The Childlessness Omission Exposed in Elder Andersen’s Talk

Elder Andersen did well to acknowledge the vulnerable and privileged decision that couples have in regard to children in the last October conference. He began his talk with the reminder that when and how many children a couple have are “private decisions to be made between a husband and a wife and the Lord.”  As a result of this, the talk was bearable. However, he neglected sincere recognition of infertile couples. Like those before him, he swept childlessness with a broom reminder that those who do not have children in this life will do so in the next life, swiftly discarding infertility as a non-topic.

To be clear, I have no intention of marginalising singles in this analysis, but by comparison, Andersen’s diatribe of lower-numbered families at least contained some direction in regard to those who do not marry. His advice to unmarried women was short, but included the terms righteous, noble, and remarkable to describe unmarried, faithful women.  Infertile, married couples obtained no acclaim or advice, but for the typical “in the next life” reminder. It is this point that I aim to address.

There are two interesting points about the repetitious “next life” answer that deserve attention. The first is that   just after he made this bland and overused statement, he followed with a story of a mission president and his wife who happily adopted children when they appeared old enough to be grandparents. The story implied that if you are righteous enough (mission president and bishop callings) then you will still have children in this life, even if it takes a long time.  It is impossible to argue that this was not his intention; the shortness of the “next life” statement followed with a comparatively lengthy story of a couple who had children after a long wait implies that all that is needed to cure childlessness is patience and righteousness.  What is more interesting is that the successful adoption story used here is relayed from the perspective of the husband.

The second interesting point is that the “in the next life” line is the reference from the talk. It is from the church handbook of instruction. It is notably NOT from prophets, previous talks, or otherwise.  Indeed, the reference is under the subtitle “Unmarried Members of the Church.” This is a powerful symbol of the cultural shame and distinct lack of church-based compassion associated with infertility and childlessness in marriage. Further, he did not give any spiritual guidance for these couples who worked for decades, but are still childless. In doing this, and using a reference that equates singles with childless married couples, he belittles the sealing ordinance between infertile husbands and wives. With so many prophets warning about modern attacks leveled at traditional marriage, this talk by reference attacks marriage by equating childless but sealed couples with those who are unmarried.

The April 2011 Ensign attempted to address the infertility issue with an article titled Faith and Infertility. But, just as Elder Andersen did in his talk, each of the couples highlighted were successful in becoming parents. However, in the electronic version of the Ensign, there is a link to stories of childless couples. All but one of these stories were written by women. Statistically, the numerical contrast of the success story of the mission president recorded in Andersen’s talk and the numerous married but still childless stories by women further infers that successful adoption is more likely when the masculine half of a married couple holds an important calling.

To be fair, one of the couples highlighted in the Ensign link has obtained parenthood, the rest have not. This is an impressive effort on the part of the church, but it still falls short. The childless stories outnumber the four couples highlighted in the print edition of the Ensign and the one successful couple in the additional link. The omission of childless couples in the print edition suggests that the editors of the Ensign were instructed to only emphasise couples who eventually became parents. To continue to omit childless couples from the formal (hard-copy) Ensign exemplifies the inability, shame and systematic ostracising of couples involved in real-time infertility.

The stories of the childless in the Ensign link are heart-felt; all are seeking to become parents in this life. I mean no disrespect to the couples and their pain in the least, but they discuss their pursuit of peace in a manner which they seem sure will result in children. Probably because I recognise my own desire for family, I can’t help but read these stories as though they are advertisements aimed at influencing young, pregnant teens to give them a baby. Because of this sense of advertisment, I question some of the couples’ integrity in submitting their stories to the Ensign. I easily relate to the isolation, awkwardness, and darkness they relay in their childless church experience. In the end, while I agree that the authors of the stories are sincere in their pursuit of righteousness in order to obtain a family, they also express heartfelt unhappiness. If righteousness is supposed to equal happiness, then why are these couples unhappy? It implies that childlessness equally unhappiness. Why am I, one half of a childless couple, assigned to earthy unhappiness? Can’t I be happy, childless and Mormon? Is happiness only found in children? It is evident that Elder Andersen and the Ensign seem to think exactly this.

Before you judge, don’t mistake me for a quitter. My husband and I have visited LDS family services numerous times, in more than just our own country. We have applied for over 100 adoptions. We have had our home, minds and bodies inspected repeatedly, and are deemed suitable potential parents. We have saved money and passed all financial eligibility requirements. We have interviewed as potential parents in three countries. We know that you must convert to Islam in order to adopt from Morocco, that adopting from Mexico is complicated and limited to US citizens and that Russia forbids adoption to perspective parents with any degree of asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, depression, etc. etc. We cried with joy and sadness when we read that Chinese citizens are now allowed to adopt a second child, limiting our chances at international adoption from there. We are well familiar with the limitations and agreements between countries that allow adoption to some, and forbid adoption to others, wholly based on ethnicity. We know the limitations and refusals of socialized medicine and private insurance to cover the needs of some of the children available for adoption. We have found that many children are ineligible for adoption visas because of their medical needs, which means we cannot adopt or take them home with us.  We are very familiar with terms like “down-reg”, “flare cycle”, “trigger,” and we know what A.R.T. means.

So far as church rhetoric is concerned, the only thing we are NOT familiar with is joy and happiness, because we still don’t have children. And based on the resources of the church, we will never find true happiness until we die and have a family; indeed, even our temple marriages are somehow ranked as invalid as per Andersen’s reference. When Andersen states that children are a “crowning privilege of a husband and wife,” he further implies that childless couples lack privilege and are less eligible to claim royal, eternal lineage because of mortal circumstance.  Further, to assume that a childless life should only be filled with pious suffering (as exemplified in the Ensign) suggests that the atonement does not include the absolution of the pain associated with childlessness. In consideration of these points, it is clear that the church actively teaches that childless couples must wait until the next life for joy, do not have valid eternal marriages, are denied the inheritance promised to those of royal lineage and are denied the healing balm of the atonement.

