The Childless Ones

We are reminded again of the importance of families to God’s eternal plan. We are reminded again that the Church teaches to the ideal, to the pattern, to the eternal. Those of us (men as well as women) whose lives do not — will not, cannot, in mortality — reflect the divine pattern are reminded again to turn to God for answers in our personal circumstances.

Sometimes it helps to know that the saints, as well as a Heavenly Father, understand what is missing, and that we would mirror the divine pattern if only we could. Here, in an unsigned editorial from the April 1916 Relief Society Magazine, some unknown saint demonstrates that understanding and expresses the promise of the gospel — and a warning to reluctant parents — better than anything else I have heard or read in my lifetime:

The Childless Ones.

There are burdened parents amongst us, and mothers spent and broken with the ceaseless toils and cares of motherhood – but what of the childless wives, and the sonless husbands, in this Church? What of the longing arms of women who suffer to cuddle a babe upon the aching breast, and to kiss the roseleaf-petaled, nestling mouth of the newly-born? What of the lonely, sonless husband who watches other men trudging past his door with laughing sons perched on their shoulders, or who sees fathers hurrying home in the Christmas dark, laden down with children’s toys and trees to deck for laughter-loving babes when morning breaks on Christmas day? What of these, when preachers rise and bless the parents or stigmatize the childless, and make of them a hiss and by-word in the congregations? The childless couple’s eyes are always feasted with another’s joys, their blessings are negative in tone and kind. What of these? There are two kinds of childless couples: the willing, guilty ones, and the helpless, hopeless, innocent victims of physical or spiritual handicap.

The innocent sufferers have, in this gospel only, a full and glorious consolation. For some wise purpose, for some deep, unexplained, spiritual trial of faith, this childless cross has been permitted to rest upon some shoulders. There will be no worthy childless married people in eternity. Parenthood and Godhood are inseparable. And when this life, with all its trials and losses, has gone by, even these hungering souls will understand the cause, and rejoice in the over-ruling Providence which permitted this great trial. Many who have had children here will be childless over there, and those who have been innocently deprived will in the eternities have the blessed privilege of bearing and of rearing spirit children. Endless increase is the promise made to us in holy marriage covenants. O happy thought, O holy hope!

Some childless ones there be who choose to lessen loneliness by taking orphan babes to cherish and to rear. All honor unto such. Nobler far are they than those who bear their children complainingly and slow. ‘Tis a deliberate choice of cares and trials, then, a willing assumption of parents’ burdens borne for purely spiritual reasons. Such parents should be loved and respected in this community, and be given equal place beside the fathers and the mothers in modern Israel.

Let our tongues be wise and our comments slow. When parenthood is named and its failures are disclosed, discriminate with careful speech between the innocent and the guilty; for there may be as many unwilling, sinful parents who hear thy words as there are unwilling, guilty, childless married people. Let each one judge himself. For here is truth and justice. God blesses those who bear children to his name just as he sends them– and equally he blesses those who would be parents, if nature had not locked the doors. All honor, then, to righteous men and women, both childless and the fruitful. God multiply blessings unto all.

76 comments for “The Childless Ones

  1. Ardis,

    I agree with this article from 1916. I think though that we are now operating in a different environment entirely. Childlessness amongst married people who are otherwise fertile is now a life-style choice freely chosen and created by readily available and efficient BC methods. This phenom once pretty rare is increasingly common now. (full disclosure I know the pain of fertility problems first hand)

  2. Your comment on another blog was the impetus to post this, CS Eric.

    Then, BBELL, judging from the outside is all the more difficult now, and those-who-would-be-parents need support even more.

  3. The panel discussion in the WWLC touched on this point several times. There was an implicit invitation for everyone to participate in raising and nurturing strong families — whether or not it happens to be “your” family.

    While I personally find such answers to be singularly unsatisfying, it has long been my resolve to participate in whatever Church programs and functions continue to welcome me.

    Where I am excluded, I try to maintain charity and an open mind.

  4. What I love about this essay is that it manages to be compassionate without hedging the doctrine.

    There will be no worthy childless married people in eternity. Parenthood and Godhood are inseparable.

  5. I enjoyed this line…

    “The innocent sufferers have, in this gospel only, a full and glorious consolation. For some wise purpose, for some deep, unexplained, spiritual trial of faith, this childless cross has been permitted to rest upon some shoulders.”

  6. Amen. As we learned in the leadership training on Sunday, the desire to have children is a righteous desire, given to us by Heavenly Father and until it’s fulfilled, the day to day anguish continues. At the least they childless couples have each other to lean on.

  7. Someday, John, I’m going to find something as comforting and well-written as this piece that embraces the men and women who don’t have each other to lean on.

  8. I’d like to print this essay out, roll it up, and whack a few people over the head with it:

    1. Single women who whiiiiiiiiiiine at the Single Adult events. (quitcherbellyachin’. And by the way, whining isn’t helping you attract a suitor.)
    2. Married infertile couples who play the martyr saying “We’d have kids if only we could” (go adopt a few then).
    3. Married couples with 2 natural-born children who can’t have any more of their own, who then go on to denounce other married couples for having less than 5 children. (Adopt 3 more, and then you’ll have some standing to make those kinds of comments.)

    To those who say that there aren’t enough children to adopt because single mothers keep their babies nowadays, I would say that there aren’t enough healthy caucasian babies to meet the demand of would-be adopters. There are plenty of special-needs, minority, and multi-racial babies available for adoption in the US, without having to go overseas. And if you are willing to do a trans-national adoption (and have the $$ for it), then the options are wide open.

    And in the case of US-born special-needs babies, many, if not most, states provide for the medical needs of such children beyond the expenses of raising a healthy child.

  9. I would like to roll BS’s comment up and whack him over the head with it. Until you have stood in the place of the couple in my ward who adopted a little boy only to have him die one month later of a genetic disease then tried again and had the birth mother recind the adoption just before the required 72 hr. waiting period expired. BS, only then you can judge and whine about the whiners. For shame.

  10. Amen, Darrell – and Ardis’ #10.

    Personal threadjack alert: Darrell, drop by soon. I want you to see something.

  11. Ardis publishes a piece extolling beautifully why we ought not to judge each other. The next thing you know, we are deciding whom to judge and whom not to. How typically bloggish (he said in his most judgmental tone).

