to do with chemistry, and chemistry has a lot to do with feeling love, respect, and genetic compatibility. If you are going to sleep with someone (totally not judging here as to who that might be, except to advise that you don’t sleep with someone who is in a committed relationship with someone else or someone who treats you disrespectfully) you should first get to know them (I know, crazy idea, right?) because the brain is one of the most important sex organs. Physical “hotness” only goes so far. If they look amazing but are annoying or make you raise one eyebrow and shake your head in disgust, or have you wanting to ask them to be nicer to the waitress or their mother or to stop talking trash about their ex (three big red flags!), don’t go there.

If they are brilliant smart, kindhearted and funny, and smile in a way that makes you just have to smile and crinkle up the corners of your eyes too, then they pass the first test. Then, after you get to know them (and this is according to your time frame, not mine), you should hold hands and make out a lot.

If your kissing partner tastes bad (and bathing/brushing their teeth and refraining from garlic don’t seem to help) don’t sleep with them. Politely move on. It is biology trying to tell you something. You are not a good match. Bad kissing = bad sex. If your body likes them, there are ways to know. If not, you’re not doing them or you any favors by faking it. Trust your instinct. If their natural scent smells sweet, if holding hands with them puts you on cloud nine, then a proper amount of physical attraction is there. All the “pink spots” on your body (lips, nipples, hands and feet, genitals) have these things called Meisner’s corpuscles in them. That might sound like a boring scientific term but the sensation they describe is not. It doesn’t have to be sexual but it can be when you are feeling attraction. That’s why holding hands with someone you are attracted to can really feel electrifying.

When you feel electrified like that you’ll likely find your mind floating towards wanting more intimacy, more skin contact with this person. However, just because you (and/or your partner) feel aroused (increased blood flow to your privates, an erection in men, a feeling of being “wet down there” in women) does not mean you need to act on it. We are human beings, not animals. You have a choice. They have a choice. Nobody will explode or keel over and die from lack of sex. Pressuring someone for sexual activity is not okay and this also goes for when you are the person being pressured. If he asks you and you don’t feel right about it (this goes for whether you are married to him or not) then don’t do it. If you do want to, then say so and see what he says.

Dispelling a Few Myths

– I had a laugh the other day with some former homeschooled girls who said they used to think “oral sex” meant French kissing, admitting I used to think this too back in my sheltered homeschool days. It definitely does not.

– Don’t imagine you are somehow “unable” to get pregnant and not take precautions based on that.

– Don’t think that having sex automatically means the other person will consider you as being in a relationship (or bound for the alter) because of it. If you haven’t talked about this beforehand then you’re just two people who had sex.

– Don’t have sex with someone you are not okay with being in love with. Sex is a powerful and sneaky thing and can make or break relationships even when you have other plans.

Getting it On

If/when you know the person you want to have sex with well enough, feel comfortable with doing so, and you have an opportunity where you both agree on it (consent, ever-present as an important component), have at it. Happily take off your clothes, explore, ask questions, try things, feel the love. You can go for it all at once or spread out this exploration into “steps” as you get to know one another. It’s up to you.

Don’t expect your partner to know what you need or for you to know what they need. They are learning too. That’s what practice and talking is for. However experienced or non-experienced your partner is, you will still have to learn what they like, what you like, and what you like to do together. It will be an adventure and just like not everyone has a taste for spicy food, not every girl likes having her hair pulled and her bottom slapped or her toes sucked on (but some certainly do, and provided you’re cool with it, have fun).

If one or both of you are virgins, the first time will likely be awkward and for women it very well may hurt and you might bleed (these are both generalizations, btw, and definitely not the rule). Always tell your partner if something they are doing feels painful and if they need to do it differently or stop. If you don’t like it, you can say stop at any time. If you do like something, say you like it so he’ll know. Also, if you want something, ask for it. Even if it feels awkward to talk about sex, remind yourself that it isn’t any more so than actually doing it. Besides, your partner won’t know unless you say what’s on your mind. Still, be gentle with their feelings.

Sex is a vulnerable thing.

If you just can’t seem to make it work, read up on vaginismus. Girls who grew up in sexually repressive environments or have experienced sexual abuse are more likely to have this condition. There are also other sexual dysfunctions that could be at play too, on your part or his.

If you are sleeping with someone who has slept with other people before, don’t judge them or sex shame them. This is pretty normal in mainstream American culture and no slight against you. You can ask them their “number” if you want to know, but if they want to keep that private their wishes should be respected. What you should always ask is if you might be at risk for STI’s before either of your clothes come off. Just because they look “clean” doesn’t mean they are. If they don’t know for sure, tell them to get tested. Also, when in doubt, always use a condom. Condoms are honestly not all that awesome in my opinion but they have their place. They are also not nearly as “useless” or “bad” as we were taught they were growing up. If used properly, they actually do prevent many STI’s and unwanted pregnancy. If you find you are allergic to latex or spermicide make sure to go with latex-free and spermicide free varieties. Also, it’s really not any more awkward to buy a box of them at the store than it is to buy a box of Kotex.

Making Sure it’s “Good” Sex

So foreplay (kissing, touching, whispering sexy things to each other, perhaps oral sex) is fun, will help you figure out what you’re in the mood for, and make the actual sex better. It is also a way to set the stage for both people’s pleasure to be seen as equally valuable, desirable, and necessary. If you feel self-conscious about your body or exploring different things, light a candle or two and forget about it. Everyone looks good by candlelight.

Read about various positions (this cartoon couple is positively adorable, aren’t they?), discuss them together, and try out the ones that look cool so you can figure out what you like.

When it comes to orgasms most women report needing their clitoris rubbed, meaning orgasm happens more easily through either oral sex or “woman on top” sex where you or he touch your clitoris while you have sex. I used to not know this and thought there was something wrong with me but since learned that this is not weird but instead totally normal – standard stuff that women usually need that somehow still gets ignored in our patriarchal (i.e. overly penis-centered) culture.

Also, there’s this myth that you are supposed to orgasm at the same time. Reality is it happens that way sometimes but it is a treat, not the norm. Most of the time one partner does before the other or even prefers a totally different position to come in than the other. Ideally it should be the woman who comes first (perhaps even multiple times) but sometimes (especially when guys are young or haven’t had sex in a while) it isn’t. Then a polite guy will either do something else to satisfy you, or wait a little bit before he can get an erection again (yeah, gotta love the “refractory period”) and give it another go. A rude guy will roll over and go to sleep. If you have a rude guy, call him on it and ask for what you need. Don’t let him get away with thinking sex is meant to be anything less than an egalitarian pleasuring party!

Note: I know that in writing something like this (which I thought about for a long time before putting up) I am sharing things that are still pretty taboo for a woman to speak about openly but particularly so for a woman from my background. I decided to post it anyway. I also know that creepers are gonna creep, so I just want to say I don’t want to get any objectifying blog comments saying I am “hot” or “not hot” or other remarks of that nature. I am both unavailable and quite uninterested in receiving such stuff, thanks.

This post is solely here as a public service type thing.

A Call for Inclusion in the Survivor Community: Sarah Henderson’s Thoughts

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HA note: Sarah Henderson blogs at Feminist in Spite of Them about her journey from Quiverfull to Feminist. The following post was originally published on her blog on January 11, 2014 and is reprinted with her permission. Also by Sarah on HA: “An Open Letter to My Former Highschool Teachers.”

There has been a bit of a ripple this weekend regarding a post that was published on Homeschoolers Anonymous. This post is written by someone who was homeschooled in a positive way, and has attained a higher level of education. He gave some recommendations for how survivors should be writing their stories. His main points are not false, he gives a solid explanation of the difference between narratives, philisophical statements, and empirical evidence. From a casual reading, his content is solid. However he goes on to explain that these claims need to be kept separate, or the movement will suffer.

We need to recognize that everyone who self-identifies as an abusive/neglectful homeschool survivor is in a different place.

If a requirement is made that people who wish to tell their stories must write them to an academic standard determined by someone who is not an abusive homeschooling survivor, we as a community run the risk of restricting possession of a voice to those who meet an academically rigorous standard. Many bloggers start out by writing their story for their own cathartic benefit, and then share it on the internet to help build the narrative.

Many bloggers, including myself, try very hard to avoid making statements without evidence, and try to differentiate between what part is our narrative, and what part is empirical evidence. Personally I do use empirical evidence in my posts, and cite it appropriately. I do not necessarily avoid making philosophical statements, because I believe that people have the right to their own opinion in matters of philosophy. Certainly the bloggers and advocates who are radically pro-homeschooling present their philosophy as truth, but I think it still clear when a statement is philosophical in nature. Some of them do sometimes present guesses and statements as empirical evidence (like this, as Heather posted on HA).