I reject this.

I am happy. My marriage convent is real. I am blessed and the atonement heals my pain. I can say with confidence that I did everything I possibly could to be a parent. My marriage has been through more than I can ever describe in our attempts to become parents, we are still together, sealed in terms of mortal, eternal and royal lineages. The strength of my marriage is a miracle and I find absolute joy in this miracle. I embrace that parenthood does not appear to be in my Heavenly Parents’ plan for me. I do not find joy in childlessness, but in applying the healing promise of the atonement, I find incomprehensible joy in my life right now. What’s more, unlike Sheri Dew and Ardeth Kapp (both of whom I love) imply when discussing their childlessness, my joy is not limited to my experience with nieces and nephews. The potential for joy is never limited to the potential for us to be able to have, be with or adopt children.

So next time, Elder Andersen, rather than feeding childless couples with the stock “in the next life” phrase and then use the church handbook for reference because you do not understand childlessness, would you quote me? Because I am taking my joy back. It was always wrong to assume that you or undeveloped church ideology had the right to withhold joy from me. So please, this is my quote. Study it. Learn it. Apply in your life:

Childless couples can celebrate that they worked undeniably and passionately hard to become parents. In this, your time of patience, “possess ye your souls.” (Luke 21:19) Protect your marriage from influences that seek to destroy your eternal commitment to each other. Know that even though mortal parenthood might not happen, when we trust the Lord, all of our pain is absorbed by Christ through His Atonement. In embracing the Atonement in your lives, righteous, childless couples will have absolute joy in this life, as well as in the eternities. Be assured that much love and joy will be yours upon the earth, just as was promised to all of us in the Garden (2 Nephi 2:25).

What other rethorical omissions did you note in Andersen’s “Children” talk?

Spunky

Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

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54 Responses

  1. Ben says:

    Wow, serious and unexpected hostility. As a couple married 12+ years, and having attempted infertility drugs etc., I did not see this as the “diatribe” you do. Obviously, my “mileage” has varied.

    • spunky says:

      So how do you see this, Ben? Please share. My intention was not to be hostile, but to be critical of a point of omission in overall church culture that is exemplified in his latest talk. In addition, I have had a number of friends with children comment that they were uncomfortable with the assignment to have more children, yet celebrated that he at least included the admonition that it was a private choice.

      Do you have joy in your childlessness? If so, why? If not, why not?

  2. Sure, he did not address people who are more or less childless because their children have died.

    Of course that is a very small number of people, but surely I have a right to be offended. Not to mention, offended at Spunky for the implication that if you have children, but they die, then you shouldn’t feel excluded, because, after all, you aren’t childless, just without children.

    Maybe. Maybe I’m just a mood from the season, lack of sleep and too much work. Maybe because it is a dear friend who I adore and who dropped out of touch I just discovered is incapacitated by her Alzheimer’s.

    Probably ought not to respond to things that hit an emotional chord with me me and instead remember these words:

    I bruise you, you bruise me
    We both bruise too easily, too easily to let it show
    I love you and that’s all I know .

    All my plans have fallin’ through,
    All my plans depend on you, depend on you to help them grow,
    I love you and that’s all I know.

    When the singer’s gone let the song go on…

    But the ending always comes at last,
    Endings always come too fast,
    They come too fast but they past too slow,
    I love you and that’s all I know .

    When the singer’s gone let the song go on,
    It’s a fine line between the darkness and the dawn.
    They say in the darkest night there’s a light beyond

    But the ending always comes at last,
    Endings always come too fast,
    They come too fast
    But they past too slow,
    I love you, and that’s all I know.
    That’s all I know, that’s all I know.

    • spunky says:

      Ethesis,

      I am so sorry to hear about your friend.

      I had no intention to deny you the right to address and mourn children who have died. Indeed, I invited you to share your thoughts in regard to Andersen’s other omissions in order to address those who were brusied by his talk. My essay is only intended to address in incapability of the church to address or include couples with lifelong infertility, which I thought was clear.

      I empathise with your pain, and address the fact that I think the reference that Andersen uses in regard to ‘the next life’ is just as demeaning to your situation and your pain, as it is to a couple who have never been able to parent, have miscarried, or have lost a child. Heartfelt thanks for sharing such a sweet poem.

    • Alisa says:

      Stephen M, I am sorry to hear about your friend as well. I remember you speaking at Sunstone last year about the many tragedies that you’ve survived in your life. I think you sharing your grief in the loss of your children here is important. While your situation may represent a small number, I’ve been thinking this week about so many of us who have a situation where we are a “small number,” but together we represent many who had reason to watch Elder Anderson’s talk with worry or sadness. There are a lot of reasons for not displaying a large family, and for those of us who are LDS where large families are the norm, we are frequently reminded of this.

      • Alisa, thanks. I did write a poem, when we just had Heather still with us, before Rachel was born.

        http://adrr.com/living/uone.htm

        Only one child?”

        “well, some people make choices”
        “guess you’d rather have the money
        the time
        the selfish pursuits”
        “But some people would rather have children.”
        — some of us aren’t slime like you

        Really.

        We made choices, to the edge of health and sanity
        Lost hundreds of thousands of dollars
        years of time
        all our pursuits
        We gave up everything for our children.
        — and then they died.

        Only one child?

        Christ made choices too, you know.
        To give up the whole world
        all time
        all effort
        Not my will, but thine be done
        — and now we are all his children.

        Considered.

        Except, perhaps, you. As nasty as your “questions”
        were, Perdition is more likely your father.

      • One sad thing about my friend, is I’m not in a position where I can tell people what has happened to her. Everyone suspects, something, but I don’t feel like I can breach the implied confidence that came with her husband telling me about what has happened.

