5/23/2005

How many kids do I have to have?

There is an interesting discussion going on at FMH about not wanting to have children. Reading this got me thinking about a conversation I had with a good friend of mine about Mormon women having children. We were talking about some women that we knew who were mothers, and who, frankly, weren't all that thrilled about it. We felt that these women had children just because that was what they were "supposed" to do, but if they were honest with themselves and their husbands, they might have taken another road altogether. I am a woman who definitely wanted to have children. I feel I planned my life and my life goals very carefully around having children, and felt very comfortable giving birth when I did. And I definitely want to have more. I don't need a huge family, but I would like to have more than one. But reading that post over at FMH and talking to some women who feel compelled to have children makes me wonder if I am in the minority. I knew one woman who said her mother-in-law had 6 children, only because she felt like she was supposed to, but she admitted that she probably would have stopped much earlier if she had felt the choice was really up to her. I also know another woman who when she had 3 children, felt like she had finally reached what the Mormon culture would consider "a handful", and she felt relieved that she didn't have to have any more. She was reluctant to admit it, but she said, "Really, part of me buys into that, that now that I have 3 kids, we are finally a family, that we've reached the minimum acceptable to Mormon culture. And now I don't have to have any more." Do we as Mormon women really feel so out of control of our lives? Having children is not like shopping for shoes--our choices are eternal and irreversible. We should be able to make our choices with counsel from our husbands and our God, and make decisions based on mutual understanding and personal revelation. I think only then can we have peace in our families, and enjoy our blessings. Seriously, there is just WAY too much poop involved in motherhood to embark on the adventure with less than complete commitment to the endeavor. Some parts of motherhood are just so painful, so tiring, so completely icky that to be dealing with it all with a sense of forced labor would make it even more miserable, perhaps even unbearable. It seems sad to me that in a church that values personal revelation almost above all other things that some women could be reduced to this kind of situation.

30 Comments:

Blogger Julie M. Smith said...

There's a lot going on in your post. Here's what I think:

(1) Any woman who has (or doesn't have) a certain number of children based on (her perception of) what is culturally acceptable is evil.

(2) A woman may feel led to have more children than she would have if she didn't consult God. In this case, she might display some of the behaviors you mentioned. I am OK with this. If I felt led to have eight kids, I would have them, but I wouldn't be thrilled about it. I'd try to keep the griping to a minimum, tho.

(3) I cannot believe how often and how publicly Church members will judge each other over this issue. They should be ashamed.

5/23/2005 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger Kaimi said...

Heather,

This is simple, really. Just do the logic.

(a) We're supposed to be like Heavenly Father.

(b) He has a few billion kids.

(c) Therefore, you can stop when you hit nine figures.

:)

5/23/2005 01:31:00 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

I think this has a lot to do with how you are raised. I was never taught that there was a minimum number of kids to have. Or that if you didn't have a certain number you were somehow deficient. I didn't hit those attitudes until I married my DH. All of a sudden, there were expectations for childbearing, i.e. when to start (immediately) and how many (a lot). There are expectations in the church (it's built into the sealing ceremony; I had a friend who took it literally and started a family, even though it probably wasn't the smartest thing financially for their family), but I don't think it's follows that we have buy into them. I think it's sad, too, when we do. There's already so much pressure and expectations on our lives, do we really need to stress about perceptions on how many kids to have?

5/23/2005 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger Russell Arben Fox said...

As soon as I saw this link on T&S, I figured you'd probably comment on it, Melissa.

I agree with everything my Beloved Wife wrote. However, I'd just like to make it clear that when my BW wrote "I didn't hit those attitudes until I married my DH," she was not referring to attitudes that I brought into the marriage. It was my family, and specifically my father (the proud pater familias of nine children), who brought those pressures to bear. That is all.

5/23/2005 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger The Wiz said...

You all are getting it ALL WRONG!! Don't you know, that when we die, we get our own planet, and the more kids we have, the bigger the planet? (actual quote from non-member to me)

Which makes no sense whatsoever, because of course the size of our planet is dependent on how much wheat is in our basement, not on our fertility!

5/23/2005 03:28:00 PM  
Anonymous danithew said...

I keep stumbling when I hit the DH acronymn. I have figured out it must be "Dear Husband" but I kept coming up with "designated hitter" in my mind first.

5/23/2005 03:40:00 PM  
Blogger Silus Grok said...

I've not heard the sentiments expressed in this post... but I don't doubt that there are those who feel pressure to meet certain minimums.

