We can learn to serve and to forgive within our sample of humanity, including settings no larger than the family or friendships. –Elder Neal A Maxwell
Let me preface this post by saying that I emphatically understand that many mothers are called to not only rear their children, but to go out into the world. Each situation is unique and should be respected. This post is about my own journey to understand my personal ministry.
I have seen so many, many wonderful, talented and amazing mothers in my life. I am so lucky to have known them. I also see that in our society, with its limitless opportunities and our real wealth, it is sometimes difficult to know when to limit our activities or keep going–all because we feel we are changing things for good and making a difference. One woman wrote me and said:
Should I not share what I know and has brought me much joy or should I just focus on my family? I would also not mind forgetting everyone else and just focusing on my kids, but, after listening to conference, I don’t ever come away with the impression that this is okay.
Long ago, when I was Advocate for the World, I did many great things to help other people. I helped abused children, abused mothers, advocated for midwifery, and probably would have gone to Mexico or Haiti or Peru if it was in vogue in my earlier years.
Those were all good things. But for me, a mother with small children, and a mission for always more on the way…what I neglected to realize was that Heavenly Father already had a plan for that part of my life.
His plan was really, well–perfect.
He sent me here in a family unit. Family units are His plan.
Our Family: Heavenly Father's Whole Plan Right Here!
He sent me here with people automatically in place for me to serve. They are not “my” children, you know. They are His. We are His. We are in this together, and He answered the question, “Whom shall I serve?” first by putting us in groups called families.
Yes, I realized I should serve others outside of my family, but I did need to focus on my family. Nothing else will compensate for failure there. Personally, I am not anywhere near believing that my family is all set…and think about it: if every mother with children in the church could put orphans, midwives, homeless, non-profits and conferences on hold and focus on her family for one year–what would happen? We really could change the world.
Serving In Our Own Family
While we focus on the family, however, we certainly do not ignore those who are in need. Heavenly Father planned that out for us, too! It is amazing what happens when we carefully help those who are placed in our path by God, and not wander on paths He has assigned for someone else. Elder Maxwell’s words are especially fitting here:
…if we press too much, too often, and too hard for enlarged personal roles, we could actually shrink the field of action needed by others.
I believe that I have often pressed too much in a real, truly heart filled effort to make things better for the world and do good. Elder Maxwell continues:
The Lord knows our circumstances and the intents of our hearts, and surely the talents and gifts He has given us. He is able to gauge perfectly how we have performed within what is allotted to us, including by lifting up some of the many surrounding hands that hang down. Thus, yearning for expanded opportunities while failing to use those at hand is bad form spiritually.
We need not rush about trying to find things to do or causes to take up.
Remember, most often the help needed is in our own homes, neighborhoods, and communities. A kind word of encouragement, a note of thanks, a phone call, a loving smile, a helpful deed, and a reminder that God loves us are often what is needed most.
Sister Thompson helped me to really understand that the Lord would actually help me to make changes and do wonderful things in the world in my limited neck of the woods, so to speak. I did not need to go to Ghana or to be a guest on “Oprah” to have an amazing impact on the people around me. I just needed to listen to those sweet promptings that say “Smile,” or “Give her a hug,” or “Call her right now.”
I realized that when I wanted to “step out and lead” to change things for the good, for me, a mother with nearly a dozen children, I needed to focus on one thing: BEING THERE FOR MY OWN STEWARDSHIP–my family.
E. T. Sullivan once wrote these interesting words: “When God wants a great work done in the world or a great wrong righted, he goes about it in a very unusual way. He doesn’t stir up his earthquakes or send forth his thunderbolts. Instead, he has a helpless baby born, perhaps in a simple home and of some obscure mother. And then God puts the idea into the mother’s heart, and she puts it into the baby’s mind. And then God waits. The greatest forces in the world are not the earthquakes and the thunderbolts. The greatest forces in the world are babies.”
And those babies, I should like to add, will become forces for good or ill, depending in large measure on how they are reared. The Lord, without equivocation, has declared, “I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth” .
