Last week I had the privilege of attending the Worldwide Mothers' Union Annual General Meeting and Celebration in Swansea, Wales. I really enjoyed listening to positive stories of lives changed by the work of the global members who care passionately about their communities.
The Mothers' Union was founded by Mary Sumner in 1876. She wanted to create an organisation for women which brought together rich and poor to build a network supporting mothers as they brought up their children in the Christian faith. In her first speech Mary Sumner said, 'Those that rock the cradle rule the world'. She was quoting the William Ross Wallace 1865 poem The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is the Hand that Rules the World. In the 19th century, these were radical, provocative words. Mary Sumner's speech was a rallying cry to raise the value of motherhood and for it to be considered as important, if not more so, as the roles of men.
About the same time as I was sitting in that meeting in the UK, on the other side of the Atlantic, in Minneapolis, my sister was previewing the trailer of a documentary she has produced and directed entitled To Kid Or Not To Kid, a film that aims to dispel the myth that living childfree is weird, selfish or somehow wrong.
My sister has chosen not to have children and chosen not to be a mother. She feels strongly, as indeed do I, that it is every woman (and man's) right to be able to choose not to be a parent. I applaud her bravery and courage for knowing who she is and what she wants. It has not been an easy journey for her and has provoked a whole range of extreme and different reactions (you'll have to watch the film to find out what they are).
As a Christian, I am a great believer in free will and I appreciate the gift of choice. The power of choice is liberating and those who have experienced it being taken away will know how debilitating and incapacitating that is. I also believe that the different choices each of us makes add to the rich colours of humankind's diversity. I am a passionate advocate of diversity and value deeply all the fragments of humanity which exist in our beautiful and fascinating world.
Because my sister and I have made different choices we have unique stories to tell. My choice was always to be a mother and I adore my three beautiful daughters. My sister's choice was not to be, though she makes a wonderful aunt.
My sister is a social activist who cares deeply about our world. Both of us would challenge the idea that it's only those that rock the cradle who rule the world: it's right to acknowledge those men and women who have chosen not to be parents, alongside supporting those who would love to have had children but can't.
Family is one of the descriptions Scripture gives the church. Being part of a family is precious – none of my child-free friends would dispute that – but family comes in many different shapes and sizes.
So as we celebrate and fight to protect families with children, wouldn't it be wonderful, if instead of making child-free people feel 'less than', we also celebrate and thank them for their ability to enrich life? They invest their compassion, energy and love into other channels which all contribute to making our world a better place.
I have now reached the age where my child-bearing years will soon be behind me. As I close this chapter and grieve a little for what will be no more, I wonder if my sister feels any sadness that one day she will be doing the same. Somehow I don't think she will. She never opened that particular book; her book contains a totally different story and I thank God it does.
Not for a moment will I ever regret being a mother and having children and I am delighted that my story is full of their stories. But I am also thankful that the library of life holds in its bookcases the stories of men and women who embrace choice, who celebrate diversity and who are brave enough to swim against the current. I can't wait for my next chapter – nor can I wait for my sister's. To kid or not to kid? What a great question.
Mandy Bayton is The Cinnamon Network Advisor for Wales, speaker and freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @mandyebayton