Excuses for Stopping

800px-Citrus_paradisi_(Grapefruit,_pink)_white_bgThe post is brought to you by my wife, Heather.  Please be nice to her :)


It was time for Dane and I to have a discussion — the, “our baby is approaching 15 months old, do we want to have another one?” discussion.  We currently have three wonderful, healthy children.  At one point in this discussion I told my husband that I would probably feel guilty for not having more.  He was surprised and asked why I should feel guilty.  So I told him and the answer surprised him even more.  Actually, this is why I am writing this.  He wanted me to share this experience.

As a disclaimer, I was not raised to believe that women are baby machines.  In fact, I was taught that having a family and kids was a good thing, but the number of children was up to us.  My siblings and I all decided that if/when we had kids we would try for at least two.  I learned all about the quotes that say, basically, “How many kids you have is between you, your spouse and the Lord.”  So in no way can I ever remember being told that I should have a certain number of kids.

But, if I don’t have more, unless I am really, really sure about it, I will probably feel guilty for not having more.  I feel that there is this expectation among the sisters, despite what has been said, to have at least 4 children unless there is some reason to stop before that number is reached.  Socially acceptable reasons to stop include:

  • age (usually mid thirties)
  • fertility problems
  • multiple c-sections
  • pregnancy complications
  • labor complications
  • illness
  • a handicapped child
  • doctor’s orders (I’m not referring to the personal beliefs of the doctor, but the ones who tell them to stop for a medical reason)
  • a priesthood blessing
  • husband in the military

There are probably a few I have left out but you get the idea

So where does it leave those of us who are a few years shy of 30, who just feel like we’re done having kids? We have none of the above “excuses”.  Now, probably no one is going to comment on it, no one is going to tell me I should have more kids, but the feeling that I’m coming up short is still there.  I realize we don’t need “excuses”, that if someone were to ask me why I didn’t have a plethora the best answer is that it is none of their business, but I still feel like I need an excuse so when I am talking with the other ladies and pregnancies stories come up (you know they do ladies) I can say something and everyone says, “Oh, that’s why…”

We have our reasons, and they are perfectly good, but they can sound so worldly, or like I am a wimp, and those things I am not enjoying about motherhood, well guess what; I don’t know anyone who does.

My husband asked me to write about this to find out if anyone else feels this same way.  Do/Did you and/or your spouse feel this same pressure?

39 comments for “Excuses for Stopping

  1. Yes, I felt the same pressure. But I still decided I was done at X kids because I don’t think my sanity could handle any more children and that would be dangerous for both myself and my children. And really, that trumps anything anyone else thinks.

    I wasn’t so sure when I first decided, but now that my youngest is 3 I definitely am… though I haven’t made it impossible to have more children (yet) the longer I wait the more sure I am. I just don’t feel that there is someone else that is destined to be a part of our family… yes, we could probably have more, but if we don’t it’s okay.

  2. Well, going by apostles, the range is pretty broad. It seems like half of them only have 2-3, while the other half have 7-10. So just going the ‘see what church leaders do’ route, we have a wide variety of examples.

    Beyond supporting children with an income, I think husbands generally have less say in this matter, since so much of it depends on the emotional well being of the wife. I think April’s approach is a good one, obviously seeking the man upstairs’ opinion.

    I do feel that even if we arrive at a point where we feel we should stop, we shouldn’t ‘finalize’ things–just in case…

  3. I have no idea what is right for you, but I think you will be able to sense what is right for you and come to agreement. We had four and were feeling that it would be totally insane to have #5, but every time we thought about not doing it, it seemed faintly and naggingly wrong to both of us. So we had #5 and a feeling that we should have #6 never came. #5 is two years old now and despite the ups and downs of life, everything seems so right. It turned out to be much less crazy than we thought. I have no idea how we grew into it so well. I remember when #2 came and I felt total terror at the responsibility. Now every day that I see my children is a joy. Good luck with yours!!!

  4. My youngest (of four) is almost 28 years old, and I definitely got pressure to have more than the four. Even a member of our bishopric gave me a hard time and told me I should have more children.

    I have a daughter whose family is complete with two boys, the second one adopted. She gets asked the questions, “Can’t you get pregnant?” and “Why don’t you adopt more children?” all the time. I get asked those questions about her too. It’s galling that people would even ask. It’s none of their business (or mine, for that matter), and that’s how I answer those questions.