This is how an ordinary person like me can change the world. This is how I can change the culture. But I wasn’t doing it. I thought my family could wait while I was serving others and MAKING A DIFFERENCE…
Elder Maxwell’s reference to A Man For All Seasons was a stinging rebuke to me as I pondered why I had spent time away from teaching my children to go out and help other people’s children and other women:
Meanwhile, people regularly sell their souls for much less than the whole world. In Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More is soon to be martyred, partly because his friend Rich, having been bought off by a local office, has betrayed him. More, “looking into Rich’s face, with pain and amusement,” speaks: “For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world . . . But for Wales!” ( Let this same rebuke hold for any preoccupation which preempts us from spiritual things!)
How interesting that what in my life seem to be so many good things and opportunities–my spiritual “Wales”, often preempt me from what I feel is my actual calling and stewardship as a culture changing mother.
I have finally come to understand that for this season in my life, and for my particular mission, I do not need to feel awful that others with different missions are traveling to Russia or China and adopting children, or that my other friends are starting a hospital in Haiti, or someone else is spearheading a foundation. I have found that it is alright if I change the world one little person at a time without a passport or a great resumé or a long list of humanitarian efforts in which I participate.
Not Earth Shattering Or Anything...But When The Middle Child Got The Ouchy Pictured Above, I Was There To Fix It
Oh, at times I wish I could be doing those things–but instead I donate money to those causes, or I let a college girl use our swimming pool to teach swimming lessons to raise money for college so that she can one day do Amazing Things, or I do little websites in my free time–but I do struggle on wanting to enlarge my personal role in so many of the great causes surrounding me. Sometimes I get a momentary pang of jealousy for those whose mission it is to go on such adventures, which quickly turns to love and admiration for them–they really are amazing women and they are following God’s will for them–and the spirit always reassures me that here and now and home is where He wants me planted.
Popular Saying...Because It's True.
I have found that the greatest way I can change the world is by doing those small things with great love in my own little, tiny, seemingly insignificant sphere of the universe. But, it has been what has given me the greatest joy as a woman and a mother! And, sometimes, early in the morning right before the sun breaks into the sky, I wonder if I am not really on one of the greatest adventures of all.
Maybe These Are Some Of The Greatest Adventures
I also highly recommend reading Bonnie D. Parkin’s excellent talk titled, “Personal Ministry”, which, I think, answers the questions we women have of “how and who should I serve” better than I ever could.
From the time my little girls are born, they are taught that they are mothers. We celebrate Mother’s Day with all the girls in the family–from babies to grandmothers. We believe that their identity as daughters of God is defined best by the word “mother.”
How do we prepare all of our girls (or ourselves, for that matter) for motherhood? How have I tried to understand what “mother” really means?
Though it was uncommon at the time, she was university educated and advancing in a career. Following her marriage, children arrived in quick succession; and in a short span of years, she was the mother of a large family. All the knowledge she had acquired, all her natural abilities and gifts, all her skills were channeled into an organization that had no earthly bounds. As a covenant-keeping daughter of God, she had prepared all her life for motherhood.
It seems that Sister Beck is explaining that as we keep covenants and develop our natural abilities and gifts, we are preparing for motherhood. In one life, it may be an advanced university degree and career. In another, it could be a life of humanitarian work. Still another could mean pursuing education and skills outside of the college arena.
When we do pursue our goals, whether it be moving to Uganda, fixing cars, or a university education and career, are we focused on what the “direct and immediate bidding of our Father in Heaven” is, or are we focused on our dreams, passions, and what we think are our talents?
Have we taken time to consider that while we think our dream in life might be to become a molecular biologist or a professional dancer, it may not be what Heavenly Father’s dream is for us. In our limited mortal understanding, our greatest passions may be just that–great mortal passions. A good choice. But, what about better or best?
Have we considered throughout our growing up years and consulted with the Holy Spirit on what our university education should include and/or career, if any? After all, I would much rather bend my passions and will to God’s dream for me and then make it my own than try to convince God that my idea is best.
Have we taught our daughters that as mothers, we must trust God completely, that He is omniscient and all-loving, and knows precisely what we should study, and what would bring us the most happiness, regardless of where we assume our talents and passions lie?
