the intentionally empty womb

by G
melancholy redemption.jpg

The painting shown here is one I did just before I got intentionally pregnant with our son. I found myself using art making to process some of the ambiguity I felt about that decision. The sacrifice, the sanctification, the vulnerability, the fear (and hope), the requirement. (And just because, here is something I did when I was about 9 mo pregnant with our son.)

I have wondered if it was the birth of our son that doomed my faith in the church, opened that perilous door which led to a very diminished belief in it’s claims to exclusive divine direction. I’m the kind of woman who has never been ‘baby hungry’. I enjoy kids (and love my son) but prefer my exposure to them to be limited to a degree (I’m a much better mother to my son when he is with someone else for a part of the day) and I have never experienced a longing to reproduce. It was with a bit of trepidation and ambivalence that I agreed to conceive; it’s what Mormon couples do after getting married, hubby thought it was a good idea, I was approaching 30, clock’s a ticking. I couldn’t vocalize any good reason not to. So we did. The Pregnancy was fine. Labor and delivery went without a hitch. But then I was suddenly a mom… and I discovered it wasn’t a role that worked very well for me. When the other young mothers around me talked about planning for their ‘next one’ I had a hard time relating. The only possible reason I could see for wanting another child was because it was what God wanted me to do, sort of like commanding Jonas to go to Nineveh. And I was starting to have some issues with the Father’s demands upon my body.

I wrote this guest post at fMh a little over a year ago about why people have children. It was really big on my mind at the time, we were coming to that point where my husband and I were asking “do we have another one?” and I was doing some serious soul searching. This year, my son turns five, I will soon become officially “mid 30’s”, and I have gone through a bit of a cognitive shift. Epitomized, perhaps, by president Beck’s Mother’s Who Know talk; it wasn’t until after I ceased believing in “Prophets, seers, and revelators who… [declare] that ‘God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force'” that I could finally come to grips with and admit the fact that I really didn’t want any more children. That our family felt complete to me. I think for my mother this is painfully personal. To her it is not only proof of my declining faith in the church, but also an indictment against her own effectiveness as a mother (she wonders if I would be more maternal if she had been a better mom.) Likewise there are women who desire (but are unable) to have a child, and my fully capable but intentionally empty womb must seem like a cruel joke. I don’t have answers to those questions. This is just my personal story.

But I am curious, for me faith and family planning seemed so heavily connected, (which is silly- perpetuating the species is what we are programed for) how does this work for others? Are there faithful members of the church who don’t feel any contradiction between believing in the restored gospel and happily remaining childless? On the flip side, know any atheists with lots of kids? What has been your experience with the command to multiply and replenish the earth?

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  1. Caroline says:

    Is this G?

    Thanks for your story here. Such an interesting topic. I am someone who doesn’t relate faith whatsoever to family planning. I figure God wants me to have however many kids I want to have. And I’ve always felt that way, even when I was a pretty orthodox believer. I don’t know why…maybe family size has always just been such a personal decision that it seems ludicrous for there to be any hard guidelines or rules about it.

    I’ve never been a baby person whatsoever, but after having my son 2 years ago, I realize I want more. Maybe even 2 more, which is shocking since I always thought I’d have a total of two kids. So my relationship with the church has become more and more problematic, my desire for children has actually increased. Weird.

  2. Caroline says:

    oops, in my last paragraph, make that *as* my relationship with the church has become…..

  3. G says:

    yeah… this is G. forgot to put my name at the top.
    thankyou caroline. I’m so glad to get others perspective on this. It was quite a bit of a conundrum for me. Really, procreating is something that for most humans is an innate desire (not sure where my lack of drive came from). To make it a spiritual imperative, well; I find that almost as harmful as making marriage a necessary ordinace to get to heaven.
    best wishes for your own family!

  4. AppleKrahe says:

    Maybe the Lord was speaking about children when he said, “For the earth is full, and there is enough . . .”

    I don’t think guilt is ever a good reason to bring children into the world.

    I loved your painting. Absolutely loved it.

