I’m going to speak out on an issue I have never talked about publically. This is hard for me. Actually, to be honest, this whole blog is hard for me. I’m fairly private and so putting out pieces of my life for public reading is a challenge. Still, there are times when I feel a strong sense of peace around the decisions I’ve made in regards to my writing, and that includes this blog.
I’ve never talked about infertility and its subsequent childlessness, but I believe now may be the time, because at fifty, there isn’t any more hope; just a handful of lessons that have probably had more to do with forming who I am than just about any other experience.
This isn’t something we talk about a lot in the church. Dialogue has really opened up about every other issue facing the church today, but not about infertility and childlessness.
Before I start, I have to say this: I love my life and the home Larry and I have created. I love the gospel and the church. I also firmly believe that my childlessness isn’t without a purpose. I know the lack of this particular blessing has forged in me a deep and strong faith in my Heavenly Father and His Son. It is a reliance that is beyond anything I could describe, except to say, I trust Them fully and without reservation. In part, because there have been times when They have been the only Beings who have stood by me as I have suffered.
Through this trust and Their love for me, I’ve discovered that it’s okay to live with what is broken, because for reasons that are according to the Lord, some things aren’t meant to be fixed. Learning to accept that and live with it can take more faith than believing it can be fixed. It requires me to believe the Lord is not only aware but has a plan around my mortal time and my childlessness, even if I’m not fully informed.
I believe all of us have broken parts. The act of acknowledging them is part of the journey of discovery because it leads us to our own broken heart and contrite spirit, allowing us to enter into the fellowship of the suffering of Christ. For me, this has made it worth it.
The metaphor I’m going to use to describe my situation is a common one, but it fits, so I’ll go ahead and reframe it here. When I consider my life this is how I describe it. When I was young, I made plans to go to Italy. I prayed about Italy, and I read books on Italy. I knew everything a young Latter-day Saint woman needed to know about Italy. And I was so excited! I already LOVED Italy! I got on the plane. I had my Italian guide books and my maps. My Italian itinerary was all planned out. Thing is, my plane landed in Holland. Yeah. Holland. I spent a little bit of time trying to tell everybody, including God, that a terrible mistake had been made. I wasn’t supposed to be in Holland. I was supposed to be in Italy. I tried to get back to Italy but there were no outbound flights. Once I realized there was never going to be an outbound flight, I started house hunting and making a home in Holland. Holland isn’t so bad. There are these lovely old windmills and spring is gorgeous with fields of tulips and lots of flowering trees. But it isn’t Italy, and it never will be.
This means, I had to throw out all of my Italian plans and dreams and try to figure something else out. I mean, what am I going to do when I am finally accountable before God? Am I going to explain to Him how I was cheated out of my Italian life? I don’t think so. I’m going to have to bring other things to the bar of my judgment, because I don’t want to stand before my Maker ashamed or embarrassed or worse, with nothing to show for the gift of my life but wasted years. I fully believe that I am no less accountable than a woman with ten children. It’s just figuring out what I can make in Holland that will be worthy of the Lord’s blessing. This has taken a lot of fumbling around and getting it wrong, because I came to Holland without any handbook. I didn’t know the language or the customs. But finally, I feel as if I’ve figured out how to behave in Holland.
One of the things that can be difficult about living in Holland is when I meet weekly with those who live in Italy. Because Italy is so absorbing, it’s easy to forget that not everyone lives there. For those of us who don’t, it’s hard to constantly be hearing about the sunshine and Italian Alps I’ll never be able to ever see. With these things in mind, I’d like to give those of you who have been blessed with children some thoughts on this sensitive issue. It may start a new friendship, mend an old one, or at the least, create a dialogue. So, here are some do’s and don’t’s. I’ll start with the don’t’s first. I realize these are going to sound a bit blunt. I hope you will forgive me for that as I’ve tried to convey some thoughts that are sensitive for me.
Don’t judge. For some reason, there are those in the church who equate righteousness with certain blessings, and children are one of those blessings. The theory goes, if you’ve been blessed to have children, you’re living right. If not, well, then, those of us who are infertile and childless must’ve done something to forfeit those blessings. Even as I write this, it sounds stupid. But there are those who see it this way. I’ve talked with them.
Don’t tell me you know how I feel because you can’t. Unless you’ve lived in Holland with the understanding you will always live in Holland, you have no idea how this feels. Even I would be hesitant to compare my situation to those of other women who are childless. It’s an incredibly personal journey.
Don’t tell a woman without children that her biological clock is ticking. Trust me, she can tell time. Along this same line, don’t tell a woman without children that she’s going to be sorry if she never has one. Chances are, she’s already sorry.