Having A Mother Heart
She goes on to explain how to prepare for a “mother heart”:
A woman with a mother heart has a testimony of the restored gospel, and she teaches the principles of the gospel without equivocation. She is keeping sacred covenants made in holy temples. Her talents and skills are shared unselfishly. She gains as much education as her circumstances will allow, improving her mind and spirit with the desire to teach what she learns to the generations who follow her.If she has children, she is a “goodly parent” who lives and teaches standards of behavior exactly in line with the teachings of living prophets. She teaches her “children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord” . Rather than listening to the voices and partial truths of the world, she knows that gospel standards are based on eternal, unchangeable truths. She believes that to be “primarily responsible for the nurture of [her] children” is a vital, dignified, and “sacred responsibilit[y]” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” ). To nurture and feed them physically is as much an honor as to nurture and feed them spiritually. She is “not weary in well-doing” and delights to serve her family, because she knows that “out of small things proceedeth that which is great”.
Contrast that to the confusion, which apparently not only faces the world’s women, but is rampantly believed in our own Mormon culture. Elder M. Russell Ballard explains it well:
It is, unfortunately, all too easy to illustrate the confusion and distortion of womanhood in contemporary society. Immodest, immoral, intemperate women jam the airwaves, monopolize magazines, and slink across movie screens—all while being celebrated by the world. The Apostle Paul spoke prophetically of “perilous times” that will come in the last days and specifically referenced something that may have seemed particularly perilous to him: “silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts” (2 Timothy 3:1, 6). Popular culture today often makes women look silly, inconsequential, mindless, and powerless. It objectifies them and disrespects them and then suggests that they are able to leave their mark on mankind only by seduction—easily the most pervasively dangerous message the adversary sends to women about themselves.
And so, my dear young women, with all my heart I urge you not to look to contemporary culture for your role models and mentors.
It is so hard to see that some LDS/Mormon young women and older women, whether through actual seduction, or through the seductive power that comes with education, prominent career, and money…accept those peripheral roles as defining them as women. “Mother,” God’s ultimate title to woman, just doesn’t make sense or seem to be enough.
Those who embrace God’s definition of the essence of a woman know that:
the influence of righteous, conscientious, persistent, daily mothering is far more lasting, far more powerful, far more influential than any earthly position or institution invented by man. She has the vision that, if worthy, she has the potential to be blessed as Rebekah of old to be “the mother of thousands of millions.”
This does not mean childbearing, although that is part of it. It means mothering, which can be done by any woman, regardless of circumstance.
In all of this, it is abundantly clear that mothering is the eternal glory of woman. There isn’t something else a woman needs to feel empowered or defined. In fact, in eternity, there is nothing else that will define her outside of the parameters of motherhood.
The pinnacle of womanhood is mother. All of our other marvelous accomplishments can be a result of us embracing our power as mothers.
Because we are “a little lower than the angels”, we are also capable of doing many good things while still not understanding our motherhood. If we embraced our mothering nature and allowed it to define us instead of our works and accomplishments, we would be capable of so much more and better, regardless of our individual situations. And we would feel less guilt, less fear, and less conflict and burnout in our lives.
Usually such beings are not seen. Sometimes they are. But seen or unseen they are always near. Sometimes their assignments are very grand and have significance for the whole world. Sometimes the messages are more private. Occasionally the angelic purpose is to warn. But most often it is to comfort, to provide some form of merciful attention, guidance in difficult times.
Do we realize that in whatever capacity we are called, whatever our life circumstances may be, we can find ways to comfort, to provide some form of merciful attention, and guidance in difficult times for others? That is being a mother.
Elder Holland continues:
I have spoken here of heavenly help, of angels dispatched to bless us in time of need. But when we speak of those who are instruments in the hand of God, we are reminded that not all angels are from the other side of the veil. Some of them we walk with and talk with—here, now, every day. Some of them reside in our own neighborhoods. Some of them gave birth to us, and in my case, one of them consented to marry me. Indeed heaven never seems closer than when we see the love of God manifested in the kindness and devotion of people so good and so pure that angelic is the only word that comes to mind…
…In the process of praying for those angels to attend us, may we all try to be a little more angelic ourselves—with a kind word, a strong arm, a declaration of faith and “the covenant wherewith [we] have covenanted.”Perhaps then we can be emissaries sent from God…
He also speaks in another address about the tongue of angels–which, I imagine, should be the tongue of mother, as well:
In that same spirit we speak to the sisters as well, for the sin of verbal abuse knows no gender. Wives, what of the unbridled tongue in your mouth, of the power for good or ill in your words? How is it that such a lovely voice which by divine nature is so angelic, so close to the veil, so instinctively gentle and inherently kind could ever in a turn be so shrill, so biting, so acrid and untamed? A woman’s words can be more piercing than any dagger ever forged, and they can drive the people they love to retreat beyond a barrier more distant than anyone in the beginning of that exchange could ever have imagined. Sisters, there is no place in that magnificent spirit of yours for acerbic or abrasive expression of any kind, including gossip or backbiting or catty remarks. Let it never be said of our home or our ward or our neighborhood that “the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity … [burning] among our members.”