  5. Alisa says:

    This post resonates with me a lot at this point. I too have an intentionally empty womb and am approaching seven years married. If I consider my marriage with DH the fundamental, important relationship with the Church or society, I’d say that there isn’t a conflict. We agree on where we are. There’s no pressure. But once we expand our relationships outwards to other family and friends, our decision to not have/postpone children becomes increasingly an issue and leaves me feeling like an outsider (sometimes).

    Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love helped me with some of the questions I had and encouraged me to continue on the journey I felt good about with DH and God.

  6. Zenaida says:

    I have wanted a family since I was a very small child, and I still get doe-eyed for babies. I used to think that I wanted to be married young and have five kids, but the older I get, the smaller that number gets. Not necessarily because the option to have so many decreases as I get older, but because I simply don’t want that many. I never felt the imperative to have children (granted I’m still single), but I have never been able to believe that family planning was anything other than a personal choice, and I was shocked to hear that it might not be.

  7. Zenaida says:

    BTW, G, I absolutely love your art pieces. They are beautiful and carry the wordless emotions you describe. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Jessawhy says:

    This is a great post. There a some days when I wish I had been smarter about family planning.
    It’s wonderful that you are at peace with your decision. I’m happy for you.

  9. Brittany says:

    Funny I choose a day like today to “blog stalk.” I must preface that I in no way judge the author’s decision to have one or others who choose not to have children.

    My views are different however. When I growing up, I had no desire to be a mother… at least until later in life. I was going to graduate with a BS and then on to Medical school I was going to fulfill the dream of becoming a doctor and really who wants to be married?

    Well life didn’t happen the way I “wanted” it to per se, but I ended up married at 20 and a baby at 21, 22 months later, I had another. I waited 4.5 years to have my next because I wanted to graduate from Nursing school before I had another.

    I had a little boy. The most beautiful boy you have ever seen in your whole life. I fell in love with him instantly. I never put him down. I ooed and awed over all the things he did. Every time he fell, every time he got hurt, I ached for him. I did everything right by him, he was an appendage to me. Then at 1 year and 9 days, he was taken away from me. He passed away in a tragic household accident.

    So this is why I think it is interesting. I love my 3 children. I want more (I am limited physically however). So why I might ask is it fair for those who don’t want kids but can have them don’t when I really like mine and wish I could raise them and spend every single moment with them that I possible can?

    My worst fear was that I would have something happen to my children… and it has come to pass.

    If there is anything I have learned… whether you like being a mother or not, you never know when they will be gone, you never know if something will happen to them, you just never know. So I would say to you, cherish every minute with them, love them, dote on them, spend time with them, because you don’t know if it will be your last memory of them.

  10. Dan says:

    I’ve always thought that a person should have the number of children that they want. If you’re ambivalent about having children then it’s the right choice to not have anymore.

    Just out of curiosity, and probably to provide your readers with a good laugh, what does the acronym DH stand for? I see it a lot. I suspect that I’m a DH, I just don’t know what it is

  11. Angie says:

    Thank you for this post…it resonated so well with me. I have 2 daughters, and I love them, but admittedly guilt from the Church and ‘those in authority’ are the primary reasons I had them. Everyone told me that once I had one, that I would want more, and that I’d only want to me a mom. I still don’t really want to be a mom, although if something happened to one of my children I would be heartbroken. It is so nice to know that I am not the only person who didn’t have an overwhelming desire or drive to be a mother.

  12. mraynes says:

    I love this post, G. Faith and family planning have been heavily connected for me as well, except in the opposite direction. I have had an intentionally full womb for eighteen months of the past two years and I have to say, I hope to be empty for quite awhile.

    That being said, I have felt an immense spirtual desire to have children. I didn’t receive revelation to have children, God and I don’t really communicate like that. Rather, I felt a spiritual need to procreate. Since becoming a mother I have found that my relationship with God has healed and I have wondered if my children were peace offerings of sorts. Unfortunately, my relationship with the church has become much more complicated and difficult.

    Having children is so personal and such a sacrifice, especially for women, that the choice to have them should be left entirely up to the couple and God. I don’t believe the church has any business meddling in family planning and have no problem ignoring any mortal directive to have more children.

  13. Janna says:

    Wondering about the DH thing, too. I’ve seen it now for a year on this website, and still have no idea what it means – “Dear Husband”?