        So my wife knows her name, and knows how much that it pains me, but I’ve others in a community who are worried about her, but I don’t feel I can share with them.

        Anyway, thanks for your kindness.

    • Diane says:

      Stephen

      I’m sorry about your friend, my grandmother also suffered from Alzheimer’s, She wasn’t to bad though, if you walked in the room she would call you by my brother’s name. What makes me upset about her passing, was the Alzheimer’s wasn’t the disease that killed her, it was being robbed by home intruder. They took her wedding ring off her finger as she lay on the floor (she suffered a stroke, during the robbery) She was completely defenseless and they robbed her. Cowards.

      I choose to remember her in happy times, I remember my cousin and I trying to get her to take the ring off so we could get it cleaned for her in her broken Italian/English”You loose the ring, I kill you dead” and she was shaking her finger at us as she said it. I know this is no comfort, but, I like remember her being funny, without intentionally trying to and for cooking great food for Sunday dinner

  3. Caroline says:

    Spunky, thank you for sharing your thoughts. As someone who only struggled minorly with infertility (drugs and artificial insemination worked for us), I so appreciate having a window into the life of someone who has dealt with it long term. I would never have understood how some of those phrases could have hurt some childless couples if you had not pointed it out to me. This is a testament of the importance of sharing our unique stories and perspectives. Thank you.

  4. April says:

    I liked Elder Anderson’s talk for the most part, but I also noticed that he did not address married couples who never manage to bear or adopt children. The story about the couple who finally adopted children when they were old was sweet and I am glad Anderson talked about their difficult journey and the unfair ways their ward members judged them before they finally achieved a successful adoption. That was an important message. However, such talks could easily become more inclusive with some words for couples who are never blessed with success at becoming parents, like the beautiful words Spunky wrote in her last paragraph. It would also help if the brethren acknowledged that single men, not just single women, feel pain and disappointment because they cannot become parents.

    • kmillecam says:

      What an excellent point April about including childless men as well. I am guilty of not seeing that more often, although I am aware of how I resent the implication that ALL women want, no, need children to be fulfilled. Complicated stuff there.

  5. Quimby says:

    Spunky, I am completely speechless. I thought this was beautiful and courageous. Heart-achingly honest. I don’t see the hostility in your words at all; I think they are tender and sympathetic.

    We are told time and time again that children are a blessing. Even that simple phrase has weighted undercurrents of: Ergo children are a reward for righteousness; if you can’t have children, you aren’t righteous. It doesn’t take much to see the stupidity in such thought – but it’s one thing to recognise it on an intellectual level, and another to actually discard such thinking on an emotional level. I know a lot of people who struggle with fertility (myself included) who have, at times, seen it as a reflection on their righteousness – forgetting the 15 year old neighbour who got pregnant because of a broken condom!

    I think some of the language used can be damaging for other reasons too. For instance, by saying “children are a blessing” are we turning them into objects, denying them their personhood? By talking about couples who struggled for years and then adopted, are we suggesting that adoption is a consolation prize? Language can be so very difficult at times.

    But I digress – I am grateful for this post. I think there is a lot of meat to it. Thank you.

  6. Emilie says:

    Thank you for this. I clicked over on my phone thinking I’d skim through it and was hooked from the first paragraph. As someone who struggles with infertility, I’ve been confused by my complete apathy toward Andersen’s talk while those around me (who have children) are either up in arms or staunch defenders. But I’ve realized my apathy comes because the talk in no way applied to me, which is really quite unfair for several of the reasons you made clear. It’s as if people like us simply do not exist. He addressed those with children, those who can have children whenever they desire, and those who are not married. Using the “in the next life” statement is a cop-out. It implies our lives now do not matter. We might as well be put in a separate location — a storage of sorts — until we die and are ready for all of the blessings that come “in the next life.” So frustrating.

    However, I’m encouraged by your message of hope. Despite my situation, it’s lovely to hear “permission” to be happy — because most of the time, I am just that.

    • Diane says:

      Em

      I HEAR and am in complete agreement. As a single 3/4 of the talks at conference are in some way or another slanted towards families, and that’s either families with/or without children.

      The other talks are geared toward young single adults/ youths, widows. They have absolutely not talks about men/nor women who are in their 30′ 40′ who have never married and when they do mention us,”You will get yours in the next life.” not comforting

    • spunky says:

      Thanks, Emilie. I am in massive support for you to be as happy as possible!!! Sending happiness vibes to you!!!

  7. Beatrice says:

    In fact ALL of his examples were told from the point of view of the husband. This probably happened because he was most likely to have talked with the husband about their experience or that is the perspective that he relates to. However, I found this a significant omission. It could potentially carry the intended or unintended message that husbands are the ones who receive revelation about having more children, not wives. Additionally, to me it seems like a pretty significant oversight that he can’t talk to and place himself in the position of one of the women in these stories.

  8. Diane says:

    “His advice to unmarried women was short, but included the terms righteous, noble, and remarkable ”

    Spunky

    I think you did a wonderful job with this piece, however, single unmarried woman are not noble, or righteous just because they are waiting for “the one ” to appear for them so they can marry and have children. Whose to say that even when these single women do marry they won’t face the same challenges that you face in being childless.

    In my opinion Anderson marginalized the single woman and you, although not intentionally(and I don’t believe Anderson did either) marginalized and dismissed our feelings just as badly. A single woman in the church, especially at my age of 47 who has never married or has children or family of their own to speak of is dismissed automatically as being not useful to the kingdom. This is why the church fills our heads, or at least my head with meaningless, off the cuff, or even thoughtless comments like, “you’ll get yours in the afterlife comments” mostly because they don’t have anything more intelligent to say

    • spunky says:

      I agree with you, Diane. I was just refering to what Andersen said about single women- he at least used positive, complimentary terms. I agree that he dismissed the plight of the single woman as swiftly as possible.