Not everything on my blog is empirically based, and I have grown in my understanding of the past since I started blogging. I have gone back and put some author’s notes in place, but I am not editing out statements and opinions that I presented early in my blogging, because this blog represents my story and understanding across time. Some other bloggers present their ideas with more and less clarity and empiricism. I do not think that these different styles and levels of accuracy take anything away from our community, but introducing the specter of the red pen might result in fewer stories being told by those who may experience new fear about their own story because they have been denied their story for their whole lifetime.

Telling a survivor story of this type goes against a lifetime of teaching to comply, conform, and protect the status quo.

We need be purposeful in our inclusion of stories, whether they match an arbitrary standard or not. People need to be able to start telling their stories no matter where they are in their healing, and it would be good to be mindful of the fact that some survivors of educational neglect may not meet an academic rigor and polish standard, but it is these stories that really really need to be added to the plethora of narratives.

A plural of narratives does not add up to empirical data. But it does add up to a plethora of narratives.

As more survivors come forward and share their narrative, it will become harder and harder to reject each narrative as an anomaly. Denial of abusive homeschooling survivorship is a serious issue, and becoming elitist and selective about sharing stories contributes to the denial. For whose benefit should all the stories be empirical and polished? A number of polished empirical articles will not in and of itself change the face of abusive homeschooling, just like a large number of narratives would not change it. But an abundance of both types of posts (usually not divided into such tidy categories) bring the need for a closer look to the attention of the survivors, and hopefully, at some point, to the attention of lawmakers.

Let’s reach out as a community for more stories that need to be told.

When Precision is a Red Pen

Heather Doney is the Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education and blogs at Becoming Worldly.

As someone who has been studying and working on homeschooling issues from an academic as well as personal angle and who recently co-founded the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), I want to say that Benjamin Keil makes some good points in “A Call for Precision”. He makes good points about the plural of anecdote not being data and also how we want to avoid confusing different types of arguments or reasoning for one another. I also think that Sarah Henderson made some good points, too.

We are talking about, within, and to a group of people who often suffered educational neglect. I know I did. Some people have been able to largely overcome it. I too have a masters degree today. Some have not. We want to be very careful not to intimidate anyone or make them feel like their story or perspective is not “correct” or “educated” enough to be told.

This is a place for people to tell their stories as they see them through their own eyes and for others to provide feedback and support, not judgement or academic critique.

So while I am working with a team of former homeschoolers who are trying to do our best to get the quantitative data we have (which is slim) all in one place and collect and share the qualitative data (which is just coming together), fact is we (and by this I mean all of us) do not have the kind of data to know how abuse and neglect in homeschooling compares to that occurring in other educational settings. It is a question to be answered, a known unknown. We just know that it happens and that there are some really bad cases and the watered down or nonexistent laws on homeschooling in many states don’t pass a basic common sense smell test.

I also think it is instinct for people to use the info they have and generalize based on their social milieu. It happens a lot, annoying social science researchers everywhere, since we want to measure and quantify.

But is a natural human tendency.

So I think Keil’s points would have been stronger if he had noted that homeschool parents who keep saying “these stories are rare” and “most homeschoolers are ______” really need to notice that they do this way too much, that it isn’t helping, and they need to knock it off. A really good example of exactly what we don’t need any more of: this post in Christianity Today.

“Anecdote passed off as data” doesn’t make for an airtight case if anyone does it and frankly so many of us have had to sit by and have our experiences silenced and dismissed while homeschool parents and leaders got a pass for this sort of nonsense for years. The “data” collected by Brian Ray’s NHERI was spread around in the media and the homeschool community as proof of homeschooling’s excellence across the board.

As a matter of fact, Ray’s “Strengths of Their Own” study isn’t proof of anything except that self-selected participants in a survey (with just under a 30% response rate, I might add) of white, middle and upper middle class Christian homeschool families usually do pretty good. I could do a voluntary study of prep school kids, say they represented American students as a whole, and it would be much the same kind of result.

Which is to say it is not an accurate depiction of the population at all.

My initial thoughts from combing through the quantitative and qualitative data available and also running a support group are that it seems that homeschools aren’t too different from public school in terms of us having “haves” and “have-nots.” The difference is we pretend our have nots just don’t exist because we don’t measure them. There are generally no mechanisms in place to shut down failing homeschools or fire failing or abusive homeschooling teachers.

Because there seems to be this huge socio-economic status/class difference in homeschool student experiences and outcomes, we will need to pay a lot more attention to that gap before any of us do any more generalizing about what homeschooling as a whole is and isn’t. We also need to make sure we leave wide open spaces where people can safely tell their stories without worrying that the rest of us will be judgy perfectionists or parse it apart harshly.

Even if we are well-meaning in taking the red pen to someone else’s story and perspective, that can be very intimidating and used as a means to quiet their voice.

Too many of us have already had more than enough of that happen in our lives and don’t need any more. So I want to say that while I want solid arguments and good data as much as the next person, even more than that I want people to feel free to tell their own story and share where they see it fitting into the whole. After all, it is because a growing group of people are telling their first-person stories that we are even discussing the need for data in the first place.

Stories are powerful things.

About Those “Model Homeschoolers”…

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on November 7, 2013.

Recently a piece on Hana Williams’ death and her parents’ conviction, “The Tragic Death of An Ethiopian Adoptee and How It Could Happen Again” by Quiverfull and Child Catchers author Kathryn Joyce, came out in Slate magazine. My Homeschooling’s Invisible Children teammate and co-founder, Rachel Coleman, was quoted in it and HIC was linked.

Hana Williams’ tragic story is powerful and grotesque. It shows how at-risk children, including orphans adopted from other countries, can easily be severely mistreated or even die when living in homeschooling homes where the focus is on authoritarian “sin-punishing” parenting and having many children raised as “arrows” for Christ.

What I expect many readers of the Slate piece are struck by is how extreme the circumstances were for the Williams’ children. What they may not understand is that while that sort of awful story definitely exists on the far end of a spectrum of fundamentalist homeschooling, there are more common and often milder strains of it that are pervasive in certain homeschooling subcultures. These strains have made their way into others in a way that is often invisible unless you know what to look for.

The reason most parents do the authoritarian parenting thing in the first place is because they believe it will result in model children and successful adults.

They see children from these other homeschooling families that seem “perfectly well-behaved” and who do “first time obedience” and many understandably want that sort of awesomeness for themselves. What they do not understand is that this “model homeschooler” or “model child” image often comes at a steep price.

Like the infamous (and largely discredited) Chinese “tiger mother” style of parenting, you can sometimes have outwardly successful offspring that nonetheless have increasingly serious secret or not-so-secret mental health and emotional struggles because they have been trained to view the world as exacting, punitive, and unsafe. People who feel that the world around them is constantly requiring perfection out of them often respond by engaging in something that one of my friends called “self-cannibalization” in order to succeed. While you don’t hear much about the ones who don’t succeed, others noticeably surpass their peers in educational attainment and professional achievement.

This is my story as well, really. I grew up isolated and poor and then went on to be an honors student in college, make lots of friends and throw good parties once I learned how to socialize. I was a good neighbor, presented well in public, and was not a half bad partner to love or marry.

Nobody would have guessed at what battles went on in my head or how much intense effort went into “passing for normal” until it all came crashing down.

The walls separating the different spheres of my inner world crumbled during grad school into what for me was delayed-onset PTSD and for others might more closely resemble depression, anxiety, substance abuse, compulsive behavior, self-harm, and/or social phobias.

Some people don’t seem to connect these kinds of dots. Many people trying to defend the reputation of homeschooling (which I will note is different than defending the right to homeschool) note that the writing, educational attainment, and professions of many of us former homeschoolers speaking out about negative homeschooling experiences are respectably good.

These kinds of achievements are the stuff that homeschool leaders and proud parents would love to take some credit for, attribute to homeschooling. But for those of us who have lived through the kinds of experiences we describe, when someone assumes that the reason we have the skills and careers that we do today is because of homeschooling, we get annoyed (and sometimes triggered).

We know that they do not fully understand what happened to us and that they are definitely not hearing from or seeing all of us.

For people who see ourselves as survivors of what I’m going to start calling the Authoritarian Christian Homeschooling Movement (to differentiate it from the views of both ordinary Christians and fundamentalist Christians), it is upsetting to hear the sort of homeschooling we were subjected to and our subsequent skills and accomplishments connected in a positive causal relationship without our permission. It negates some of our feelings and experiences, doesn’t paint an accurate picture, and can also be (wrongheadedly) used as an argument for the status quo not changing (and yes, it definitely needs changing).

See, we know from experience that “well, you’re obviously doing great stuff today” can be and often is used as the basis of a “no harm, no foul” argument. This argument implies that homeschooling in fact worked as intended and the problem simply was that the formula needed a bit more of an ingredient or two, perhaps one of them being love. While I am not one to ever speak against love (as it is a many splendored thing and I think I did need more), I think what we really needed most was less authoritarianism and social isolation so that we could have the choice, rather than the commandment, as to who to give our love to and how.

