The Day He Told Me He Didn’t Want to Have Children

Erin Britt essays

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We are over halfway through our two week honeymoon on Hawaii’s Big Island. My husband and I begin our hike through Waipio Valley, a site known by many as dramatic in both geographic and historic expression. Tomorrow I will know it as much more, but today, today is the day he and I have agreed to clear the air. It’s been 11 days since he told me he didn’t want to have children.

The tension in the air between us is overshadowed immediately by the lactic acid party in my hamstrings as we descend down the 25% grade towards the valley’s floor. There were two things on my mind—the pending conversation with my husband and getting to the waterfall safely. With the encouragement from our local island friends there also came serious warnings not to venture off the trail. 

Feet now firmly at sea level, we continue deeper into the valley, away from the shore, searching for our first navigational milestone: where the river crosses the road. I notice the air, no less cleared in the metaphoric sense, smells of horse pasture and the wet smoked scent of a wood stove in paradise. The clouds are low and hued a color he and I have come to call neon gray.

At the river’s junction, we pass a handful of the valley’s locals, unfortunate in how closely they match the descriptions we were provided. They’re unwelcoming eyes force us to ask if this is far enough. I don’t know what I need to prove or who I’m trying to prove it to, but I don’t hesitate long before disappearing into the canopy.

We begin to navigate through the jungle, often losing the trail and crossing the narrow but athletic river many times. At one crossing, we are waist deep holding our backpacks on our heads as we wade across. We don't take many breaks as we want to stay ahead of the mosquitos. Because of the terrain and tree cover, we can't see the waterfall ahead, so the river becomes our trail of breadcrumbs and we quickly come to find it isn’t hospitable for conversation.

I’m okay with the silence between us, interrupted only when the need to choose between this way or that way arises. I’m half terrified of the truth to come so I allow the river’s chanting to guide me into a lightweight reverie. 

I am also slower than Daniel. My sneakers don't have a good grip on the mossy and slippery rocks, but he stays close as those warnings of the less than friendly locals, ancient burial grounds, and marijuana grow-ops are fresh in our minds. As the river grows louder and the topography smoother, he stops and requests my thoughts on the conversation we had started on Valentine's Day, 11 days earlier. 

Just around the corner from the base of the 2000 ft waterfall I can’t help but cry as I hear him say it again, “I don’t want to have children.” The next 10 to 15 minutes are a blur. My memory only holds images of him leaning against a boulder as I squat to get near the river’s edge.  The shock of the cold water on my hands reminds me that I haven’t been breathing. I ride waves of confusion and past conversations. He had talked about the desire for a family and children throughout our engagement.

He had a look of heartbreak and frustration on him, not knowing how to make any of it better. At some point he says something to the effect of, “I love you too much to see you unhappy, if this is something you want, I’ll release you.” Nothing to remind me to keep breathing this time. The mosquitos start to bite. I let them feed. I’m on my honeymoon weighing the loss of various futures instead of dreaming about co-creating a life together.

We manage to get to the waterfall and he jumps into the pool. I find a rock to sit on. I watch as another couple play off to the side carving their names in the rock and taking photos of each other. I want what they have in this moment and not this aching sadness—the one I kept hiding from for 11 days but has found me and won’t let go. Sitting at the heart of the valley, hating the waterfall and all it's life giving power, feeling as though I was surrounded by verdant fertile abundance just mocking my stripped opportunity to commune in regenerative potential, I continue to cry. I really wanted my mother in that moment.

Not knowing yet if it’s even possible for us to have a child, I imagine discovering we couldn’t would feel a lot like this. I badly want to be angry at him for not being consistent in his stance on the subject. I begin to wonder if I was attaching the identity of (potential) 'mother' to my being? And asked myself, “Would I be lesser if I weren't able to have children?”

Before I can answer, I’m jolted by a noise from the falls: a primeval holler from deep in the lungs of my husband. The loud rhythmic crashing of the waterfall was pierced in that moment, and I felt the mysteries of the Valley of the Kings perk up their ears. I watch him play in the pool, the wet rock sparkling all around him, trying to act like I’m not looking for fear that he’ll catch my softened heart. I get back to the question at hand: Would I be any less without the opportunity to have children?

The answer was no.  

The cliff walls are growing darker and it’s time to return. I’m quiet, exhausted from the trial.  He insists I let him back in. Still vulnerable, I reluctantly start to share small understandings of what I feel, not necessarily trusting that he would grasp much of the sorrow in feeling stripped of the female expression that is motherhood, nor the internal reconciliation my highest self is leading me towards.

I tell my husband that regardless of his willingness to be a father, I would still want to be with him, love him and accept him. When I released my attachment to the idea of having children as “mine” as a possession, I felt freed. I remembered one of our marriage vows: I vow to forgive you completely when you make mistakes, however critical; be they deliberate or unconscious; that despite your humanity I will endlessly return you to the throne I have set for you in my heart.

“I was pounded into submission,” he says. Going on to say that walking up to the base of the powerful falls and allowing the water to beat down upon him was incredibly frightening and intense and before he rose out of the deep pool to holler he realized that he’d been afraid many times before. Creating a family was no different. As we walk, every step of mine becoming lighter than the one before, he talks of the gift of faith. It was a gift he trusted and was pleased to offer in that moment and in the future. 

Even then, we were both silently realizing just how allegorical the whole journey had become.


About the Author

Erin Britt

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