As Mormons we are so focused on families. It’s really a kind of beautiful thing. Children are wonderful. Families are wonderful.
However this purpose becomes so singular it doesn’t always leave room for any deviation from the ideal picture. As a woman motherhood is our purpose. It is our reason for existing. We come to this earth to be righteous and to raise children unto the Lord. It is our primary goal. We are to multiply and replenish the earth!
Fatherhood is extremely important too but I’m a woman – so this is my perspective and experience. LDS men are generally given more reasons for living than a woman’s divine right to/gift of motherhood. They are prepared for life, manhood, working and being a breadwinner but not just being a father.
Growing up we learn songs like this:
Listen. We need to be on the same page. I’ll wait here…..
Just in case you’re somewhere you can’t listen to a video the lyrics are here.
So you grow up in this climate. You listen to songs like that all through childhood. You hear and read statements released by the church like:
Children are one of the greatest blessings in life, and their birth into loving and nurturing families is central to God’s purposes for humanity. When husband and wife are physically able, they have the privilege and responsibility to bring children into the world and to nurture them. The decision of how many children to have and when to have them is a private matter for the husband and wife.
Children are one of the greatest blessings in life, and their birth into loving and nurturing families is central to God’s purposes for humanity.
Those who are physically able have the blessing, joy, and obligation to bear children and to raise a family. This blessing should not be postponed for selfish reasons.
That’s what I did. I grew up in this culture. I got married at 21. This is early by normal standards but just right by Mormon Culture standards. I did it all with that song humming in the back of my mind. I’ve known that song since I was first entering primary.
Before marriage I was a mothering woman. Even has a teenager. Younger really. I took care of anyone’s children. Single mother who needs need some help? Sure! I’ll keep your baby for a week. You have seven kids and they asked you to play the piano for sacrament meeting? Yes. I’ll keep the twins every Sunday. Fifteen and I had twins on my hips. I remember a Young Women leader stopping me one Sunday and she said “That looks entirely too natural on you. Promise it’ll be awhile.”
I was that girl. The desire to mother, to nurture, is in my very soul. I was the one those things were written about. When the church teaches us that every woman is meant to be a mother – I’m the stereotype by which they show proof that it’s true. (FYI I disagree. Every woman is unique – as are her hopes, dreams, and desires. All of which deserve to be honored.)
So three weeks into getting married my husband and I decide we are stopping all birth control measures. We wanted children. In retrospect why no one told us we were insane baffles me. We lived in a one bedroom basement apartment. We had no money. College students. Perfect! Let’s make babies. Not that we would have listened but still – completely insane.
And thus begins my journey. Two months later my very predictable cycle was one week late. But my period arrived anyway. This became the basic routine. After a couple of years I learned in my research just how early you can actually take a pregnancy test depending on the brand. This led to a rather awful discovery. I was having miscarriages. A lot of miscarriages. So many I thought this can’t possibly be right! It wasn’t until 14 years down the road that I had a for sure medical answer. If you feel super curious you can read about the medical stuff here. There is also these post which talks about what we did to honor all the miscarriages here and here.
So there’s the background. My connection with Mormon Culture added so much pain to a journey that is painful for anyone. Church should bring solace but it did not. Church brought torture and judgment – and I’m not saying this to be dramatic. Truly it felt like torture.*
We were living in the boundaries of a ward that covered a lot of married student housing for much of the infertility years. I could never begin to count the times I was asked “When are you gonna have a baby?!?” The issues with that were covered well in this post here on Rational Faiths. If you haven’t read it, definitely do. I loved it.
I couldn’t begin to recall all the conversations I sat in the middle of but couldn’t participate. The times I sat awkwardly praying the subject would shift from child birth war stories or the daily motherhood struggles. I had to psych myself up just to walk into Relief Society. There were many weeks I just could not manage it. I would go hunt down my husband and beg him to take me home.
