Childish Thinking

The scene: two years ago in my living room. Talking with my old friend Blue Eyed Belle (at least, this is what I remember).

BEB: So, I want to be a mother.
Me: Hmmm … are you involved with someone you’re not telling me about?
BEB: Nope. I’ve been looking for a sperm donor.
Me: You’ve been looking … What?! Sperm donor? Are you serious?
BEB: Yes. I want to be a mother, and now’s the time.
Me: Uhhhm … really? You want to be a single mom?
BEB: Yeah, there are all kinds of sperm donation catalogues. It didn’t work the last time, so I’m going to try again.
Me: Last time? You’ve done it before?
BEB: Yeah, but it didn’t take, so I’m going to try again.

BEB continues talking about what kind of donor she is looking for, and how she’s preparing (physically, financially, how she’s going to renovate her house, etc etc. And it’s all I can do to stop myself from blurting out really insensitive, dumb comments; and utter the neutral, non-judgmental and supportive things I hope she would say to me if I were doing something really important to me, which I knew she disapproved of.

Fast forward one year. Haven’t seen BEB since our last conversation. This isn’t surprising, since we live in different cities, are both very busy, and generally only get together a couple times a year. I receive an email birth announcement with pictures of a beautiful baby.

Fast forward another year. I still haven’t seen BEB since our last conversation. However, she’s invited me to Baby’s first birthday. And, despite knowing that I’ll be a stranger among a sea of her other friends, I want to, and do, go.

I was reminded of an episode of This American Life, 183: The Missing Parents Bureau, which focused on absent parents. In Case 1: Better Left to the Imagination , the focus is on single women who use sperm bank specimens to get pregnant. Generally, these are professional women, who don’t have or anticipate a mate in their lives, but are ready to be mothers. It’s always been hard for me to understand why women would do this. Parenthood seems hard enough when there are two parents, without throwing single (and single income) parenthood into the mix. If there’s an accident, divorce, death or desertion, of course it’s necessary to be a single parent. But I just couldn’t understand why anyone would go to such lengths to be a single parent. After listening to the program, I was decidedly more sympathetic towards those who have such a strong desire to be mothers.

What I see at the birthday party disarms me. Of course, BEB’s living in the same house that she bought before she ever had Baby. It’s still the same inviting and comfy place in a quiet suburban neighborhood. And when I go into the back yard, the place is decked to the nines with pirate garb, a children’s activity table, and nice people enjoying a casual meal. BEB looks the same. And yet, different. She has a settled and satisfied air, as if she’s contented now that she has found a purpose and person in which to deposit her large store of love, kindness and creativity. Baby is healthy, happy, curious and charming. All of BEB’s family is in from out of town … a family reunion celebrating several big events in the next few months. It made me happy to see them doing so well. I’m sure it won’t be all smooth trails in the life ahead, but I think their lives will have an abundance of joy.

Nowadays, the concept of bearing children seems very far away. As I explained to my gynecologist (who couldn’t seem to wrap her mind around a celibate, thirty-something, single heterosexual woman in LA), I’m not involved with anyone I would want to have children with. And while it occasionally makes me feel sad, it’s not something that I find fruitful to dwell on. And really, I’ve never experienced acute baby hunger. I’m not an aggressive baby fanatic … I don’t like to hold unconsolable children, and I don’t go out of my way to be with children who don’t want to be with me. But I like children. I work with them professionally. I like babysitting my nephews, and playing with my friends’ children. And I always thought that I’d have a couple of my own someday.

Indeed, this idea that I should and would have children, is something that I’ve been raised with my whole life. As LDS women, we’re told that motherhood is natural, and the culminating point of our existence here on earth. And I’m parroted at by orthodox members that women don’t need the priesthood because we’re destined to be mothers. And that even if it doesn’t happen in this mortal existence, it will happen in the after-life. And, in order to make them go away as soon as possible, I take the coward’s choice and just smile and nod.

But every once in a while, I do long to be a mother. It’s not very often. But there are times when I think that it would be deeply satisfying to raise a child, to have someone to lavish love upon, to nurture and teach and tend. Most times I fulfill these desires by trying to be good to those around me, at home and work, and it’s generally enough. But sometimes it’s not. And it’s at those times that I wonder about someday, when I’m more settled, becoming a foster or adoptive mother to a child in need. It’s a new idea to consider.

And so I wonder and I ponder. How do other single LDS women deal with singleness and childlessness, and the prospect that what we were taught in YW’s just may not be in the cards for every LDS woman? How do women in infertile marriages deal with not being to have and raise your own children? What about those who are working with a fertility specialist in order to get pregnant? How does it feel to grapple with something that seems so easy in the general, but so challenging on the personal level? For those remarkable people who do foster care or adopt, what have your experiences been? For those who have given up their child to another couple, how do you deal with not being with your child? Would you make the decision, given the benefit of retrospection.

Jana

Jana is university administrator and History professor. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com/pilgrimsteps/

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13 Responses

  1. Azúcar says:

    I was totally going to bring up the TAL “Missing Parents Bureau” and I was thrilled that you did.

