In Genesis 1:28, we read, “God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” Like many religious traditions that use the Bible in their worship, this scripture is interpreted by LDS faithful to mean that they should place a high importance on having a large family. In 2015, the Deseret News reported on a Pew Research Study that indicated that Mormons have the largest family size (3.4 children) of the American religious groups that were studied. The next closest religious groups were black Protestant (2.5 children) and then Catholics and evangelicals (2.3 children). As a lifetime member of this faith, this was not surprising to me at all. I am the eldest of 5 children, and both of my parents were raised in the LDS church and they came from families of 7 and 8 kids. Growing up as a Mormon, I always heard about how important it was to sacrifice to have a larger family. It became obvious to me that we were different when people would stop my Mom and ask her if all 5 kids that she had in tow were hers. That became our normal and I remember seeing other families at church that had much smaller families, and wondering what was wrong with them.
Let me say, I think it is important to teach our primary and YW aged girls about motherhood. But in this day and age, I think we are doing them a disservice if we do not also teach them what they should do if being a wife and/or mother is not part of their mortal journey. One only needs to peruse the attendance at a local YSA ward or branch to realize that the male:female ratio is skewed towards women. There is a very real chance that many of the wonderful young women may not easily find an LDS mate when they become adults and decide to marry.
Yet somehow along the way, a culture has developed where we equate a woman’s righteousness with the ability of her ovaries and uterus to produce and carry a baby. That somehow, she is living up to her divine potential far more than those women who are either not married or, because of medical or other circumstances, are not able to bear children or whose desired family size is curtailed.
I remember sitting in a sacrament meeting and hearing a mother of a large family talk about her gratitude for each of her children. She spoke of her belief that each of those precious spirits had selected her to be their mother in the pre-mortal existence. It seemed like a nice sentiment that I did not give much thought until an older friend, who had never married or had children, confided in me on how rhetoric like that hurt her. She said she often wondered why, when she was in the same pre-mortal existence, not a single spirit had decided she was good enough to be their mother. My heart sunk as I realized that I had been complicit in perpetrating these same misguided cultural beliefs.
I was 34 when I married my husband and 36 when a doctor told us that we had a less than 0.5% chance of conceiving a child on our own. Thus we started the expensive and emotionally draining journey through infertility. I remember the first time I waited at the clinic for a blood test and saw how many women and couples went in and out. I had no idea that so many others were as desperate as we were to conceive a child.
We, as Mormons, have a tendency to include two things in our spiritual identity: our callings and number of children. Think back to the last time you met someone new at church or heard a talk over the pulpit and 9 times out of 10, they will talk about their family size and casually refer to one of their current or previous leadership positions. That is all well and good when you can happily recognize your 6 children whom all served missions and married in the temple while you faithfully served as a ward leader/Bishop/RS President over the course of your life. But if we don’t stop and recognize how our declarations might be received differently by those around us who have experienced a different reality, then we are not living up to our covenant “to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”
What I have noticed over the past 15 years is that, as an unmarried single adult, I was constantly asked why I was not dating. When my husband and I were first dating, we were asked when we were going to get married. And when we did get married, we were constantly asked when we were going to start a family. I understand that most of these questions come from a good place, but as a group we need to STOP ASKING! If you don’t know the people well enough to know what their plans are regarding marriage or a family through your interactions, then you don’t know them well enough to ask! You have no idea of what other factors they might be dealing with in their lives and how your seemingly innocent question can be deeply hurtful or triggering.
As a woman who faced the possibility of never being able to have a child, I related to Rachel in the Old Testament and cried unto the Lord. It was so hard to hear of unwed teenagers becoming pregnant or babies being abandoned by their parents when I would have moved heaven and earth for a child of my own. I was so grateful for those friends and church members who quietly shared their own stories of struggle and loss while building their families. For some reason, we as the LDS faith have turned a blind eye to the painful struggles of those valiant women and men who are trying to follow the command in Genesis 1:28, but are coming up short. We have to stop offering well-meaning, but ultimately hurtful advice, (i.e. all my friends who starting looking at adoption ended up getting pregnant on their own), and worry more about making people feel loved and accepted no matter how different their journey might be from ours. That is the only way we can start to truly heal so many broken hearts that are struggling in silence.
Krista is a lifetime member of the LDS church who has always fancied herself a bit of an outsider who marches to the beat of her own drum. She hopes to use her life experiences to help validate and support others who are finding their own path to peace and healing.