    It’s normal to question yourself and your own decisions when other people are questioning you, but I figure you can either spend your life second-guessing yourself or you can spend it enjoying what you have and where you are in the journey.

  5. I find it interesting that, of the four responses both far, the two men interpreted this post as a discussion of how many children to have, while the two women understood the post is about the social pressure women in the church feel to justify “being done”. To me, this shows that this is a valuable discussion to be having. Until Heather talked to me about it, I hadn’t realized that this kind of pressure is still alive in the church. As a father and husband, no one has ever bothered me about how many kids I choose to have. Perhaps we, as men in the church, aren’t often in situations where we are exposed to this pressure.

  6. Honestly, if you feel like you’re done, and the decision really is between two spouses and the Lord, then “none of your business why,” said politely, seems like a very appropriate answer, with “We just don’t want more kids than this,” a very valid close second.

    Frankly, I’m uncomfortable asking a couple with two or three kids why they don’t go for more. You won’t get any pressure from me, and when we had three kids I’m pretty sure we felt no pressure from others to add children. I’d have to ask my wife about how she felt. Maybe it’s a regional thing?

  7. Dane,
    I think that is a pretty valid observation. I think women feel it more from other people due to the view that, in the end, this decision is up to the mom. I would argue otherwise though. My husband is just a factor in the number of children we have as I am. If he wasn’t I would think that something was amiss in our marriage.

    Not only does he have a very big say in it all, but when we do have something “permanent” done it will be up to him, due to the number of complications and the cost between male a female permanent birth control.

    That being said, I have heard of men getting the “Big V” as a unilateral decision in how many kids to have… which I think is unhealthy in a relationship, but it has been done.

  8. Yes, Heather, I totally, totally understand where you are coming from. I feel the exact same way. We have 5. I don’t desire to have any more, but I don’t necessarily feel good about making a permanant decision not to right now. I’ve got a few handy excuses to put it off in the meantime (husband severely underemployed after being unemployed, need to lose the last 5 pounds of my last pregnancy). But, I really, really struggle with having to make a decision to stop. I wish there were some other factor dictating to me I had to stop so that it didn’t need to be my own choice. Darn this agency. I say that light-hearted, but, yes, I struggle with this.

  9. Also, Dane, your comment is interesting. This idea of when to have kids, how many to have, when to stop has been an incessant struggle pretty much my whole marriage – for me. Not for DH. Up to this point, he has just kind of said, “Whatever, it’s your body”. But, now, he’s not sure we should have another one either. He’s concerned about my health and about the pressure he is feeling with a large family. I figure that if he actually has an opinion on it, that’s probably a sign.

    But, yes, the pressure – oh the pressure! And I think it’s kind of funny. One of the things I have heard my whole life is that we need to try to have as many kids as we “can” so that those spirits don’t have to go to “bad” situations. But, with how many couples struggle with fertility now, I just can’t believe that is a plausible reason.

    And I am surprised at how many people seem genuinely surprised when I tell them that I think I am done.

  10. This was a huge decision for us, and due to both emotional and physical health, are done at 4 kids born before I was 30. But my guilt trip came not just from families (we’re both the oldest of 6), but my patriarchal blessing, which indicates a whole host of children–which I’m taking at an eternal fulfillment level now. However, due to health reasons, I needed permanent birth control, and since my husband would have more kids if I died and he remarried, it was up to me. So the only way to come to peace with the tubal ligation decision was through prayer, and it was actually surprising to me and a huge relief to have one of the most overwhelming spiritual experiences of my life confirming that this was right. I knew the Church handbook discourages sterilization, and we certainly haven’t told our parents what we’ve chosen to do, but this was right for me. And I know the Lord approves, so whenever I feel guilty for other reasons, I’m grateful for that assurance.

  11. I’m a bit surprised that fathers would ever be disconnected from the decision-making process (the “it’s your body” comment). Maybe it’s because I consider myself a pretty hands-on father. Obviously, my wife would bear much of the burden of childbirth, but any semi-conscious LDS father should be asking himself how a new child will involve (a) his ability to pay for him/her and (b) how well he’ll be able to take on some of the responsibilities of raising him/her.