When I was actively dating, I came to this conclusion: if I'm ever asked about how many children I'd like, my response would be "I don't know; it's a matter between the Lord, my wife, and I. I guess we'll probably start with one, and go from there".

5/23/2005 03:40:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

Wiz-

LOL! But for sure I'm going straight to hell--I have NO wheat in my basement.

Julie-

Thanks for your thoughts. I definitely agree with you about #2. I have known women who find themselves in that situation, too, women who thought they were done and heard a voice, had a dream, had a strong impression, etc, that there were more, and half-heartedly agreed to it because they were willing to do God's will. I've also known women who wanted more, but had the same type of experiences warning them against more children. We certainly don't hear about warnings like that very often, but I did know somebody who felt that way. Good thing she didn't have that extra one she wanted, because she got extremely sick very soon thereafter, and could have in no way cared for an infant.

On #3: ditto.

5/23/2005 03:54:00 PM  
Blogger Kaimi said...

By the way, Heather, you ought to check out Bryce's thoughts on a similar topic, from several months back at T & S. ( http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=1533 ).

He discusses Mormon nosiness about family choices, and has a great ending paragraph about one acquaintance:

"She got so tired of strangers giving unsolicited advice and unwarranted criticism of her family situation that she finally decided that she would answer any question as to why she didn't have any kids, 'If you must know, my husband's penis was cut off in a motorcycle accident.'"

5/23/2005 04:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Minerva said...

Julie M. Smith said: "Any woman who has (or doesn't have) a certain number of children based on (her perception of) what is culturally acceptable is evil."

This is a little harsh. I would say there are a lot of reasons a woman would bend to cultural pressures, and these reasons do not necessarily indicate inherent wickedness.

5/23/2005 05:14:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

I won't address the not wanting to have any children issue.

I can address the how many children to have issue.

Motherhood is horrible. It is hard. You fail. You can't do it. You don't recognize yourself anymore because you whine and complain because it sucks to take care of your kids 24/7. You miss the days when you had a little freedom. You look around and wonder what's wrong with you because other mothers manage to comb their kids hair.
You are angry at God for making Eve bring children into the world in sorrow. How can it be a good thing that your firstborn is stuck watching TV all day because you are pregnant with #2. Pregnancy makes you a BAD mother. Taking care of a baby makes you a BAD mother.
Having a baby makes you a bad wife. ANd your husband a bad husband.
So you think to yourself, this is pure hell. I can't possibly do this again. I can't take care of these children properly and give them everything that I want them to have. They deserve a mother who is patient, kind, loving. They deserve a mother who has it together, clean house, organized, capable. Not one who forgets or is late or stressed out.
My kids deserve the best. And you think God can't possibly want me to do this again. I can't do it.
You cry just thinking about having another one.
You ask God....please tell me its ok not to have another one. God wants me to be a perfect mother and raise these children perfectly. Just go to church and you learn all about how perfect we are supposed to be.
But sometimes you just get pregnant. Or maybe you feel it is God's will that you try to get pregant. Either way, you have another one.

You can be angry at God. Why did he make life so hard?
LEts look at history. Slavery. Disease. War. Famine. Tsunamis...... And there were thousands of years before refridgerators, microwaves, showers, disposable diapers & wipes, toilet paper, running water......
Life, as God planned it, apparently is supposed to SUCK. Life, as God planned it, wasn't supposed to be fun, easy and wonderful.
Life, as Eve chose it, and we chose it, is really, really, really hard.
Does God care that I didn't feel like I could do everything I wanted for myself, my marriage and my 2 children if I had another child?
No. His purpose is more important than that. He wanted Kate to be born and it was his will that she be born into our family.
Part of me was angry at God. How dare he not listen to my huge long lists of why I couldn't do this again.
But the part of me that won was "Not my will but Thy will be done."
I thank my Heavenly Father for the blessing of my daughter Kate. For all the blessings are worth all the sacrifices.
How I love my family. What joy it brings me. How I've grown and learned during my time as a Mother.
And I try so hard to take care of the three children he has given us. I would die for them. And I will give most of life raising them. I think I'm doing a good job, but I want to try harder to be better.
Because I love them so much I want what is best for them. I'm trying not to yell and to brush their teeth and have them play outside and I read them stories and I am teaching them right and wrong and we have FHE but we're still working on that daily family prayer. And Heavenly Father, I'm doing my best and I'm getting better at it but I can't possibly see that I could handle another child because there is still so much I should be doing that I don't have the energy to do and here is my list of why I can't have another child..........