  12. A better bloggernacle would be one where we could really whack each other with rolled-up copies of our comments. Or where Jim F. commented more. Or both.

  13. Bookslinger, you wrote you’d like to “whack a few people over the head” like “Married infertile couples who play the martyr saying “We’d have kids if only we could” (go adopt a few then).”

    I agree that people should adopt if they don’t have children, but don’t judge them if they can’t make that decision. You don’t know what pain went into making it.

    The decision to adopt is a much bigger decision than that of having a child. It is an emotional struggle unlike anything I have ever experienced. It is one thing for a couple who has had children to decide they want to adopt (have more children without pregnancy).

    But consider the implications to an unfertile couple – especially a Mormon one. By adopting they have just given up on their own bloodline, the fruit of their loins, their actual posterity that they have made covenants that will affect for eternity. They have no child born in the covenant. The promises to Abraham, from father so son, cannot be passed on as they had hoped nor expected. They must give up in some ways on the promises of God – at least in mortality to their actual children. It requires a great deal of faith.

    I cried for days when we decided to pursue adoption. It was by far the toughest decision I’ve ever made. Much harder than people realize for unfertile couples.

    And then there is the emotional issues. People say “oh, well just adopt” like it is not a big deal, but it is. Carrying the baby for nine months is an experience that the wife will never experience. The bonding that is had during that time is gone. The breastfeeding bonding is gone. The feeling the kicking, the nervousness and prayer of a healthy baby, the husband misses the talking through the tummy to the child and the seeing the child born. Yes, especially the closeness you feel to God at the moment of birth – all gone. Given up on as an experience you know you’ll never have.

    And then you worry that you may love the child less. You know you won’t, but you worry about it.

    Don’t get me wrong – it is a wonderful and fabulous thing to be able to adopt, and you know you will love the child, but it is not a decision you arrive at easily – it comes when you have given up on what you can do with what you thought God has blessed you with. People underestimate how hard it really is.

  14. Darrell, I re-read my comment, and I don’t believe I referred to people in your friends’ situation. Your friends don’t fit into any of the three categories that I was whining about. They went out and sought to adopt, which was my rejoinder to categories #2, and #3, hence they wouldn’t be included.

    I’m sorry my writing was not precise enough to prevent confusion. I did not mean any slight to you or to any who choose to adopt. And I did not mean to slight those who don’t want children. I only meant to slight non-adoptive whiners.

    In which category (1, 2, or 3) did you assume I would include your friends? How should I reword it so it would be more obvious that I was bemoaning childless couples (and those couples with only two children) who _don’t_ adopt, and yet who _scold_ other couples for not having more than 2 children?

    I don’t think I’m the first person on this blog to point out that there has been more than one general authority who scolded the saints for not having more than 2 children, when they themselves had only 2 children, and did not seek to adopt more.

    In category #2, it’s not the lamentations of childless couples that irritates me, it’s the lamentation of childless couples who refuse to apply to adopt.

    In category #3, it’s not the lamentations of couples who become infertile after X number of children, it’s the lamentations of couples who become infertile after X number of children, who lament that they don’t have X+n children, and who then don’t seek to adopt, and who then scold other couples for “stopping” after X children.

    The common thread between #2 and #3 is the refusal to seek to adopt. I just see something both illogical and hypocritical in those who tout having children (or having more children) and yet don’t even seek to adopt after they aren’t able to have as many children as they themselves are saying that they should have.

  15. Attention:

    I’m calling a moratorium on all comments that tell others how they should live their lives, or that fault others for not taking a path the commenter feels is obvious or easy.

    The purpose of the post is to support your brothers and sisters by recognizing their burdens, not to make those burdens heavier!

    Off-topic musings also will be/have been deleted.

  16. Visorstuff, you’re right. I don’t get it. I’ve heard nothing but positive things from adoptive parents and foster parents, so your comments are completely new to me, and a couple of items are puzzling.

    I’ll have to process what you said, but on the surface, and as a first reaction, I would disagree about bloodline, and point out that in the gospel, those who are adopted or grafted into the covenant (eg: gentiles) have the same blessings as those born in the covenant ( eg: literal descendents of Abraham.) The scriptures, especially Paul, are quite clear on that, if that is what you were referring to.

    My own background: I am a convert, my parents are not members. And I was declared to be a descendent of Judah in my patriarchal blessing. Although the word “literal” is not in there, the wording denotes a literal descendent.

    As I understand it, patriarchal blessings do not always specify whether someone is a literal descendent of one of the 12 tribes or is adopted in. Since no one is declared to be a “gentile” or non-Israelite in their patriarchal blessing, there is a lot of adopting, according to Paul, going on.

    Also, as to what I understand about parents being sealed in the temple to adopted children, it creates the same eternal bond as a child “born in the covenant” has.

    Another point, me being a middle aged single guy, there is a possibility that I could marry someone who already has minor children, and it is within the realm of possibility that I would legally adopt them, and then it’s possible that we’d get sealed as a family. I would (hopefully) not view myself as being saddled with someone else’s children, but would see them as truly mine, (ours) if they wanted it such.

    I don’t understand your point about giving up on having biological children when making the decision to adopt. Could you please elaborate on that? I’ve known a few couples that adopted and then went on to have their own biological children.

  17. Ardis, feel free to delete my comments and email me. Visorstuff has succeeded in letting me know there are factors that couples go through that I’m clueless about. And my writing is not precise enough to avoid unintended interpretations. My purpose was not to chafe those with tender feelings.

  18. Bookslinger, I admit that I may have been a little judgemental of your judgementality. None of your categories fit the couple that I referenced. I am a little sensitive to their plight right now because of how fresh their pain is and I am their Bishop. However, your comments seemed a little out of place as a response to what Ardis was trying to share. Supporting and sustaining one another in our sorrows is something we should all strive for. Yet too often we judge one another’s hearts when there is no way to exercise righteous judgement about the place we cannot possibly see or know.

  19. …sorrow like husband and wife can’t agree on whether or when to adopt, and how hard to try to still conceive.

  20. I’m surprised that according to this author there were “willing, guilty” ones among church members in 1916. In other words, people in the church were already using birth control. I know Margaret Sanger was starting to campaign around that time, and the movement is mentioned in “Cheaper by the Dozen.” But I didn’t realize that birth control was done among church members back then, enough that this author thought there were “willing, guilty” childless ones around her. We tend to think of birth control as being invented with the Pill, but that isn’t so.