Don’t tell a woman without children about your cousin, best friend from high school, or anyone else who had “the same problem” and had a miraculous pregnancy.
Don’t pat a childless sister on the arm and tell her, “It will happen for you, too.” Along this same line, don’t tell a sister that just because she’s been denied this blessing in mortality, she’s sure to have it in the life after. These kinds of simplistic answers for a complicated situation don’t help a childless sister.
Don’t tell an infertile woman that if she just had more faith, she’d be able to conceive. Yes, I’ve been told this.
Don’t talk about your birthing stories in front of those of us who can’t have children. If you think teenage boys have the floor for gory stories, you haven’t been an infertile woman listening to women tell their birthing stories. On more occasions than I can count, I’ve heard some of the goriest stories out of the mouths of women as they give every single detail of their forty-seven hour labor and intense birth of their fourteen pound baby. It is not pleasant to listen to how one loses her mucous plug while I’m trying to eat mashed potatoes and gravy. Yes, this has happened, and it’s not the worst of it.
Don’t probe or ask questions about what an infertile woman is doing to get pregnant. I would never dream of asking anyone else about their reproductive organs or processes, but for some reason, because I don’t have children, mine are up for table discussion.
I don’t know if these types of events are still experienced by childless women of childbearing age. I hope not. I realize with social media and other technological advances, things are very different today, and that’s good. Nothing would make me happier than to know that these types of experiences are a thing of the past. If that’s the case, I appreciate you reading and allowing me to share twenty-five years of difficult experiences I have never before expressed. Thank you.
Now for the Do’s.
Do have conversations that include everyone. You would do this for Sister Sheri Dew, wouldn’t you? Consider doing it for the sister who sits in the pew next to you. And by all means, talk about your kids. We realize they’re part of your life in Italy, but don’t make them the mainstay of long conversation in mixed company. And yes, this has happened, too, and I’ve been so grateful to those who’ve read the situation and changed the subject to include me.
Do continue to invite a childless woman to baby showers and other parties that involve children. When I was younger, I used to get baby shower invitations all the time. And finally, in a fit of frustration, I said something to my mother. “Why on earth,” I asked. “Do they keep giving me these invitations to baby showers?” My mother, in her wisdom said, “Because they love you, and they want to include you.”I’ve been grateful for every baby shower invitation I’ve received since, even if I never go.
If an infertile sister does happen to go to a baby shower, please make every effort to include her without overwhelming her. We realize that the shower is for the mother-to-be, and we do not want to take anything away from that experience. Just be tactful. And yes, this happened, too, when I was obligated to attend a particular baby shower. The sisters there were masters of tact, and I was ever so grateful.
Do become friends with a woman without children. You won’t catch the disease, so don’t worry. But what you may find is a sister who can be a loyal and trustworthy friend. Because she doesn’t have any children, she’s had to learn how to build relationships without the built in ice breaker. She may turn out to be your best friend.
If it feels right and only if it feels right, do invite a childless sister to hold your baby while you go to the restroom (Alone. Wouldn’t that be nice?), grab a plate of food, talk to another sister, conduct a meeting, or teach a class. We may not handle babies every day, or be masters at it, but we’ve watched often enough to have a fairly good idea as to how to do it. And that little bit of effort from a mother can make such a difference. This has happened, too. It brought me to tears.
If you have found this to be helpful at all, please, pass it on. It’s a tender subject in a church where families with children are revered and motherhood is considered next to Godhood. Those of us who are not mothers during this mortal life are placed in positions during almost every single meeting to come face-to-face with the fact that we did not get to live in Italy. If you don’t believe me, just watch, listen, or read our last General Conference and count the number of times the role of mother is mentioned. It’s done so often that it’s just a part of our everyday language as Latter-day Saints. This can make extremely difficult even the simplest of actions, such as going to church.
Please, understand we have maternal and nurturing instincts and desires that go unmet. Many people think that nurturing or maternal feelings come with the birth of a child. As far as I’m concerned, they are instilled in most women, especially LDS women, whether children are a part of her life or not. I mean, I have been learning how to live in Italy my whole life. Just because that isn’t where I landed doesn’t mean I haven’t read all the right books, listened to all the right talks, and have all the nurturing feelings of a mother. I do.
I hope that as you read this and the post that will come tomorrow, you will think of those in your ward family or in other places who are childless and consider ways you can include them, because even though some of us aren’t mothers, we are all still sisters in Zion.
If this is an issue you’d like to talk about, please feel free to message me publically or privately through my Facebook page, “Waters of Peace,” or you can comment directly here.