There were even Sundays when I walked in, saw the line of empty cars seats in the hall for sacrament meeting and turned to walk out. Yes, it’s true. There were so many babies that it was protocol for people to leave their car seats in the hallway. It made the chapel too crowded with them inside. That ward even had an invented calling: The New Baby Person. Their job was specifically to keep track of the babies that were being born. It was too much for one compassionate service leader to cover the babies and everything else.
I remember one Sunday standing outside of the Relief Society room. Doing my psych up routine. I had this brilliant idea to go sit in the middle of the older sisters. This could work, right? I could do this! They were just having normal conversation. It was great. And then one woman sort of gives me this… not kind look… and starts talking about her children. You know how sometimes you just sense the sort of hostility coming from a person? And they begin to compare child birth stories. Women in their sixties. Really? I left before Relief Society started. In tears.
I knew they thought I was childless by choice. I just knew. It has occurred me in later years that maybe she was just annoyed I invaded their space, their “older sisters” clique.
What if I was childless by choice though?!?! So what if I was! It’s called free will and Relief Society isn’t supposed to be an organization of mothers. It’s supposed to be for all women!
However I wasn’t childless by choice. I was having miscarriage after miscarriage. I just had no place there in that room. No one talked to me for a long time. I can look at it objectively. I know they didn’t know how to relate to me. Life in that room was centered on the raising of children. I know when the topic came up my sadness was palpable. No one wanted to talk about it but that left me very lonely.
I was called in to nursery. After about a month and an interview with the Relief Society President – I was released. That calling was also torture. My husband loved it though and he stayed in there for nearly two years. Leadership of the church on all levels: When you have people dealing with infertility, nursery might not be the best choice. I don’t know why that happens so frequently. I guess I see the logic but ASK FIRST. You could be doing damage sending an infertile couple in to take care of everyone’s children.
Eventually I was called as the Young Women’s president. I was 25. That was scary but is another story for another day! Sometimes while teaching lessons I told personal stories. The young women were a marvel. Kind and loving, generous of spirit, completely accepting. A balm my soul truly needed. They were kind without advice, loving without guile. I loved them so much. It spread to a few people in the ward. I also was asked to give a talk in Sacrament meeting and I just told everyone in my talk about the infertility – not the miscarriages. I thought maybe it would ease the topic. Free people to talk to me about it. In that time I had a couple women approached me. Women who had dealt with infertility at some point. They all had children by then though. We made friends with a few couples with no children but then they’d get pregnant and life would change for them.
I stopped making friends. Especially at church. I just went to school. I had friends at school and the freedom to just be myself. No questions asked. Out in the rest of the world being 25 and childless didn’t raise eyebrows! I got a BS in mathematics (I’m very proud of that part! Something extraordinary and productive!) I was often very depressed. Then the wards split. I slipped into inactivity when I was released because we were in new boundaries. I couldn’t bear to take the several years to again carve a place for myself in a culture where I had No Place.
We moved to another state. I was never very active in the social scene there but I did attend church more frequently. We went but I still didn’t really join the ward family. We adopted our first daughter there**. It was a wondrous time for me but my ward didn’t really care. My Relief Society President called me and actually said “you don’t need meals right? Since you didn’t actually give birth?” Oh glory. Kick to the gut. After all we’d been through. I may not have given birth but I’d just been through hell for years, driven across the country, spent ten days in a hotel room with a newborn baby, and driven back across the country again – with a newborn baby. I was beyond exhausted. Meals would have been greatly appreciated.
We adopted again 4 years later. Another state, stake, ward. I was very active there – in the Young Woman’s Presidency. I was at church every Sunday, teaching, helping, etc. My ward was at least excited when I brought her to church. That was really fun. But there were no meals. No help offered to me the way families with new babies are normally handled.
So here are my major points:
1. Talk to childless people at church – whether by choice or not. It’s not your judgment to make. It is no one’s business! Adults without children – they’re still people. They still want friends. They still want interaction. They still want a place within their church community. Not to be ostracized. Find other things to bond about.
2. Don’t make judgments about their worthiness to receive children in their home! Once someone told my sister I’d probably become a mother when I bettered my relationship with Christ. Can you imagine? The best part? She was dealing with infertility herself. That actually makes me sad. I hope she wasn’t being so hard on herself too.
