Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Bearing Children--The Default Position

This question came up as I wrote my last post, and I'd like to discuss it further with my readership. What is the preferred "righteous" Latter-day Saint position on procreation?

1. Begin having children and don't stop until you receive revelation to do so.
2. Wait to have children until you are directed that it is the right time.
3. Have as many children as you desire unless the Spirit intervenes with different instructions.
4. Use your own wisdom to figure out how many children you can support financially, physically, and emotionally.
5. Strive to discover the exact number of children that Heavenly Father wishes to send to your home, and act upon this information.
6. Other?

Do you think there is a general Latter-day Saint position on this question? Does it differ from your personal position?

When I was a young mother, I perceived the Church's position was to have as many children as you possibly physically could. I began by having my first two girls less than a year apart. There were some problems with #2, and the Dr. advised that we should be satisfied with two children and not attempt to have more. He sent us home with a prescription for the Pill. I held the paper in my hand and cried. I felt strongly that I should not use this contraception. We went home and researched statements of General Authorities on birth control. I could find nothing that condoned the use of artificial birth control, and discovered many General Authority quotes preaching against it. These impressed my mind so much that to this day I have never used it. As you know, readers, I went on to have 8 children. Miraculously, there were no further physical problems.

As the years went by, my zeal for having children has waned. I once saw my childbearing as a great demonstration of faith and obedience to the Lord and dedication to Church teachings. But in recent years, teachings on procreation have changed in their emphasis. Now a young couple can be considered perfectly orthodox and faithful while waiting to finish schooling or spacing their children. I feel that my sacrifice has become essentially meaningless. I could have had 4 children and saved myself the year of serious post-partum depression, financial struggles, and marital discord. Perhaps the children would have had more advantages, more attention, a better home life. I would have been free to pursue educational and other interests. I love and value each of my children, but I don't know if my choice was the wisest one I could have made. I don't even know if it was the Father's will that I have that many children. I just had them by default because I believed the #1 example above. Since I never had a direct revelation to stop having children, I often feel guilty that I haven't had more.

Julie Beck's talk has taken us back to the era in which I was starting my childbearing. I react to it differently than many younger couples. I feel pressured to have more children. I'm noticing that many younger couples can listen to the directives without feeling this pressure. They are not applying Julie's admonition directly to themselves. They see it as advice that doesn't necessarily have to be acted upon immediately.

I'm waffling dreadfully on this issue. In a way, I'd love to be true to that zealous, faithful little Latter-day Saint girl I was in the beginning. But I've lived long enough to see that there are other ways I can contribute to society and to my family than having children and staying at home to cook for them and clean up after them.

What is the Spirit trying to tell me? I just don't know.


Anonymous said...


You iron rodder, you!

My answer is a combination of 3 and 4. I think that often, in the process of thinking through a problem and considering the alternatives, God's will becomes apparent.

Mark IV

Bored in Vernal said...

Mark, do you think that is the preferred LDS position also? Do you think the Church's position has changed over the years?

Ann said...

The church's current preferred position is that a) children are a blessing and b) the number of children to have is a personal decision between a wife and a husband and God.

Duncan said...

I believe the attitudes of individuals in the church has changed over the years, especially with younger members. The current "that's between you and God" line seems to be able to be used for all the positions. As encouraging as this new attitude is, there are still many quotes from leadership from the past to support the notion that birth control and limiting your offspring count is a selfish inclination.

Anonymous said...


This is my understanding of the church's current position:

Children are a positive good, and they are worth sacrificing for. Husbands and wives are to decide between themselves as to the number, with the wife's desires and feelings accorded primacy. The church has definitely changed its policy in regards to birth control. It has also withdrawn its previous objections to certain expressions of marital intimacy.

Mark IV

Mark IV

ambrosia ananas said...

I don't know what I think the official Church position is or even what the general cultural consensus is. I suspec that cultural consensus is shifting toward #3. (From what I've seen in observing the parents in a friend's child care business, at least.)

My position, like Mark IV's, is a combination of #3 and #4--have as many as you want and can reasonably provide for (emotionally, physically, financially, etc.) unless the Spirit dictates otherwise.

I tend to take the Do What Makes Sense to Me approach about most religious things. Sometimes this makes me feel like I'm less faithful than those who obey without question or do only as prompted. But I think that God knows I have a hard time making decisions and thinks it's good for me to practice.

