When I was pregnant, I was conflicted and insatiable: horny and self-conscious, restless and exhausted, empowered and totally helpless. And hungry.
It was the fall of 2002. U.S. forces were fighting in Afghanistan and war with Iraq was imminent. My husband and I attended peace rallies laden like picnickers with turkey sandwiches, bags of barbecue chips and jugs of limeade. We didn’t make posters or write protest songs, but if we had they might have said something about the terror of becoming parents in a world where both freedom and safety seemed lost.
In the wake of the Patriot Act, a coworker told me she was happy to give up some freedom in order to feel safe. When I said I felt the opposite—that I would rather face a little danger in order to feel free—she looked at me with a mixture of amusement and scorn and said, “You’ll change your mind when that baby’s born.” No one else was so blunt, but the usual assumption was that becoming parents would make us more conservative.
“Everything changes when you have a baby,” our relatives and acquaintances said, but they missed the point: everything had changed already. It was the baby, that fuzzy blur on the sonogram screen, pushing us further and further from our old world view.
We were both raised and baptized Seventh-Day Adventists. We attended church, prayed and read the Bible. We had both had doubts about religion in the past, but we had put them aside, believing that what our faith gave us was more important than the answers it couldn’t provide. When our daughter was born, though, those elusive answers began to seem more important.
I read the gospels while breastfeeding, feeling safer in the New Testament with Jesus’s reassuring compassion than in the Old Testament with its endless wars and wrath of God, but I was not reassured. Had the Bible always been so inconsistent, so violent, so sexist? Had it always needed so much adjustment to fit with my own sense of right and wrong? I tried to stretch my faith, twisting it like the rubber band I had looped through my buttonhole to give me a few more weeks in my pre-maternity jeans, but it didn’t fit. I tried to ignore my questions and doubts as I had in the past, but there was a new question I could not ignore: What am I going to teach my daughter?
When our parents pressed for a dedication ceremony, sort of the SDA equivalent of infant baptism, my husband and I recoiled. We admitted to ourselves then that we could not raise our daughter “in the church” and, eventually, that we could not raise her in the looming shadow of a personal god.
Our daughter is seven years old now. Like all parents, we are still learning how to be Mom and Dad. We don’t have a model for raising a child without religion — which is both a challenge and a joy. We named our girl after Alice in Wonderland, the story of a child who follows her curiosity and her courage to a place both dangerous and wonderful. It is only a coincidence that her name also means “truth.”
In my progression from faithful follower to skeptical mama, Alice was a line in the sand. The spiritual crisis that lead me to the painful yet fulfilling choice of atheism was brought on by becoming a mother. Without Alice, I might still be in the church pew, dissatisfied but too cozy to get up and search for better answers. My coworker was right: she changed everything.