So while I get that expressing appreciation or admiration or an enjoyment of the things some of us have produced is likely not meant as anything but a sincere compliment (and I and others working on shedding light on this issue do hope you like reading our stories) it is not ok to then attribute our abilities, skills, or professions to quality homeschooling.

However, I realize that me simply stating that it’s not alright to call people exemplary or model homeschoolers when they don’t want the label does not convey the full message as to why. So I decided to ask some of my fellow survivors to fill out the following prompt and share their own answers with you, so you can know why:

#1 – The Prodigal Son’s Brother (pseudonym), male, age 29
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
Much of my social interaction during certain formative years was with adults, rather than peers, and my reading material was far ahead of that for my age 
What I wish people really knew about me was:

I am self-loathing, codependent, sex-negative, vengeful, immature, and suicidal.

#2 – Trinity Ruth Ruhland, female, age 23
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
I relate better to my supervisors and older adults. I have a kick-ass work ethic because I had no choice but to work to survive.
What I wish people really knew about me was:
I still struggle to have friends my own age, and that I feel a lot of pressure to always be perfect. Also, I am in the Air Force and I’d like people (coworkers who tease me relentlessly) to know that I have an honest fear of things flying through the air and hitting me. It is not that I don’t like playing Wally ball for PT, but that I seriously can’t handle things flying at me anymore. I also wish they’d understand that I have issues with nightmares (a combo of growing up and my time in Afghanistan) and that I can’t watch certain movies because of triggers.

#3 – anonymous female, age 28
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
I work hard, I’m efficient, and I do a good job.
What I wish people really knew about me was:
I frequently short-change myself to deliver this level of work. I wish they knew that I struggle with panic attacks at the very thought of making a mistake and that this makes it hard to function. I wish they knew that I suffer from chronic health problems stemming from overwork and stress during my teens. I wish they knew that I have a hard time relaxing and enjoying myself.

#4 – Holly (pseudonym), female, age 34
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
I work hard and push myself beyond reasonable limits.
What I wish people really knew about me was:
I have daily anxiety, frequent panic attacks, depression, nightmares and night terrors, and sometimes am unable to leave my house for days, all because of my childhood experiences in a controlling religious subculture.

#5 – April Duvall, female, age 33, homeschooled 2nd – 12th grade
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
I produce high-quality work. I had to get things right the first time all the time to avoid beatings and learn how to hold a job so I could escape as a teenager.
What I wish people really knew about me was:
I panic when thinking I have gotten any small detail wrong. I wake up with nightmares after any small correction. I spend hours talking myself down telling myself it’s okay, I won’t be beaten or rejected, I won’t die and won’t bring harm to those under me for not achieving a nebulous perfection. I struggle to navigate group situations, and I see that my oldest child also struggles as I haven’t been able to teach her what I don’t know – how to enter a small group of children playing. My social skills are only good in professional or maybe 1:1 situations.

#5 – Deborah (pseudonym), female, age 23
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
I was isolated from every single person except my family and every moment of my life was not only accounted for by watchful adults but used to teach me something – generally not actual education, but “character” or skills I needed in order to be a housewife.
What I wish people really knew about me was:
I didn’t have friends or a childhood and that has left me crushed and unable to interact socially with others in an appropriate manner or date until well into my adult life.

#6 – anonymous female, age 26, law student
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
I have suffered so much pain, I don’t see the point in laughing or having fun anymore. I don’t go to parties. I don’t hang out with friends. I don’t even take vacations.
What I wish people really knew about me was:
I am in counseling for anxiety, I am terrified of people, I have huge trust issues that prevent me from forming close relationships, and I am triggered by anything that reminds me of family. I work hard and accomplish things because burying myself in activity is how I hide from the pain. Don’t look at me and say ‘She’s fine.’ Look at me and wonder how on earth I still manage to function.

#7 – Stacy (pseudonym), age 25, graduate student in history and English
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
Growing up, if I wasn’t capable and mature at all times, at every age, at every event and in all subjects, it meant that I was not only failing as a Christian, cultural warrior who was the only hope for America, but I was misrepresenting and disrespecting God as my creator.
What I wish people really knew about me was:
I appear so together and capable today because that binary (fail-succeed) is still dominant in my mind– joy, peace and happiness (feelings that emerge from those grey areas in the process outside failing and succeeding) are fought-for blessings.

#8 – anonymous female, age 30, married, with a master’s degree and established career
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
I was required to do everything perfectly every time, both in “school” and out of it, and there was no break from those expectations.
What I wish people really knew about me was:
Now I am on an SSRI just so I can sleep at night because of my anxiety problems and my doctor’s belief that I am on the OCD spectrum.

#9 – DoaHF (Daughter of a Heavenly Father, pseudonym), female, age 23
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
I had a perfectionist mother who was always on my back about doing things her perfect way.
What I wish people really knew about me was:
I hate the voices in my head that won’t go away. I have authority issues and I dont trust ANYONE, even if I have known them for years. My heart is locked away so it can’t get hurt… for the thousandth time.

#10 – Susannah (pseudonym), female, 38
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
I have decades of practice raising children and managing a home; I am articulate, read constantly, and live in a nice neighborhood.
What I wish people really knew about me was:
What is less apparent is that I get panic attacks from grocery shopping, that I get tongue-tied conversing with confident men, and seeing my mom’s handwriting causes me psychosomatic pain.

#11 – Hadassah (pseudonym), female, age 31
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
I seem to have it together, am great at organization, pretty awesome in the kitchen, and I am often praised for my kids and understanding them. I’m praised for my language skills, but I refused to learn it from my parents. I have learned everything hands on.
What I wish people really knew about me was:
I have some pretty intense anxiety. I have trouble working with others, because I find them in my way or that they’re honestly not working. I end up being assigned projects on my own and do above and beyond the call of duty for fear that I will be kicked off of the program or fired, because it has happened before in a no-fault state.

The only reason my kids and I have “an understanding” is because I’ve gone out of my way for the last 6 years to read a large amount of childhood development books that I bought on my dime.

I seem like I know all the chemistry in the kitchen when I’m barely able to handle the mathematics and never once took chemistry classes. I freak out if my cooking/baking is less than perfect.

People also do not know that I am chronically ill, and often cannot function like they do; or I have panic attacks and need to stop and try again. People do not know that I was held back simply because I am female. That I was forced to be a stay at home daughter and basically was a servant to my parents until I was finally able to marry my husband and get out of my parent’s home. People have no idea that hiding behind the “cool” veneer of homeschooling, my education is so lacking that I’m still filling in the blanks as money avails itself.

#12 – Julia (pseudonym), female, age 24
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
Failure was never an option, appearances were all that mattered, and I am skilled at communicating with my elders as opposed to my peers.
What I wish people really knew about me was:
I am just going through the motions. I deal with anxiety, depression, diagnosed PTSD, and feel as though I must always second-guess what others do and say. I can’t trust them, and I can’t relate to them, and I often wish Socialization 101 courses existed.

#13 – Libby Anne, mid 20′s, blogger
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
I am hard working, polite, and well spoken.
What I wish people really knew about me was:
What I wish people really knew about me was that because of my perfectionism and past family trauma I get panic attacks when my boss says “I need to talk to you about something” and my heart rate goes sky high when I see a letter from my mother or my dad’s name on my voicemail.”

#14 – Kelly (pseudonym), female, age 30, law student
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
As a child I could not rely on my parents to be mature or conscientious–I had to parent myself in many ways, and was held to adult standards even as a child. They did not support my decisions or acknowledge my feelings unless they mirrored theirs (i.e., they were “correct”), so my decision making and interpersonal skills were stunted.
What I wish people really knew about me was:
This resulted in me constantly second-guessing my feelings, decisions, and interactions with others. I have been addressing these issues through reading self-help books and several years of professional therapy, but have a long way to go. My therapist was shocked that I am as functional as I am, given my past. Several of my siblings have not fared as well.

#15 – Samantha Field, female, 26, blogger
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
I was forced to take over the daily running of a household when I was 10 years old, and I didn’t have any real friends– just people who watched everything I did, everything I said, like a hawk and shamed me in public, in front of my entire church, for ever doing something that wasn’t “ladylike” and “mature.”
What I wish people really knew about me was:
I desperately loved science, but because no one was capable of teaching me math I got a degree in music– a degree I don’t even use now.

#16 – anonymous female, age 24, graduate student
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
I am the perfectionist daughter of perfectionist parents. I never knew that the pressure I was under to always get A’s was not something everyone experienced until I was in college. The pressure to be perfect, to never mess up, and to handle everything with poise and excellence has been one of the defining struggles in my life.
What I wish people really knew about me was:
How inadequate I feel most of the time. I wish they knew about my struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and the depression that made the last ten years of my life so hard. I wish they knew that I struggle with anxiety and social awkwardness, that it’s hard for me to get close to people, and that no matter how hard I try, I never feel like I measure up. I wish they knew that the hurt I’ve suffered from legalistic conservative Christians has made it hard to hold onto my faith.