  9. Maggie says:

    I take issue with the liberal use of “in the next life” within the church. Primarily because, like you mentioned, there is no clear doctrinal source for it. Elder Anderson cited to the Church Handbook, not scripture, not the words of a modern day prophet. Where did this idea come from?

    I do believe that there will be many opportunities for us to learn, grow, and create after we die and in the resurrection. However, I take little comfort in the idea that all that ails us will be resolved after this life. Is it possible that we will carry our imperfections on with us – that we might face both new and continued struggles in the next life? I believe that God keeps his promises, but I’m not sure that he ever promised us children, marriage, etc in the next life.

  10. Alisa says:

    Spunky, thank you for being so honest and heart-felt while sharing your experience through infertility. I stand all amazed at how you are able to turn this challenge into a personal victory and that you are determined to be happy whether or not you have a child. Honestly, I can’t imagine the Savior wanting you to feel any other way than how you have determined to be happy in this life, here and now.

    I also really appreciate how you asked others to share their experiences with omissions from the talk. While I don’t struggle with infertility, I am struggling with the realization that I will probably not have more than my son due to some serious genetic concerns. I noticed that this–known genetic concerns–was omitted from the talk. It is not anyone’s business to ask or to know why we will limit our family to just one child, and privately for me it is heartbreaking. However, through your example, over the last couple of days I have been determining to be happy even if I don’t get that life that I always thought I would have, that life that I wanted. I have many blessings. I realize I am infinitely blessed to have one child, whether he has permanent special needs or not, and I have a wonderful and caring partner. I am determined to enjoy the blessings I have, rather than focus on the blessings most LDS couples seem to enjoy that I cannot. It’s just that it might be nice for the Church to mention that couples like us exist, that with new genetic testing, many couples face difficult decisions whether or not to have multiple children with serious neurological issues. And that it can be right for them to choose to have a small family and be as happy as they can. (I also leave the decision for couples with genetic disorders to take it on faith and have more children if they feel called to it–I am only speaking of my specific situation.)

    Anyway, my situation may be very different than yours, Spunky, but I feel what you are saying. I am so glad you shared your experience and have allowed me to share mine. Hugs and blessings to you, my friend.

    • spunky says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your heartfelt challenge with us, Alisa. We are on the same page in dealing with a life that we did not choose… I think most people are like this to a degree, but when we are faced with mortal limitations that cannot be changed, the sense of powerlessness and the pain of others judging us for our powerlessness is thunderingly isolating and cruel. I think that is why that quote from the woman “not of our faith”, bothered me—there was a tiny underlying assumption that most people who travelled or gained an education were doing so in place of having children. It is that insensitivity when applied to people like you and I that assumes to steal our happiness because it isn’t the happiness people assume we *should* have. Thank you so much for commenting. I love your perspective, and I love and wish you joy in every way in your life—because of your life, your beauty and who you are.

  11. CS Eric says:

    It doesn’t really matter whether you are childless because of fertility issues or because your children died early. Members will still count the number of children sitting next to you in the pews. We had a son who died the day he was born, a daughter who was stillborn, and more miscarriages than we dared to count. I listed the son and daughter on the program of her funeral services–I would bet money that is the first that most people knew of that heartbreak we shared.
    There is also no comfort in the “in the next life”. All that really means is that the speaker believes you’ll be happier after you are dead. I want to find joy in this life, and not have to wait until the next. Isn’t that what Father Lehi taught?

  12. Mike says:

    Spunky,

    I’m not sure where to begin. In all sincerity, I agree with the first commenter that your article was shockingly hostile. The fact that a Church member would react to Elder Andersen’s talk with such barely concealed rage disturbs me.

    I think the first very real problem is that you state that Elder Andersen’s talk “implies” certain ideas or concepts. You may personally have inferred certain ideas from his talk. That does not necessarily mean that he implied those ideas. You first need to separate what he actually said from how you tragically misinterpreted what he said.

    Which brings me to my next point. You made several incorrect assertions and drew various errant conclusions but the one that struck me the most was this:

    >>In consideration of these points, it is clear that the church actively teaches that childless couples must wait until the next life for joy, do not have valid eternal marriages, are denied the inheritance promised to those of royal lineage and are denied the healing balm of the atonement.<<

    In all candor I'm not sure where to begin. The Church teaches absolutely none of these things and never, ever has. If you sincerely interpreted anything Elder Andersen said to support any of the above ideas, I would suggest that you really should consider discussing it with your Bishop or other priesthood leader because never was anything said in Elder Andersen's talk, or any other talk in this Conference or any talk, or lesson, or discussion I have ever heard or read, that would in any way support these conclusions.

    Similarly, if you're deliberately misinterpreting what was said in order to take offense, I would also suggest that you discuss this with your Bishop because you appear to have some very serious and possibly deep-rooted antagonism towards the Church, or possibly Elder Andersen individually.

    Finally, your invitation to others to further criticize Elder Andersen by soliciting other perceived "rhetorical omissions" is both disturbing and indicative of some very seriously hostile feelings towards the Church and its leaders.

    You might disagree, but I do not mean this as a personal attack on you in any way. Frankly I'm deeply concerned that a Church member who obviously cares enough to listen to Conference would come away with this kind of antagonism towards a talk on families. I seriously debated whether or not to even post a comment since this site does seem to invite criticism of the Church and its leaders, in general, and I usually do not comment on it. If my comment is misinterpreted I may not choose to do so again, but with the shock I experienced after reading your post I felt I should at least express something of what I was thinking and feeling.

    • Alisa says:

      Mike, I am giving you a warning that you are close to violating item 4 of our comment policy. You need to stick to your personal experiences and not tell another person how to feel about hers, which you do above.

