Relief Society: Fight or Flight

A few weeks ago I sat in RS and realized it would be one of those lessons. You know, the kind that makes your skin crawl. A young mom who recently moved into our ward was asked to teach Elder Christoffereson’s talk “The Moral Force of Women.” It was clear she had no idea that this talk might be a landmine and I turned to my friend sitting next to me and said, “I may start to cough uncontrollably and leave. I don’t think I can sit through this.” I’m fairly outspoken and generally not afraid to rock the boat. But here’s how disagreement usually plays out in RS: Sister A says x, Sister B says not x, and a wave of horror passes through the room because women, God bless us, do not like conflict—especially when a lace tablecloth is present. Then Sister C says, “I think we are all trying to say the same thing…” and cobbles together an idea that satisfies neither A nor B and shuts down any real discussion. Pleasantness restored, honest dialogue? Not so much.

So I scooted to the edge of my seat and prepared to find sanctuary in the foyer. But I noticed who my back row buddies were and I stopped. In addition to my friend next to me, who has kids and works, there was my dear friend D who had fled from a Singles Ward because she often felt infantilized and undervalued there. Two thoughts entered by head: First, we belong in the trenches together; and second, I’m a coward and I suck. I decided to stay and be part of the resistance. D smiled at me and I smiled back and I started to sing in my head, “Will you join in our crusade who will be strong and stand with me” because I’m dorky like that and sometimes imaginary theme music comforts me.

The teacher put three quotes from Christofferson on the board and asked us to divide into groups to discuss and come up with insights to share with the group. I can’t tell you how much I hate that talk. I won’t post the quotes because I’d start rocking in a corner.  I vividly remember running errands that first Saturday in October and listening to conference via my iPhone. When his talk started I had just grabbed a Diet Coke and felt so paralyzed by his words that I could not drive but had to sit down and write my objections on the receipt, the only paper I had on me. Straw feminists! Fallacious arguments!  Gender reduction at its worst! It takes a lot to get me that riled up.

After five minutes the teacher asked for responses. I was afraid our back row band of feminists would be the only naysayers. I was wrong. A convert on the front row with a new baby told us she was returning to work that week and felt judged by the talk. And D raised her hand next, which she rarely does. She stood up and said, “I’m single and may never have kids. I don’t know if I even want kids. Does this make me less of a woman? I read talks like this and feel that is a poor yardstick of my eternal value.” D got teary and so did I. The sister next to her, an empty nester with 6 kids who loved the talk, took her hand. The low point for me was the teacher’s well meaning response to D, that the Lord would give her a husband and kids in the next life so we should all just be happy because in the end it’ll work out. I felt like the whole room collectively shook their heads at this drivel.

A woman on the front row also got emotional sharing how much she loved the talk. “I’m a stay at home mom with 7 kids and every time I leave my house I feel judged and invalidated for my choices. Christofferson’s words make me feel like what I do matters.” A few others chimed in that the talk was a balm to them as well.

I decided to weigh in on the list of feminine qualities written on the board: nurturing, intuitive, faith, empathy, virtuous, humble, etc. These are wonderful traits, but women hardly have the monopoly on them and to say so diminishes the women who’ve worked to develop them and sends a message to men that they belong to the ladies. Whenever I want to make a point that will be hard to shutdown I turn to my friend Jesus. Because every word in the “feminine” column can be applied to Him. Gender stereotypes break down with the man who said, “Oh how I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing.” Honestly, on my hardest mommy days it is the Savior who is my example of patience and nurturing.  And no one can argue with Jesus.

By the time class ended, most of the women had had their say. Some loved the talk. Some hated it. Many had never stopped to think how it made them feel. But it was a little miracle to me that such a divisive talk could have spurred so much honesty and compassion within my RS. There was lots of disagreement, but no contention. And I feel closer to the sisters in that room. The truth is we are not all saying the same thing, and we should never confuse consensus with connection.

