Guest Post: A Mother of One

lori davisby Lori Davis

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.

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16 Responses

  1. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    Amen! I find myself getting a bit defensive when people ask if I have any others than my one little girl and then I wonder why. It’s a natural question; why am I assuming they’re judging me based on my response? Is it because I would judge them? Then I need to stop judging them and stop assuming they’re judging me on the same criteria. It’s weirdly hard to let go of. I don’t want it; it just keeps showing up. Fortunately, it seems a bit less each time.

    I too assumed I’d have more. Maybe more will still come, in God’s time if not my own. But I’m not willing to put my family through that expensive roller-coaster. If God actually tells me I should, I will. But in the meantime, I have people who love and need me and it’s enough.

  2. EFH says:

    I truly admire the confidence and courage you have developed from this challenge in your life. The quality of life or motherhood is not determine by the number of children but by how you live it and you have the right attitude. Congratulations and big hugs to you.

  3. jks says:

    Sorry no one can ask you. We have been told by other women over and over that it is rude to ask someone if/when they plan to have another child. We have to wait for other people to choose to open up and share their family planning thoughts, feelings, plans. If people don’t share, we are just left wondering and trying not to let our assumptions take over.

    • Lori Davis says:

      I actually prefer it when people honestly ask. It’s true I’ve sometimes been taken aback when people I barely know bring it up. But afterwards, I’ve always been glad afterwards to have it all out in the open. I’ve often wished I had an easier way to bring it up myself with people I do know fairly well, especially when I wonder if I’m making the right assumptions about them. Maybe if we all talked about it more, we wouldn’t feel so defensive about our own stories.

    • Nona says:

      I agree JKS. I never know someone’s personal situation/feelings, so unless/until I know them well enough that it can come up naturally, I figure it is better to error on the side of not bringing up a potentially sensitive subject. Though, honestly, I don’t really notice or care much how many children anyone has.

      • Alisa says:

        I don’t like it when people ask others, as if they need to know. It doesn’t meet the “it is necessary” criteria for getting into someone else’s business.

        But I do like when people choose to share their own experiences like this. This was very beautiful.

  4. E L Frederick says:

    Better to be an extraordinary mother of one, than a life-giver to many, but a mother to none. I admire your willingness to magnify your calling as mother. I wish my ex-wife was as dedicated to our children.

  5. Caroline says:

    I like the way you embrace so many identities. “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.”

    I think this is a healthy approach to life. When we center our entire identities in only one role, I think we are bound to feel constricted and to miss out on other important parts of life and personal development.

  6. spunky says:

    This is lovely, Lori. I really enjoyed reading it– even the way you have written it seemed to be calming.

    It is so annoying to me about how much prejudice and assumption ideology exists in the church under the guise of not asking out of presumed respect, all the while assuming very disrespectful opinions. I honestly think that part is the hardest trial in dealing with infertility or anything else sex-related (chastity, homosexuality, etc).

    I love this: “I appreciated 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.” That is such a good way to embrace, develop and seek things out of life that are meant for us– I never thought of contented acceptance a as a virtue in an of itself, but it truly is. Thank you for expressing this so well!

  7. Talyn says:

    This was beautiful, Lori. 10 years later and I’m aspiring to be more like you again.

  8. Dawna Rae says:

    This could have been me writing this post. Thanks for helping me feel less alone and just a little more validated in my role as a “mother of one”.

  9. Melody says:

    Love this. Especially this: “I have a daughter. She needs me just as much as if she had a dozen siblings.”
    Thank you for sharing your story.

  10. Alan says:

    Love the one you have and don’t let anyone make you feel less of a person or a member of the church. One of my favorite general authorities growing up had only one child and he made no apologies to anyone. I know people who have none and would gladly trade places with you.

  11. Sarah says:

    Beautifully written! Thank you, Lori.

  12. Joanne says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I have one – – a 10-year-old boy. Husband had lazy sperm, and wasn’t gungho about a taking extraordinary measures. We are used to it. No one ever asks.

  13. Lori Davis says:

    It is so nice to hear that I am not the only mother of one out there. Thank you, everyone who commented!

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