    In my genealogy, I have a 4th great uncle who was a prominent professor and hymn composer in the late 1800s. He had one son, who married and had one son, who married and whose only son died in his teens. His line has died out. From this distance I have no idea whether or not the small families were acts of will or fate. I would suspect “will” since it continued over so many generations and since it was a male line, so probably no hereditary health problems that would limit childbearing. Regardless, it’s a shame that a classy guy like him doesn’t have any living descendants. The classy non-Mormon families in my genealogy tended to have small families starting in the late 1800s, and the poor abusive families had tons of kids.

  21. “In other words, people in the church were already using birth control.”

    Perhaps, but not necessarily. I have an ancestor who wanted sex but no kids; his wife wanted kids but no sex. (That’s an actual description in an actual journal.) “Birth control” as you are meaning it doesn’t have to be the focus on the comment.

  22. I with that essay will be reprinted in a current Ensign. There is way too much judgment going on related to having children (in my judgment:)), and my wife says I don’t know the half of it.

    On a personal note, my wife has been diagnosed with “unexplained recurring miscarriage”. We’ve been blessed enough to have 2 kids so far, but don’t know if we have the physical or emotional strength to have more, at least biologically. Between our first and second child there was a lot of time and suffering. Gradually we started to think about adoption. At first it was very foreign, and then conceivable, and then we finally accepted that we could do it and make it work. We decided to try one more month before committing to it entirely. That month she got pregnant and nine months later we had our second baby. Perhaps God was testing us to see if we were willing to change our view on what our “ideal” family would be. Or maybe it was just a coincidence that things happened like they did. But I’ve learned a few things from this experience:

    1) It’s not our place to judge others, even if we do know that they have chosen not to have kids, but it is especially not our place when we DON’T know the circumstances. Many people assume that there must not be a fertility problem if you have any children, but that’s simply not always the case. And even if we know there is no fertility problem, every family can handle different things, and the prophet has told us it’s between the couple and the Lord.

    2) I won’t judge anyone for choosing not to adopt. It’s a difficult decision that (just as the decision to have kids in the first place) is between the couple and the Lord. And, unless they’ve told you otherwise, you don’t even know if they haven’t tried to adopt. At least through LDS family services, couples can wait for years. And since the biological mom can choose the adoptive parents, families with kids already are at a disadvantage to be selected, I would think. Also, the church only recently lifted the limit of 2 adopted kids per adoptive family.

    The bottom line, “Let our tongues be wise and our comments slow.” Those are wise words to apply way beyond this discussion.

  23. My very dear friend and her husband have been seeking to adopt for close to 5 years. They are not particular about race. They have gone through LDS Social Services and now several other agencies. I didn’t realize it was that difficult to adopt, but apparently for some, it doesn’t “just happen.” Every year she gets older and wonders if this will ever happen. Please be sensitive to this in your remarks about adoption. And if anyone can help them, please see their profiles at …

    [Links removed with commenter’s permission. If anyone is in a position to help and wants to view the couple’s profiles, please contact BiV directly, or write to me at AEParshall ‘at’ aol ‘dot’ com.]

  24. My mother had an ectopic pregnancy nine years before I was born. The surgeons removed a fallopian tube and the associated ovary in order to preserve her life. As a result, I’m lucky to be here at all. I learned at a very young age to not judge the situations of couples with respect to having children. This essay came out four years before she was born. It should be reprinted as a home teaching and visiting teaching message every year. It would provide instruction and comfort to a lot of people.

  25. Just another comment on the difficulty of adoption. Friends who are trying to adopt have told me that it is common for adoption agencies to have age limits on the parents. Even if the adoption agency doesn’t have an age limit, birth mothers typically get to choose the parents, and tend to prefer younger parents. If someone marries in their late twenties, discovers a problem with fertility, then spends several years on fertility treatments, they may be close to the age limit for adoptive parents by the time they start the adoption process. As others have noted, adoption can take years. Yet another reason not to assume that people can “just adopt” as many kids as they want.

    My one friend has been trying to adopt for more than five years now. She and her husband would love a baby of any race, and have tried applying to adopt sibling groups and special needs children as well. Their stories aren’t mine to tell on the Internet. But suffice it to say that it is not easy or quick to adopt, not even if you’re willing to take any child regardless of race or handicap.

    And Ardis, that’s a beautiful essay. Thanks for posting it.

  26. Thank you for your efforts in compiling such a moving and motivating post. How grateful we are to have our role as parents so clearly defined by the Gospel.

  27. A much needed message.

    I think we would do well to cease even innocent questioning about plans others have for childrearing. I don’t think it’s our place to ever ask anybody when they plan to have kids or why they haven’t had kids yet. Even if made with the best intentions, such inquiries can throw salt on the wounded hearts of would-be parents. You just never know someone else’s circumstances. I wouldn’t even direct such a question at my own brother, let alone a casual acquaintance from the ward.

    Now we just need some kind words for the unmarried ones. If I never hear a Mormon ask another member why she isn’t married yet, I’ll be a happy man.

  28. Innocent questioning is one of the few ways we have to find out other people’s circumstances. Which we need to do if we are to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need. We don’t have to be inquisitorial but the Saints had better not stop asking me questions about anything where there’s an off-chance the subject might be sensitive.

  29. Some “innocent” questions aren’t so innocent, Adam (Exhibit A: Huckabee). I can’t imagine any circumstance where it would be appropriate to ask “why aren’t you married yet?” or “why don’t you have children?” Those aren’t so much “I want to mourn with you” questions as they are put-downs, in every scenario I can construct.

    Not that that’s the kind of question you had in mind — no doubt it was merely an unhappy juxtaposition between your comment and the preceding one.

  30. Adam,

    I agree that we need to be close to the Saints so that we can be in the best position to help them. That’s an important perspective. But I think this is often best done by developing close friendships with others, not by asking specific questions. If a member of my word has a loved one who is ill, I hope he feels comfortable enough with me to let me know. But I don’t make it a habit of asking members of my ward if anyone they know has died. I try to get to know them for who they are. If something seems wrong, I might ask how they are or if there’s anything they’re struggling with.

    My experience has been that close friends and family will volunteer their struggles and concerns when they are ready. Some people are comfortable sharing their struggles to have children; others are not.

    And I’m not sure that it’s really an “off-chance” in many circumstances. If a couple in your ward has been married for 5 years and doesn’t have kids yet, there’s a decent chance they’re having struggles. If a 38 year old member of your ward is single, there’s a reasonable probability that he or she wants to be married. We don’t need to make them feel more ashamed by always bringing their single or childless status to the fore.

  31. I can’t imagine any circumstance where it would be appropriate to ask “why aren’t you married yet?” or “why don’t you have children?”

    As Jason J., suggests, I think these kinds of questions could be appropriate with close friends or family members.

  32. Re #39

    \”We don’t need to make them feel more ashamed by always bringing their single or childless status to the fore.\”

    While we are on the subject of sensitivity, please consider the nuances of the language you choose. There is nothing shameful about being single or childless.

  33. Wow, where do I even begin when it comes to this topic? My husband and I have adopted two children. Prior to that we were married seven years and either trying to conceive or trying to adopt the entire time.

    Infertility is primarily a grief experience. Because the loss is not visible and is rather abstract, it\’s hard for people to understand that the loss is very, very real and very overwhelming. An infertile couple will go through all the stages of grief, just as a person who has lost a loved one to death. I received a lot of judgment, even (perhaps especially) from people who loved me. My family cared about me a great deal, but they simply did not get it. I got a lot of lectures from my parents and a lot of \”shoulds\” from other family members. When I expressed the difficulty I had in attending baby showers, it was: \”You just have to learn to be happy for other people.\” When I would sometimes cry and vent, it was : \”You just need to be more patient\” or \”Well, motherhood is hard too.\” I know that these family members thought they were helping by giving this advice. There was nothing wrong with the advice in and of itself. But what would have helped the most would have been for people to just listen and validate my feelings. I finally found relief through a wonderful LDS counselor who actually gave me permission to express the full range of my emotions over this loss without any threat of lecture or judgment. Once that process was complete, I could start to heal and actually deal with the issues at hand.

    It is unbelievable to me to hear people characterize infertile people\’s sorrow and pain as \”whining\”. Most of us, hopefully, would never dream of using terms like that when talking about someone who had lost a child or spouse to death. Why can\’t the same courtesy and understanding be applied to the loss that is infertility? It is just as real. (This is not just me talking, either, the reality of this loss has been described throughout psychological literature on the subject.)

    About adoption: the infertility and adoption experiences are processes. Whether it\’s easy or hard to adopt is kind of irrelevant to me. A couple still must come to the right place before they take that step. That takes much time, again, because infertility is a real loss, and that loss must be dealt with at least to a certain degree before adoption is explored. Just going out and adopting a child will not solve the legitimate issues that come with being infertile, and it is terribly unfair to an adopted child to have parents who are still heavily grieving. It would be a grave mistake to enter the adoption process too early.

    Another element that outsiders often miss is that of the Lord\’s will. People assume that since you can\’t have children, and there are children out there that need homes, that you can and should just go out and adopt them. But while that may seem obvious, it is not always the Lord\’s plan for an individual couple. Ardeth Kapp and her husband got a strong \”no\” answer from the Lord about adoption. I know plenty of couples personally who have gotten either \”no\” or \”not now\” answers when they have prayed about adoption.

    When we adopt children, we are not looking for just any child. We are looking for \”our\” children, the ones that Heavenly Father intends to come to our families. If Heavenly Father can withhold children through birth for His own purposes, He can withhold them through adoption too. The process that each family goes through is so incredibly unique and personal. There is no blanket answer that fits all of us, and noone outside of the situation need impose an answer on us.

    I think the great lesson of life for all of us, infertile or not, married or not, is to submit to the Lord\’s will for us. Remember, the PRIMARY purpose of coming to earth is to be tested, not to be spouses or parents. Sometimes (always?) the testing must happen in the areas that are nearest and dearest to our hearts. This submission is a very long and difficult process, and all of us must come to it in our own time and in our own way. Even the Savior in the garden had moments of desiring not to drink the bitter cup and of shrinking. So let\’s not criticize or judge others if their process of submission in their personal lives doesn\’t fit exactly what we think should happen.

  34. Great post Ardis. And a sad string of comments.

    I cannot imagine any time or circumstance in which it would be appropriate to ask the single or childless “Why?”

    To comfort those in need of comfort does not require much, if any, understanding of the reasons those people need comforting. Welcoming all into our circle of friendship, and acceptance without judging, seem to be good places to start.

  35. (40) And as Jason J. also suggests, the circumstances represented by those questions are best volunteered, not pried into by someone the single or childless hasn’t chosen to take into confidence. Even a father has no business forcing such a confidence from an adult child. Certainly no lesser relationship gives that right.

    (41) No, there’s nothing shameful in the mere fact of singlehood or childlessness, although there potentially could be something shameful (something wholly selfish) in the reason for singlehood or childlessness. Such personal and intrusive questions as “Why aren’t you married yet?” and “Why don’t you have children?” always carry with them a connotation of shame because they imply that someone should already be married or a parent, as if the choice were completely under the person’s control and had been unrighteously rejected — it’s that implication, which can very well be false, as “The Childless Ones” illustrates, that makes such questions nosy and impertinent and out-of-place under any circumstances.

  36. My comment ended up just below eljee’s heartfelt and moving comment. I hope it’s obvious that my note about a “sad string” of comments wasn’t addressed at hers.

  37. #41, Rechabite –

    I agree that “ashamed” was not the best word. All I meant is that these types of inquiries make them feel like they don’t fit. I did not mean to suggest that they should feel that way.

    Point well taken.

  38. There are reasons why adoption isn’t a realistic option, even for those of us who want children more than anything. Do you have any idea how much fertility treatments cost? Fortunes. And when there is a pregnancy that winds up with yet another miscarriage, the hospitalization is another fortune. When the patriarchal blessings of each partner in the marriage promise children born to you, you don’t give up. Then when the last miscarriage causes so much physical damage that a hysterectomy is the only choice for the woman’s health, that dream and those promises are as dead as those children you tried so desparately to have.

    Eighteen years later, after the fortunes you have already spent trying to make those promises in the patriarchal blessings come true, you come to the harsh reality that adoptions are also generally expensive, and by the time you will be able to afford one, at least one partner has passed the maximum age for adoption for most reputable agencies.