  14. Jessawhy says:

    Janna, my understanding of DH is that it does refer to a husband, but the D can be anything: Dear, Darling, Damn. . .
    you name it. . .
    I see it all over the bloggernacle.

  15. Janna says:

    Ah…I see.

  16. Meg says:

    Thank you so much for this post. As a single mormon, childbearing isn’t even a physical possibility for me (excepting a virgin Mary-style miracle), but it has been on my mind a lot lately, because I’ve recently realized exactly how ambivalent I am to the prospect of having children.

    When I was younger, I just assumed that I would get married and reproduce, because everyone else was, but the longer I go on, the more I think I don’t want to reproduce.

    I like other peoples’ children fine, think babies are cute, and have no problem with people procreating to their heart’s content. However, the thought of me one day reproducing is terrifying and unpleasant, for a myriad of reasons – physical pain and health risks, selfish concerns about my career, educational goals, and freedom of choice, worries about financial burdens, fears that I wouldn’t enjoy motherhood, etc.

    Do I want to bring a child into the world just because I felt obligated by culture and religion? Of course, it might be wonderful, but what if it wasn’t? I am a nurturer to my friends and family, but what if the challenges and burdens of having a child made me feel trapped and resentful instead of happy and fulfilled? And, in an absence of a strong desire for children, should I take that risk?

    I have only recently begun to voice these concerns, but they are met with a great deal of dismay from those around me – other single mormon women dying to have a child, my mother, mormon men. I would be afraid to tell a mormon guy I was dating about this feeling, as so many of them appear to be just waiting to collect their perfect family set – wife with big bangs, children, minivan, hot dinner.

    Additionally, I worry that my lack of desire means something even worse about my already conflicted feminist faith. Mothers who know desire children – where does that leave me? Is no desire for children a sin, that I should be seeking to overcome? Am I expected to have a child because to not have one would be selfish and anti-Mormon?

    I don’t know how to address these questions, or my ambivalence about motherhood in general.

  17. Kiri Close says:

    Awww—babies are soooo cute! Cootchy cootchy coo!!!

    …and then I return them to their rightful owners, & thank myself for waiting until later to have them.

    May sound crass, but I really like my life with Rob–just the 2 of us. And I really, really love fantasizing about law school in the very near future for myself, the great amount of space I have to read & write literature, hop into our old & used Land Rover to explore spontaneously, travel the world without much prep, & make out with Rob openly.

    No apologies from me about waiting. Hey, maybe we will NEVER have kids in this life–no apologies there, either.

  18. Kiri Close says:

    PS–this is a really great topic!

  19. Kiri Close says:

    PPS-and that painting is damn fabulous!

  20. m&m says:

    FWIW, I have never been the baby type, even sort of struggled with it with my own. For me, motherhood is something I have grown into, not something that has just distilled upon me without the passage of time or some element of faith.

    We had our children very, very close together, more because that seemed God’s plan for us (ah, the story I could tell there), not because that was our plan — or that I was the ‘natural’ lots-of-kids-fast mom type. In many ways, I wasn’t. I still wonder sometimes how I did it.

    But the payoff was quick! And God’s plan was wiser than any plan I could have made because they all came before my health issues did (I never imagined having to limit my childbearing for health reasons) and because they are so close in age, mothering with chronic illness is actually easier, I think, because they are in similar stages and are such amazingly good friends. And it pains me to even imagine life without any one of them.

    I don’t write this to advocate anything except maybe just to trust God in the decision-making process, if God is a part of your life enough to do that. Because I do believe that there is more to all of this that we really can’t see, the unexpecteds of life and all.