#17 – Noelle, female, age 22
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because: 
I was forced to grow up at a young age and hold more responsibilities than a lot of adults do, as the oldest of 8 kids.
What I wish people really knew about me was:
I wish people knew that I have no self confidence in myself, I struggle with depression and self injury and my biggest dream right now (which seems impossible) is to radiate peace and positivity.

#18 – me, 30, blogger and homeschool reform advocate
As a former homeschooler, I am noticeably capable and mature because:
I am friendly, educated, conscientious, good at retaining and aggregating information, and I have a knack for bringing up issues, finding common ground, and mediating disputes in stressful or high-conflict situations.
What I wish people really knew about me was:
A violent authoritarian upbringing skewed my baseline settings and left me to struggle with self-care, perfectionism, avoidance of others when I’m struggling, sweaty palms if I hear church sermons, and a strong feeling that harsh or needy attention is love.

Feeling Empathy for Christian Patriarchy Parents and Leaders

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on November 13, 2013.

I did a couple things I never expected to do yesterday. I had a thought-provoking conversation that left me thinking about how it is easy to decide that someone is an enemy, a jerk, a selfish person. It is easy to determine that people are unworthy, undeserving, maybe even unclean. It is easy for them to decide that about you too.

Yesterday I found myself talking about my blog with my Dad. 

He’d found out about it a month ago. It hadn’t mattered to me. We hadn’t spoken since before Father’s Day. I expected we might never speak again and it might be for the better. But I got off the phone from that thought-provoking conference call and sat in my chair for a bit, thinking. Then I called my Dad.

Why? Well, sometimes you find out information that humanizes people a bit more, that explains why, and that makes you realize you attributed motives to them that weren’t exactly accurate or that didn’t contain some missing pieces of a bigger picture.

The more adults I talk to or learn from who are walkaways from the Quiverfull and Christian patriarchy stuff, or even ostensible leaders or former leaders within it, the more I see them as not abusers and power-grabbers per se, but also victims. They often had harsh upbringings filled with authoritarianism and loss or were constantly uprooted, never knowing what to expect next.

My Grandad, the man I looked up to and loved so much, was not the same man when my Dad and his siblings were kids. He’d just gotten back from Vietnam back then.

He was a tyrant.

He beat his kids, like his father before him.

Even my Grandad said it, telling me “I was a son of a bitch, and I was a son of a bitch to my kids.” He realized later in life that kids need something different then what he’d gotten and what he’d given. He told my Dad, “Don’t raise your kids like how I raised you.”  My Dad thought he had found a different way. Except it wasn’t really all that different.

Him and my Mom got sucked into extreme religion like a drug when they were just kids, each not yet 20 years old. They became true believers. They more or less still are. That sort of faith easily attracts young people from dysfunctional families who are looking for guarantees, assurances that family life will be different, better, and that heaven awaits if they follow what I have occasionally referred to as “the faith equivalent of the Nutrisystem diet.”

They were trying and failing and starving away on the inside and it was as hard growing up with them as if they had been on drugs.

I thought of Dr. David Gil, a social policy professor I had at Brandeis, in his late 80′s and a holocaust survivor, a man who had testified before Congress against corporal punishment of kids back in the 70′s and had spent much of his career working on fostering reconciliation after atrocities. He’d spoken of society’s ills all coming back to unmet human need. That we have kick the dog syndrome, we have substance abuse, we have wealth hoarding, we have people treating other people (generally weaker people) like objects, and almost all of it is due to stunting – people not being able to reach their full potential during their formative years because the previous generation has hurt them, and the fact that they were born into a society that did not meet their needs starting at a young age. Dr. Gil talked about how people-led movements for equality and social change were all that could alter this dynamic. That it was about interpersonal interaction, sharing, and giving, collaboration rather than competition.

I am not a Star Trek nerd, but this video really moves me. Patrick Stewart’s father was an abuser. He watched his mother get abused as a small boy and couldn’t do anything about it. Later on he learned that it was untreated mental health problems from wartime experiences that caused his father to have so many issues, and while it did not excuse the abuse (because nothing does) it did help him develop empathy for his father. So he is doing work to help veterans and work to help battered women, in order to honor them both, in order to help others avoid beingthem both. I thought it was so moving because this is someone who gets what the cycle really is like. Hurt people hurting people.

We can sit here loathing each other, re-wounding each other, blaming each other, but an eye for an eye truly does make the whole world blind.

I thought about how people often try to improve a dysfunctional world by creating little Utopias and about how people do what they can with the tools they have and sometimes when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail, and sometimes you get caught up in hammering away at everything only to get stopped in your tracks when you least expect it and find that you do have empathy for where someone is coming from simply because you see humanity there. Even if they’ve done things you think are shitty and even if you don’t agree with their outlook much at all. You remember that they are a person too, and if you remember that they are a person they just might remember that you are a person and then as two people you can do the hardest and most special thing that people can do, which is to be people, together.

So many homeschool parents who got sucked into the Quiverfull and Christian patriarchy stuff are still hurting. 

They secretly bear so much shame. So much self-loathing. So much guilt and fear and they are tired and worn down. They often have too many kids and not enough resources or answers. They are trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, decide where their boundaries are, figure out what’s right and what’s wrong and what’s bullshit. I don’t think a lot of them are doing as good of a job as I’d expect, but then again I do have pretty exacting expectations, very little tolerance for the sort of brokenness that reminds me of my childhood. It’s pretty triggering.

But I am trying to be more forgiving. I am trying to bear in mind that once safety has been ascertained, that forgiveness is an option and sometimes recovery, rehabilitation, and reconciliation are too.

I try to remember that at one time they were all babies – they were all cute and innocent little children making mud pies or pushing their peas around their plates. They were all pimply teens trying to figure out what to do with crushes and first loves and first kisses and broken hearts and whether their friends liked them and their clothes conveyed the right message about who they were on the inside. They were learning about education and vocations and how to pay the bills in a world where none of those things were simple (and still aren’t). They were learning how to be parents and what it meant when nobody had ever taught them how. None of it was easy.

They went through hardships, too.

Hardships that caused damage and misconceptions and harms that they passed down to the next generation and sometimes the people around them in one form or another.

I expect most of the time they didn’t mean to cause hurt, but they did and we can’t change the past. We can only look to the future and try to do what we can with what we’ve got. I’m not a fool. I know the odds of my Dad and I having the sort of quality relationship that I would desire in an ideal father-daughter sense is unlikely bordering on neigh impossible. But maybe our relationship can be more than nothing. Maybe it can be more than him getting old and dying and me not seeing him for years before that day. If it has to be nothing I’m ok with that. But something would be better.

And that’s why I called my Dad. I told him that he was worthy of forgiveness. I told him that I forgave him. I told him that I had two rules. He couldn’t tell me what to do and he couldn’t try to rewrite the past. He said ok. Then we talked.

We talked about an old family photo my sister had texted to all of us, when I was just a baby and my parents were young, starry-eyed, and impossibly good looking, and how the picture reminded him of when I was small and he took me to the University of New Orleans once. He said he remembered how happy I was there. I said yes, that I’d remembered that visit, walking up the liberal arts building stairs, him buying me a Coke (a rare treat) out of the vending machine, and seeing adults poring over their books and listening to lectures in classrooms.

He said, “I did good things too, you know. I did good things too.”

I said, “I know, Dad. I remember the good things too. I remember them.

He told me that when he watched the Al Jazeera video he agreed with Pat Farenga’s perspective more than mine, that he felt I did a good job but my framework was off, that he figured modern technology and online schools solved a lot of the homeschooling issues I was concerned about, and with my skills (and here he sounded proud) that I should work towards bigger issues, things that could do more for society, that homeschooling was small. I replied that Pat was a nice guy and we just disagreed about a few things, and I figured if I used my education anywhere, I should start close to home, in an area I know, and so that’s what I was doing.

I said I didn’t do it to shame him. I did it to help other kids.

So I’m gonna call my Dad again in a few days and see if we can start small, start with more good things, attempt to be family to one another, and meantime I’m gonna work on some child abuse prevention resources so that other families can stop the cycle before it gets as bad as it did in mine.

I’m not going to whitewash everything and act like its peachy keen now (because there has been a lot of damage done and a lot of work still needs to be done to bring things in a positive direction and it’s a pretty tall order) but I am hopeful. There is still room for redemption. There is still room for improvement. We are all still alive. Or most of us are anyway, and those who aren’t should be held in our memories, their stories and hardships learned from, their lives honored, the lessons not forgotten.

It is a punitive, careless, and authoritarian culture that hurts us.