    This may be whining, Bookslinger, but I find myself now so deeply in debt from medical bills that I cannot get financing for a car (despite a near-six-figure annual income), and am now too old to qualify for an adoption even if I could afford one. The last miscarriage shattered my wife’s faith in the many blessings she had received that this would be the one that would come to term. It also shook the faith of the dear branch president who had given her many of those blessings, the last one being on the day we felt the baby kick. Two days later, my wife miscarried again. Before the week was out, he asked to be released. I struggle more and more to find ways I really can fit in this Church when it is clear I can not be part of the “ideal.” Several comments on this thread make me feel like I really can’t. That is why the first comment on this thread was mine, thanking Ardis for it.

  39. THAT was moving, CS Eric. Another reason to hold up and emphasize ideals that everyone can strive for, like love and understanding, rather than the perfect family unit.

  40. fwiw: Expectations are a two-edged sword – necessary in some ways, but so dangerous and damaging as usually applied – to self, but even more so to others. If we could eliminate the unrealistic expectations we have of others (for what they do and feel and believe and say), much of this discussion would fade away.

  41. Bookslinger – Thanks for your note. Sorry in advance for my long response below.

    You wrote: “I don’t understand your point about giving up on having biological children when making the decision to adopt. Could you please elaborate on that? I’ve known a few couples that adopted and then went on to have their own biological children.”

    Many potential parents look forward to having their own children – the entire process. This is much more difficult for us men to understand than women – you may want to talk to your mother or some other trusted female about the bonding, etc. that happens during pregnancy and the happiness (yet sickness and sacfice) they feel. They may help you understand this better than I can in this forum.

    When making the decision to adopt, many couples (definitely not all) know that they will never had their own children, so adoption is a last resort on promises made to God, and from God to them when they were sealed, in the premortal reams as they were named Israel, etc. They know that if they are sealed to the adopted child that they will love the child, and that it will be theirs eternally, but they also realize they are doing it as an exception – not in the “ordained by God” way of procreation. They give up on having their own. They give up on realizing those promises in this life. It is a hard decision.

    I know of one potential father that felt that adoption signals that they are unlike Abraham the faithful, and unwilling to wait for their Sarah to conceieve in her old age. He somehow felt that he was less faithful because he couldn’t have children and was going to adopt rather than wait upon the Lord to deliver on his promises. It is an extreme case (one i don’t fully understand myself) ), but it takes a mind shift to realize that you will recieve your promises in a different way than you expected – that you are an exception to the normal order of things. To how it is supposed to be.

    You also referenced the doctrine of adoption, as taught by Paul and Jesus – i’m glad you did. Imagine being a Jew and hearing Christ say I can raise up seed to Abraham from rocks, or a Jew hearing the doctrine from Paul. To Gentiles (the adopted) it was a great blessing, to the Jews it was confusing and hard to understand, hard to swallow. It took a great deal of humility on their part.

    The stats support that most couples who adopt their first child will have children of their own later in life, which adds another worry to perspecive parents: Is it possible for them to love the adopted child any less? They think not, but they hear horror stories and the worry is always there.

    You’ve already accepted the possiblity that you could marry someone who already has children. But that was undoubtedly a process, not something you planned on when you were a child. For many, the decision to adopt happens when all other resources are exhaused, and it happens quickly, even with fasting and prayer. It is a complex issue, but one that someday we’ll all understand much better.

    We went through seven years of surgeries and testing and fertility. It is a process that makes you feel humiliated, poked, prodded and broken. And although we were told by doctors that we’d never get pregnant, my wife did when we were going through the final stages of the adoption process, and have had three beautiful children thus far. The child was truly a miracle. Yet we still talk about adopting a child someday as we now have that mindset.

    We were grateful for our trial. I know of women who felt that God didn’t love them as much because they couldn’t get pregnant. I don’t understand that mindset – and i agree that people should not complain loudly about such trials. We didn’t tell others about our trial unless they insensitively criticized us for not having children, and then we responded with a humble, “we’ve been told we can’t have any children, but are pursuing every possible channel for our family.” We suffered and bonded together as a couple in silence. I grew to love my wife more than ever during that trial. It was a blessing for us.

    I’ve also experienced the emotional pain of miscarriage with my wife — something that only those who experience it can understand in any degree — I know I didn’t. I don’t fault you for your comment, or for not understanding these things, because they have not been your trials. I’m just always amazed at how little we understand about others trials until we go through them. Hope this helps.

  42. One of the thoughts that stuck in my head following the broadcast on Saturday was that we need to refrain from questioning others’ having children that they cannot afford or that they cannot physically handle. Exactly the opposite idea from this thread, but important, nonetheless. There have been many times in my life when I’ve questioned the sanity of a rapidly growing family that is barely able to put food on the table.

  43. My wife and I were childless (not by choice) for the first three years of marriage. I don\’t recall any ill-intentioned comments and if there were thoughtless ones we forgot them all. We spend too much time in lessons, seminars and yes even WWLTC worrying about the exceptions. Let\’s focus on the pattern and handle the deviations from the pattern privately.

  44. Just a couple of additional comments on adoption in response to Visorstuff’s post:

    My children are my own. I know that people often interchange the terms “biological” and “my own”, but to me they mean two very different things. Though our children came to us through adoption, they are just as much our own as anyone else’s children are theirs. They are the spirits that Heavenly Father intended for us. They just came to us a different way. All of our children (biological and adopted) existed independently of us as spirits before gaining a mortal body and joining our families.

    I don’t see a difference in a spiritual sense between procreating and adoption as means of multiplying and replenishing the earth. Neither is a better or lesser way of fulfilling this commandment. In fact, I think that most of the fulfilling of this commandment is in the desire and the actions that come from the desire. To me, the physical state of pregnancy is a fruit of that desire…and just one fruit. A couple who expends great effort for years and years, either to conceive or to adopt, and who never have a child are living the commandment to multiply and replenish just as much as someone who has ten children.

    I do feel loss of certain experiences. When a couple chooses to adopt, they–especially the wife–forego the experiences of pregnancy, birth, and often breastfeeding. Those are deep losses, particularly the breastfeeding one for me. But honestly, for me, those experiences are quite separate from my children. I don’t grieve over a loss of genetic connection to my children. As I said, they are mine and I don’t doubt that. I do share certain things with their birthfamilies, which I also don’t mind. But I think that losing those experiences of womanhood is entirely separate from anything such as losing “my own” children. For me, it’s important to make a distinction between the two.

    I was interested in statistics that most couples who adopt will go on to have biological children. I would love to see more detail on that, as everything I have read has been the exact opposite. The numbers I have read have been somewhere around 2% of adoptive parents going on to conceive, and that seems to mirror what I’ve seen in my real-life associations with adoptive parents.

    One thing that is interesting to note is that even among infertile people, experiences and opinions are very different….yet another reason why we can’t make blanket assumptions or judgments when we see people going through trials we don’t understand.

    This is a wonderful discussion—I wish this subject could be more open. I think most infertile couples are very private with their challenges, and I think sometimes that is not a good thing. We need less isolation.

  45. aloysius, there is a well defined place in the gospel for us “deviations,” and we sometimes need to be reminded of that. You get all the public attention and all the support the church can muster; don’t begrudge us a little space in this private forum.

  46. I agree with Ardis in 56.

    It’s true that the lives of the ninety-and-nine are not all roses and butterflies all the time, either. But they do receive quite a bit of attention and support; spaces like this one are the exception, not the rule.

  47. i\’ve suffered with mental illness (depression/bipolar) most of my life. my first half-hearted suicide attempts started at age 11. i\’m kind of a mess and don\’t have myself together very well. yet i managed to find a great man who loves me and took on the challenge of being married to me. i have my dark periods. we were married for 7 years before we had our first child – not because of fertility issues, but because i had a LOT of mess inside of me. thoughtless people at church would ask me about our childlessness, and i would stand there with fresh cuts underneath my clothes (i used to self-mutilate, it helped dull the pain) and and shoulder them off with vague answers designed to imply that we were infertile. after feeling that my problems had settled down, i finally went ahead in faith and had two beautiful boys. but the sad truth is i am not a spectacular mother and i sometimes wish i had let my beautiful children be born to somebody more even-keeled and put together than i am. so i have decided i will bear no more. the hard thing about this is that we could support more children and i would love to adopt, but i have to get my emotional problems under control. it breaks my heart that i will nurse no more babies, but i am barely holding it together with two children and at this time i feel it would be wrong to subject any more innocent babes to my spotty mothering.

  48. The point of this post seems to me to be that we really aren’t in a position to judge why some families aren’t the “ideal.” Sure, there are some couples that decide they don’t want kids and they don’t. There are some, like us, who decide we do but can’t. From the outside, it is often hard to tell which couples are which. We often get criticized as selfish because I make a good income but don’t have any kids. If you don’t know our story, it is easy to criticize. But the main reason I chose a profession where I could make a good living was so I could support a family. My father was a schoolteacher, and so we never had enough money–I didn’t want my kids to feel that way.

    Similarly, here are men and women in the church who would be wonderful husbands or wives, but haven’t been able to find their mate. On the other hand, there are some who choose to remain single. Again, from the outside, it is often hard to tell which individuals are which.

    And even of those who choose to remain single, we don’t know why. Some may, indeed, be selfish, not wanting to share their life. Or some may be gay or lesbian, and choose to be celibate to keep their church membership intact.

    The point is, we can’t all be in the “ideal” family. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t all children of the same God, and that there shouldn’t be a place at the family dinner table for His children for everyone.

  49. “It’s true that the lives of the ninety-and-nine are not all roses and butterflies all the time, either. But they do receive quite a bit of attention and support; spaces like this one are the exception, not the rule.”

    Oh, I dunno. When I was pregnant with my third child, an accident that made me very angry, a baby we couldn’t afford, I felt absolute zero support from church and LDS friends for what I was going through.

    Instead, I was congratulated and pressured to conform into being happy with the nightmare of having three children by the time we’d been married three years and feeling like an incompetent burden on my husband.

    I did love the original essay; it helped me appreciate others burdens and of course the advice to not judge others is a True Principle that applies to any situation.

  50. My wife and I had two children and many people waited expectantly for the third, which was not immediately forthcoming.

    We waited, and waited, and waited. Then got pregnant, and lost it.

    My wife still feels the presence of the one she lost. Feels “her” there. Knows she is near.

    I don’t know the exact details of our theology about miscarriages. Does that count as an opportunity for that spirit? Is it now restful awaiting the resurrection? Hard to say. As far as my wife is concerned, she feels the presence of the one she lost. And not in a sense of “I’m waiting my turn to try again”.

  51. As often as I remember miscarriage being mentioned in the Ensign, a search shows that it appears there as little more than the catalyst for someone to seek God’s comfort or to learn to offer service. No discussion of the theology turns up, except for a confusing note about whether stillbirths (yes) and miscarriages (no) should be recorded as children born in the covenant (it’s confusing, to me at least, because that applies only to previously sealed couples and there is no mention of sealing stillbirths to couples later sealed — so are they children of that couple in the eternities, or not?) I’ve got nothing, W-K-C-N-A, and hope that somebody else can suggest something reliable.

  52. Regarding miscarriages, my understanding is that “we don’t know.” I vaguely remember some institute class where it was discussed and the teacher brought up some confliciting quotes, and then basically concluded that it’s all speculation. But more solid information would be appreciated.

    My wife shares your wife’s sorrow with miscarriages. She also feels that she has lost of a real spirit, so how can I argue with that?

  53. I say “shares your sorrow”, but I shouldn’t say it like that since your comment (#60) only says that she feels her near. That sounds like a positive emotion to me, so I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions.

  54. #54 \”When a couple chooses to adopt, they–especially the wife–forego the experiences of pregnancy, birth, and often breastfeeding. \”

    A quick aside. Breastfeeding an adopted baby is possible for most women. (If they this is their perference.) See this article. I don\’t have any personal experience with this, but found it very moving that a woman\’s body is (sometimes) capable to nourishing her child even if she didn\’t give birth to it. I nursed DD for almost 2 years. I really didn\’t enjoy pregnancy, but loved our nursing relationship beyond words.

  55. belle, I’ve actually induced lactation with both of my children, with varying degrees of success. The second I was able to nurse for 11 months, but it was an extremely challenging experience and I still produced virtually no milk. Of course, it’s not so much about the milk, but the challenges of inducing lactation and using a nursing supplementer were still huge. I still feel like the breastfeeding experience has been lost to me.

  56. re: 40/41/44 (“Why aren’t you married?” type of questions.)