5/23/2005 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger lchan said...

People tend to be nosy and judgmental - no one should ever decide to have children based on someone else's nosy, judgmental opinion.

I loved that T&S post that Kaimi mentioned. It's a classic.

When my husband and I were first married we lived in Japan and I was asked more than once (by almost complete strangers), "Don't you like your babies?" I know that this was just a matter of translation, but it was such a funny question to me. I'd say something, "Sure I like them. I'm just not ready for them yet."

The truth is you have to make the choices that are best for you, and in the end, you don't always have a choice in the matter.

A lot of folks deal with infertility, secondary infertility or medical issues that come up that can change plans. I know a woman who only wanted two or three kids, and she ended up with six because she had triplets - twice.

5/23/2005 05:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Icahn: Lol. Mistranslation or not...that is really the bottom of the issue: "the" babies, or their spirits at least, already exist. whether or not they are 'yours' is unknown/old 70s cheesy mormon folklore. So, _either_ we do/don't like to participate in helping these spirits into a nice LDS family _or_ same, except they are 'our' children we are leaving out to dry.

5/23/2005 06:11:00 PM  
Blogger The Wiz said...

Along with JKS, I also choose not to address the not wanting to have kids issue. But I will address the how many, based simply on my experience.

My husband and I 'chose' when we were going to have our first child. We felt ready, financially, emotionally, etc. It was a year before we got pregnant. I guess we weren't as ready as we thought. I know a year is not a big deal in the medical world, but at the time, it seemed like forever.

My second started 'yelling' at me the moment my first was born. I literally kept hearing 'MY TURN' and my baby was six weeks old. I had to say, out loud, 'LOOK, I cannot handle two kids. I can barely handle the one. I am willing to have them eighteen months apart, but not sooner.' The yelling stopped. It started up again when my oldest was around nine months old, reminding me of my 'bargain.' I was certain that this was a little boy. My first two (both girls) are 20 months apart. I know this story sounds weird, and I never really believed women when they said things like that, until I found myself having conversations with my unborn.

I think part of me also never really believed they would be that close, assuming it would take awhile to get pregnant again. It didn't.

We had our third when he started harassing me. I swear to you, I am not making this up. I still felt strongly that we had a boy up there, and if our second had been a boy, I don't know that we would have had a third. God knows what He's doing.

So, really, my agency was there, but the timing was out of my hands, although I do think my second and third ones would have liked to have been born a tad sooner.

The voices have been silent for a while (and I know that by now you're all thinking I should be on Lithium or something), and I really, truly, believe that we are finished. But if I feel that God wants me to have another one, I can trust that enough to have another one. He just better send me the energy to handle it.

5/23/2005 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger annegb said...

LOL--I think designated hitter, too!

I was at a meeting where Paul Dunn spoke (before the notoriety),and somebody asked him that question and he said that the thought a lot of marriages would be happier if they'd had less kids.

He also made the point that Harold B. Lee had one child, Joseph Fielding Smith had 9 or 10, I can't remember, then he asked, "who do you think is more righteous?"

5/23/2005 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger annegb said...

PS>

I got the reference to this page from Kaimi's little deal on Times and Seasons. I wonder how he has time to check these all out. But I enjoy them.

I myself have lots of free time. Eat your hearts out. Well, at the moment.

5/23/2005 06:40:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

Anon said:" "the" babies, or their spirits at least, already exist. whether or not they are 'yours' is unknown/old 70s cheesy mormon folklore. So, _either_ we do/don't like to participate in helping these spirits into a nice LDS family _or_ same, except they are 'our' children we are leaving out to dry."

Lyle, is that you?

5/23/2005 07:18:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

Annegb--I don't know how Kaimi finds everything he does, but we sure appreciate the traffic!

5/23/2005 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger Susan M said...

I don't feel out of control of my life. I had my tubes tied when I was 24, after three kids. We always planned on having two and adopting two, but number 3 was a surprise (one that was definitely supposed to happen, so I never say "accident"). With number 3 I discovered I was diabetic. It was a hard decision to make, to get my tubes tied so young, but after I did I knew it was right. And I've never regretted it, even though it doesn't look like we'll end up adopting any kids--at least not anytime soon.

5/23/2005 08:10:00 PM  
Blogger TftCarrie said...