This issue isn’t about Christianity. It isn’t about homeschooling. It isn’t about families. It isn’t about faith or love or loyalty. It’s about power. Power that the fearful grasp onto or lash out with. That is what we need to try so hard to end, to use our own power to do.

Sharing is still caring. There is still room to learn and grow and try to make the best of the present, using what we know from the past. There is room to accept broken people and wounded people and people who have done serious harms that are not able to be erased but who are trying to do better now, even if they don’t hardly know the way. We don’t have to do it. We don’t have to do anything. But we can. If we want to.

I’m still pretty early in my career, green in the public policy profession, but today I wanted to share this lesson that I learned, that hit home, that I hope to always remember.

We think we’re just working on metrics, policy issues, and stakeholders and then we run into raw humanity – unmet human need, trauma, and people trying to find a way to get by and make it better than they’ve had it. Maybe this shouldn’t change our goals but our methods. Remind us that it’s never “just business.” It’s always personal.

Everyone is a person.

Homeschool to Public School

school

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on December 23, 2012.

I figured since I am one of the rare former Quiverfull kids that was both homeschooled and public schooled, I’d talk about my experience. First off, though, I want to say that I find the debate about whether homeschool or public school is inherently better to be the educational equivalent of arguing whether Coke or orange soda is better. It’s utter foolishness when people act like their personal preference is the only one that counts. Overall I believe that human beings are resilient and adaptable creatures, capable of learning in many different environments if given the opportunity and some quality mentoring. If I was choosing how to educate my own kids, I’d want mixed methods, the best of both worlds.

I realize looking back that I have had two different kinds of homeschooling and two different kinds of public schooling, so figured I’d share my experience with each.

Neglectful Unschooling

The first kind of homeschooling I had was unschooling without the very necessary cultivation and introduction to resources aspect.

Basically it was educational neglect.

This is a pretty common problem in the unschooling world from what I understand. I also got intensive religious messages and was forced to submit to rigid and oppressive gender roles. The bits of educational instruction I got were often pretty abusive too because every now and then, when my Dad got it in his head to formally teach me something, the session would generally end with me getting a spanking, grounded, or having the papers thrown at me in disgust because I was “being stupid,” “obstinate” or “stubborn and difficult.” Unsurprisingly, all that did was leave me with a pretty decent math phobia and worries about my mental capabilities. My parents also often told my sister that she was just stubborn and didn’t want to learn to read.

Thing is, my Mom said she didn’t really teach me how to read. She just read me books out loud when I was small and soon I was reading them back to her. That pattern didn’t happen with my sister or any other siblings because it isn’t typical. Yet my parents expected it to work that same way somehow.

They had little understanding of how kids actually learn, or what motivates them, or that it simply isn’t the same for each kid.

I was a self-directed learner who ate up the few books that had been donated to us by other homeschoolers and the boxes full of classic literature that my Grandad sent me. I didn’t get to go to the library. I just read these books and sometimes when I got too absorbed and forgot to wash dishes or change diapers, my Dad came in, snatched my book from me, hit me with it, and yelled at me. My Mom went from claiming that my book reading was “constructive” to saying that it was “selfish.”

Classic Home Tutoring

After this first kind of homeschooling experience had been thoroughly put to shame by my grandparents and the Sylvan standardized testing they secretly got for me and my sister, I started the second kind of homeschooling. It generally involved sitting at a desk every day at the same time, working through problems, diagramming sentences, having problem sets to solve and a row of sharpened pencils, with regular interspersed “field trips.”

Now I had to answer to my tough, tattooed up old Grandad, a former Navy commander who’d never homeschooled anyone or previously had the desire to.

He had flown me out West to stay with them for a few months and to give an excellently intensive if sometimes harsh go of his brand of tutoring, motivated by his love and concern for me.

My Grandad and I drove each other crazy at times but ultimately bonded for life. He loved being a homeschooling grandfather. He would go on to do the same with my other school age siblings, and later told me that he found his role in his grandchildren’s education to be one of the most satisfying things he’d done in retirement.

He was not motivated by any sort of religious instruction goals, but rather valued and had respect for classical curriculums that connected history to current events, modern life, and a versatile skill set. He also said being cosmopolitan and well-rounded was the primary goal of education.

It wasn’t just about finding a job or about knowing stuff, but making yourself question and think, being a world citizen.

He introduced me to books on Native American history, and Greek and Roman mythology. He brought me outside at night to point out the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades among the stars and tell me the story, and recount what these constellations had meant to sailors of old. He and my Grammy took me to museums and national parks and to go try sushi, fried rattlesnake, and spanikopita. They brought me to see Phantom of the Opera. They got me once a week snow-skiing lessons with teens my age. I was encouraged to find pen pals among them and to practice penmanship, and so I did. I was told to keep a diary and a scrapbook where I wrote down my experiences and saved mementos from events.

I still have those things and they are some of my most valued belongings.

My Grandad continually said, “The world needs lerts, so be alert!”

At the end of our intensive tutoring sessions or a day walking in the redwoods, or a day learning about volcanic activity while swimming at Mammoth Lakes hot creek, my brain would feel tired in a satisfied sort of way. I knew without a doubt that I was learning and it made me much happier about life. I loved it.

When I went back home to my parents, my Grandad gave me a self-study schedule written out on a yellow legal pad so I could hopefully somewhat replicate this rapid rate of absorption. I wish I could say I kept up with the books like he’d had me doing at his house, but I didn’t. No one was pushing me at home, so I only studied what I liked, and what I liked were novels that I could become totally absorbed in and ignore the stressful reality of a family situation I now loathed even more.

Cliquey Public School

Because my parents still weren’t teaching us and my Mom had pretty much given up, the next year we all got sent to public school.

I was both excited and scared. The local high school was known as the “bad school in the good district.” Over a third of the kids (including me) got free lunch because their parents were poor, and it was about half white, half “people of color” — mostly black and creole, a few Hispanic and Vietnamese. My school did really well in sports, less so in academics.

At registration nobody checked to see if I was up to grade level or oriented me to what public school would be like, instead simply assigning me to 9th grade based on my age.

The first week of classes were absolutely overwhelming.

I got laughed at on the bus for handing the driver the paperwork and saying, “My Mom said to give you this.” After being isolated so much, now I was constantly surrounded by people my own age, hundreds of conversations going on in the lunchroom at once, but nobody wanted to sit by me. They already had friends. I was an unwelcome stranger. Someone even threw my backpack on the floor and told me to go sit somewhere else. Finally I got invited to sit at a lunch table by a guy who had a lisp and I gratefully shared eating space with him, a “super-senior,” a pregnant girl, and a tall skinny gamer who wore his backpack on one shoulder and ran to lunch when the bell rang in order to be first in line. They were nice to me, the first friends I made, and I will be forever grateful. They reassured me and gave me hints after I got lost going to my home room class, received a detention for lateness, and got glared at often because I apparently unknowingly stared at people. I’m sure I did stare.

These teenagers were fascinating and I’d never seen anything like it.

Then there was the weirdness of learning how to do homework and study for tests and figure out when and how you are or aren’t supposed to ask questions in class while surrounded by people who’d done these things their whole lives. Everybody assumed I should just know this stuff and was from another planet when I didn’t.

By the end of the first week I was pretty much singled out as a weird kid, by both teachers and students.

One teacher thought I might have a learning disability and scheduled a parent-teacher conference. Classmates made fun of my Walmart shoes. Some boy asked me for a blow job and got people laughing when it was obvious I had no idea what that was. A group of girls walked by and one put gum in my hair. A boy hit me in gym class, I hit back, and we both got suspended for fighting under the “zero tolerance” rules. That’s how for a short time I became one of the “bad kids.”

I had to attend three nights of “PM school” with other suspended kids from around the district, some who’d thrown chairs at teachers, had sex in the bathrooms, set things on fire, or brought vodka to school hidden in Sprite bottles. We all sat around in a circle and talked about what we did wrong and what we should do better next time. Most of them were pretty disrespectful and said school was stupid and they couldn’t wait to drop out when they turned 16.

I really hit the culture shock head on right there.

Why didn’t they want an education? I’d had to fight so hard to get mine and I had no intention of letting anything take it away from me.

Around that time I discovered that high school was two-tiered. There were the regular and remedial classes and then the honors classes and advanced placement classes. The kinds of people who took either of the latter were treated better. Honors and AP classes also had people who were more invested and were given more in-depth information, but nobody else in that classroom seemed to feel as enthusiastic about learning as me. I was absorbing everything all at one time — the coursework was only part of it. How to walk, how to talk to people, what were appropriate topics of conversation, what to wear, what not to say seemed even more crucial.

Often it seemed there were more important things I was missing in my education than book learning, and I just made social mistake after social mistake. I was made fun of ruthlessly about them, remembering even one of the coaches laughing when some boys threw balls of paper at me in civics class.

I told my parents about the bullying once.

