I know it is almost Father’s Day, but this topic has come up in multiple conversations over the last few weeks and I felt that I wanted to share it more widely. What I am about to share I fully realize is not everyone’s experience, but it is mine.
When I hear talks in church about how the “world” devalues motherhood I have to roll my eyes a bit, because the only devaluing of motherhood I have ever experienced has been from members of the church. So I am writing out two of my crazy experiences because there is no other word for them than crazy. I have more personal stories and stories I have collected from other women a long the way. But here are two:
#1- I had our first child my last year as an undergrad at BYU. Ironically enough I was a Marriage, Family, and Human Development major. This story happened in an MFHD class.
On the first day of class the professor stood up and announced before we even went over the syllabus that “if you were pregnant it was your own choice, and I will make not exceptions, you are to be at every test and the final and hand in all papers on time, and if you happen to go into labor early I will make no accommodations.” I think there were probably 5 pregnant women in that class and I think we all exchanged shocked looks. My due date was that semester’s first reading day. And thankfully this child is very punctual. I had her early in the morning and was released from the hospital the night before finals, this class happened to have the final on the first day.
My labor had not been easy, in the end I hemorrhaged and began to go into shock Which resulted in a lot of extra IV fluid and Pitocin. My feet were already swollen, but still doubled to about 4x the normal size, even the nurses made comments. So when I tried to get dressed to take my final my feet would not fit in my shoes. My husband offered to let me wear his shoes which ended with crying. But I decided I could hold my feet over my head long enough for the fluid to go down my legs and then shove my feet in the shoes really fast. Luckily it worked. So I go off to my final swollen, still bleeding a lot, and feeling like I got hit by a semi (those who have easy births need not comment).
I sat on a hard BYU desk chair for two hours while I took my final. All the time thinking why am I here. Why could we not have worked something out for before I had the baby. But of course I didn’t say anything. As I was walking out I handed in my test and the professor said “You look pretty good for just having a baby” and I think I was stunned into horrified silence.
#2 – When I decided I wanted to go back to school I decided BYU would be the most logical option. We were still living in Orem, and with 4 kids it would be the most logistically possible. I had hurt my hip when I was pregnant and driving to the U of U would have been physically and logistically impossible on the bus. And I ignorantly thought that BYU would consider the 7 years I took off with small kids, putting a husband in grad school, and starting a company, would count for something. But I was shocked and crushed when first the MFHD department told me that motherhood did not count. I remember the first professor asked me what I had been doing, and then he looked sad and told me that didn’t really count at BYU. I thought he was just a bit off, so I went to professor after professor and they all told me similar tales. I was also told that going back to BYU would be impossible since they have an understandable one undergrad policy. But the classes I needed were not offered by independent study or at UVU. I also found it so hard to find a professor who would let me do volunteer research experience (for free). I had never believed that staying home was a waste of time or not worth my effort until the very professors who told us to stay home and used studies and church leaders to back it up looked into my face and told me it didn’t count.
Over the years as I have pondered on these experiences and my swapped tales with other academics I have come to see that BYU was the exception to the norm. I have never once felt at Cambridge or Kings College London or London School of Economics that my choice to stay home was wasted. I often get comments that are positive and reaffirming and willing to work around sick kids or any other complications that might arise. And looking back I wonder how much damage is done to women in the church who against all odds want to go back to school at BYU but are told they wasted their time and talents staying home. I think it is a shame that a university that is run by a church that believes in families and the value of motherhood would so quickly discount its value.
I recently read a book titled If Women Counted and as I read the book I thought the only times I have felt like I did not count was in a church setting. The only time I felt that my voice did not matter was in a church setting. It has never been out in the “world” that I have felt my life choices were wrong, or that I had nothing to say, it was from the people who told me it was the only thing I should want to do with my life. I wish I had more answers to why I feel motherhood is not really valued as much as we think it is. Maybe it has something to do with the tragedy of the commons- its just expected and therefore not unique or valued. I am not really sure. But I do know that I don’t want women to think that the world is somehow devaluing their work, while the church is the only place that honors it, because that is the only message they hear, because it happens in the church too. The rest of civilization does a very poor job at valuing the work of women but the Mormon dynamic of black and white thinking is never helpful- we do it too, and sometimes worse than others.