      This is a forum for Mormon women. Coming here and telling a woman who has struggled for *decades* with her desire to become a mother how to feel is not going to fly.

      Probably the most aggregious error you make is attributing hostility to Spunky’s message where there is none. Spunky clearly shows that she doesn’t even disagree with Anderson’s talk and finds it palatable, but she uses his talk as an opportunity to talk about how it feels to be childless due to infertility in a Church that praises large families and has very little to say to people who experience infertility. Your attribution of her hostility is a form of bearing false witness, and your lack of compassion falls short of “mourning with those who mourn.” If you were shocked to read her post, perhaps you should re-read it and see if the shock came from you and your unserstanding, rather than the text of Spunky’s post.

      If you do not moderate what you say with compassion and granting good faith to those whom you engage in dialogue, I will moderate you. This is a safe place for women to share their struggles.

    • EmilyCC says:

      Mike, I must say that it appears to me that you’re guilty of the very thing you’re accusing Spunky of when you say she “misinterprets,” looks to “take offense,” and accuse her of “hostile feelings” and “deep-rooted antagonism.” These are ugly and serious accusations that I don’t think are necessary or productive to the conversation Spunky is starting here.

      I think Spunky and others have experienced real pain from the Church culture that is reflected in Elder Andersen’s talk. I am so, so sure he did not mean to hurt anyone in his talk, and I don’t think Spunky has accused him of this. Instead, she has carefully looked at the rhetorical devices he has used (and frankly, I have been guilty of myself when I’m not as sensitive in my daily life) to show the unintentional pain that this message can cause.

      If we haven’t walked in someone’s shoes, how can we understand the pain they’re experiencing from a life situation unless we take the time and care to hear their story? I’ll admit that listening can be uncomfortable and hard (it has been for me in this case and others), but I’m grateful for Spunky and the other brave commentors on this thread who show their pain and teach me about the unintentional wounds that I can inflict when I’m not careful.

      I see that you’re concerned about your words being misinterpreted, and I see that you, too, have deep feelings here. I hope you’ll continue to engage in the discussion while remembering that many on this thread are dealing with deep feelings and risking deep hurt.

    • spunky says:

      Mike,
      Your concern is noted. But before you state “I do not mean this as a personal attack,” I suggest you re-read my post and compare it to your comment.

      I sustain Andersen in his calling, but I think he and the church fall systematically short in regard to supporting childless couples. I did not state that Andersen’s talk was poor, but that it highlighted a particular area of under-developed family ideology within the church, which I chose to address. I think this comes through in my post, as I used several references wherein I based my claims. Did you check the references? I think not. I think you responded with instant emotion and with the desire to control, rather than to consider your response thoughtfully.

      It is quite obvious that you have no degree of empathy or intellectual concept of my situation because of your assumption that I need to discuss my thoughts with my bishop. Get real. To be quite frank, any couple undergoing adoption or fertility treatment needs to communicate regularly with their bishop for any number of reasons including worthiness, character applications, letters of recommendation and for oh, so many wonderful blessings. My bishop is well familiar with us. We have used letters of recommendation from two of our bishops in our very long parenthood quest, each who know very well, socialise with us, and support me in my thoughts regarding church childlessness rhetoric. Any childless couple who seeks diligently to become parents knows that they must have regular, unflinching communication through all church lines- even all the way to general authorities. Your direction for me to communicate with my bishop about something that I have been in long communication with him (all 3 of our past bishops and 1 branch president) only serves to highlight your ignorant assumptions on the subject.

  13. CS Eric says:

    Mike,

    The church teaches this by omission, rather than teaching it explicitly, but the church does teach that childless couples who remain so are less than valid because none of the “success” stories show childless couples who find peace in that childlessness in this life–we have to wait until we are dead. Instead, there is story after story that, eventually, happy deserving couples find unusual ways to have children, even late in life, if they are righteous enough.

    It really isn’t a stretch to read “You will be blessed and find joy in the next life” as saying, implicitly, “You will not be blessed or find joy in this life.” The OP just stated explicitly what the church teaches implicitly. For a while there, it looked like Elder Anderson was going to throw us childless couples a bone, and he held back.

  14. Diane says:

    Mike H

    I really hate language that says” you really need to discuss this with your Bishop or other priesthood leaders. This is the kind of language that both implies and infers that as women,(meaning me) and as a woman(spunky) can’t figure this stuff out on her own.(She needs the help of strong male to help her come to the right conclusion) this is a thought process by males in the church like you that attempt to have women shut down because they are afraid to address what the issue at hand. As a PHd candidate, Spunky, is quite capable of reading critically and ascertaining the relevant information.
    Are you seriously going to say that we(women/couples ) in the church are not told time and again that our rewards will be in the next life. I have herd this rhetoric time and again. They (leaders) have a tendency, whether on purpose or not give members,particularly women very conflicting messages. In the conference before last I specifically remember being told that its okay to work outside the home,yet, in the very next talk, a leader telling me that my place is to be at home raising my children.

    I don’t have a problem with discussing these kinds of issues, it it doesn’t apply for you, that’s also fine. But, please don’t tell people like me, spunky, and others that because we have been discussing this issue that we are “against” the church. Contrary to what Pres Packer stated, we don’t all have to think alike in order to be faithful members, we are not enemies of the church the way others like you would like to label us because we have an open discourse.

  15. Quimby says:

    Hostile? Hostile is “Elder Anderson is an idiot, a clueless dolt who has no right holding his calling.” Hostile isn’t “He neglected sincere recognition of infertile couples.” You want hostility? I can give you hostility in spades, Mike. But judging from your comment I think you’re already well-versed in hostility – for example, your suggestion to Spunky that she speaks with her Bishop – as if she isn’t intelligent enough to think about these things and recieve revelation for herself!