Mike the Horebite said...

I'm definately in the #4 camp, with the addition that we should strive to seek the Lord's counsel in additional to making our own wise judgements. I think we should have as many kids as we are able, but I interpret "as we are able" to include not just the physical but the financial and emotional also.

I know many people that lean more towards #1 and #2. Many of them that I know are miserable and can't give their children are not nurtured as they should be, in my opinion. I think that is a real problem.

From my understanding the church's position has migrated from #1-2 to 4, although I'm too young to know from first-hand experience. I'm glad that it has.

Mike the Horebite said...

Sorry, I meant that many people I know believe #1, not #1-2. I misread #2.

Emily M. said...

From the General Handbook of Instructions, page 186:

"It is the privilege of married couples who are able to bear children to provide mortal bodies for the spirit children of God, whom they are then responsible to nurture and rear. 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."

That's the current official position. The second volume of President Kimball's biography (Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, page 170-171) explains the evolution of this position a little, as President Kimball met with Dr. Homer Ellsworth, who explained that nursing is not an effective means of birth control past five months. Agreeing that women should not feel compelled to have a baby every year, President Kimball permitted an "I have a question" article concerning this issue to be published in the August 1979 Ensign. read it here.

I've thought a lot about this issue, timing and spacing and how many, as I have pondered the births of our children. I wrote an essay which discusses my own experience with deciding when to have kids, which you can read here.
if you are interested.

Ease up on yourself, I say.

Last Lemming said...

Like you, I followed #1, largely out of guilt. Unlike you, however, I decided after #5 that I had received a revelation to stop. My wife did not receive the same revelation, so implementing it was entirely up to me. (At least she drove me home from the hospital). I have never regretted my decision and frankly don't care whether anybody in the church approves of it.

Had I followed any of the other protocols you listed, I might never have had any children. In theory, I wanted them, but each seemed to come earlier than I felt prepared for. Perhaps ironically, my feelings have changed since I fully embraced evolution. I am now relieved that I will likely have an enduring genetic legacy to compete in the great Darwinian game.

I am concerned, however, about your kids reading this post. Mine have picked up on my previously ambivalent attitude, and it is a bit of a sore spot with at least one of them.

ldahospud said...

Well, the approach I took after #6 was to tell Heavenly Father that I was choosing to be done. I told Him that I was willing to have more if there were more for me, but that he would have to bonk me on the head unmistakeably. Twice.

Sweet Roy, how about just be the best grandma ever?

Bored in Vernal said...

Hi, Spud!
I'm probably the only woman of my age under creation who has no burning desire for grandchildren. (What, do we have to desire grandchildren too? I'm really in trouble now!) Your words hold no comfort for me.

Bored in Vernal said...

oh, Emily....
I read your essay and I just wept hot tears over the Emily who wrote “A Translation and Commentary of Manuel Cañete’s Prologue to the Obras Completas del Duque de Rivas” for her honors thesis. If that's what women have to give up to know God, then so be it. But I can't understand it. Isn't that part of us good and valuable, and part of our identity? Is "the glory of God is intelligence" only for men?

I used to think of my long row of children filling up the pew in Sacrament Meeting as my celestial "A's." But as they grew, the grades fell and fell. I know my children see me as a mother who slept in during my entire 6th pregnancy, leaving a first and second grader to get ready for school by themselves in the morning (evidence: first grade school photo, uncombed hair, mismatched clothes). And the list goes on.

Now the woman who wanted to get a PhD in ancient scripture, learn Greek and Hebrew, write scholarly articles and swim the English channel is barely able to concentrate and shudders to appear in public in a bathing suit.

What do we do with those parts of ourselves that want to make "googleable" achievements? Is it all just pride, which we must lay on the altar of self-sacrificing motherhood? Will there be time and space in the eternities to learn all of the ancient languages and discuss obscure novels? Or should we be working harder on our "desire for children" so that in heaven we will be ready to endlessly provide spirit tabernacles?

Will I ever develop into a woman who doesn't chafe under "never being off duty?"

woundedhart said...

