Cross posted from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly
“DoaHF” is a pseudonym chosen by the author. Her story is part of a “Voices of Sister-Moms” blog series here on Becoming Worldly.
If you have a Quiverfull “sister-Mom” story you would like to share, email me at becomingworldly (at) gmail (dot) com.
I loved kids and I always wanted to help with the babies that my mom kept having. I was always “too young” to help out with baby #5, and when baby #6 came along she was fussy and stuck to only my mom or my older sister. She hated anyone else who tried to hold or care for her, and my mom still mentions to this day how I ‘reneged’ on my desire to care for babies when #6 came around. Why does she mention it? Because her next babies were mine.
When the oldest child in our family (a girl) turned 10, she began caring for baby #5. At 12, she took care of baby #6. When I was 10 and a half years old, baby #7 was born. I was downstairs with everyone else that January day, trying to focus on doing school work when I got called upstairs to take my mother’s blood pressure. My grandmother and my father were the only ones attending the birth. They had covered her lower half with a sheet. My grandmother’s automated blood pressure cuff could not get a bp reading. I had gotten a stethoscope and a sphygmomanometer for Christmas that year and I had learned how to use it at the local hospital where the nurses all thought I was cute. I took my mom’s blood pressure and I mumbled out some numbers. They didn’t seem right, so I tried again. It just wasnt making sense or working. I got pushed aside as they readied my in-and-out-of-consciousness mother for a trip to the nearest real hospital for an emergency D&C (we lived outside of the United States at this time). Somewhere along the way it was decided that the oldest girl would stay at home with the 4 kids. #7 was handed to me and I kept close to my dad and my mom on the mattress. Halfway to the main city, the ambulance broke down. A call was dispatched and the ambulance crew from that city had to be woken up and come to pick us up so we could resume our journey. As we waited and my dad haggled with the locals and I tried to keep the curious hands from touching the new baby and lifting sheets and opening the broken down ambulance doors.
At the hospital my mom was rushed to surgery and I remember sitting in a cold air-conditioned room either sleeping or holding baby #7. At one point I sat beside her as she was recovering from anesthesia. She kept asking me the same questions over and over again. And that is how baby #7 became mine.
During my mom’s convalescence, I was usually called upon to care for her and she seemed to love being in my arms. When it was bedtime I was always handed her because she fell asleep in my arms so fast. At night when my mom would nurse her and couldnt get her back to sleep she would wake me up to “deal with her.” I learned how to sing softly, rock in the glider rocker, and manage to lay her in bed without waking her very quickly.
Nights that I couldn’t get her to lay down I would hold her for hours, rocking with one foot while I dozed in and out. I had been changing diapers for a couple years already, so I didnt have to learn anything new in that department, but I learned how to make do on little sleep, or to do things half-asleep.
My mom loves babies. She kept having them because the old babies grew into “little brats” all too often. Well, that and she believed she had to be Quiverfull. Baby #8 was a similar story. She had a much better delivery (still with complications, but not as severe) and after #8 graduated from the swinging cradle in my parents room (about 4 months) he slept in my room. I was almost 13 at the time. Every night I would wake up with him and take him to my mom to nurse. I would wait in the hallway (catching sleep where I could) and then take him back to my room to get him to sleep.
I still have a very angry diary entry at 14 where my mom scolded me for “being irresponsible” and letting him cry till his face was bright red about something. She told me I was bad at taking care of him and I stormed off to my room. I wrote in all capital letters that he was MY BABY and that she had no right to take him from me. To this day she disputes my claim to both #7 and #8 especially. She says that I overestimated what I did and that I was being dramatic.
Once our family moved back to the US in 2004 I had to do a lot more housekeeping duties than I had otherwise done. The babies were getting bigger and not in diapers any more, so I spent more time cooking and folding laundry than specifically caring for them. As a girl, I wasn’t allowed to get a job, but once I got ‘done’ (unofficially) with high school I spent hours in the garden weeding and planting. I turned our hundreds of tomatoes into tomato sauce and I spent almost all day cleaning up after kids. My younger brothers (#s 4 and 5) seemed to alternate hating my guts passionately. I dont know if it was because they resented the power I held as a second (or third) mom or if they just were reacting to me ordering them around, but without fail once they hit a certain age they fought with me every second they could. At one point my mom wouldnt allow us in the same room without a parent.
The younger siblings were still small enough for me to intimidate/control although it fluctuated. Sometimes I was not allowed to spank/slap them, and other times it passed under the radar. Technically I was never allowed to hit them, but other times I was told to administer discipline. It was severe cognitive dissonance. My dad would be out working with the boys, my mom would take #6 with her grocery shopping and I would be left with the other 3 or 4. I would be given a list of duties (usually dinner, clean the rooms, vacuum, dishes, and a certain amount of work from the younger kids). If I didn’t get everything done I was chastised or disciplined. Technically the younger kids needed to help since they made all the messes, but when I wasnt allowed/supposed to be disciplining them, I was given a toothless command. I felt like for every room I cleaned, they made a mess of two more. They told on me for spanking them or yelling at them, but at the same time I was under a huge amount of pressure. I resented them and they resented me.
However, I definitely favored my babies. I called them both “my” babies and they sometimes called themselves that. I would try to protect them from some of the mental and spiritual abuse going on, but I felt helpless myself. I tried to take all of their anger and frustrations myself so that they would not have to deal with the repercussions of having the parents see. Even so, my baby #8 developed severe anger issues. By age 5 he was having insane tantrums where he would scream at the top of his lungs and writhe about wildly, hitting things and lashing out. Once my dad tried to spank it out of him. Only once that I remember. And that night I wanted to die. My little “shun-shine” #7 developed severe self-acceptance issues, always afraid that she was fat and/or ugly. It was a downward spiral.
I left home at age 20 against the wishes of my parents. I have not seen the kids again, except for the two older boys who are on good terms with me and call me semi-regularly. I see pictures every now and then and I can’t imagine how their lives are now. They are so much bigger. I get to hear them over the phone every now and then. Baby #8 keeps asking me to come home again to visit him for his birthday. I tell him that I want to desperately, but that situations that he cannot understand keep us apart.
I only hope that someday they can forgive me for abandoning them. I did it to save myself, and in doing so I left them exposed to every horror my parents might bring down upon them. I wish there had been another way.
When people ask me these days if I want to/plan on having kids I usually say: “Once I get over losing the babies I already had.” Most people look at me strangely, but it is the truth. I cannot be a good mother because I am too afraid of losing my kids once they turn 8 or 10 and until I can clear my conscience with how I treated them, I fear I will not be a fit mother to any biological children I might have.
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Heather Doney blogs at https://becomingworldly.wordpress.com/
Heather was raised Fundamentalist Evangelical in South Louisiana until she was 13. At that tender age she was introduced to the world at large and starting her journey away from home schooling environment.
Her blog is primarily about Quiverfull lifestyle, homeschooling culture and politics, child welfare, PTSD, education, poverty, big families, gender issues, and maybe a few bits of south Louisiana or New England culture and a recipe or craft project or two thrown in, just for fun.
She is a member of NLQ’s The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce