Guest Post: What Sheep Taught Me About Motherhood
(Jesse is a confirmed science nerd, writer, runner and mother of two children. She completed my undergraduate and graduate work in Biology, and served a mission in Temple Square.)
The other day I read a story about some scientists who have been studying wild sheep that live on a remote island off the coast of Scotland (I promise this has something to do with LDS culture and feminism). It turns out that some of the sheep on this island stay pretty healthy, while others get sick a lot and die young. Here is where it gets interesting. The scientists took blood from individual sheep and looked at how many antibodies, a.k.a. germ-fighting cells, each sheep had. The sheep with the most antibodies stayed healthiest, were most likely to survive the winter, AND had the fewest lambs each spring. The sheep with lower levels of antibodies got sick more often, were more likely to die during the harsh Scottish winters AND had more lambs each year.
As I read this article, I thought of the commandment to “multiply and replenish the earth.” Here are these wild sheep that have been isolated for generations. Some of them have stronger immune systems and fewer lambs; others have weaker immune systems and more lambs: Two different biological strategies for multiplying and replenishing their remote island. And, over the course of their lives, the two groups of sheep produce approximately the same number of offspring (the more numerous lambs with weak immune systems die off at a higher rate than those lambs who inherit their parents’ strong immune systems).
Despite their generations of isolation, both types of sheep can be found within this population. In biological terms, the two types of sheep were equally successful in passing on their genetic material. Either strategy (strong immune system, fewer offspring OR weaker immune system, more offspring) worked.
It occurred to me that this example might be useful for me in thinking about how individuals go about filling the command to “multiply and replenish the earth.” For a variety of reasons (unknowable to me and possibly even to themselves), women and their partners adopt wildly different reproductive “strategies.” These strategies represent physical, biological, mental, and economic trade-offs.
How do you navigate conversations about your reproductive choices in a church setting?