Oh BiV. It's so hard for me to read what you've written. It's true, the perceptions on the church's position are so different from one generation to the next. From what I've read, the church is pretty specific in the counsel that number of children is completely up to the husband and wife and God, and no one else, yet I've also heard so many anecdotal stories of local leaders giving Stake Conference talks admonishing their membership to crank out more kids.

I have three kids, and after my last, even while I was pregnant, I was not shy about saying that she would be the last. So many people in my ward and family would laugh, like it was all a big joke, but I'd really go on to have a dozen. It always irritated me so much that people dismissed my feelings so readily. I cannot think of anything worse than being pregnant again. I was totally useless. I couldn't help my other kids, 3 and 1, I couldn't cook, I couldn't even walk. I was an emotional wreck, and I cried every single day. Some days, I would guiltily wish for a miscarriage, just to the vomiting would stop. Just thinking about it is raising my blood pressure.

If you believe that "(wo)men are that they might have joy," and that God loves you, there has to be somewhere in there that believes that he doesn't want your entire mortal experience to be miserable. I realize that there are billions of people who have live miserable lives, but I don't think God intends for us to seek out misery.

In my whole life of trying to do what I thought God wanted me to do, I've never gotten any sort of recognizable direction to do a specific thing, or not to do it, for that matter. My approach has always been to make a decision with all the finality I can muster, and then to inform God of my intent. I then ask for direction. "If my decision is wrong, please direct me away from it."

My decision to have 3 kids has been all mine. Well, my husband whole-heartedly agrees with me, but I mean that I never got any lightning-bolt revelation that 3 is OK or not OK. I simply want to give my existing children the benefit of a happy and emotionally stable mother and a well-rounded upbringing, complete with home-cooked meals and help with homework, walks around the neighborhood, games, etc., none of which can I provide if I'm pregnant, nor during the first months of nursing.

I guess what I'm saying is that my desire to have children is translated now as desire to keep, protect, and nurture the ones I already have.

I wonder if that part of Beck's talk was more directed at women who don't want to ruin their career by having ANY children. Somehow, I think 8 is enough to make you eligible for translation. But who am I?

Who am I, you ask? I am no one. You don't know me from Eve. But I am amazed at your dedication to your faith. You have done incredible things. You've had eight children! You've raised them. And now you are questioning if that sign of your dedication was enough. It makes me hurt inside that I don't have that kind of faith, but also that you think your gift has not yet been acceptable to the Lord.

Zillah said...

I agree absolutely with woundedhart's last paragraph: it is heartbreaking to see you question whether God has accepted your gift of raising 8 children--and raising children successfully does not mean that they always have their hair combed, or even that they live their lives as prototypically typical perfect members of the Church.

What is also heartbreaking, and a difficulty with which I sympathize, is the common feeling among women that the only TRULY acceptable and worthwhile role for them to fulfill and gift to offer is to have children. But, as was said above, what the Lord really wants for women is what he wants for men--to be happy and to achieve exaltation.

While some women are completely fulfilled by being mothers--and I believe that they genuinely are satisfied with their lives--some are not. We are all given a variety of gifts to develop and that will help us serve those around us; in addition, the development of those gifts adds to our own happiness and fulfillment.

Becoming a mother is not an act of self-annihilation, and I don't believe that it should be. It is not selfish to desire to participate in other activities. I believe that the statement made by the First Presidency that we should not be selfish when it comes to having children does not condemn all other desires (as many stake presidents/bishops/teachers interpret them to be saying); not wanting to have children at any point due to whatever desire for temporal achievement is selfish.

To raise a child is indescribably unselfish and divine--I can say this only as a child grateful for my parents, since I don't have any children myself. But women are individuals, with individual gifts and talents and desires and interests. In addition, our agency is not superseded by our wombs; there are many paths to happiness and many paths to salvation (when it comes to the particulars), and it is part of our task to discover what that path is for us. What would be the point of the war over agency if women have to follow just one path in order to be acceptable to the Lord?

I'm rambling, obviously. I suppose that my point is that every aspect of your self is loved by God, and is worthwhile, important, and precious. Make your own decision, and then see whether or not the Spirit confirms what you feel is right for you.

Emily M. said...

BiV, thanks for reading the essay, and for your heartfelt response. I appreciate it. I don't know that I've given up my scholar-self. She's just on hiatus right now, you know? I am hoping to reclaim her in a few years.

You ask, "What do we do with those parts of ourselves that want to make "googleable" achievements?"

I'm still figuring it out. I don't know. I think there will, as you say, be time and space in all the eternities to learn what we want to learn. Heaven for me is a giant library. Ahh. With a classroom attached, and lots of visiting professors.

But I also think there's something to be said for sacrificing. In my own life, I needed to step away from school so I could figure out how to be a mother. And I needed the experience of being a mother. I needed it, not just because I was sacrificing for them, but because the relentlessness of motherhood is something that's shaping me into a better, stronger person. I can see that if I look back five years--I am stronger now than I was then, and it's because I've been a mother.

I don't know. But I think you are asking good questions, and I think the Lord loves you for your sacrifice (8 kids! wow.), even if you chafe sometimes.

FoxyJ said...

While I still have issues with other parts of the talk, I really don't think Sister Beck was trying to get people to have more children. I think she was trying to get us to have an attitude check. Do we want to have children? Do we value families? Do we feel like child rearing is a valuable thing to do? I think the church is shifting away from an emphasis on numbers to an emphasis on attitudes and desires. However, people always want to quantify and measure things and there is no real good way to quantify our attitudes and desires. Having lots of children does not neccesarily mean that you value your family. Having few children doesn't mean that you don't.

I only have two children so far, and probably wil only have one or two more. Does that mean that I don't value the family or desire to have children? No. I would love to have more kids, but for many, many reasons I probably won't. Does the fact that I'm pursuing a PhD and working part-time mean that I don't value my family? To me it doesn't, but some people assume it does. For me I feel like it always comes down to your desires and wishes and it should be worked out between you and God.

Bored in Vernal said...

Becoming a mother is not an act of self-annihilation

Thank you for that, Zillah. I really would love to get some confirmation on that from church teachings, though. Usually the only things you see encouraging women to become educated are in case you have to end up supporting your family, and not just for the sheer joy of it. I can't think of a single authoritative teaching telling us women to develop our painting skills because we are good at it and we love it, for example. It seems we must accept that we have come to this earth to sacrifice and give up our desires in serving others. Which is what Jesus taught, right?

I don't know...

Bored in Vernal said...

I get what you're saying, but on the other hand, it doesn't do us any good to "desire" to pay our tithing, to "value" the law of tithing, and then not to do it continuously throughout our lives, as long as we are earning money.

FoxyJ said...

I haven't paid tithing for nearly a year because I have not had the resources, i.e. money. I have not lost my desire to do so nor to have I stopped valuing the law. Now that I have a job, I pay tithing. During my last temple worthiness interview a few months ago my bishop confirmed that I am a full tithe payer because I would like to pay tithing even though I am not earning any money (dh is inactive and doesn't pay on his income).

I know women who do not have the resources of fertility with which to have children. They cannot give what they do not have. That doesn't mean that they don't want to give. My body is not physically capable of bearing more than a few children without killing me. The church's current position on childbearing reflects this idea--couples are asked to consider their resources (physical, mental, economical) when deciding how much to give. At the same time, I think that--like tithing and other offerings--we are asked to consider our attitudes and whether we are willing to sacrifice a little more. Only the Lord and ourselves know what resources we have available to us.

Ronda said...

I found you again after my hard drive crashed and erased all of my bookmarks. We just had the Relief Society Lesson #20 last Sunday "The Women of the Church." When I read it, I had an insight. I was taken back to the late 70's and 80's when I was making decisions about children and I remembered hearing these talks and feeling so much angst and controversy. On one hand the message/quotes said get an education, develop your talents, set your goals high, but in contrast every thing should be done to prepare yourself to benefit your family. I spent a decade often feeling conflicted about the relationship between family and self. But as I looked back last week, I found that the dynamic tension between the two poles of focusing exclusively or primarily on myself and focusing exclusively/primarily on my family was actually good for me. I realized that neither extreme was desirable. For me the ideal for me was to find a middle path between the two. That middle path shifted depending on the specifics of my life at the time (newborn vs school age vs empty nest).

When I made the decision to go back for doctorate degree with school age children (or almost school age), I prayed and my only question was will this hurt my family? My answer was -- It does not have to, but this is within your control. When I started grad school I felt a powerful sense of finally being in the right place for me. This middle path has worked for me.