    And I do believe that motherhood is like other spiritual gifts — it’s something that may for some of us come by degrees, or little by little, or be something that we honestly have to struggle with, pray for, seek. But my own experience is that God can change my heart to become more of a mother heart. And that has been significant to me when I have sometimes doubted my own ‘natural’ abilities. I’m still not where I want to be, but I think I am a better mom than I was when I started. 🙂

  21. G says:

    thanks ya’ll for commenting!

    applekrahe- hahaha! maybe so. I like that interpretation of “the earth is full… there is enough” much better than the anti-environmental slants my fam gives it. thanks 🙂

    alisa- I really enjoyed eat pray love too, as she faced that question of whether to have a child, elizabeth gilbert put into into words a lot of my own feelings. And the whole outside family and friends pressure thing- yes! so much stuff to wade through.

    zenaida- thanks! and yes, it’s really such a personal choice and should stay that way.

    jessawhy- “there are somedays I wish I had been smarter about family planning” hahaha! me too! but exactly what ‘smarter planning’ looks like changes day by day! 🙂

    Brittany, thank you for sharing your story, that was excruciatingly painful; what happened is my worst nightmare, always in the back of my head. My heart hurts for you, and I wish your family peace and comfort. thank you for the reminder to enjoy every moment.

    thanks dan, it is so good to hear that… I am much more used to the ‘if you don’t want to, trust God, and it will all be okay’ line. it is refreshing to have choices based on gut instinct validated. 🙂

    your welcome, angie! it is nice to know ya are not alone, huh? (I’m not a freak! I swear!)

    myranes, thank you so much! I so appreciated your post(s) about childbirth, and the power, the connection to divinity you experience there. I have such an admiration for that.

    meg, what you said really resonates with me… I felt that same pressure while dating- part of the good lds girl act (to get prince RM charming) was the desire to have children. somehow, even on casual dates the subject would come up! you have my admiration for starting to vocalize this to others (while still single).

    kiri close- hahahaha! thanks for that! me too! I have a cute as a button little 9 mo old niece who just today I got to enjoy for a little while (such a bubbly happy baby girl!)
    And then gave her back to her mommy. and never once had the ‘oh… I want one so bad’ feeling.
    your life with hubby sounds lovely, exploring with the old landrover and all. I wish you all the best!


  22. G says:

    (wow… I put way more smilies in that than I thought…)

  23. G says:

    thankyou M&M. I am glad things worked out so well for your family. At times I look at my friends who had their kids while young (early 20s) and now the kids can take care of themselves while mom gets other stuff in… that does seem a lot easier than me, having my first child at 30!

    I think for a while, I had a bit of DISTRUST in God, a notion that I already knew what God would tell me and it went against my gut instinct etc… I had a friend tell me (concerning God and praying about having children) that God would always tell you to have another child. (!!!) yikes. (She was a bit surprised to have God “tell” her that she WASN’T supposed to have another child.)

    Now, I am beginning to see the connection between God and my Gut, if that doesn’t sound too crass. I know, it’s supposed to be in our hearts and our minds that God talks to us… but I think it’s through our guts to. And it has been so refreshing to learn to trust my gut! 🙂

  24. gladtobeamom says:

    This is an interesting topic because I am really enjoying understanding and respecting others. I am completely the opposite. I always wanted to be a mother. I love it. I am currently prego with number 6 which will be my last. I am not sure that my faith had much to do with it. It may have had a little bit to do but mostly I just love being a mother. I think I would have done it no matter what. I did not do it because I felt obligated to populate or anything like that. I am learning how different it is for everyone. What works for some doesnt work for others. I have met some who should never have had kids and only had them because they felt they had to. On the other hand I have a cousin who feels they need to have as many as possible as quick as possible with out much consideration. He wife is a basket case because they have 6 kids she is pregnant with 7 who has down syndrom and her husband is going to medical school so she does it on her own. She has had a few break downs already. they are also in the military so they are no where near family. It is so important to consider the situation I dont believe he wants us to just think if we just keep having them all will be ok. Not all of us can do everything. It is important to know what we are capable of etc. It is kind of an open ended command that I believe has been interpreted wrong by many. I like the go with your gut thing.

  25. G says:

    thanks, gladtobeamom, for sharing that. “It is kind of an open ended command that I believe has been interpreted wrong by many.”
    yeah. that sounds about right.

    I though the church handbook of instructions, under the topic of birth control, states that family planning is between the couple and god, and that others should not judge. but yet it is amazing how much external pressure there is, and assumptions as to what is the ‘right’ way to do it.

  26. D'Arcy says:

    Great post G. I commented on your blog and probably should have saved it for here. But, in any case. I am so glad I didn’t marry or have children before my “spritual awakening” (by the way, I used to call it my spiritual crisis…no more)…not that I am sure I would have them now, being 31 and single, for the first time in a long time, feels so right for me.

  27. Angie says:

    G, I thought about you and this post all day today. I wish that we were next door neighbors, and that we could sit down and talk together about this…because I feel exactly the same way that you do about having children. So many of your phrases were exactly what I think too.

    I have two responses to what you wrote in your last paragraph:

    “faith and family planning seemed so heavily connected” – I don’t feel this way, because my physical, sexual identity is so personal and precious to me. I have a phrase that runs around in my thoughts regarding this: Keep your laws off my body! I think I saw it on a pro-choice bumper sticker, but it describes how I feel about the whole family planning issue. If I am the one who does the work of child bearing, then I have ALL the say in how and when and whether.

    And in answer to your question “are there faithful members of the church who don’t feel any contradiction between believing and happily remaining childless?” I am not childless – I have two children – but I feel absolutely no conflict between my reproductive choices and my very orthodox Mormon beliefs. For example, I had my tubes tied after my second child, and I didn’t pray about that decision or worry about it or consult my bishop or anything else.

    I feel that I have the right to make decisions about my own body. Period. This is not a conflict for me and my Mormonism, because I believe that the doctrines of agency, the eternal family unit and the temple, the sanctity of the body, not running faster than we have strength, the parable of the talents, choice and accountability, and many, many other core Mormon beliefs support my particular reproductive decisions.

    Anyway, these are a few of the things that I’ve been thinking about after I read your post. I really do wish that we could have a conversation about it. I’ve never met anyone else who has said the things that you wrote about and that I feel, too.

  28. Angie says:

    “their perfect family set – wife with big bangs, children, minivan, hot dinner.”

    One more thing – I thought this statement was so hilarious!

  29. Dr. Tump says:

    G-I love the painting!
    at 31 and childless by choice I can relate to what you’ve written. When I honestly evaluate myself I can say that my only desire to have children stems from guilt and pressure from Mormon society and teachings. I refuse to have children out of guilt! I always read these posts with fascination and relief when I find others who feel like I do. I like kids, and really enjoy my nieces and nephews; but I have some real fears about how I would adapt to parenthood. I also struggle with how I would raise a child in the framework of Mormonism– especially a daughter. As I progress through my stages of faith I really worry about the traditional paradigms this would restrict them with
    Thanks for this thoughtful piece and the chance to ponder on this

  30. G says:

    aw thanks d’arcy for putting in your two cents here as well.
    a bit of my own struggle was going through a significant cognitive shift AFTER being married and becoming a mother. I wish I had known myself better before entering those stages… but for me it was going through those stages that opened the way for me.

    I admire your own journey and the courage it takes.

    aw thanks, angie. I wish we could have sat down and chatted face to fact too. It seemed somehow a guilty, secretive thing when among friends we would (occasionally) admit to ambivalence about having children.
    to just be able to talk about it with out the guilt, openly. would have been nice. thank you for sharing your own story, I am so glad that for many faithful they do what they know is best for them inspite of outside pressures.

    thanks, dr tump; yes, the idea of having a daughter and raising her in the church was also a problematic aspect of procreating for me as well. (somehow more than for a son, at the time.)
    thank you for sharing 🙂

  31. Krista says:

    It is my personal opinion and belief that the number of children you have has no bearing on whether you reach the Celestial kingdom or not.
    You know what you can deal with personally, financially, spiritually. No one out there has the right to dictate your personal preference.
    Am I sinning for having “only” two kids (yep, you guessed it … the least amount in any family in the ward)? If I am going to be damned for taking the best course for me and my family … I can think of worse things I can do to kick start my descent into hell.

  32. Elizabeth says:

    The number of children a couple have is a personal decision. No where does the Church or it’s inspired Prophets state the number of children that should be in a family. As far as being able to enter Heaven only if you’ve completed the marriage ordinance – the teaching is that in order to enter the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom and have an”increase” which means having spirit offspring , one must enter the eternal marriage covenant. Which makes sense – there needs to be a male and a female to procreate, right? And it should be within a marriage union. Brittany, you are right on. So sorry to hear of your loss. The careers and accolades of this world will fade away, but your family can be forever.

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