And finally, a simple reminder that the errand of angels is simply to do the immediate bidding of our Father in Heaven–quite a lofty goal, but worthy of implementing, no matter how tragic, difficult, or far from the ideal our circumstances may be.
In the end, it’s not about whether or not you have a doctorate from Harvard, your own catering business, or you make designer cupcakes for two year old birthday parties, or change dirty diapers–it’s about if everything you are doing is the Father’s direct and immediate bidding.
Are you pursuing your dream or His? Your will or His? Have you been deceived into thinking that your will is His will? Have you asked that question: “Where am I being deceived in my identity as a woman–as a mother?”
You will never lose your “identity” or sacrifice too much for your family if you are doing His will. You will not need “me” time in the sense that we understand it today…the Lord will always provide you with time to contemplate and drink from the well of His Spirit.
If we are doing anything less than the errand of angels, if we understand neither the doctrine of the family, nor our eternal role as mothers, then we are more than likely unhappy and looking for “something more,” and will eventually be led by divers lusts and become silly (and, I might add, somewhat depressed) women.
I close with the words attributed to Victor Hugo as quoted by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in his beautiful address, “Because She Is A Mother”:
“She broke the bread into two fragments and gave them to her children, who ate with eagerness.
‘She hath kept none for herself,’ grumbled the sergeant.
“‘Because she is not hungry,’ said a soldier.
“‘No,’ said the sergeant, ‘because she is a mother.’”
I wonder if the our current culture understands this beautiful passage, or do they think the following:
Wow. That mother should have gotten her education, then she wouldn’t be in that predicament!
That mother should feed herself a little first. After all, if she’s not nourished and feeling good, how can she be at the top of her game to nourish her children?
Boy, that mother needs to go on a retreat to get some time to recharge.
Instead of seeing the beauty and godliness exhibited in this woman…the exemplification of the “mother heart” we should all desire.
Photo: Mother Teresa, a woman who truly had a mother heart
Because the women of our church are very educated, passionate and proactive women, generally speaking, there are a huge diversity of viewpoints on what motherhood means to a Mormon woman. Let me tell you, we are some of the most opinionated (and sometimes obstinate) groups of women in the world. We have always culturally been a little feisty, I think. We certainly aren’t lacking in the “spunk” department.
However, one area in which I think we have been absolutely, phenomenally deceived is in our concept of mother. We just don’t seem to understand it, comparing it to everything from internships to a career in making dragon shaped cupcakes to whatever else–granted, I am not about to proceed to write about my profound insights into “mother”, but I can direct you to sources that will help you to understand it for yourself, through God’s whisperings to your heart.
The Concept Of Mother
Sheri Dew spoke of the concept of mother in her General Conference address, “Are We Not All Mothers?” She stated:
While we tend to equate motherhood solely with maternity, in the Lord’s language, the word mother has layers of meaning. Of all the words they could have chosen to define her role and her essence, both God the Father and Adam called Eve “the mother of all living”—and they did so before she ever bore a child.
Like Eve, our motherhood began before we were born. Just as worthy men were foreordained to hold the priesthood in mortality, righteous women were endowed premortally with the privilege of motherhood.
Motherhood is more than bearing children, though it is certainly that. It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits our Father gave us.
President Gordon B. Hinckley stated that “God planted within women something divine.”That something is the gift and the gifts of motherhood. Elder Matthew Cowley taught that “men have to have something given to them [in mortality] to make them saviors of men, but not mothers, not women.[They] are born with an inherent right, an inherent authority, to be the saviors of human souls … and the regenerating force in the lives of God’s children.”
This, then is a good start in our understanding of the concept of mother and motherhood. It is not, as one Mormon columnist put it, “like one very long, very unpaid internship from heaven….filled with all the menial, thankless tasks assigned to lowly interns…” nor is it necessary, as another wrote, “that every mother needs something that defines her outside of the parameters of motherhood,” because motherhood encompasses all that we are and could ever hope to be as individuals. Is it any wonder that when Sister Beck was recently asked what the greatest danger facing young mothers was she answered:
Escape. Running away. Distractions. Confusion for what our roles and identity are in this world.