When my Dad’s response was, “Well, it’s ok with me if you drop out.” I never said another word about it.

I didn’t want them to have any excuse to pull me out. I just soldiered through. I made up my mind I would not be one of the dropout crowd. Here’s the thing about bullying though — it often just happens to new kids. Once your quirks and social status have been thoroughly made fun of, then you start to become accepted. The hazing (however wrong it is) is over. Girls start to give you tips about how to dress and talk and ask if you want a cigarette (no thanks), and guys start to flirt and ask to copy your homework (um, no. Well…maybe an exception for that cute one).

The learning curve that first year and a half was quite steep and I was stuck between different educational worlds where I had to know very different things to get by. I failed my first algebra class (what on earth were those letters doing in the math problems?!) and so sophomore year I took remedial math and honors English and history. I got invited to work on the school newspaper and the literary publication due to my work in honors English, and I got suspended again for getting in another fight (in the middle of class, no less) in remedial Algebra. This time I knew what these school fights required, so when the girl called me out and threw a punch, I grabbed her by the hair and hit her in the head a bunch of times until some guys pulled us apart. Now I figured people would get the message and nobody was going to threaten or try to fight me again.

I was also going to make her pay for ruining my perfect attendance record.

After serving my suspension, I apologized profusely to my poor math teacher (she was this nice Pentecostal lady who patiently tutored me during free time in math class and at lunch), and about six months later I made peace with the girl I’d fought.

I’d listened to the principal talk to her Mom and realized her home life was harder than mine.

Still, what would have once seemed counterintuitive to me — fight harshly to avoid more fights — had worked. Nobody tried fighting me again and the bullying subsided.

College-Bound Academic Track

By the time junior year came around I pretty much had the high school thing down. I was now one of the “smart kids” due to being in honors and AP classes. I rarely got detentions and never got suspended again. I found myself being nice to new people and often befriending exchange students, giving them the same tips I’d needed myself. I made a number of good friends, had lots of acquaintances, got good grades, passed notes in class, had a couple short-term boyfriends, and went to a number of high school dances.

I was passing for normal, working at the local grocery store, and feeling like my life was headed in the right direction.

Except for how awful it often was at home.

Quiverfull Values vs. Public School Values

My parents were still ideologically attached to the Quiverfull stuff even though their marriage was disintegrating and it was plain to see that actively living it was no longer doable. I had thoroughly rebelled against all of it and my younger siblings were now oriented in a similar direction. According to my Mom I was a bad example — disrespectful, a negative influence, and I had a poor attitude.

When I was given a Good Attitude Award at school for all my Key Club volunteer work, I waved it at her as vindication.

It was ignored though. Her criteria were different. I faced one perspective at school and another at home. At home I had to help care for a bunch of younger siblings in addition to homework, and was still hit by my Dad as “punishment,” (even though I fought back) right up until I moved out at age 17. After that I tried to throw all of it in the past, start college, and successfully “pass as normal.”

So do I think homeschooling can be great?

Yes.

Do I think public school can be great?

Yes.

Can they each be mediocre and uninspiring? Yes.

Can they both be awful and hurtful and soul sucking and practically the worst thing ever? Yes.

Can you work to overcome the bad stuff? Yes.

It’s all about implementation and setting goals and neither can be successfully done in a vacuum, ignoring what else is going on around you.

When people just look at the labels and decide whether it’s good or bad based on only that, they are being incredibly shortsighted. Education has so much more to do with mentorship, respect, and access to a challenging and inspiring curriculum.

I loved the type of homeschooling my Grandad did, and I loved my AP high school classes and the friends I made (some of whom I am still close to).

But most of all I loved going to college. It was like the best of the homeschooling and public school worlds combined. I could choose my classes, topics, and schedule, yet I had people guiding and supervising my work, helping me improve it.

I value my education and expect to always be committed to lifelong learning, no matter the setting.

Corporal Punishment and The End of The Red Stick: Heather Doney’s Story, Part Two

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on February 18, 2013. Read Part One of Heather’s story for HA’s To Break Down A Child series here.

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Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

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This picture could be anybody’s little sister blindfolded and hitting a piñata at her Dad’s house for another sibling’s birthday.

My little sister lives in a different world than I did.
My little sister lives in a different world than I did.

But it isn’t. It’s my little sister.

She lives in a different world than I did. One with her own bedroom and court-ordered visitation and Christmas presents from a kind stepmother. She has never been homeschooled. She does not remember a time when our family didn’t celebrate birthdays, or was too poor to buy a piñata, or was too “modest” for her favorite summer clothes to be allowed.

She could be using any stick to hit this piñata but she isn’t. She’s using the “red stick,” the most infamous spanking implement our family had.

As far as I know, none of the younger siblings attending this party were ever touched by the red stick and I imagine just a few had been threatened, but the grim knowledge of what it was used for had been passed down.

The red stick had started out as a handle to a child-size broom and then when the broom broke 25 years ago, it became a toy (a walking stick, a bat, a pretend sword) left in the yard until my Dad picked it up off the patio one day, tapped it against his palm a few times and said, “This would make a real good spankin’ stick.”

Then it became something totally new. An object of fear.

It stayed hanging on a nail or propped in a corner in my Dad’s bedroom or office for years except when it was picked up and used to threaten or to leave welts.

“Daddy, please don’t spank me. I’m tender.” No red stick today, only fodder for years of teasing. “Aww, is my little heatherjanes still tender?”

“Do you want a spanking? Don’t make me get the red stick.”

Mom catches one sister padding her underwear with toilet paper in anticipation of a beating. After that, it’s bare bottomed.

“Pull down your pants. Bend over.” Red stick.

Sitting in the “punish chair” corner ’til sundown, hearing the car crunch gravel in the driveway, shaking, hands going cold. Red stick.

“But I don’t want to try and eat a pickled pig lip out of that jar, Dad. It looks just like apig’s lip.” “If you don’t try it, you’ll get the red stick. You’d better eat it and like it.” Tears. Gagging. Spitting chunks of pickled pork into the sink. Red stick.

Pain, shame, anger, fear. Yelling. Red stick.

Running, cursing, slipping, falling, being caught and dragged. Red stick.

Grabbing the red stick tightly, just as tall, if not quite as strong as the woman holding it. “Let go,” Mom says.

“No,” I say, “You’re gonna hit me with it.”

“Yes,” she says.

“Well,” I say, “I’d be an idiot to let it go then, wouldn’t I?”

It strikes me that this photo is the only known picture of the red stick. The only official proof of it ever existing or being used is in a pleasant scenario. As it happens, the red stick finally died that happy day, broke while connecting with the piñata and ended up in the garbage.

A sibling sent me a message informing me that the red stick had met its end and that when Dad was out of range, they had celebrated its demise. I was glad, too: glad it was gone and that it did not die the way I had always imagined it would — splintering into pieces over a child’s behind.

It would never be used to hurt anyone again.

It had broken being used the only way it should have ever been used, in the original spirit it had once had — innocently in child’s play.

Being Told “The Child Will Not Die”: Heather Doney’s Story

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on November 19, 2012.

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Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

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Recently my Mom told me something that shook me to my core. She said, “Your father said if you disciplined a child according to the bible, they would not die.” Then she told me she recognized the Pearls’ book “To Train Up A Child.”

It all got brought up because my 10 year old brother likes to give lots of hugs of his own accord, and my Mom and I were talking about how nice that is, how sweet of a boy he is, and she said she wished her older sons, now 25 and 22, were as loving and kind to her as her youngest. This started one heck of a conversation.

I reminded my Mom that her youngest had never been told to pull down his pants and bend over the bed, knowing he’d end up with welts on the behind. He had never known what it was like to get hit with a belt or a wooden stick by his own mother. Also, today she instructs him that if our father says or does anything mean during visitation, he is to tell her right away because that is not allowed.

But she used to tell us kids the opposite.

It was “wait until your father gets home,” then when he arrived, she’d run to the door with a verbal list of our transgressions, expecting him to beat us. I said the older boys likely felt differently about her not because they weren’t as nice, but because they were still responding to the environment and experiences she had helped create, the memories they had. It was the same case with me too, and that’s one reason us older kids have a rocky relationship with our mother.

We didn’t ever have as much trust or respect because of the abuse.

My Mom does not take as much responsibility for what took place as I would like, but she said she was glad that violence wasn’t going on in her home anymore. She regretted it had ever happened. She wished the older boys and I could move on past it now, “be more respectful,” and that I could work to overcome my bitterness.

I said that I thought she shouldn’t be so cavalier about us just getting over it, that she didn’t know what it was like to have to move on past such a thing. She’d only got one spanking in her life as a kid. She said I was right about that part, that she had not been familiar with corporal punishment until she married my father. Dad had told her that spankings were the right kind of discipline required by the bible. At the time she didn’t know anything about them. Then she told me the thing about Dad saying children would not die if they were disciplined by parents following the bible in their use of corporal punishment.