Wow Jessica. That’s so hard. And I cannot imagine having to sit an exam the day after giving birth. So grim.
“about how the “world” devalues motherhood I have to roll my eyes a bit, because the only devaluing of motherhood I have ever experienced has been from members of the church.”
I can relate to this, though my experience differs because I got all my university education done and dusted before marrying and having children. Even though my children are now in their teens, the eldest has Asperger’s, and so I have been required to be on hand, fight to get support in school, to liaise with school, to keep on top of the schedules, homework timetabling etc etc. Step in and deal with issues reported by school as and when they arise (things can blow up fast), and generally keep things calm and consistent at home, as well as keep on top of their interests and encourage those interests that will lead to a productive life and career for that child(in this case computer languages/programming), who in addition to the difficulties is exceptionally bright academically. It hasn’t been possible for me to return to the workforce. Non-members seem to get this.
What really, really gets my goat is the members who ask me what I’m doing now, and who think I ought to be employed *because* my kids are in school, and look at me oddly and wonder why I bothered with all those years of university in the first place. Even though that’s what keeps me sane, and helps me help my kids with their academic interests. I don’t know. Maybe they’re disappointed because I’m not doing everything, and they’d expected I would. Well sure, sometimes I’m disappointed about that too, though I adore both my kids, even their oddities. But I had hoped, that at church I might get some support for being at home, without all the queries and strange looks…
It’s like they taught me one thing (which absolutely was mothers staying at home except in cases of necessity – and I acutely remember a seminary video about a mum who could have been a botanist but being a mum was better so she’d packed her certificates away in the attic), but then did another themselves(there was a rush of wives in my mum’s generation, going to university a few years after I went, in the stake I grew up, and good for them – I don’t have a problem with that, and a lot of CES men wives were school teachers). Sometimes when they ask me I get so cross, along the lines of “I’m doing what *you* taught me growing up, so why give me a hard time about it.” And “I’d make a lousy school teacher ladies, 40 minutes a week youth Sunday school is my limit!”
Sorry! Rant over. Kind of the opposite of your problem maybe.
I always enjoy your posts btw.
I had a similar experience at BYU. I was having a lot of complications towards the end of my pregnancy and it was looking like I would likely end up having a cesarean (and in the end, I did). When I talked about moving my Graduate Recital back a couple months to accommodate my recovery and give me even a smidgen of time to adapt to becoming a mother, one professor responded quite flippantly, “Oh, you just want a maternity leave, don’t you!” I was taken aback. Yes, they’re probably going to slice my abdomen open and I think I should get a little bit of time to recover so I can use my abdominal muscles again to sing… I couldn’t believe it.
I’ve never understood why people who claim to support motherhood are so vehemently against policies that provide encouragement and support for motherhood.
Some examples could include parental leave, sick leave, subsidized child care, financial and care assistance for parents of special needs children, elder care assistance…
The church sure seems adamant about enforcing other policies surrounding principles it deems important, such as not allowing women with children under the age of 18 to work in the temple. But when it comes to actually giving mothers tools to help, so few of them encourage such action.
I’m not saying the church should turn itself into a government assistance agency. I’m just saying I don’t understand why so few members of our church don’t support policies that would help those who practice what we claim to believe so strongly.
Should read “…so few members of our church support policies that would help…”
I had a four-year scholarship to BYU, and I was not allowed to defer my scholarship for even one semester for my pregnancy/birth. I had to continue on full time, or lose the scholarship entirely.
This was 15 years ago, and maybe things have changed. I looked up the current policies, which say
“When will the university allow me to defer a scholarship?
You may defer university scholarships to serve an LDS mission. The Financial Aid Office will also consider situations with extenuating circumstances. To receive consideration for reasons other than a mission, you must submit a request via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
So, apparently there *are* reasons they will allow deferrals. It’s sad that motherhood isn’t one of them! (Unless maybe now they do allow that deferment.)
I had my baby on Thanksgiving. I took one block class, and finished up all my other classes except for one early (with the exception of the finals). It seems that I took normal finals in the testing center, though I was 3 weeks postpartum, not one day, so it was much more doable.