    There are ways to be positive and uplifting towards singles. And I agree that “Why aren’t you married?” is an offensive and hurtful question in all situations that I can imagine.

    I’d probably walk out of an interview if a bishop or stake president asked me point blank why I wasn’t married. (Or I might rejoin: “Do you want the reasons chronologically, alphabetically, or in order of importance?” Or, if I were in a real ornery mood, I might retort: “Why aren’t you divorced? I can’t imagine how your wife puts up with you.”)

    A slightly more positive question would be to ask “What can I do to help you get married?” Though that is not much better. Other luke-warm questions would be “What are you doing to prepare for marriage?” or “What are you doing to find a suitable spouse?”

    The best kind of support I can think of is to offer “finding” assistance, but to offer it only on the terms of the single person. Perhaps something along the lines of “If you want me to introduce you to some singles I know, let me know whagt kind of person you’re looking for, and I’ll keep my eye open for you.” Or, “What kind of person are you interested in dating/marrying? You don’t have to answer that, but if you want to fill me in a little, I might know someone who might be compatible.”

    #50: Visorstuff,
    I think correlation between ancient pharisaical concern about maintaining Jewish bloodlines and some saints’ concerns about preserving literal “Covenant/Mormon” bloodline is interesting. Those of us outside of the Mormon corridor sometimes get overly sensitive when folks talk about being of pioneer stock, or refer to places outside of the Mormon corridor as “the mission field”, or refer to non-members derisively as “uncircumsized gentiles.”

    #?? (I forget who),
    Even Abraham adopted (Ishmael, through Hagar) while waiting on the Lord to fulfill the promise with Sarah.

    #27: Sara,
    I think lines dieing out, (“bottlenecking” is the DNA term, I think) is quite common throughout human history. DNA studies have shown that large populations of certain areas (Iceland was one such study, I think), come from a small cadre of families that only constituted a small portion of the population as recently as 200 years ago.

    #50, Visor,
    Actually, from a young age, I believed/knew I would not have any biological children, or would either marry a widow/divorcee or at least marry later in life. Somehow I just felt it. I understood it from a young age. The only evidence I can look back on is that I wanted to avoid the unhappiness and extreme dysfunction of the family I grew up in. But it never occurred to me that it was a bad family. I thought all families were like that, unhappy, mean, beligerant, offensive, unrighteous, etc. I thought that was just life, par for the course. It never occurred to me, until after I joined the church that families could be happy, nurturing and postiive. But even then, the standard programs of the church can’t easily or quickly undo the hard-wiring type of emotional/psychological programming that happens before age 7.

    Some observant and wise people made hints about me marrying later in life because they observed my personality, but I didn’t understand why I was supposed to _not_ have children or marry young until I was in my 40’s. Being middle aged and single is not a handicap or a curse in my situation. This is where I’m supposed to be at this point, based on events that were outside of my control. Now that I have a better understanding of the past, I am currently working on overcoming those things. “Getting married” is not a solution to those things, but the other way around. As those things are resolved, then finding, recognizing, courting and marrying a suitable and compatible spouse can occur. (And yes, I realize one doesn’t have to be perfect prior to mariage, etc.)

    Only after realizing certain things really were abuse, seeing how emotional toxins are passed down, and how “secondary abuse” (ie, when an abused child grows up, and doesn’t directly abuse their children, but the mindset of victimhood is passed along) happens, and then synthesizing it, did I start get a handle on things.

  57. Bookslinger (#66),

    Abraham didn’t adopt Ishmael, Abraham was Ishmael’s father. Ishmael was every bit as much Abraham’s son as was Isaac. The only reason Isaac inherited and Ishmael did not was that Isaac was the son of the first wife, Ishmael the son of the second. If your solution for a man who can’t conceive with his current wife is to follow Abraham’s example, you are recommending either polygamy, divorce, or an extra-marital child.

  58. CS, I know the story. I didn’t mean it was a 100% parallel or analogy, but having Ishmael through Hagar was a form of adoption/substitution/surrogacy.

    I was bemoaning an injured foot one day until I went to chuch and saw a man on a three-wheeled mobility vehicle, and he had no feet.

    Being Jewish on my father’s side, I sometimes think of the Holocaust, and all the innocent lives cut short, many not having the opportunity to grow up, or marry or have kids.

    One of the great messages of the scriptures and all the prophets, at least since Joseph Smith is how tragedies in this life don’t deprive us of blessings post-resurrection. God is the great “Evener-upper”.

    You’re married, you know the gospel, you try to live the gospel, you’ve tried to have kids. You live in the greatest country on earth, in the most prosperous time in earth’s history. Count your blessings.

    If God can grant spouses and children to the zillions of people who since the beginning of the earth died as infants so that they can be exalted in the highest degree in the Celestial kingdom, I don’t think you and your wife will be denied any blessings either.

    According to a post by Kaimi somewhere, most of the exalted ones in the CK will likely be people who died in childhood. (And if you run the numbers, and look at the scriptural promises, it sounds right to me.)

    The fact that you grew to adulthood, know the gospel, embrace the gospel, and found a spouse, all in mortality, means that you have achieved more in this life than most of the people whom you will share the CK with.

    So you don’t have any natural kids in this life, and may not be able to adopt any. That will put you in the majority when you’re in the highest degree in the CK. Your minority status in Happy Valley (or wherever your ward is) is temporary.

  59. Forgive me if it’s CS Eric’s place alone to respond to post 68, or if I misunderstand what post 68 was trying to do, because I’m sure it was meant with good intention. But none of the reasons there would make me feel much better. 1. Looking for others in a worse situation to make yourself feel better strikes me as schadenfreude, and therefore selfish. 2. The best example of all, yet I’m not sure how it relates to this specific issue. 3. is speculation, and works against finding joy in this life, a legitimate goal of the gospel. 4. How do you measure what’s the “greatest country on earth?” It’s highly subjective, alas; moreover, there’s no way to prove this is the most prosperous time in earth’s history, I rather doubt it; perhaps the time of the greatest gap between haves and have-nots in earth’s history, that I can buy. But most of all, this discounts the real pain someone might feel, as it trivializes it. 5. Quite speculative, as is much of what we “know” about the next life. 6. Speculative. 7. Again denying that someone’s pain is real, and giving them the chance to work through it as they see fit. 8. Highly speculative.