    We struggled to have our first child. It was a very confusing time, but also a very holy one. It was a trial that I am more than thankful for—although could I say the same thing if we’d never had our babies?

    I started the process being reticent to have children. At the end of the process, through the years and the miscarriage, I was deeply and profoundly grateful in a way that I don’t think I would have been had we not suffered so.

  2. Just a Girl says:

    I am one of those women who always longed to be a mother. I am hopelessly sentimental, very affectionate with my family, and feel completed by having people to take care of. DH and I struggled a lot to get pregnant with our first child, who is now four, and then struggled and had several miscarriages trying to concieve #2.

    A little over a year ago, we opted to go the foster/adoption route. I can honestly say it was the best decision we could have made. I have not one single regret. I never thought fostering and adopting was something I would want to do, but somehow the idea grew on me over time and I really have felt guided to do it. I do think having my first child and already being a mother made it easier for me to feel confident about going that route.

    We have a nine month old baby we’ve had almost since birth, and soon we will start the process of adopting. We also took care of another child briefly last month. With fostering, it is never a sure thing that it will go to adoption, so we feel very blessed to have our baby. And we plan on continuing to foster in the future, regardless of the risks that some of the kids we foster “will have to go back.” Many of them need to go back. They are not all destined to be mine permanently, but they all need and deserve a safe place for whatever amount of time.

    I do feel less judgmental about people who decide to bring children into single parent homes, especially in foster care. There is such a great need for foster homes. And a loving, single parent home is usually much better than the troubled situations these kids come from.

  3. Caroline says:

    Fascinating, Dora.

    I’m actually all for single women who want children to make it happen. Be it sperm banks or foster/adoption. Though I particularly admire those that go the adoption route since there are so many kids out there that need homes.

    I would be fully supportive of any single friend who wanted to do this. It would be hard to single parent. Yes. But if the woman knew the challenges but knew that her love and talent and dedication could make it work, I say go for it. It just seems so unfair to me that a person not have that opportunity, if that’s what they really want and they know they can make it work.

  4. Liz W. says:

    How do other single LDS women deal with singleness and childlessness, and the prospect that what we were taught in YW’s just may not be in the cards for every LDS woman?

    Being 32, single, and LDS has been a challenge at times, especially in regards to childlessness. Growing up, I was never told that this might happen to me. I mean, does anyone remember having a lesson in YW’s that was entitled “Being a Childless Child of God” or “Family of One is Fun” or “Still Single, Still Worthy”? No? Neither did I.

    It wasn’t until I was well into my 20’s that I began realizing that perhaps what I was taught and expected wasn’t going to pan out. Goal posts that I thought I would have in my life weren’t visible anymore. And for awhile, I was bitter. Not necessarily because I didn’t have the husband and children, but because I felt that it wasn’t okay that I didn’t have those things.

    I’ve thought about adopting, but I’ve only found resistance when I’ve mentioned this to family, friends, or church leaders. And interestingly enough, they all end up saying the same things, and the word “selfish” is thrown around (even when I posted on the topic of adoption on another blog, I was cautioned about it being out of selfishness).

    This idea really bugs me. Yes, I would love to have someone to love. But, is that selfish?
    Is it selfish to decide to sacrifice time and money to support another human being just because I also want love them, and for them to love me?

    I don’t think so, but I guess I’m in the minority.

    (Sorry I’m so long winded, your post just resonated with me.)

  5. Dora says:

    Ooh, there’s that ugly word … selfish. For LDS single women, it’s a two edged sword. I often hear that it’s the fulfillment of our creation to be wives and mothers. That being married and having children is the most important thing we can do on earth. Etc etc.

    However, while I think they (motherhood, fatherhood, parenthood, marriage) can be a very important parts of this earthly existence, I’ve always understood that the point of this mortal period was to learn and grow, and return to our Heavenly Parents.

    Then there are those who, just as cruelly, say that women are selfish who want to have that “pinnacle experience” outside of traditional expectations. If parenthood is so wonderful, why would anyone want to block another responsible, caring and able adult from having that experience.

    I must be in the minority with Liz W and Caroline. I don’t see that there is anything selfish about wanting children … either your own, or to help take care of others. It makes me wonder how this issue was viewed during the era of “Saturday’s Warriors,” with all the rhetoric about there being countless spirit children of God waiting to come to earth, and that it was our divine duty to have large families.

  6. Vada says:

    Thanks for the interesting post, Dora.

    I, too, am of the opinion that if a single woman wants to have children, and she has a good idea of the challenges she will face and can provide for the child, she should be able to. I have to admit I’d be more comfortable with fostering or adoption than with her using a sperm bank, but I would support her either way.

    I don’t think that others should fling around the word “selfish” when a mature and responsible woman wants to have children. She probably has a good idea of the sacrifices it will entail, and she wouldn’t be willing to make those sacrifices if she was just being selfish.

    On the other hand, I know that for a while at least (I don’t know if it’s still a problem, but I would guess it is) there was a rash of teenagers who deliberately got pregnant because they wanted someone to love them. It was a sad situation all around, but it definitely irresponsible and selfish. I don’t think the two situations are comparable, though.