    BTW, your hostility at Spunky’s suggestion that childless couples don’t have valid marriages in the eyes of many? The #1 reason anti-marriage equality folks will give (particularly in the church), in justifying their position, is that marriage is about raising children. When you ask if a couple who can’t have children shouldn’t get married, they get all flustered and try to backtrack; but the mere fact that, for them, marriage=children makes it very easy to believe that yes, indeed, at some level, they think couples who can’t have children shouldn’t get married. My husband and I were seven years into our marriage before we had our miracle child. That was often the vibe I got – that in these people’s eyes, my marriage was less-than because we did not and (as far as we knew) could not have children. Infertility in marriage is not just a feeling of personal failing; but of feeling that you are failing your spouse, and your marriage, and sometimes, the entire institution of family. It is a challenge that can undermine what should be the most important mortal relationship you will ever have. That Spunky and her husband have faced it head-on, and come out the other side stronger, happier, and better for it, is something that should be recognised and celebrated, not responded to with your level of hostility.

  16. Corktree says:

    I didn’t pay enough attention to Anderson’s talk the first time around, so I don’t have enough of an opinion on it, but I’m grateful that you took the time to brave the pain of opening up to how these types and use of words can make you feel in your life, Spunky. I’m always so glad to hear parts of your story and struggles and I hope others find comfort in identifying with them. Thank you for putting this out there.

  17. Anonymous says:

    For those who criticized Mike, I just wanted add my 2 cents. And for the record, I am a woman, childless, and have dealt with prior miscarriage. The first time reading through Spunky’s message, I also felt that some hostility showed through, but on a second reading I think it’s more frustration (?). Anyway, I do agree with one point of Mike’s which is that I think Spunky may have drawn some invalid conclusions – “denying the antecedent” logical fallacy: If families have children, they must be happy –> This family has no children –> Therefore this family is not happy. And then the rest seemed to kind of spin off from there. I don’t think the church necessarily teaches this, at least not doctrinally, although sometimes that message is implied. (By the way, the wikipedia example on logical fallacy: If it is raining outside, it must be cloudy. It is not raining outside. Therefore, it is not cloudy. Not quite a logical conclusion). When I listened to Elder Anderson’s talk, I did not feel belittled in any way, although occasionally I have felt that way in church or with other talks. I do appreciate Spunky sharing her point of view though and it opened my eyes to how other childless couples may have interpreted it. Mainly, I think my take-away message from all this is to BE SENSITIVE to others and try to walk a mile in their shoes.

    • spunky says:

      I agree with you about the invalid conclusions, but the invalid conclusions which you cite are based in the church’s assumption that childless couples are unhappy (see the above references- the couples have all found peace, but none discussed joy or the healing power of the atonement in acceptance of God’s will in regard to being mortally childless). These references and assumptions are not under my authorship. My thoughts are that there is an absence of the teaching of atonement and earthly joy specific to unplanned childlessness in marriage.

  18. Sterling says:

    I really appreciated this post. As the husband in a childless (what a silly word to define a marriage) Mormon marriage I have often felt like I was somehow not fulfilling the plan of salvation and not fully a part of the Church. I’m glad to hear that I’m not just a jaded apostate, but that others have worked through similar challenges and felt similar things in regards to Church teachings. Thank you.

  19. Mike H. says:

    Yes, miracles do happen, but not always. I disagree that praying hard for a miracle will always happen for the childless. Paul received some miracles, and performed miracles, yet, his “thorn in the flesh”, likely some affliction, was not removed by the Lord, despite his faith.

    I can feel for those with fertility issues. My mother’s parent’s had numerous miscarriages & stillbirths. Many years later, it was found that my grandmother had pernicious anemia from lack of vitamin B-12, which was an unknown nutrient when she was trying to have children. Simple to deal with now, but unknown back then.

  20. Diane says:

    To Mike H,

    I am sorry, you are correct, my reply was directed at Mike. I am sorry if your feeling were hurt by the response.But still stand firm in the response as it applies to the other Mike.

  21. Becca says:

    I don’t think I’ll ever forget hearing this talk during GC. It was ironically the 1st anniversary of my hysterectomy, and I was sitting on my brother’s couch snuggling with his absolutely perfect 3 week old son. As it became clear what the talk was about, the mood in the room–filled with my relatives–became palpably apprehensive. I was crying quietly, hoping to make it through the talk with the thought that Elder Anderson (whom I adore) would surely say something that would be of comfort to me and my husband. To say we were crestfallen with the “in the next life” rationale would be a gross understatement. I spent much of the remainder of the weekend sobbing and trying to avoid the compassionate pep talks offered by my relatives. You see, no one really knows what to say. There is no specifically on-point comforting quote or talk or gospel principle to share regarding infertility or childnessness (which I’d like to point out are two distinct issues).

    • spunky says:

      I agree, Becca. That is why I wrote this post, I am hoping to encourage leaders to develop something better than “in the next life”. I am so sorry for your experience with that talk, and I hope that you and your family find the peace and healing that you seek.

  22. Becca says:

    Reflecting back on the past few weeks, something that has brought me intermittent bursts of peace was Elder Uchtdorf’s talk in the RS meeting. The last portion of his talk was particularly meaningful:

    As a child, when I would look at the little forget-me-nots, I sometimes felt a little like that flower—small and insignificant. I wondered if I would be forgotten by my family or by my Heavenly Father.

    Years later I can look back on that young boy with tenderness and compassion. And I do know now—I was never forgotten.

    And I know something else: as an Apostle of our Master, Jesus Christ, I proclaim with all the certainty and conviction of my heart—neither are you!

    You are not forgotten.

    Sisters, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances may be, you are not forgotten. No matter how dark your days may seem, no matter how insignificant you may feel, no matter how overshadowed you think you may be, your Heavenly Father has not forgotten you. In fact, He loves you with an infinite love.