Of course we are going to feel that way if we think that our purpose in life according to God is to be an unpaid intern or that God’s defining us as mothers is not enough–that we need to find something outside of His parameters. Yes, that will lead to a lot of confusion and disillusionment.
What “Mother” Is Not
A mother is not defined by any of the following:
The number of children she has, whether none or 20 or more
Making watermelon fruit sculptures for her daughter’s 6 months old birthday party
Completing “menial, thankless tasks” usually assigned to lowly interns
Sewing, crafting and other homemaking skills
Laying aside personal interests and losing all sense of self for children and family
Compromising or putting off your hopes and dreams for your children and husband
In reading the articles by many Mormon/LDS women bloggers, I can understand why these columnists spend so much energy justifying their “me” time. If their understanding of “mother” includes these types of mistaken definitions, they are just looking for eventual burnout and dissatisfaction.
While a mother may make cupcakes in whimsical shapes, chore charts that look almost too gorgeous to touch, run a corporation and a carpool, or have 20 children and a family closet, none of that is what defines “mother” or her role.
This role, if understood and taken on, will consume her entire life–not in a way that depletes–but it will be the burning desire, the goal of her existence, the thing that gives meaning to her life–the ultimate dream. The fire and passion of a great Olympian, an acclaimed writer, or even The Jimmer, will pale in comparison to the fire and passion of a woman who embraces her identity as “mother.”
A Mother’s Purpose and Essence
Satan is determined to confuse and make completely indistinct the purpose of mother, and he is succeeding. But, like the entire gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s defining identity for woman is easy enough that a child can understand.
In April 2011, Elder Quentin L. Cook said:
The remarkable pioneer woman Emily H. Woodmansee penned the text of the hymn “As Sisters in Zion.” She correctly asserts that the “errand of angels is given to women.”
This has been described as “nothing less than to do the direct and immediate bidding of our Father in Heaven, and ‘this is a gift that … sisters … claim.’
That is the most succinct statement I have ever heard on the purpose, identity and essence of women, and it is plain enough for anyone to understand.
This is our gift, our mission, our calling, our ministry: to do nothing less than the direct and immediate bidding of our Father in Heaven.
What does that mean for the women who feel like motherhood and mothering is nothing but “menial tasks”? It simply means that they do not understand who they are.
One mother I read about said that she had to be paid as a writer before she could endure being a mother to her children. Mothers who compare motherhood to the menial tasks of unpaid internship are lost to the idea that as a mother, there are no menial tasks…there is not a moment that goes by that a mother is, in reality, unpaid. Many mothers have plans for graduate school and a more substantive career in order to better define themselves. What they are missing is that mother encompasses all of that and more.
Still other mothers are being led by a prominent group of Mormon “deliberate mothers” who are attempting to professionalize motherhood by training each other to offer “Power of Moms Retreats,” in which they get paid to teach mothers how to mother. It sounds good, but wait a minute. While these mothers are out training other mothers and going to retreats, who is really doing the mothering to their young children? And, what does it tell mothers if they need to go on a retreat and pay for a seminar in order to be better mothers?
These voices from newspaper columns, these New York Best Selling Mormon Authors on Parenting, these Experts…when do they have time to implement what they are telling everyone else to do? Is it in between the times they are showcasing themselves on Good Morning, America!, writing books, speaking, doing world tours, conferences, seminars?
If “Mother” is the title Father in Heaven wants for all of His daughters, then there absolutely must be a way for every, single daughter of God to attain it–whether they live in Zimbabwe or Manhattan–whether they have money or none at all, whether they work full-time at the office or stay at home, whether they were educated at Harvard or in the trenches of a hard life, whether they have a perfect husband, a husband addicted to pornography or abuse, or no husband at all. They should be able to attain motherhood whether or not they go to a seminar, read the latest parenting book, or bear children.
The Lord can make a way, and He will restore all things to us. We don’t have to feel short-changed or slighted ever.
If we are all called to be mothers, how do we prepare for it? What does it really mean to be a mother? What does it mean to be given the errand of angels?