I understood what she meant as I stood there, numbly recalling the effects this perspective had had on my own childhood and on others I knew of in similar situations. The idea was you could beat a child until their will was broken, until they submitted, until they were bruised, bloody, and mentally and physically injured —

— and you could do so feeling confident that the child would not be at risk of dying from this because they were being beaten in a Christian way.

It was a spiritual thing, almost like a belief in miracles. The normal rules of the physical world were suspended. The kind of beating that might kill a child if it was administered by say, an atheist or a Muslim, would simply not have the same effect if done by a bible-believing Christian.

Yeah, unfathomable, right?

I could honestly have just gone and curled up in bed the rest of the afternoon after hearing this, but I said, “Mom, I want to show you something — an interview about a little girl that did die from this.” She said, “Really?” — like she still half-believed my father, or at least wanted to.  We sat down together and I pulled up the Anderson Cooper interview with Michael Pearl about little Lydia Schatz’s beating and murder. Even though watching this stuff with my Mom was so weird and so many more mixed emotions than I’d even expected, I was calm about it until the audio interview with one of the other Schatz daughters, Zariah, came up.

Zariah answered questions about where and how she was beaten in the clear, crisp, enunciated, submissive, and painstakingly polite way Quiverfull girls are generally taught to speak. After all, the beating that resulted in Lydia’s death had supposedly been for mispronouncing a word. The policeman seemed very kind and gentle with Lydia’s sister on each question he asked. The he requested her permission to bring her to the hospital.

She responded by apologetically asking if she could take a pot with her because she might need to throw up.

Her sister had just been beaten to death in her home, in front of her. She herself was covered in welts and marks from regular beatings, and she politely asked for one simple logical thing we all might need in such a situation – a bucket to puke in.

Right then I just started crying. I couldn’t help it, and my Mom started crying too when she saw me cry. She touched my hand and said how terrible it was for those poor girls. Then when the video switched to a close up of Mr. and Mrs. Schatz being found guilty of murder, my Mom caught her breath, kinda stopped short, and said “Oh, she looks like me.” She was talking about Mrs. Schatz, and there was a definite resemblance. Not particularly in the shape of their faces or anything, but the results of the lifestyle. Both are brunettes with kinda lackluster home-cut hair. No makeup. A tired, exhausted, almost empty look from years of stresses, disappointments, fears, frustrations, frugally going without necessities, and the visible emotional weight of internally and externally perceived failure.

Mrs. Schatz sat there, resigned at sentencing, showing no emotions but shame and resignation, possibly dissociation.

I said “Yeah, Mom. She lived like you.” My Mom seemed shocked, not really sure what to do with this, and then said something else that didn’t surprise me as much as I might have expected it would.

She said, “You know, when you asked me before if I’d read that book ‘To Train Up A Child,’ I said I didn’t remember it. Well I think I did read it actually. I remember seeing that picture on the front, the book cover with the carriage. I’d borrowed it from someone, I think.” Then she said that she didn’t really remember the contents of the book, or recall anything that bad in it, so the Schatz family must have just taken it too far. When I told her that there were other accounts of this book being the catalyst for children being abused and even killed, reminded her that the “spankings” in our home were also very bad, she responded that the book itself wasn’t the bible, so “maybe it wasn’t properly based off of the bible and was a misinterpretation or mistake, a perversion of God’s word. That happens more often than it should.”

I said, “Yeah, Mom. I think it was.”

So now my Mom has a scientific experiment in front of her, even though mainstream science has already determined hitting kids is bad for them, and that such so-called “Christian discipline” is unhealthy stuff. She can see from the differences among her own offspring that beating children generally results in fierce anger and mistrust and makes children more prone to lashing out, being sneaky, or making impulsive decisions that hurt other people and themselves. Hitting kids exacerbates “behavioral problems” rather than correcting them. She has seen from personal experience that explaining things and redirecting misbehaving children gently, never threatening violence, will result in a child not only being more likely to happily agree to do what you have asked of them, but a child that likes to hug you, spend time with you, and is comfortable with openly feeling and expressing love for you and closeness with you.

Sometimes I find myself surprised at how much love my younger siblings show my Mom because that simply wasn’t my world at that age.

I loathed her much of the time, even hated her sometimes. Once I hit my teens and got bigger and taller than her, I regularly called her all kinds of names and openly let her know just how much she disgusted me. The younger kids, most now young adults or teens, don’t do that and it doesn’t seem to even cross their minds that often. My relationship with my Mom now is the best it’s ever been and it still isn’t great. She still does a lot of things that I thoroughly disagree with, and it is very easy to find myself impatient or angry with her. But I do notice that she feels grateful to have a chance to be a mother without things being like how they were with us oldest ones.

I am glad that she has had this second chance and that my younger siblings have had a much different upbringing.

My Mom has experienced the pain of what it’s like to have her firstborn children fearing, hating, and despising her at a visible level, and the joy of having her lastborn children write her notes and cards with hearts on them, of their own accord. No wonder she’d dream of sharing that same bond with her older children and no wonder it has not happened to her liking.

Shame on Michael Pearl for calling his collection of books “No Greater Joy Ministries.”

If it was named accurately it would be “No Greater Pain and Fear Ministries.” I’m glad my mother finally saw the error of characterizing these abusive behaviors as “good Christian discipline” methods. I wish my father would too, for my half-brother’s sake. My Dad has supposedly “toned it down” but obviously this doesn’t leave me feeling comfortable or like my brother is safe. He deserves better than to be threatened with a belt or a stick, even if the “spankings” themselves are milder than what I got or perhaps never materialize at all.

I have a hard time believing my Dad really thought children couldn’t die from these things, but perhaps he did, and either way he bought into it on some level and told a horrible lie.

I do not have proof of this, but I am betting it was not his own lie, but a lie commonly passed around in Quiverfull/patriarchal/Christian fundamentalist circles. It just seems to fit in this puzzle too well. So I hope more people will become aware that some parents actually believe or profess to believe such nonsense, and that as the Schatz family case and Lydia’s death can starkly attest, children can and do die from sustained beatings by bible-believing Christian parents, and there are way too many stories eerily similar to hers.

Although my experiences seem like small potatoes compared to the treatment Lydia and the other Schatz siblings endured, I can say from personal experience that being hit and regularly threatened with beatings can and often does seriously injure you. I am fairly healthy overall, but I have a pinched nerve in my back and a knee that painfully pops out of place sometimes. Although this hasn’t been more than a minor inconvenience in my life, both issues have bothered me off and on since my teens. I never played sports as a kid or fell out of trees or got in a bad car accident, and I have trouble remembering the details of what happened during beatings, apparently due to dissociation. It took a friend recently putting two and two together to make me realize that the likely source of these injuries was the violence in my childhood home. I can say with certainty that being hit, and being ordered to submit or chased down and grabbed before the beating, generally leaves you with more emotional injuries than physical ones, forcing you to deal with certain types of self-esteem struggles and anger and aggression problems even if you go on to what looks like a normal or even better-than-average life.

My siblings and I are so lucky though.

Thankfully, even though us older kids lived through the experiences we did and still deal with the after-effects of being subject to this type of abusive and neglectful parenting during our formative years, we have all survived and are doing our best to overcome this. We are doing our best to enjoy our lives and function better as individual people and as a family.

Poor little Lydia Schatz and her family will never have that same chance.

She lost her life in an absolutely horrible and senseless way; her siblings were brutalized and her family torn apart. Her parents learned a little too late that children definitely can die from this stuff no matter how much you pray in between the beatings.

Hopefully the popular outcry against the Pearls’ books and perspective can educate Christian parents and stop this stuff from happening to other children.

Voices of Sister-Moms: Part Six, Mary’s Story

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HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s guest series on her blog, Becoming Worldly. “Mary” is a pseudonym. If you have a Quiverfull “sister-Mom” story you would like to share, email Heather at becomingworldly (at) gmail (dot) com.

Mary has previously shared her story in full on Homeschoolers Anonymous and is the author of the “Home Is Where The Hurt Is” series.

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Also in this series: Part One: Introduction by Heather Doney | Part Two: DoaHF’s Story | Part Three: Maia’s Story | Part Four: Electra’s Story | Part Five: Samantha Field’s Story | Part Six: Mary’s Story

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Part Six: Mary’s Story

So I’ve been reading the articles this last week about the sister-moms and they have been hitting home.

I am one of those sister-moms.

I am the 2nd oldest of eight and the oldest girl.  Most of the time I felt like the oldest because my older brother wasn’t in the picture much for various reasons.  But anyway, in the Quiverfull movement, there is a world of difference being a boy in the family versus a girl.  I don’t really feel like going into my story in this document, especially as it is already posted on HA.

This is about another frustration that arises from my position in our family.

