When I introduce my family at church, the wheels start turning in people’s heads. “Only one child . . . and the daughter’s not a baby.”
Most people assume that I can’t have more children. I must be facing a barrage of fertility treatments. I must be very depressed. No doubt I would be thrilled to hear about the latest alternative medicine miracle fix.
Some people assume that I don’t want more children. I must find motherhood less rewarding than the Church assures me it is. My testimony of families must be on shaky ground.
Either way, I am obviously coping with a major trial. People don’t like to mention it. They might be probing an open wound.
Few have the temerity to ask, but when they do, I find myself tongue-tied. I flounder and bluster, trying to explain myself. The truth is I love motherhood. I expected more children. Those high school sex education videos certainly led me to believe more would come. Reality has been a bit different. And apparently, I’m supposed to feel terrible about this.
Plenty of women do feel bad, of course. I’ve watched friends go through fertility treatments. They teeter on the edge of emotional, physical, and financial bankruptcy. They emerge childless. I know there are success stories, but sadly, my friends are not among them. The New York Times recently reported a 77% failure rate for all fertility treatments worldwide. I admire the courage and dedication of these women, but I have not signed up for my turn. My friends brave side effects that would seriously hamper my ability to mother the child I already have. The idea of failing her worries me far more than failing to be a mother again. If Heavenly Father is holding more spirits in heaven for my family, He’s had plenty of time to send them along. I’m not stopping Him.
This is not to say that I feel no regret. I do. My daughter has no playmates unless I import them for the afternoon. I packed the frilly dresses and the darling purple bunting carefully away years ago, awaiting the next baby girl. They may never see the light of day. But unlike my disappointed friends, I have a daughter. She needs me just as much as if she had a dozen siblings. Is my motherhood experience somehow less valid because she is the only one?
“But what do you do all day?” people ask. It’s a question that rankles when you’re a new mom, changing your thirteenth diaper of the day. With my only child in school, I confront it again, and not just from the ignorantly childless. I even ask it myself sometimes. The question assumes that I am “just a mom,” another rankling phrase, even if you are not a just a mom of just one child.
I am not just a mom. I’m also a wife, a daughter, a sister, a teacher, a church member, a temple goer, a visiting teacher, a musician, a writer, a citizen, a community volunteer, and a friend. The real question is not “What do I do all day?” but “What am I not going to do today?” In a world so full of worthy causes, there simply isn’t time for everything. Nurturing children may be my primary responsibility, but that very phrasing in the “Proclamation on the Family” implies that I have secondary responsibilities too.
I look at the phenomenal women I know. Some are mothers, some are not, but they all pursue other roles at some point because motherhood is so wildly variable. We’re physically capable at twelve or so, but we certainly aren’t expected to do so immediately. We spend years doing nothing about motherhood except vaguely preparing. Then suddenly, motherhood becomes all-consuming, devouring not just our attention, but our very bodies. For a few years, motherhood is extremely demanding, whether we are trying to also work outside the home or not. Then our children grow up. They do more for themselves. They spend hours of every day with other people. Eventually, they move out entirely.
I’ve spoken with women who feel a sense of loss then. They are still mothers, of course, but their services simply aren’t needed so regularly. Not the way they once were. A certain aspect of their identity is gone. Eventually, they find other parts to play, as grandmother, caretaker, employee, employer, student, missionary, or any of a myriad of worthwhile roles, some of which have enormously blessed my life.
So to those who are afraid to ask about the size of my family, the health of my reproductive system, and the status of my testimony: Yes, I have a testimony of families. Yes, my daughter has provided some of the most precious experiences of my life. But no, I am not depressed about all the children I don’t have. Heavenly Father has dissolved some of my life planning, making the years of my young motherhood shorter than I expected. I suspect He has good reasons, even if I don’t know them all. I’m not a natural at contented acceptance, but perhaps that is one of His good reasons? It’s something to practice, while I decide which of my other life callings to work on today.
Lori Davis grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, loving music, books, green chile, and the Church. She currently lives in Scotland with her wonderful husband, brilliant daughter, and a long list of grandiose plans for the future.