    As far as a “wish list” goes, I always said I’d be happy with three. DW always wanted four. We got 3, and I think we’re done. There have been a few unfortunate near-misses. Funny, though, we got #3 after a few (frustrating) years had passed after #2 and we finally told ourselves sincerely that we were content.

  12. we certainly haven’t told our parents what we’ve chosen to do

    I guess I don’t understand why telling the parents is a need, unless you just want to tell someone. Why should they merit any input in the decision?

  13. queno, I don’t think I expressed myself well. DH was saying, “As far as I am concerned, it’s fine.” Meaning he had already factored in how it was going to be for him, and then said, “It’s up to you. It’s your body”. But he never felt the need to pray and agonize over it like I did. He was truly fine either way. But now we are at the point where he is saying, “Well, the pressure is high enough now that it would create a hardship for me, too”.

    DH is a very hands-on father. My first requirement for ever considering another child is, “Can DH handle all the kids we currently have without me?” That involves getting the baby weaned so he really can do everything. Once we reached that point, then I knew we could both handle me being pregnant.

  14. Oh man, this hits close to home. I would dearly love to be told by a doctor that I just shouldn’t have any more kids if I value my health.

  15. I would dearly love to be told by a doctor that I just shouldn’t have any more kids if I value my health.

    I actually fished for that but was told, “No, you should be fine”.

  16. This post strikes a cord with me. My husband was shocked the first time I told my him that, given how easy it is for me to get pregnant and how emotionally I’m even better pregnant than not, I would almost feel guilty not having several kids. He thought that our generation was over that. I know that just because I can have kids that it doesn’t necessarily mean I should, but for some reason I can’t completely supress the thought. I don’t have any insight into why the pressure is there or even where it is really coming from, but I know it is still out there.

  17. It’s always struck me as funny that anyone other than the couple themselves would inquire as to the number of children in someone else’s
    family–as if we have a lot of control over the matter. My mother wanted a few children–she got one. I wanted five–I got one.
    We didn’t do anything to stop them from coming and my pat. blessing says
    I’ll welcome children into my home–must be grandchildren or in the
    millenium or maybe it’s just the neighborhood kids!

  18. queno–as far as telling our nosy parents–
    not that they had input into the decision, but when they ask (and they do!) what kind of birth control we’re using (knowing that i can’t do anything hormonal for health reasons), we’ve evaded the truth. my mother feels very strongly about the church handbook’s stance against sterilization and i don’t want to hash it out with her.

  19. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a big difference, with regards to social pressure, depending on what part of the country you live in. I lived in Utah for 4 years and can certainly see how the social pressure might be much worse. We live down South and we have 3 children already, with 1 on the way. It seems more common for people to stop at 2 or 3 here…so much so that the typical response we’ve gotten has been along the lines of, “you’re having another?!” or “four? wow you’re braver than we are” or “you guys are baby making machines”.

  20. #18 – It never occurred to me to ask about the Church’s position on sterilization. I would have been completely weirded out talking the bishop about that. My husband submitted honorably to the procedure with the rational, “Hon., it’s the least I can do.” To which I replied, “You’re darn right it’s the least you can do.”

  21. My wife and I can’t have any children of our own. We adopted 2 boys, who are now both nearly teenagers. Wife always wanted a little girl. I’ve been somewhat indifferent–satisfied with the two we have. After a disaster a few years ago which caused us to be displaced from our home for a year, she asked how I felt about having more.

    I told her I was fine with what we have, but that I would support having more. I don’t think I was completely candid, as my thought is that if the Lord wants us to have more he could have presented an opportunity. Granted, we could aggressively seek out that opportunity, but I just haven’t had the desire. I’m sure that if we woke up and found a basket with a baby on our porch we’d take it. I’d also take a million dollars if we found it in our mailbox.

  22. I agree with #19 that outside of Utah, people often think 3 kids is a huge family, and 4 – well that’s sooo big! As far as pressure goes, I actually hate that having had 3 c-sections limits the number of children I can have. I’d rather be the one to decide for myself when I’m done. I have honestly never felt any pressure to have a big family, but that’s probably because I have always wanted a big family so if there was pressure, I wasn’t aware of it because I’d already made my choice. And by “big family” I mean 4-6, although with my c-sections now, I’m thinking if we get 4 we’ll be lucky.