I am the last of 8 children. My older sister has 10 kids. I felt the pressure to have children from my family during the first couple of years of my marriage. But after that, I think they gave up--or finally realized that it was none of their business. But I have to say that I felt the most pressure from the people that we associated with in Provo, UT (where we lived for the first 3 years that we were married). During our final year in Provo, we lived in Wymount aka: The BYU Rabbit Hutches. I can't remember anything anyone said specifically along the lines of us not having kids yet, but I do remember being the only people in our ward/building complex that did not have kids. I also remember feeling really lonely because I had no friends there. Maybe that is why I felt the pressure--wanting to "fit in" can make you feel that way for sure.

The only way I made it through that time was remembering that there is a difference between mormon culture and mormon doctrine. Sometimes it is hard to remember that --especially in UT where the lines seem to be blurred more than other places.

We had our first baby after we had been married 6 years (which makes us weird in some mormon circles). I do have to say that I constantly struggle with making sure that I am open to personal revelation concerning the matter of having more children as I continue to "plan" my family because I realize that it is not just my choice.

5/23/2005 10:31:00 PM  
Blogger annegb said...

Sigh, I am envious of somebody who got to be married 6 years without children. I'm sorry you were lonely, but it must have been nice in other ways.

My daughter (my younger one) says she doesn't want to have kids for 5 years. I tell her she's smart.

5/23/2005 10:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When DW and I got married at an *ahem* less-young age than most LDS marriages, we decided to use birth control for the first year to give ourselves a chance to grow together as husband and wife. Once we felt comfortable in those roles, then we'd try to tackle mommy and daddy.

Who knew that infertility was right around the corner? In our 12-year marriage, there have been a total of three conceptions -- all ending as miscarriages. Only those who have been there can understand the euphoria (because we were actually able to conceive) mixed with the despair (because the way we found out she was pregnant was when she started spotting).

So, we are an adoptive family. Our son is the joy of our lives. Being older parents, we knew that we shouldn't waste any time if we wanted to adopt again. We discussed praying about it, but it seemed silly; of course Heavenly Father wanted us to increase our family size. Still, since Fast Sunday was upon us anyway, we made it a matter of fasting and prayer.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when the answer came. I was serving on the local Temple Committee preparing for the Open House. I was heading into a meeting the impression I got was "Don't be selfish. You have a child to parent. Your family is complete."

I questioned this impression because it seemed so out-of-sorts with my LDS upbringing. Why would Heavenly Father tell someone willing to take in an adoptable child that the answer was no? I debated it in my head the entire meeting and on the long drive home.

Once home, I sat down with my wife and told her of the impression. She was relieved to hear it, for it was the same basic impression she had received and confirmed the "rightness" of something that seemed so improbable.

Six weeks later, our almost-three-year-old was diagnosed with cancer. It's five-years later now. Half that time was spent undergoing active chemotherapy and the rest has been periodic testing to make sure the cancer hasn't relapsed. So far, all is well.

I'm not one to say what size a family should be. Ours has three members, none of whom share a drop of blood but are sealed together by the holy priesthood.

That doesn't mean to say it isn't hard sometimes. I've found myself subconsciously finding reasons to excuse myself from the room when friends come to church with a newborn. I get baby-hungry and then all the wounds are reopened. My heart has a hole in it for the children that I didn't get to father. Still, I trust the impressions we received 5-years ago and stand by them.

5/24/2005 06:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoops! Forgot to leave my name. That last post was mine.

Chad Too

5/24/2005 06:41:00 AM  
Blogger Allison said...

"number 3 was a surprise (one that was definitely supposed to happen, so I never say "accident")."

Susan M, I like to think of our "surprise" as a "happy accident," since at the time, we had no plans for kids (and weren't so happy when we found out otherwise, it being a stressful time even without an unplanned pregnancy), but now I'm extremely grateful she showed up when she did.

I have never felt any inspiration about how many kids to have, or when to have them. I've only prayed about it when I really want a child anyway, so maybe that's why.

I do think it's funny that after having three children, non-member friends constantly ask if we're finally done (implied is "now that you have a boy") and LDS friends do too (but it's more of a "you know you want another one" sort of question).

5/24/2005 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger Melissa said...

To so totally threadjack, what has really annoyed me lately is not so much the "are you done yet?" questions but the "are you going to try again for a boy" ones. We have three girls. What on earth makes people think we want a boy?

5/24/2005 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger the special one said...