    Just think of it: You are known and remembered by the most majestic, powerful, and glorious Being in the universe! You are loved by the King of infinite space and everlasting time!

    What a beautiful message! That even the most seemingly insignificant of God’s daughters is of infinite value and intrinsic worth. Yet…

    While it’s obvious that Elder Uchtdorf was contemplating diverse circumstances to which this counsel is applicable, I suppose I just selfishly long for a message that is specifically directed to childless and infertile men and women. There is such an emphasis on marriage, family, kids, kids, kids, that I feel that specific counsel should be considered to counter-balance those messages. A valiant, faithful member of the church could easily walk away from all the “the most important thing you will ever do in this life is raise righteous children” rhetoric and draw a reasonable conclusion that all other endeavors are less important, ergo of less value, ergo I am of less value, ergo why not just move on to the next life where I can be of value now? (I know I am not the only infertile woman who has struggled with um…dark thoughts…along that vein.)

    I just want to hear that my Heavenly Parents have not forgotten me, their barren daughter, and that I am important to them, and to the kingdom, just because I am who I am, not because of my capacity to bear children. And that if life hasn’t necessarily turned out exactly the way I have planned, the way I am now living my life is dignified, important, respectable, and essential to the work of God (and the Church) in this life. Not just the next.

    • spunky says:

      Thank you, Becca. I agree with every word. There are so many talks (I was listening to Robert Hales this morning as well and thought a part of his message also applied to those who are barren- yet it was again under the verbiage of unspecific burdens), but with the church’s resounding emphasis on family, there is a need for the barren to be addressed specifically, exactly as you specified. Thank you.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Becca,
      This is beautiful. Thank you.
      I really feel your pain and wish you well as you work through your grief.

  23. Tatiana says:

    Great post, Spunky. Eliza R. Snow comes to mind – she never bore children or adopted them to my knowledge. But I doubt she would call her marriages meaningless or her life joyless.

  24. Jessawhy says:

    spunky,
    Thank you for this important message. I appreciated that you included your strong emotions and depth of experience on this issue to explain why it is so important and meaningful for you.

    I really feel your pain and anguish as you explain your struggle to have children and it makes your quote at the end all the more powerful.

    I will quote you, btw 🙂

  25. Susan Wilson says:

    I’ve thought a lot about what you have written and the many and varied responses. Here are my thoughts, for what they are worth.

    The over-used and all too often tritely trotted out phrase “it will all work out in the next life” or one of its many variants can be very thoughtlessly and hurtfully applied – whether to the issue of childlessness, infertility or the lack of a temple sealing. There is a world of difference between saying that to someone and actually having to live it.

    Firstly, I do not and have never believed that happiness is dependent on having a spouse and children, or a lot of other things either. Happiness and joy come from within and it is possible to feel both in the midst of pretty awful circumstances. I know this as I live this way much of the time. It does however take some hard work and growth to be able to get to this point. The love of my heavenly Parents and Saviour and his Atonement have been for me essential parties to this growth, happiness and joy. I have also found that for me at least, a certain level of humility has been required in order for me to be able to first accept and then embrace my Heavenly Parents and Saviour’s wills. Not easy.

    Second, I don’t believe in living a life of suffering hoping for a better and happy life in the next one. It doesn’t really work that way in most respects. I believe in finding meaning, happiness and joy now, in this life. If I take care of my life here and now, naturally the rest will follow and not the other way around. Again, this is far from easy and requires, for me at least, a degree of suffering, humility and willingness to do this will of the Saviour. It also takes time, sometimes a lot of time.

    I have had many, many people use that phrase on me, well intentioned, but awfully thoughtlessly and tritely, and almost all of them have never had to deal with my circumstances, if they knew what they were. As I have gotten older and learned a bit more about life, my views on this have become more nuanced. I don’t believe that people who say this are ill-intentioned, I believe that they have good intentions, often just not a great deal of understanding or thought about what they say. I have learned to respect people’s right to choose, including the right to choose badly, and have those choices impact myself negatively, without necessarily respecting the choices themselves.

    What has lead me to say this? I have buried two brothers, I have been married twice, both times to LDS men. The first was addicted to pornography, that among other things included visits to brothels, from which he gave me an infection that made it very difficult for me to have children. The second, born and bred in Utah from many generations of Mormons, had issues from his prior life that prevent him from offering a temple sealing. The issues remain unresolved, so we have an until-death-do-us-part marriage. As in many second marriages we considered having a child. As a result of the hostile step family and in-law situation, I made the decision to ask the child who wanted to be born to me (who had also made himself known to me) to go to the other couple who were waiting for him. I had also had quite a number of miscarriages (as a result of the above mentioned infection) in the lead up to that decision. Not easy.

    Nevertheless, I love my life, it is rich and full. I have fun. I have found meaning, strength and support in the most surprising places. I would not change the course of my life or exchange it for that of any other. I have learned that my Heavenly Parents and Saviour are vital and integral parts of my life, they do know me and they have never failed me. There is nothing trite or thoughtless in what they say to me. It isn’t easy or simple to live this way, there are times when it is difficult – actually quite a few of them. However, I want to live life on my terms, not the terms of others with their attendant baggage, so I keep going. I have found that my ability to deal with it all is related to both to my willingness to do my Saviour’s will and my willingness to try to deal with it.

    I understood many of the points your were making in your post. My thoughts, for what they are worth.