  23. I don’t think anyone is “whining for social validation”. For me, anyway, it’s the fact that during our parents generation you had Joseph Fielding Smith saying that anyone who chooses to stop having children when they could have more also chooses to cut off their eternal posterity. I think there are still a lot of people from that generation who are terrified of that, and who raised their children on those principles, indirectly at least. We also have three kids and I feel more than done as I want the quality of my parenting to take precedent over quantity, but those statements keep creeping up in the back of my mind even though I know they’re not binding on the church.

  24. I am from a family of 6 and always loved being part of a large family, so growing up I thought I wanted a big family too.. at least 4 is what I would say. After having my first, I really had to reconsider my plans, because emotionally I was all over the place, it was so different to how I had expected Motherhood to be, I wanted another child, because I didn’t want an only child, but when my second was born I just about vowed not to have any more, and my husband fully supports that, and feels the same way actually. I try to let people know at any opportunity, because I’d rather just come out with it than have to have people ask me about when the next one is due etc. etc. but I do have to say that I think a lot of the pressure I feel is put there by myself, when I actually talk to real mums they often feel the same way.. and I find myself asking people if they will be having more.. not to put pressure on, although sometimes it may be taken that way, but to express my opinion that 2 is lots of kids in my book.

  25. #23, 24 –

    One of my daughters got married a few months ago. The subject of having children, spacing of children etc. was THE hot topic at her singles ward bridal shower. One of the girls (a stake pres. daughter) told the group she had no interest in getting married until she was well out of college, had traveled and had plenty of time to herself. When asked why she explained that she was raised to believe that once you got married birth control was selfish and you should have as many children as HF sees fit to give you. She was a freshman in college and was loving the break from helping raise her 6 younger brothers and sisters.

    She turned down invitations to date because she wasn’t even interested in the idea of marriage. “Too much work” was her comment.

    My daughter was so, so glad we never taught such ideas.

  26. This lady in my wife’s ward growing up got up and bore her testimony about how the Lord trusts her so much by giving her 6 kids. of course, she got knocked up in high school as a laurel, so I guess that’s all part of God’s plan!

  27. I’m replying without reading the comments first. Three was great. I was hoping to be done. I felt kind of like I was cheating to stop though. We got to our talk when our youngest was three, so we had to make a final decision. Luckily, we prayed and came up with the same decision. Try for a fourth.
    It was a good call. I’m not saying I don’t sometimes imagine the life of ease and riches that having just three would have been. But, I am saying that God knew four was better and I thank him for it. We’ve been blessed in many ways. So I’m glad for that Mormon guilt that wouldn’t let me stop without seriously talking about it and praying about it.
    Since number four was at age 37, it was easy to say it was definitely, positively the last. I’m old enough to not consider a fifth and not have to pray about the decision either. That list of excuses is true.

  28. Not anymore. Now we just want grandkids.

    But we certainly did feel the pressure and in fact it was preached to us by church leaders at that time that we should not use birth control, except perhaps for the “rhythm” method and though it was never quite stated this way from the pulpit, in some conversations it was said that it was okay to withdraw at the last moment before…

    After we got two babies in short order, we decided that would use birth control, anyway, but even so, three more babies outsmarted the barriers and we wound up with five.

    And I’m glad we did but I think you need feel no quilt even if you decide to stop right where you’re at.

    I am so tired of all this guilt that we have been made to feel just because we are human beings.

  29. This has been a recurring theme in our marriage. At one point, we decided to leave it completely up to the Lord – no birth control methods whatsoever. After a few pregnancy free years of doing this, we figured the Lord had make His decision and that we were “done.” Then along came #X. We’re taking a much more active role now in deciding to be finished, based on our ability to meet the needs of our children (not financially, that’s not an issue, fortunately) and each other

    I distinctly remember President Hinckley stating we should get all the education we can. I never remember anyone saying we should have all the children we can. Some families are doing the Lord’s will with 1 or 2 children, others at 13. It’s not for me to decide or judge. My mother, on the other hand . . .

  30. ” It’s not for me to decide or judge. My mother, on the other hand . . .”