  60. Thanks, CraigH. I couldn’t have said it better.

    This thread has surprised me. I have admired Bookslinger for quite a while, with his zeal to spread the Book of Mormon. It is a shame that such missionary zeal is not accompanied by compassion.

  61. CraigH, I don’t think schadenfreude is expressed in the proverb: “I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet”. Am I wrong or insenstive to say to a crying shoe-less man “Look over there at the man with no feet” ? (Ok, I admit, it would be even better to help the shoe-less man obtain a pair of shoes.) I know more than one person who has volunteered at neo-natal intensive care units in order to “feel better”, and I don’t believe schadenfreude has anything to do with it.

    I know a couple who’s adult daughter died in childbirth. As part of their healing process, they have been foster parents to a string of special-needs and handicapped babies. I think turning to those who are worse off, out of compassion, whether it be in actual service, or whether it be turning just your heart to them in preparation for something more concrete later, can of itself be part of a healing or restoration process.

    As to your rejoinders of “speculative”, I think I’ve based my comments on scripture and upon words of modern prophets. They’ve been pretty clear about the likely destiny of those who live and die without any gospel law or gospel light at all, especially those who die before the age of accountability. For the rest of us, there are few hard-and-fast guarantees in the Gospel. The many promises are there, for sure, but do we really know in this life if/when we _attain_ the promise? Faith, by definition, is mostly speculative, based on Scriptural and scriptural words that we hope to apply to our individual situations. Only those who’ve had their calling and election made sure have any guarantee that they’ve actually _attained_ a promise, (and even then, only after quite a lot of exercising faith). For the rest of us, it’s pretty much faith, and _conditional_ promises.

    So you’re right in that whether or not we will actually attain the Celestial Kingdom, or whatever degree therein, is speculation. However, the scriptures are replete with admonitions to “look forward with an eye of faith” and to _hope_, and “ponder the solemnities of eternity.”

    There is a time to mourn, and a time to mourn with those who mourn. And there is a time to realize that sometimes the Giver chooses not to give, and doesn’t immediately tell us why. And sometimes the Giver decides to take away. Personally, I believe the Giver is also the great “Evener-Upper”.

  62. Actually that proverb is exactly what I had in mind as schadenfreude. It suggests to me that somehow we can’t exercise compassion and imagination until we find someone worse off, at which point we then feel a little better, perhaps even a little superior. That seems to me egotistical. I accept that it may speak to you and others differently, but that’s what it says to me. What seems to me most unusual about Christ, and most worthy of imitation, was 1) an imagination which allowed him to understand how others feel without having experienced it himself, and 2) equating himself with the sufferer, rather than thinking himself “more fortunate” or superior. I guess what I’m saying is that when people suffer we take it seriously and try to put ourselves in their shoes, rather than suggest they snap out of it. I think compassion is what helps us all to get out of our bad things, to know that someone else cares on your level. And I think compassion flows when we realize how badly we’re all in need of it, thus we give it.
    “Looking forward with an eye of faith” and “Pondering eternity” don’t prove to me that we know much about the eternities, or dissuade me from thinking that we ought to focus on lifting others and ourselves here and now. Many bold statements about the next life still seem to rooted in speculation; prophets speculate and offer opinions too. My point was that we can offer something more immediate, in the form of compassion, and the state of the eternities will work itself out on its own, I have little doubt. When Jesus wept over Lazarus, and brought him back to life, he didn’t rely on comforting Mary and Martha or himself with platitudes about the eternities.

  63. Thanks, all, for taking part. I’m closing comments now — but if any latecomer has a directly relevant comment to add, please feel free to email it to me (aeparshall *at* aol *dot* com).

  64. Bookslinger, I commend you for your continued hope and faith for a future marriage. I myself was single until age 40, even though I came from a loving family and wanted a family of my own. Marriage can indeed be very sweet, even when begun later in life.

  65. I think that the original post is very beautiful and we would all do very well to go back and read it again.

    Over the past year I have dealt with the process of grieving over a child. My child was born with a major heart defect that would have been almost immediately fatal without major surgeries. I would like to make a few statements based on my experience. In case you think I am deeply flawed and judgmental of others, through discussions with other parents in similar circumstances I have found that my experiences are very common.

    First, when someone tried to help by offering doctrine, they may have thought they were giving comfort. I saw it as judgmental, inappropriate, and shallow. Please, just give a hug and say, “I’m sorry.” This is what CraigH mentioned about the Savior. The Savior cried with Mary and Martha. If we want answers, we know where to get them. If we are at a stage to explore our questions, we will go to the scriptures, the temple, writings by the prophets, etc. This does not happen immediately and does not happen on someone else’s timetable. Sometimes healing from grief never happens in this life. Don’t try and force healing from grief. Don’t tell us how to feel.

    Second, before my son was born, someone reassured me that he could be healed. We had a number of deeply personal, private experiences through which we knew my son’s condition would not be taken away. We know that the gospel holds the miracle of healing from death and disability, but please don’t offer it as a platitude.

    Third, I’m still puzzling over family members who never asked about our situation. However, also in regards to Bookslinger’s comments in this thread, I have learned that the inability of some people to show compassion does not mean they do not feel compassion or are bad or evil. It simply means that they do not know how to show compassion or do not know appropriate ways to express themselves. (I have to keep reminding myself of that.)

    Fourth, if you don’t know whether someone is willing to talk about their situation or would like help, ask them. Perhaps you can say, “Would you like to talk about what it means for you to be childless/single/the parent of a disabled child?” They will either say yes or no. Don’t take it personally either way. I did appreciate the networking that put us in touch with other heart families.

    Fifth, do not assume that because you know something of someone’s situation that you know all of their situation or that you understand how someone in a similar situation is doing. If people are willing to share and you are willing to listen, that is great. It still does not give you the right to make judgments.

    Thank you to Ardis for posting the original essay. It offers mercy without the judgment that is so often present in these discussions.

  66. PS How did my [very long] comment get through!?! Thanks, Ardis. I just wanted to add that our son is doing fine, having had two major surgeries and will have at least one more surgery and various procedures if everything goes well. He is a very jolly little boy. The grief I have mentioned dealing with is the grief of having a child whose experience in life will be very different than a heart healthy child including a possible early death. It is a very intense thing and, as his mother, will probably last to some degree, for my entire life.

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