  26. Paula says:

    I just wanted to say that I didn’t find the talk offensive in the least. I’m not trying to say anything about your feelings, because you’re entitled to feel whatever way you do (it’s not like people choose to feel a certain way, if something hurts it just does).
    I struggled being single for a while, not dating and not ever having a boyfriend (or a boy friend who’d show the least interest in me). I always felt left out of people’s talks because they were all geared towards family and children. In my parents’ and friends’ eyes, I would never get married. The worse thing was coming out of a broken home and finding the beauty in the concept of families forever, holding on to the hope that one day I’d have my own family for the which to fight. And that knowledge hurt me when the miracle was delayed. Then it happened and I actually found my other half, my eternal companion. Then as simple as everything else we waited for children. And then expectation turned to sadness, turned to fear, turned to anger and bitterness. 6 years went by. I worked hard on my acceptance of it, but many believe the blessing is delayed for lack of righteousness. And everyone seems to know what you should do “have you gone to the doctor?” “do you know if it’s you or your husband?” “what do the doctors say about you?” “Are you doing to do IVF?” To which I answered “we’ll adopt if it comes to that”. Problem is that we were never financially stable enough to pass any of the screening processes. We were waiting to achieve financial stability to be able to apply for adoption. But every time we got close to it, something happened that delayed it even further. We were so hurt by it. After much praying, and once I started working at the temple as an ordinance worker and got to spend so much time in such a special place, I was able to receive some answers. Mind you, these were for me and my husband, it doesn’t mean they apply to everyone. In our case, the answer was “you need to be healthy”… so I drastically changed our lifestyle, including food and everything else. It hurt how little acceptance we got from the people around us, but we continued. 1 year later I got pregnant, naturally, but I miscarried. More sadness, more bitterness, more questions and a lot of pain followed. A lot of soul searching and a lot of praying and mourning and more misunderstanding from the people around us. I agree with you that it seems to be something left by the wayside. All these topics: unmarried, infertile, miscarriage… they seem to not be considered much or talked about. Everyone always quotes the “after this life you will be rewarded the things you didn’t get here”… but it never consoled me. It actually hurt more than it helped.
    Two months after the miscarriage I got pregnant, but I had no hope left. People said some awful things to me when I miscarried, that I wasn’t a mother at all “doctrinally” speaking. I kept praying and I kept receiving a reassurance that everything would be ok, yet my lack of faith, hope and fear were overwhelming. It wasn’t until the last trimester that it finally settled over me the fact that it would be ok. That my time and my baby’s is in the Lord’s hands.
    So, I didn’t find it offensive… I just think he was talking (as it usually happens) to the people that do have them or that prevent themselves from having them (or having them abundantly). Some of us don’t fit in that category but I believe our blessings our numbered differently. Of course I heard the message after having my baby, so it didn’t affect me the same way it would have if it was a year and a half ago.
    I would say…. You are a blessed woman!! And those whom the Lord consider different enough to not give them children are special for Him and have a special purpose in His plan. I don’t know what that is, since we all have different purposes, but the Lord knows all and in His wisdom He deems the way things work (or don’t) for everybody. I know the church is true and though some topics seem taboo when they shouldn’t be, I think that just gives way and room for personal revelation.

  27. Hillary says:

    Oh, what a chord this post struck with me. I too found myself struggling to focus on the positives of the message when my heart was just aching. I am so very tired of fellow church members’ attempts to pacify those struggling with infertility with the “in the next life” crap. It might be true, but it sure doesn’t help.

    I too feel utterly forgotten. Dismissed. Invalid. Less than. And believe me, it’s not because I am choosing to feel this way. I fight every day to overcome these feelings. To find meaning in my life, the way it is, right now. But it’s so hard, especially when we’re regularly taught that bearing children and co-creating with God is a woman’s crowning achievement, and that “multiplying and replenishing the earth” is the crowning achievement of a marriage. It’s also interesting to note that the instruction to multiply and replenish the earth applies to this life, not the next. After all, why would we be replenishing the earth after death?

    Personally I’m torn in my opinion of the couples mentioned in the article. On one hand, I like hearing about the success. Maybe it’s because I want to believe I’ll have that too? But on the other hand, it definitely reinforces the nexus between righteousness and eventual reward (in this life). I can control my own righteousness, sure, but I certainly can’t control my husband’s. And isn’t it damaging to allow these types of implications, thereby encouraging members to judge childless couples as being not righteous enough?

    Maybe it really would be helpful to hear of couples who have found joy and meaning in their marriage exclusive of interacting with, raising, adopting or attempting to conceive children. Because right now, I can’t feel that this pursuit is eating me up. Every day I feel my testimony and faith are under fire. My head is swimming with the desire to have children, the hopelessness of failure, the insanity of trying to control something I can’t, the judgment and ignorance of some, and my utter invisibility to those from those who are supposed to see and counsel all God’s children. Perhaps the idea of finding happiness with my life the way it is seems so unattainable because I cannot imagine all those things swimming around in my head going silent. But maybe, just maybe, some real life examples and a talk addressing infertility (absent platitudes like “in the next life”, the idea that adoption is easy and will solve all problems, and the equation of righteousness to success) would help.

    • spunky says:

      Hillary,
      Brilliant points, thank you so much for sharing. I agree, the sucess stories are encouraging, but still… I can honestly say that I know more childless couples than I know of couples who have suceeded in adopting (which could be because we are childless and/or childless couples stick out).

      Love this: “And isn’t it damaging to allow these types of implications, thereby encouraging members to judge childless couples as being not righteous enough?”

      Thank you 🙂

  28. Mary says:

    Thank you for your post. I appreciate hearing them. I feel too often the leaders of the Church discount those who are infertile. I have been married to my husband for 13 years, we have never been blessed to have children due to my infertility. I think it has been hardest on him because he is the baby of 6 and each of his siblings are parents. Altogether he has 17 nieces and nephews, and 1 of the nieces is expecting her 1st child. Unlike Sister Dew and Sister Kapp none of our nieces and nephews live close enough to us for us to get to enjoy them. So I appreciate hearing that it is possible to have a life of joy, while being childless.

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