“Bring them unto the elders”
When I found out I was pregnant with my new daughter, Linda, I was in shock. I wasn’t planning on becoming pregnant so soon and I spent the first trimester in a depression that allowed me to only play video games.
Labor was hard and it’s difficult to bond with a newborn: they don’t smile; they don’t do much of anything. You can’t tell if they actually like you, even a little bit. When I was 3 weeks postpartum, my husband took our two oldest to Disneyland for a weekend so that I could get a break from having three kids underfoot. However, having a single colicky baby without a partner to pass her off to when you’re tired is difficult, too. It was in those three days of solitude with my daughter that I tried very hard to “bond.” I felt bad for not wanting to be pregnant 9 months earlier. I didn’t want her to feel unwanted.
When my husband came home from the Disneyland trip I told him, “I want to hold her for her baby blessing. I want to make up for not being happy about the pregnancy. It’d be like a public apology to her, a reconciliation.”
The culture around baby blessings is such that if you have the blessing at home, the family has a lot more freedom in how it is done, however, if you do it in a church, there are more restrictions. I was split: I wanted to have the freedom of a home blessing, but wanted to share it with our whole ward.
In the weeks leading up to the blessing, I considered whether or not I wanted to get permission to hold my daughter for the blessing or if I should just go up and do it. On one hand, it seemed ridiculous to ask a man, not related to me at all, if I could hold my own child. Nonsensical! But on the other hand, I didn’t want to spring something out of the ordinary on the bishop the day of the event. He’s a good guy- it’d just be nice to give him a head’s up.
So I did go to the bishop. I caught him in the hallway and told him that my husband and I would like me to hold our daughter and that I know women who have done it and that there’s nothing discouraging it in the Church Handbook. He told me that he understood why I’d like to do that and would look into it and get back to me.
Our stake has a history of trying new things or doing things a little differently from time to time, so I felt sure that my request would be granted. A few days before the date of her blessing, I got a call from our bishop. He had discussed it with the stake president and it was decided that per D&C 20:70, they felt that I couldn’t be included. He did say that we were authorized to do the blessing however we wanted to at home. Once again I felt split about the blessing: home, or church? I thanked him for his phone call and said we’d let him know what our decision would be.
I spent the next 24 hours imagining different scenarios: doing it at church, doing it at home with the two of us holding her with our family there or without them there. I also wondered if maybe I could try again. I wasn’t convinced that D&C 20 meant my exclusion- should I ask again, with only a couple of days left before the blessing? Do I want to put myself in baby blessing limbo again while I’m trying to play hostess to visiting family? I decided to email the bishop,
Bishop,Thanks for bringing up the D&C 20 verse. To be honest, I had only looked at the Handbook II and it seems really egregious now to have missed the scripture. I have been looking at it this past day or so and it seems to me that me holding Linda could actually be the personification of the command to “bring them to the Elders before the church, who are to lay their hands upon them.” I guess I imagined me holding her up with my hands underneath her and everyone else’s hands on her head/on top of her. I know that’s not how babies are typically held for blessing- there’s something like a group bouncing motion. It was just something I was thinking about.I have heard of great experiences with babies blessed at home and it is still an option for us. I guess I’m split because part of me sees baby blessings as a way to welcome the child into the community. When we had Margaret I had wanted her blessing to be done at home because I knew that we’d move out of the ward. But for Isaac and Linda, we know we’ll be here a while and we know that the ward members will be their Primary teachers and youth leaders and so I want the ward to be included, which is why I’m still leaning towards the blessing at church.If I can’t hold her, maybe I could hold the mic? Also, thanks for taking time to think about this and study it out.
And then I waited.
The night before the blessing, I got a call from the bishop. He reiterated that he and the stake president didn’t feel that there was much leeway in the blessing in a church setting, but had an idea sparked by my desire to include the ward: what if I went up and sat on the first row for the blessing and when it was finished, did the Rafiki-Lion-King hold for the ward? My husband and I could do it together or I could do it by myself.
It wasn’t what I wanted by a long shot, but it was such a creative solution that I agreed to it. I knew the bishop was trying and felt constrained in his position. He also added that since we were having a musical testimony-like meeting, that it would be nice if I wanted to share a hymn for Linda.
That night, my husband and I had a small blessing between the two of us. Then on Sunday we had the public blessing. For the first time for a church event for us, we had a small crowd and we squished into two long pews. As arranged, I brought Linda up to the front and sat on the front row. Her blessing was a combination of what we had both hoped for her the night before. And when it was finished, I stood up and presented Linda, Rafiki-style. I could feel myself grinning- it was so much fun to be there and a part of it. I also did go up and talk a little about a hymn for Linda.I share this for a couple of reasons: first, I think it’s good to learn about how different people address gender issues in the Church and the back-and-forth between me and the bishop is an interesting case study. Second, for women who might want a bigger part in a baby blessing, but might be shy about bringing something up, the Rafiki-presentation would be an option that you wouldn’t even need to ask ward leadership about. Additionally, I wanted to give my bishop credit for an original idea that I hadn’t heard discussed in conversations about baby blessings. It’s not what I wanted and I’m disappointed in that, but props for creativity.