When a lesson gets messy at church, do you:

A: find a baby to pinch and take out to the lobby

B. sit silently and play Angry Birds

C. stay and speak out when needed

D. other

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On My First Mother’s Day Weekend

On Saturday evening a loved friend met my babe for the first time. Perhaps because of this, the conversation turned to children, and whether she hopes to have one some day. The answer was yes: one. I told her the thing you say, that if she chooses to have a baby, and is able to have one, that she “will be a great parent.” I said this thing sincerely–completely, completely sincerely. She said the thing that I have never had anyone say. “Do you think you are a great parent?” For what felt like a long time, I could only pause. I could only be silent.

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On the Subject of My Highest and Holiest Calling

Dear Church leaders,

I’ve seen the new page at motherhood.mormon.org. You know which one: the one that celebrates mothers by saying that parenting (specifically, motherhood) is our “highest, holiest calling.”

First, thank you. I know you’re trying to pay me a compliment, and I should receive it graciously.

Second, I’d like to gently remind you that what you’ve said isn’t quite true, and I can’t honestly receive a compliment that is a lie.

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Guest Post: Why I’ll Be Fasting on Mother’s Day

by Aimee

In 1870, in the wake of the United States’ bloody Civil War and the start of the Franco-Prussian war, Julia Ward Howe (American abolitionist, suffragist, pacifist, and author of the well-known “Battle Hymn of the Republic”) penned an “appeal to womanhood” which would later come to be known as the “Mother’s Day Proclamation.” She wrote:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of tears!

Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says “Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance
of justice.”

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Sacred Music: How Firm a Foundation

It was a few years ago, when I lived an hour’s drive from the nearest church branch (we joked that it was a “twig”), that I started to download and listen to General Conference. It seemed rather pointless to me to drive for an hour to sit on uncomfortable, cheap chairs in a room with maybe 4 other people to watch the conference that the rest of the world has seen 2-3 weeks earlier. So I began the habit of listening to the talks online as I did dishes, folded clothes or worked otherwise on an almost daily basis.

As an audio learner, this turned out to improve the conference experience for me, and probably for the first time in my life, I really heard the layers of meaning in each of the speakers’ talks. But this experience was not limited to the talks.

aloneThis one morning, I was ridiculously stressed. It really was nothing new. I was undergoing IVF for either the 3rd of 4th time in preparation for a surrogate to hopefully carry my child. IVF itself was no easy task with my complicated medical conditions. And we lived rurally, purposefully so, for the job there would pay enough for us to undergo IVF and surrogacy. So I was preparing for a 2-day, 20-hour drive to the city where I actually undergo the IVF surgery. My surrogate lived even further away, and was having family and fertility problems of her own. On top of that, we needed to arrange for post-IVF transfer of the live embryos to the surrogate, which involved a number of additional governmental bureaucratic authorities that required additional medical test results from all of us.

I was ridiculously stressed. I cried daily, several times a day, often bitterly, sometimes for reasons I still can’t understand. Sometimes I cried tears of joy from General Conference e talks. Other times, I cried uncontrollably because of General Conference talks.

And I felt completely alone.

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Guest Post: Postpartum Depression

 

 

by Robyn Rowley

I expected motherhood to be hard. I was nervous about having a baby because I’m not great with kids and I loved going to work every day. I was pleasantly surprised the first few nights home from the hospital when I was (sleepily) excited to wake up to my baby’s cries and feed her. Despite recovering from major surgery and labor, motherhood didn’t seem as difficult or as dull as I had imagined.

But I began to struggle, and I soon couldn’t remember why I wanted to have a baby. My initial major difficulty was the inability to sleep, even though my baby slept like a champ at night. The exhaustion soon made me desperate, and I tried everything I could think of to get precious shut-eye. I counted sheep. I sang lullabies to myself. I relaxed every part of my body until I ran out of parts. I wore ear plugs. I removed the clock from the room so I couldn’t look at the time or hear the ticking through my ear plugs. I took melatonin before going to bed. And then I started taking melatonin every time I woke up during the night to help me go back to sleep. I decided one bleary morning when I had only slept two hours that I had discovered a new definition of hell.

I had plenty of support, especially from my husband, who studied at home to help with the baby. Despite his efforts to give me a break and let me rest as much as possible, I just couldn’t relax.

The anxiety quickly became unbearable. That, plus a sleep deficit, was giving me headaches. I lost my appetite.

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