I took my baby with me to classes for spring/summer term one year, and here and there for another semester or two after that. But I didn’t ask permission — I just did it. I’m not sure what they would’ve said if I had asked.
Ouch. That is terrible.
The actual value placed on motherhood can be seen in the mother’s lounges in LDS chapels. I had my first daughter in a ward in which nine other woman gave birth in a 6 month period. The building we attended had a designated “mother’s lounge” with the standard one uncomfortable rocking chair. (It happened that some of the sisters in the building had decorated the mother’s lounge a few years prior — they asked if they could and were told no but a building coordinator pointed out to them that none of the brethren were likely to ever go in that room so if they did it quietly and on their own time, no-one would ever know – so it was actually beautifully painted in a soothing pale green with lovely prints from Peter Rabbit on the wall and an extra, comfortable rocking chair.) So here were nine nursing moms (from our ward, there were others in other wards) and two chairs. If you didn’t get their quick you were stuck on the floor or you could find another place — like perched over a toilet. The room was on the opposite side of the building from the Relief Society room. And it was about the nicest mother’s lounge I have seen in an LDS church building.
A year later I toured the Community of Christ (RLDS) Temple and was shocked to see that their main meeting room has a beautiful, one-way-glass, room in the back for nursing mothers and parents of small children who could continue to enjoy the meeting and take care of their children in comfort.
It wouldn’t be hard to include a generous space for nursing moms in either the chapel and/or the Relief Society room — but the needs of those mothers are not a priority (also seen on the many bans instituted in individual wards and stakes on giving food to your children in the chapel or getting to receive the sacrament if you are not in the chapel proper).
Women’s voices are genuinely not heard in the church and so their needs as mothers are not recognized and their contributions as mothers are not respected.
There is nothing I would love more in the world than a one-way glass room at the back of the chapel where nursing mothers and parents of small children can take them to be comfortable and still be able to enjoy the meeting.
I was lucky at BYU because though Atticus was born during the semester both my professors told me to take as much time as I needed and they would accommodate me (but one was our former bishop and close friend, and the other was an older lady teaching a dance appreciation class). I think that is so ridiculous BYU does not have policies in place for support of pregnant mothers when they are a church school and the church is preaching to not delay childbearing. We had a hell of a time finding childcare and Tim often resorted to taking Atticus to class while I was working. I can’t believe how amazing our resources are for student families here at UW. On campus and super subsidized childcare, free childcare during finals, so many nursing rooms. I can take a year off my program without penalty, or move slower without penalty, because of having kids. If I could do it again, I would’ve delayed children until we were finished with school, but at the time I believed in a plan from God and thought I was following through on my part of the deal. Looking back, I was manipulated into a choice with very little support for the aftermath of that choice and what it did to our family.
I’m stunned by these BYU experiences. Back when I was a student 25 years ago, at a science & engineering establishment (so mostly male) there was an onsite nursery. We didn’t have the high level of married students found at BYU, but female lecturers did take maternity leave, and return to work.
Maternity leave is an important right in Britain & Europe. It baffles and disgusts me that it doesn’t seem to be something the church supports in practice.
Also, I agree re the mother’s lounge. Our current building it’s a small cupboard of a room with no natural light, though efforts are made to make it pleasant. Through my adult church experience I have been aware of very few mothers here who breastfeed, almost exclusively it’s bottle feeding, with practically no support for the alternative in church. The building I was in when I was feeding my youngest didn’t have a mother’s lounge at all, just some weird baptismal changing cubicle in the WC that was doubled up for the purpose. I couldn’t use it (it was cold, and had only a hard plastic chair with no arm rest). Sooo, after some negotiation I was given use of the bishop’s office for the purpose.
Girl. You wrote my heart. I finished my Masters and got partway through my PhD before having kids. I feel so much trepidation about going back to finish, and this has made me realize WHY I feel that way. Bless you for this.
I don’t have experience at BYU as a pregnant woman or new mother, but I do have experience at another institution. I was nervous to tell my PhD professors I was pregnant, but I received only kindness and support. They worked with me when I needed it, and so it feels possible there.
Thank you for sharing your own experiences.