Dh and I had originally planned on waiting 2 years before we started our family. We ended up waiting about 5 1/2 yrs. We never had any pressure from family or friends. But then we moved to WA when we had been married about 3 yrs. and a lot of people in the ward assumed that we were newlyweds when they found out we didn’t have any kids. There were a lot of questions about why we didn’t have any yet. I usually answered that I wasn’t ready, but I got really offended by how many people that we didn’t know very well, who felt like it was their business to know when we were going to have kids. When we first started trying I got pregnant quickly (less than 2 months), but that pregnancy ended in miscarriage and I was devastated. Neither of my older sisters or my mom had had a miscarriage so I never expected to have one either. I didn’t realize until later how common they really are. It took me about 9 more months to get pregnant the 2nd time, I was so frustrated, I come from very fertile stock so I assumed that it would be quick and easy. When my son was about a year old people at church started asking when we were going to have our next one. It seemed like they were expecting us to maintain a certain time schedule or something. Our daughter is just about 3 years younger than her brother, which is what we wanted. I had a lot of people tell me that he would be jealous and they wouldn’t get along because there was too much of an age difference. I think they are crazy, my son adored her when she was born and now that she is 16 months they get a long like most siblings, some days great others not so well. We are planning on waiting at least 1 ½ yrs before we start trying for # 3, if we have # 3, we aren’t sure yet. I think that I want to have at least one more maybe even 2 more, but I know that we’ll know when the time is right. I just know that I can’t do the every 2 years thing.

Melissa- I’ve had some non-member friends ask me if we were done now that we have one of each, so while the whole “have a tone of kids” thing bugs me about some church members, I also hate the attitude of some non- members that think if you have more than 2 kids you are over populating the world. I think that most parents are happy with what they have, whether it’s both boys and girls or all of one sex. ( btw I come from a family of 5 girls/5 boys)

5/24/2005 02:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Claire said...

Melissa, I'm with you. Part of me is scared to death to have a boy. We have two girls and I'm expecting a third baby in October. Our kids will be 9 and 6 then, and people who don't know we've had a lot of secondary infertility problems either ask "Was this planned" (!!!! I can't believe people ask that) or "Oh, finally decided to try for a boy?"

5/24/2005 03:10:00 PM  
Blogger Allison said...

Melissa, I can totally relate. When we were expecting our third, everyone, LDS and non, seemed to think we would be devastated if we had another girl. I always thought I'd be happy with whatever gender -- I wanted a child, not an accessory to make my family look complete!

But actually, when we had the ultrasound at 24 weeks and it was a boy, I cried. I couldn't help myself. I felt competent to raise girls (and a little freaked out about raising a boy), I'd had a vivid dream about my beautiful baby girl, I had the name picked out, etc. I cried whenever I thought about it for almost two months, and felt horribly guilty about crying.

It seems extremely silly now (I got over it, I love my boy, really), but whenever people would make comments about the boy being what we were trying for, it made me feel even worse.

5/25/2005 09:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Vanessa said...

Whenever I get into conversations about this topic everyone says, "This is something personal between husband, wife, and the Lord." When I hear that I always imagine dh & dw kneeling together in prayer and deciding together how many children to have.

How often does this really happen? It certainly hasn't happened for me and I fear that it never will.

When dh & I first married we were talking 5 or 6 kids. Now that we have 3 dh says, "No more." Where is the consensus in this? The mutual consideration?

For me I have always wanted 5 or 6 kids. I do feel a spiritual responsibilty, even guilt. I mean, I get pregnant easily, have easy pregnancy/labor, and dh makes a good living so money isn't an issue. And I imagine all those little spirits who need a loving home that wants them.

It's all well and good when posters mention that a dh & dw should consult with God and have the children designated for them. So how does one reconcile when dh & dw are at odds?

5/25/2005 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

Vanessa-
That's a tough one, when you and your husband are at odds about something, especially something like children, which involves some serious commitment from him, too.

I know that whenever DH and I have been at odds (which, admittedly, has not been often) we have gone to the temple as a couple, and prayed separately. Then we left the temple, and discussed how we had felt and the answers we received individually, then worked it out.

I don't know if that helps, but that has been how we have worked it out.

And I wouldn't feel guilty about all the spirits that need homes that you could provide. With infertility issues, etc, and teenage pregnancy, it seems that sometimes God has plans for spirits that we don't always understand. We just have to trust Him to know what is best for us.

5/25/2005 11:25:00 AM  

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