  7. Maria says:

    Dora, you didn’t mention whether your friend is LDS or not, but when I first read your post I assumed she was. And then I began to wonder if there was an official church policy on any of this, and this is what I found in DH’s Handbook:

    ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION

    “Artificial insemination with semen from anyone but the husband is strongly discouraged. However, this is a personal matter that ultimately must be left to the judgment of the husband and wife. Responsibility for the decision rests solely upon them.

    Artificial insemination of single sisters is not approved. Single sisters who deliberately refuse to follow the counsel of Church leaders in this matter are subject to Church discipline.”

    Also, under the UNWED PARENTS section, several of the statements about “pregnancy out of wedlock” might be applicable, depending upon your definition of unwed mother.

    Also, the following two sections also caught my eye:

    SPERM DONATION
    “The donation of sperm is strongly discouraged.”

    SURROGATE MOTHERHOOD
    “Surrogate motherhood is strongly discouraged.”

  8. Maria says:

    My reaction to the artificial insemination section is to question the rationale behind it. I mean, I guess I can come up with several reasons why it could be justified, but since it isn’t stated it just leaves me wondering.

    And, coming off of a year of critical feminist legal theory, I also immediately questioned why the punishment for a woman who engages in artificial insemination is to be “subject to church discipline,” while men who donate sperm are only “strongly discouraged” from doing so. I’ve been wanting to write a post on critical feminist legal theory as applied to the church “legal” system…maybe this section will fuel my fire.

  9. Dora says:

    My friend was LDS for many years. I don’t think she’s been to church in a while. However, I could be mistaken. We’ve had a very judgement-free friendship, and I try to keep it that way.

    The church’s stance doesn’t surprise me, although it does sadden me. It’s one of those areas where the arguments just don’t add up. We’re taught that women should be mothers, but then castigates single sisters for desiring to be what we “should” be.

    My friend is healthy, loving, intelligent, has a good income, and a house. That’s more than I can say for many traditional parents. She’s a wonderful mother.

    Personally, while I eventually want to be a mother, I have little desire to actually be pregnant. So, my choice, outside of marriage, would be to foster or adopt a child in need.

    Lastly, I would love to read the post you describe. I’ve had people who are very dear to my heart who have been greatly wronged by the church’s legal system. Too much depends on the righteousness of bishops and stake presidents … the latter of which have little crucial oversight by church headquarters. And, as we’re told, men in power are dangerous.

  10. andrea says:

    Women are wired with maternal insticts and passions. Being a mother is the most fantastic, fulfilling, glorious experience this life has to offer. That doesn’t mean I don’t yell at my kids and threaten to throw away all their toys when I can’t stand to pick up one more thing. I decided in my late twenties I would become a mother in this life, whether or not I had the opportunity to marry. I had dated so many stupid, arrogant priesthood holders by this point. I also decided I would marry outside the church if I found a nice guy. Why would I allow this life-fulfilling experience to elude me due to deficiencies of the men that had crossed my path. So many Mormen men are uncomfortable around strong, smart women. We can discuss this another time. I decided 35 would be the magical age, and I would prepare financially. I hadn’t ruled out insemination, although I think I might have chickened out and gone the adoption route due to the church’s stance. Luckily, I didn’t have to make these tough decisions because I did get married. I am all for single women becoming mothers, if they can financially swing it. The church has really been after all the 25 and older single men who are commitment phobic. What else are the women supposed to do!? We should controll our own destiny. I also strongly believe that heaven doesn’t make us happy and solve all of our problems, but people who have learned how to be happy and solve their own problems are the ones who get exalted. Go have/get a baby sister. Motherhood rocks!

  11. Beb says:

    Wow, so glad you linked this to me Dora….lol. I find it interesting how similar women are in general. I was originally going to do the adoption route but ran into the “single” problem of getting put onto waiting lists or having to spend huge sums to try and adopt from overseas. Plus I really did want to go through the experience of pregnancy. All the stories of “blissful contentment” told by the women in my ward fueled that fire…lol
    When I told my Bishop at the time he said “I wonder what the church’s stand is on this.” to which I replied “I really don’t care. 🙂 ” and that was the last time he stopped by.
    I’m not surprised and yet disappointed that they do have such a strong stand against it.
    Life is a beautiful place and the opportunity to show children that is amazing.

  12. Amanda says:

    I stumbled across this article when I googled “LDS single women adopt”…

    It’s something that’s been on my mind a lot. I’ve never considered artificial insemination (I had a strong suspicion what the church policy would be), but I have often thought about adoption, especially since visiting Mongolia and seeing the need there for adoptive parents. I’ve never been told I was selfish by anyone else, but I have wondered internally if it was a selfish desire. In other words, did I want to adopt for the benefit of the child, or was it for my benefit? I vacillate between those thoughts and the same conclusion some of you have arrived at: that it is better for a child to be raised by an active LDS parent (singular), than by abusive parents or (in the case of many Mongolian children) a state-run facility.

    I’m not in a financial position to adopt at this time, but it is certainly a possibility in the future.

  13. Caroline says:

    Welcome, Amanda! Glad this post resonated with you.

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