    What is startling to me is the completely bizarre way that people ask me ALL THE TIME whether I’m done having children. I have four and my youngest son has leukemia and still, the questions. I find it incredibly rude and presumptuous.

    If I’m feeling charitable, I figure these women just want validation for their own choices but usually it just ticks me off.

  31. One point: When we look at the “number of children” some General Authority has, we should remember that not every child born lives to adulthood. In the days when most current General Authorites were having their families, premature birth and other illnesses still took a serious toll on infants. My wife gave birth to premature twin girls in 1974 who might have survived if they had been born in 2010. When we went through that, we learned that many of the members of our ward had suffered small tragedies like that, ones that are too painful to talk about widely unless the hearer has had a similar trauma. Second, problems with fertility can be serious, and can develop over time with each birth.

    I think this discussion highlights the way that coercion tends to backfire. My sense from various surveys is that, while Catholics have a much more inflexible rule on both birth control and abortion than Mormons, Mormons (at least in the USA) have more children than most modern Catholics. The inflexible Catholic standards give no guidance when a Catholic member feels the burden of strict compliance is intolerable, so once the threshold of deviation has been passed, there is little further influence on behavior in that subject area.

    By contrast, the invitation to Mormons to balance both the need to bring spirits into good families, and the concerns about a mother’s health and basic financial ability to support children (not talking about sending them to Yale with BMWs), results in twice as many kids per household as Catholics, who are pretty close to the national average.

    It does seem to me, though, that the comments here are not giving due consideration to the question about the general and specific issues raised by our knowledge of the pre-mortal existence. If children are not brought into my home, the chance they will have to go to a non-Mormon home is substantial (we are only 2% of the US, less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the world). And do we have a specific need to invite a specific spirit into our home? Surely, some cases involve specific spirits earmarked for specific homes (like Joseph Smith Jr. fulfilling a prophecy by being born to Joseph Sr.); are we sure there isn’t someone waiting for ours?

    What is the meaning of all the General Conference and BYU Devotional talks by Apostles, who have called successive recent generations of Mormons a “chosen generation” that has been reserved for the last days, if we don’t take seriously the need to help bring all of God’s intended latter-day team into play at the crucial time? As long as we are physically and otherwise capable of doing it, why shouldn’t we feel an obligation to those not yet born to bring them into mortality, and give that factor significant weight in our deliberations?

  32. Very interesting and provocative questions RTS (#31). It would be fun to have a thread where we all share our experiences of how we decided to have the children we have. I believe many people have felt specific guidance and experienced what they regard as miracles, including me. I also liked #27, because I can relate to the experience of praying and receiving an unexpected or surprising answer. Even a “crazy” answer, in my case. But I feel so blessed.

  33. As long as we are physically and otherwise capable of doing it, why shouldn’t we feel an obligation to those not yet born to bring them into mortality, and give that factor significant weight in our deliberations?

    I do feel an obligation, and that’s why I think it is so hard. I think most LDS women feel that obligation. The desire is righteous, but there’s also the counsel to not run faster than you are able. It’s not always so clear cut what defines “physically capable”. For example, I have thyroid problems that started in the pospartum phase after #4 was born. They were even worse after #5. I am really concerned what will happen if I have a sixth. Each postpartum phase does permanant damage to my thyroid, and I am concerned about the long-term implications on my health. So, should I have another one? I don’t know. On the one hand, intellectually, it seems like an obvious no based on health reasons. On the other hand, are there more spirits I need to bring here? Was there a child designated for me that I would be denying? I don’t know. It’s a hard, hard call, and it is going to take a lot of faith and prayer to find the answer, I think.

  34. I think Raymond raises an interesting point regarding Catholicism. Living is Southern California, I have a few coworkers who are Catholic. I’ve tried to ask them questions about faith and rejecting the Pope. For example, why do they read Harry Potter when it’s on the banned list? How do they really feel about birth control? (I normally stay out of other people’s bedrooms but when everyone is SoCal thinks my sex life is open for discussion because I already have two kids and still want more, I don’t mind asking questions back).

    In SoCal, two is the max. Period. Sometimes someone will try for three if their first two are the same gender. But these questions always miss the mark. I think the difference is that the Catholics, at least the ones I know, don’t let disobedience to their long list of rules bother them. But Mormons can’t help themselves. Feeling guilty seems to be a real part of our culture.