3. Don’t say trite things to people you know have infertility issues. Don’t make jokes. Don’t make light of it. Don’t tell them to relax! Don’t tell them “You’ll get pregnant. I’ll teach you how.” It’s not funny. Don’t say “It’ll happen. You’re young still.” It doesn’t matter if you’re 22 or 42 – it still is painful. Yes there are different concerns – no it doesn’t matter as far as you are concerned. Don’t say it. Don’t tell “those” stories – you know the ones I mean – my neighbor’s second cousin tried for 12 years and then was suddenly pregnant and now has 47 kids!” The hope is already killing us. We don’t need to hear this. Don’t give advice unless you’ve experienced infertility. Infertile people can speak the language to one another – usually without causing further pain. Don’t gossip about the infertility to other people.
Don’t complain about your children to childless couples. Don’t tell them how much fun they should be having while they don’t have children. Don’t say things like: “Oh you’ll know when you have kids. You’ll see. You don’t know what you’re getting into.” None of those. Say none of those things. Ever. Don’t tell us all the worst things and then think it’ll makes us feel better. We want the worst things. During my first child’s year even waking up in the middle of the night was exciting. There was nothing I didn’t love. Eventually I relaxed into it and I get the annoyance. A person just wants to sleep. I can complain with the best of them. But to an infertile/currently wanting children person? I would never.
If there are miscarriages involved, under no circumstances do you offer anything except for condolences and kindness. Don’t offer reasons. Don’t suggest it’s for the best. Don’t say there was something wrong with the baby. The reasons are for the couple to talk about. They are not yours to investigate or offer.
Under no circumstances say “You can just adopt!” There are many reasons why this is not okay. Moving towards adoption is a deeply personal process. It is invasive, long, difficult, and very expensive. Unless you’re dying to pay for an adoption yourself… In that case feel free to contact me. Heh.
4. Boundaries! Mormons. Listen – within our culture we have very little boundaries it seems. People will quickly ask questions that are not asked in polite company in the rest of the world.
I will say this is not a unique phenomenon. I have been part of weight loss groups and gone to conventions full of people focused on weight loss. Perfect strangers will walk up to you and say “So how much do you weigh? What was your starting weight?” Questions you would never ask outside of that subculture.
So within our subculture of Mormonism, we are very focused on families and building families and some how we seem to feel like it gives us permission to be insanely invasive.
Just stop. Stop being invasive. Stop. Stop. Stop. Don’t ask questions you don’t really need the answer to. Questions that are none of your business. Don’t ask anyone if their patriarchal blessing says they are going to have children. It’s. not. your. business. Yes – we are a ward family but it’s still not place.
5. Mother’s Day/Father’s Day Don’t forget them. Acknowledge them but don’t say “You’re already a mother/father.” or any form of that. It doesn’t help. Just be kind. Give a hug. A pat on the back. If we don’t come to church that day – don’t judge. Some years the pain was too much and some years it was okay.
I know if you’ve never dealt with infertility or even been close to someone who has, all of this can seem a little overwhelming. Just know I would have rather had people make errors than not talk to me at all. Loneliness sucks no matter what the trial. We are supposed to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. Don’t ignore each other.
This is a part of our culture that needs adjusted. Families are wonderful. Building a family is wonderful. But there are other things in life. We need to make a place for everyone. Six kids or no kids. We are all children of our Heavenly Parents. And we all have a place with them that should be reflected in the culture of our church.
Be good to each other.
Congratulations on making it this far!
*I clarify this because I have a flair for the dramatic… sometimes. Tell no one I’ve admitted to this. Just keep it between us, m’kay?
**Our adoption journey is another topic. A long, long topic and was a nearly 3 year wait the first time.
PS The video above is from an album called “Beloved Songs for a Mormon Child” put out by Brite Music. You can hear some of the other songs here. Including “I’m a Mormon. Yes I am.” Oh Glory. Just typing that has the song running in my head. Now I’m going to be singing it for days. Deseret Book carries it also.