As I was growing up, I got very used to hearing remarks and jokes about how many children we ourselves would have when we grew up.  Some people would sit down and start doing the “if all 8 of you have 8 children” equations. Then they would start joking about what family reunions would look like.

We didn’t go to a conservative church. In fact, for most of my younger years, we were the only home schooled family. As far as I know there was never another family as large as ours. Because of that, the jokes ran all the time.

My parents relished in the attention and would laugh right along with everyone. 

For me, however, I seemed to be getting some very clear messages: First, everyone expected me to have a large family (and why wouldn’t I when I was “so good with children and would make such a good mother”?). Second, I would be a failure if I didn’t have a big family — but also a joke if I did.  When anyone would ask me while I was in my teens how many kids I wanted, my answer was always what I was taught to say: “as many as God wants.”

I never let on that the jokes and even just the normal comments hurt me deeply. I never let on that I really didn’t want to have a bunch of children.

I wasn’t allowed to. 

One thing I always wanted to scream at people making rude comments was that I had no choice.  I had no choice that my parents wanted to be crazy and follow a cult.  I was just the second one to come out.

I am now a mother and I have 2 amazing children. But I only have 2 and don’t plan on changing that anytime soon — if ever.

The problem is that it seems I will never be able to shake all those jokes and insults from my past.  For example: on my Facebook page on my birthday, there is this one guy that feels the need to always say “Happy birthday” by making some joke about how many more kids I need to “catch up” with my Mom (as if I couldn’t figure that one out on my own).

When I did get pregnant with my oldest, the comments and jokes were merciless. I was working at a Christian bookstore (where I had worked for 5 years) and I knew about 80% of the customers that came in. Many others would recognize me because my family all looks alike and ask if I was a ____ (my family name), notice that I was pregnant and proceed to make a joke.

It hurt.

It hurt very deeply.

I would say the incident that hurt the most was when a lady (who I thought I respected) made a comment to my younger sister about how I was such a failure to my parents and was a rebellious child that obviously never learned a thing from my parents growing up.  Why did she say that?

Because my sister told her that I wasn’t planning on having a bunch of children and that I wasn’t planning on home schooling. 

Never mind that she didn’t have a bunch of children and that she had never home schooled herself.  But somehow because I wasn’t doing it, I was rebellious (at 26 years old at that time and married). I have so many more examples that I can’t forget that I wish I could. As a result of all of that, I fled that church as soon as I could. I fled my hometown, too. Right now am on the other side of the country.

So I guess my point is really aimed at “normal” people. Yes, those jokes hurt. No, we (as the children) didn’t have any choice in those things our parents chose.

Please be mindful of that when you speak.

*****

End of series.

Voices of Sister-Moms: Part Five, Samantha Field’s Story

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HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s guest series on her blog, Becoming Worldly. Part Five was originally published on July 11, 2013. Samantha Field blogs at Defeating the Dragons about her experiences with and life after Christian patriarchy and fundamentalism. If you have a Quiverfull “sister-Mom” story you would like to share, email Heather at becomingworldly (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Also in this series: Part One: Introduction by Heather Doney | Part Two: DoaHF’s Story | Part Three: Maia’s Story | Part Four: Electra’s Story | Part Five: Samantha Field’s Story | Part Six: Mary’s Story

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Part Five: “Barren,” Samantha Field’s Story

My mother was in labor with me for almost three days, and by the time she finally delivered, she was nearly dead.

If it hadn’t been for my father, she probably would have died. But, in 1987, no one was familiar enough with my mother’s medical condition to tell her what her safe options were. When my sister was born, my mother’s uterus prolapsed. Doctors warned her against getting pregnant again. Within a year, she ended up needing a complete hysterectomy.

My mother used to refer to herself as barren.

However, I never remember hearing her use that word to describe herself until we had been attending an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church Cult (IFB) for a few years. When we first began attending, the Quiverfull teachings weren’t readily apparent. Quiverfull ran underneath the surface of almost anything having to do with women, but not obviously. However, when I was thirteen years old, my cult-leader’s wife became pregnant with twins when she was already past 50 years old.

At that point, Quiverfull ideas jumped to the forefront.

Other members joined, many with large families, and I remember families coming through our church (usually to perform music) that the cult-leader held up and praised. These honored families usually had at least a dozen children, and one family in particular had 20. Women in our church were first encouraged, then compelled, and then ordered by the “word of God” to have as many children as possible, from whence comes their salvation.

One day, when I was fourteen years old, I remember asking my mother if she had ever wanted more children than just me and my sister. Her response was an automatic “of course.” And she cried for the rest of the afternoon.

That was the first time I heard the word barren.

When I was fifteen years old, I sat in a cold doctor’s office, shocked and trying to constrain myself from breaking down in front of my doctor. She was telling me that I had poly cystic ovary syndrome, possibly endometriosis, and it was bad enough that I would probably struggle with having children and I would likely need a hysterectomy before I was 30. She offered what I’m sure she thought were assurances– that women who have hysterectomies today have plenty of options to delay menopause and that there wasn’t anything to be concerned about.

Barren.

I might be barren.

When I was attending a fundamentalist college, I formed a friendship with another young man in my major. At the end of our sophomore year together, when my PCOS was causing me severe enough problems that even the faculty in my department was aware of it, I confessed that I might not be able to have children.

“Oh, Samantha. You’re never going to be able to get married. That’s so sad.”

The sliver of me that had always known this wilted inside. “Wait… what… what do you mean I’ll never be able to get married?”

“No Christian man will want to marry a woman who can’t have children.”

I went back to my dorm room and sobbed.

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Growing up in the intensely fundamentalist environment not only taught me that my value — not as a person, but as a woman — was largely based on my ability to bear children. The fact that my anatomy threatened that ability terrified me because becoming a wife and mother had been what I had been trained to do. The only thing that I was allowed to do.

Because the leaders at my church-cult knew that I would not have younger siblings, many of the women took me under their wing. While I was not permitted to baby sit for money — only the cult leader’s daughters had that privilege — I was assigned to work in the nursery during services far more often than any other “young lady” at my church-cult. I was frequently tasked with managing the children in a variety of capacities and at different functions when others were given the freedom to play and roam.

All of this was done in the name of “preparing me for motherhood.”

Everything I did around children was sharply monitored and harshly criticized. Other “young ladies” who had the experience of looking after younger siblings at home were not watched as closely, and were trusted to perform basic tasks like bottle feeding and diaper changing while I was not allowed to do any of those things on my own for months. It was humiliating that I couldn’t be trusted to change a diaper on my own, that I had to do every single task with the utmost perfection or risk a lecture.

I was mocked because I didn’t know how to operate a diaper genie the first time I tried to use one. The first time I burped a baby, the older nursery worked literally held my hand and patted the baby’s back with it. Every experience was degrading because I wasn’t lucky enough to have had younger siblings to look after. I was given the most onerous, tedious tasks. Even when I grew older and other “young ladies” were coming up underneath me, I was still considered their inferior because these young teenage girls were considered more “domestic” than I was. I was not lady like enough. I was not as interested in the feminine arts like everyone else was. I was considered an unfortunate aberration.

The barren daughter of a barren woman.

******

Sometime after I started dating my now-husband, I was kneeling in the middle of my hallway at home, talking with him over the phone. Because of my medical conditions, my periods had steadily grown worse over the years– to the point where now they are almost unendurable.

In the environment I’d been raised in, the very idea of considering a hysterectomy (the only real long-term ‘cure’ for me, although it has its own set of problems that may or may not be better) was anathema, blasphemy.

Heresy.

It was not to be considered.

I would do everything humanly possible to preserve my fertility, and that was it. No other option was available.

It was fertility or ruination.

But, that day, on the phone, talking with the man who I was already becoming certain I would marry, I asked him the question. What would he think if I decided to have a hysterectomy. If we never had children together. If I gave all of that up, all these years of “protecting my fertility” because I couldn’t stand the pain anymore? If I wasn’t willing to do whatever it took?

“You need to do whatever is best for you, beautiful. If we never have kids, we never have kids. I love you and I want to be with you. You matter more to me than anything else. And this is your decision, not mine. It’s your body, and you get to decide what happens.”

My decision. Mine.

He’d made it clear over the course of our relationship that he was open to all the options– childlessness, adoption, fostering, or pursuing fertility treatments if that was what I wanted.

What I wanted.

Not what I was expected to do. Not what I’d been trained to do. Not what I’d been taught was my ultimate and best purpose.

What I wanted. For the first time, that mattered to me. And, for the first time, when I again decided not to pursue a hysterectomy, I made that choice not because it was what I believed was the “only right thing,” but what I decided I wanted. I looked at my husband’s twinkling eyes and mischievous grin, his mop of red hair, his cleverness, motivation, loyalty, and empathy, and decided I wanted to have children with that man. Someday.

After I’ve written a book or two, after we can buy a house . . . when I’m ready.

*****

To be continued.