    As an aside to the comments, my wife and I have agreed that neither of us can override the other. If I have a revelation that we need more kids, my wife will tell me how nice that must have been for me, and will pray for her own revelation. If one doesn’t come, we’re done. And the same is true vice versa. Maybe it’s the Type A personality in me, but I simply cannot fathom being passive about the basic operations of my family, including when and how many kids to have. That’s probably the biggest decision I’ll make in life, now that I’m married and have a chosen vocation. I take it seriously.

  35. While courting, E. and I talked about 12 children as a possible goal. I come from a family of 7 – 5 natural, 2 adopted. E. comes from 4. To others, we said “as many as we can properly take care of”. I knew a convert family during mission (71-73) who had 15 children. Baby boomer (no pun intended) Quebec Catholics also had pressure to have large families (Another discussion is birth control was sinful for them).

    A sacred experience at the alter confirmed the importance of children for our future. Like Paul(#3), after each one came along, we just felt that another one was waiting for us to do our part. After number 7, E.’s health was running down. That well know feeling was gone, so, no more kids. We certainly did not expect then that we would be raising two grandchildren (now 6 & 7).

    The pressures to have large families was likely a cultural necessity of the far and not so far past. Large families meant more help on the farm, more missionaries and growth of the church, more votes at the polls, etc. Family size quotes of older general authorities have been replaced by counsel for our day, here and now.

    When the counsel came to leave the decision to the couple and the Lord, I cheered. It was right for us, and is right for every couple. Like Bob Perkins (#6), a polite “none of your business” is an appropriate response. Try “we will have more children when we and the Lord know the time is right” i.e. the millenium.

  36. It does seem to me, though, that the comments here are not giving due consideration to the question about the general and specific issues raised by our knowledge of the pre-mortal existence. If children are not brought into my home, the chance they will have to go to a non-Mormon home is substantial (we are only 2% of the US, less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the world).

    Given that, according to your numbers, God permits more than 99.9% of his children to be born into non-LDS homes, maximizing the number of children who get Mormon parents clearly isn’t a priority for God. So I’m not really sure why it should be a priority for me.

    (In response to your suggestions about the chosen generation and spirits specifically destined for given homes: Couldn’t we just as easily posit that precisely because I limit my family to two children–whom I send to Yale in BMWs–they’re able to engage in missionary work of a scope and quality that would be impossible had I had twelve? Isn’t it just as possible that in the mysterious calculus of God two children result in more Mormons than twelve?)

    I just don’t see any clear theological support for the maximizing principle you invoke. In the absence of that support, I’m going by the personal inspiration the handbook recommends.

  37. It does seem to me, though, that the comments here are not giving due consideration to the question about the general and specific issues raised by our knowledge of the pre-mortal existence. If children are not brought into my home, the chance they will have to go to a non-Mormon home is substantial

    I think it’s a lot easier to slather on the guilt like this when you’re a man, RTS, knowing you’ll never have to actually bear the children. I would guess that a lot of the guilt about this topic in the Church is, as it in in this instance, applied by men to women. I don’t doubt that women do some of the guilting, but at least they’re more likely to have an appreciation of the very real costs, like Stephanie described, and risks of bearing children.

  38. & no one has even mentioned childless by choice which is my situation. Directly AND indirectly by choice ! My husband & I are frequently given the disapproving look when asked how many children we have. And we NEVER mention (b/c we’re not stupid)’by choice’ either. My ‘childless but not by choice’ friend gets the same ugly look. I think b/c of that pressure too many members DON’T put enough thought into their numbers & what is right for them individually & then I think their kids suffer b/c of it.

  39. As the oldest of 5, I had always assumed I would have 5 or 6 myself. But severe PPD after #2 forced me to release that “righteous expectation”. I felt horribly guilty about it. 5 years after #2 we had #3. That was manageable, but I sincerely never want to go through pregnancy and the post partem phase again. I can’t imagine any way that it would be good for me or the people who are already in my family for me to be out of commission with depression for 2 more years.
    Unfortunately, depression is still looked down on in our society and our church. It doesn’t carry the same exculpatory weight as other physical diseases.

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