If we are feeling confused by all these perspectives and feel burnt out–that we need something more, that mother is equal to having it all to the point of complete exhaustion, or on the opposite end of the spectrum–that mother is equal to menial to the point of burnout–then we must better understand the meaning of “mother” and prepare for it differently.
This post was previously written and published in another forum, but I thought I might post it here as food for thought this week.
While motherhood is not limited to bearing children, bearing children is definitely one facet of motherhood.
What do Mormons believe about fertility and children?
I find it funny that so many people outside the church consider Mormon women to be somehow looked down upon or subjugated, when, in the trenches of LDS/Mormon life, I have found women have as many viewpoints, opinions, and freedom to choose varying lifestyles as there are stars in the heavens!
With regard to the outlook on childbearing and our faith, many Modern Mormon feminists have a mission: they want to break through stereotypes that would define Latter-day Saint wives as perpetually pregnant women bound to their children and stripped of choices to succeed in life.
They are a few years too late. The fact is, most LDS women have no intention of being pregnant too soon or with too much frequency.
While traditionally LDS women have been stereotyped as “barefoot and pregnant,” uneducated and subjugated, that is just not the case in our modern age. LDS women are much more in line with the popular culture’s views on the subject.
In today’s pop culture, pregnancy is not a partnership with God, it’s a fashion statement. In the society in which we live, children are often considered something to be put off until you’ve done everything else, and that is the one thing you haven’t tried yet. In fact, many find that they never tire of life without children, and are perfectly content to skip it altogether.
The culture of modern society celebrates the fact that women can use birth control to put off children or forego having them altogether in lieu of trips to Paris, a nice house, a great figure, or a gorgeous guy:
While I am very, very grateful for the technology and strides in modern medicine that make so many things in our lives possible, the whole attitude that babies interfere with having the good life was depressing to me. I am definitely not advocating a large number of children for every family–but I do wish that more people could realize how having children, while perhaps negating a trip to Paris, can be even better. Not easier, but better.
Recent statistics show that the average LDS family has three children, just one more than the average non-LDS family. A BYU sociologist also noted that LDS members in Mexico usually have fewer children than non-members in that country. The BYU Health Center director reported that at least 80% of women who are getting married request birth control, which corroborates Tim Heaton’s research showing that LDS rate of birth control usage is the same as the national rate: 80.5%.
I know there are people who have received answers to prayer that expressly tell them to limit the number of children they have. I just wish they might look at other options aside from chemical birth control, which I will explain more below.
Over the past decade, I have also seen a huge increase in the number of cases of infertility within the church. I am very happy to see that most members have been very understanding and loving toward infertile couples, as they should be. I believe it is vitally critical as Relief Society sisters, especially, that we refrain from making any kind of judgments regarding this sacred subject.
Over the years I have heard mothers of soon to be married daughters talk with gusto about how their daughters will be using the Pill to put off having children until they are “ready.” They speak with pride on this subject, admitting that it is they, the mothers, who have convinced their daughters to take this course of action. But, do they understand the risks?
If they do understand, these mothers are persuading their daughters to risk:
bacterial infections (because the pill weakens the immune system)
infertility-unable to ever bear children
shrinking of the womb (endometrial atrophy)
mood swings and depression
birth defects in children conceived while women are on the pill
Are the risks worth it? I thought it woefully disappointing to read the following viewpoint of a girl about to get married at BYU:
The Ferrins said they decided to use birth control methods for a short while when they got married so they could get used to being a couple before bringing children into their family. “There is a different dynamic when you get married, and I think it was important for us to develop a marital pattern before introducing new factors like children..”
I wonder if they have factored in the very real chance of breast cancer into their “marriage dynamic,” considering that the Pill has been linked to a 660% rise in breast cancer since 1973? Do they realize that they are putting themselves at risk for these diseases just so they can “develop a marital pattern”? Is it worth it?
To show just how much of a threat the pill posed to young women, Lanfranchi pointed to several statistics, including a 2006 Mayo Clinic meta-analysis that concluded that breast cancer risk rises 50 percent for women taking oral contraceptives four or more years before a full-term pregnancy. In 2009, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that women starting the pill before 18 nearly quadruple their risk of triple negative breast cancer. Even more shocking, Swedish oncologist Hakan Olsson concluded that pill use before the age of 20 increases a young woman’s breast cancer risk by more than 1000 percent.
I wonder if they have factored in a chance of cervical cancer into their “marital pattern”:
Women who used the pill for less than five years had no increase in their risk of cervical cancer. But women who reported using birth control pills from five to 10 years had a 60% increase in their rate of cancer; women using the pill more than 10 years had a rate over twice that of women who didn’t use the pill.
What do members of the church think? Here is the church policy:
“…The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter…sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a means of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife.”
Many members have extracted from that statement a tacit endorsement for birth control.
I could not find, however, anywhere it says the decision is intimate and private and should only be left between the couple and their in-laws, the couple and Norplant, or between the couple and Beyaz, or the couple and their OB/GYN. I do understand that there are some couples that will use birth control, and that is between them and the Lord, but what I got from this statement is that a husband and wife can actually invite the Lord into their family planning and that He will send or not send children when it is the right time.
If we believe the Bible and the Book of Mormon to be the word of God, which we say we do, it would appear that the Lord can open and shut the womb at the right times and seasons. Of course, this would require a great deal of faith on the part of the couple. And they would have to invite the Lord and the Spirit into their sexual relations, as well. This concept may be so foreign as to make it seem impossible, however, there are multiple examples in scripture that would attest to Heavenly Father’s omnipotence in this area of the Plan.
It would also be very comforting to couples whose mission in life included having the womb shut for the entire duration of the season of mortality. How much less we might judge each other if we all practiced, at least a little, putting the Lord into the equation.
It seems that few young single adult women and men even understand the basics of conception, let alone how to understand fertility. If we understood the absolute miracle that it takes for a woman to get pregnant to begin with (a woman who is regularly sexually active who is not using any form of birth control has only an 11 percent chance of conceiving each month), then we might not be so crazy about the Pill and other forms of birth control. Those 11% odds diminish drastically with age and birth control usage.
There is another quotation which is oft-quoted by those who would choose to wait to have children, given by Elder Gordon B. Hinckley in 1983 :
“I am offended by the sophistry that the only lot of the Latter-day Saint woman is to be barefoot and pregnant,” he said. “It’s a clever phrase, but it is false. Of course we believe in children. The Lord has told us to multiply and replenish the earth that we might have joy in our posterity, and there is no greater joy than the joy that comes of happy children in good families. But he did not designate the number, nor has the church. That is a sacred matter left to the couple and the Lord.”
Many members of the church take this to mean that “three is the new six,” or some similar philosophy. Some think it is an endorsement for the pill. I don’t think it is. I also don’t think it’s an endorsement for people to assume that President Hinckley meant that people who have 7,8, or a dozen or more children are more righteous than people who don’t have any children, or only 1 or 3.
He simply stated that God did not designate the number, nor has the church. It’s too sacred of a matter for anyone to judge. He also added that there is no greater joy than happy children in good families.
That being said, it is unfortunate, also, that many now forget the Church’s injunction that members should not judge one another in the matter of how many children to have and when. I know there are some people who base their self-esteem on having lots of children (which is NOT a good motivation for having a large family. It’s selfish). They have a tendency to look down on people who do not have a “quiver full.”
Because I have such a large family, many of these people who judge others on their small number of children assume that I feel the same way they do and start talking to me about how frustrated they are with people who just won’t have more than 3 or 4 kids, or however many is “too small a number” for their sensibilities. I often think that if some of these loudspoken people were more generous and less judgmental regarding this issue, more people would be willing to consider it. But, no one wants to be smacked upside the head with these kinds of statements, especially when there are real, sometimes heartrending reasons why a couple chooses not to have children (and infertility is not the only one).
But, people can be unthinking and harsh. Especially when it’s a self-esteem issue. And I emphatically believe that the number of children a family has should never be linked to its esteem. That’s ridiculous and ignorant, like the axe boasting or the saw exalting after itself. Without God’s explicit interference, those children would not be here. And, in the end and always, they are His.
These days, I find it far more prevalent to see the opposite judgment– those who have limited their families to 3 or 4 constantly judging women who have the courage to choose fertility. Here are just a few of the remarks I have witnessed from others:
“Pregnant again? Aren’t you done yet?”
“She’s crazy to have another baby.”
“You know we use [insert a form of birth control here]. It’s really effective.”
“Are you planning on getting your tubes tied after this one?”
“She can’t do [insert calling that involves adults here]. She couldn’t handle it. Let’s call her to Cub Scouts…she obviously likes kids.”
“Well, you can have all those kids because you can afford it.”
“Well, you can have all those kids because you are more patient than I am.”
“Well, she chose to have all those kids, she can figure out how to get through this pregnancy without our help.”
“If she gets so sick every pregnancy, why does she keep having kids? That’s so irresponsible. Well, she did it to herself.”
Note that the last four absolve the observer from ever offering to help the family with lots of children, and assuming that the mother has infinite amounts of patience and, therefore, never needs help.
If these are not judgments about how many children to have and when, I don’t know what are. Choosing fertility is often a difficult, hard road. Having many children is really not easy, but often, those with lots of children feel that they cannot show weakness, lest they be given a critical “I told you so,” or be derided. Often, there is little support for the mother of seven or more…especially if she also has weight gain from the pregnancies.
Having worked for many years with victims of abuse, I can see many reasons why people are afraid or unable to have large families. Having seen many instances of women in abusive relationships in which NO ONE would suspect the husband of being that way, I can understand why these women would choose to work and forego having children. I can also understand that there may be people who have prayed and know with absolute certainty that birth control is God’s will for them. I just want people to be educated in the risks and what that actually means when using a form of chemical birth control, especially the pill.
Whether a family has no children, three, or fifteen, is not for us to judge. However, it is vital that each couple take into consideration what it means to have it between them and the Lord. The statement, “left between them and the Lord,” is not a blanket endorsement for birth control, nor is it a new policy to make “three the new six,” nor is it a reason to have 20 children.
If we and our children are taught what it really means by taking Church policy along with scripture study, faith, knowledge of the body and how birth control works, and knowledge of our own fertility, they will be prepared to make an informed, prayerful, best decision, not one based on our current culture’s version of “choice.”
At that point, it is my hope that the judgment, heartache, and hurt regarding fertility and motherhood can be laid to rest, that we can better understand what it truly means, and let fertility (or the lack of it), and faith go hand in hand and trust that it is truly between us and the Lord.
I have always believed that all of my babies will always be part of me, literally. In the few years since Joy returned to our Heavenly Father, that belief has cemented itself into knowledge. There are still times when it is physically painful to be separated from her in this way. It is not just an emotional thing–it is real, physical pain. I have often pondered that.
The other day, I read the most beautiful article about the science behind this. Granted, much of what passes for science these days is biased and nonsensical, but this rang true on such a personal level for me.
In 1979, Stanford scientists were amazed to discover Y chromosomes in a pregnant woman’s blood cells. They concluded that the only way this could have possibly happened was that the cells entered her body from the baby she was carrying. Since then, scientists have been studying the phenomenon. Even more amazing, they have discovered that fetal cells actually try to heal the mother’s body, even decades after delivery. From the article:
In what any ethicist might declare to be legitimate ‘embryonic stem cell therapy,’ the baby’s fetal stem cells migrate to the mother’s injured sites and offer themselves as a healing remedy, becoming part of the mother’s very body. Pinctott writes that such cells have been found in “diseased thyroid and liver tissue and have turned themselves into thyroid and liver cells respectively.”
Pinctott calls the evidence “striking” that a baby’s fetal cells “repair and rejuvenate moms.”
Genetics specialist Dr. Kirby Johnson of Tufts Medical Center, Boston, and professor Carol Artlett, a researcher at Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University, back up Pinctott’s ideas. Their research shows that when a woman becomes pregnant she acquires an army of protective cells – what might be called a gift from her child – that remains with her for decades, perhaps till the end of her life.
Both Johnson and Artlett defend the hypothesis that the baby’s fetal cells have a beneficent purpose, not to hurt the mother, but to protect, defend, and repair her for the rest of her life, especially when she becomes seriously ill.
“There’s a lot of evidence now starting to come out that these cells may actually be repairing tissue,” said Artlett.
Even when a mother miscarries or aborts a baby, the fetal cells can stay with her for decades.
How beautiful is that? Even if death claims one of our little ones, a part of them literally stays with us, helping us and healing us in ways we cannot even begin to understand.
And, somehow, knowing that has helped me to understand why the physical pain might be there from losing her–and somehow, I almost feel like embracing it as a type of joy. C.S. Lewis said in “Surprised By Joy”:
I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that any one who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is the kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world…Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing.