About a year and a half ago, I sat in this very spot and wrote a bittersweet blogpost. In it I shared some personal experiences relating to my fourth pregnancy, birth, and postpartum period. Here’s an excerpt:
We can’t know for certain whether there was, in fact, a vanished twin. But my heart feels it’s true. . . . And, even now, my eyes well up with tears of knowing… Yes, I know it now. I can feel it in my bones. I can see it in my tears and in the burning, overwhelming love and joy filling me and surrounding me. Yes, there is another child who loves me deeply and intensely, waiting… and hoping that I will have the courage to surrender again.
Then about six months ago I plunged into a pit of anxiety and depression unlike anything I had ever experienced before. With those illnesses came an intense repulsion of the idea of ever bearing any more children. The thought of discovering I was pregnant filled me with overwhelming horror. I was sure that having another child would be the death of me. And meanwhile I had just helped write a book called The Gift of Giving Life!
One of the essays I wrote in the “Importance of Giving Life” section of our book is titled “The Spirit of Elijah.” Here’s an excerpt:
As President Spencer W. Kimball has said, “This is the great, irreplaceable work of women. Life cannot go on if women cease to bear children. Mortal life is a privilege and a necessary step in eternal progression. Mother Eve understood that. You must also understand it.” These words from the Savior can remind us of the importance of receiving these little ones into our arms and homes: “And whoso receiveth one such little one in my name receiveth me” (Matthew 18:5).
There were many times during the past six months when I thought to myself with bitter sarcasm, “I don’t even believe any of the stuff I wrote in that stupid essay anymore.” Satan was beating me black and blue and filling my head with all kinds of awfulness. At present, I no longer feel broken down by the fear and darkness, but I do still feel very hesitant to invite any more children into my womb and home.
Yet, I told my husband, children, and friends many times in the months following my fourth child’s birth that I felt impressed that there were two more spirits waiting to come to our family. But now, after surviving a long and hellish summer full of poor mental and emotional health, I can’t help feeling that bearing any more children may not be wise. Are we not also taught that we shouldn’t run faster than we have strength?
My husband is our family’s provider, and he also bears a heavy and heart-breaking burden when I am incapacitated by emotional difficulties. He wants to be “done,” in part because he wants to keep me strong and healthy and happy. Just the other day, I was staring from across the room at my friend’s adorable baby (one of the first times in a long time that I felt a twinge of baby hunger), turned to my husband with a pleading look, and said, “Isn’t she cute?” He replied, “We already have four cute ones.”
I think it’s often the case that husbands are eager to be finished with (or hesitant to begin) childbearing before wives are. In fact, it can become a source of conflict for some couples when one is certain that there are more spirits waiting to come to the family but the other disagrees or feels done. A few days ago, I encouraged one of our Gift of Giving Life readers struggling with this issue to share “A Father’s Sacred Support” with her husband (in the Unity chapter of our book). In that essay, I shared a quote from Marion G. Romney:
Unity comes by following the light from above. It does not come out of the confusions below. While men depend upon their own wisdom and walk in their own way, without guidance of the Lord they cannot live in unity. Neither can they come to a unity by following uninspired men.
The way to unity is for us to learn the will of the Lord and then to do it.
From the perspective of the plan of salvation, one of the most serious abuses of children is to deny them birth. This is a worldwide trend. The national birthrate in the United States is the lowest in 25 years.
Oh how I wish I could be stronger, healthier, braver, and more capable. Oh how I wish I could completely open my body and heart to more of those children waiting for their turn on earth. But maybe it’s for the best that I simply give thanks for the four beautiful children I have been given and focus on nurturing them with more love and diligence. They deserve a happy mother.
In 1979, the Ensign published a question and answer relating to these dilemmas. The question was: “Is it our understanding that we are to propagate children as long and as frequently as the human body will permit? Is there not any kind of ‘gospel family-planning,’ for lack of a better way to say it?” The response came from Dr. Homer Ellsworth, gynecologist and former member of the Melchizedek Priesthood General Committee. A portion of his reply reads:
As to the number and spacing of children, and other related questions on this subject, such decisions are to be made by husband and wife righteously and empathetically communicating together and seeking the inspiration of the Lord. . . . As I meet other people and learn of their circumstances, I am continually inspired by the counsel of the First Presidency in the General Handbook of Instructions that the health of the mother and the well-being of the family should be considered. Thirty-four years as a practicing gynecologist and as an observer of Latter-day Saint families have taught me that not only the physical well-being but the emotional well-being must also be considered.
I don’t know the right answer for my family yet, let alone anyone else’s family. But I have sort of decided to put off deciding for now and hope for further light and knowledge to be given to us in the future. For now I’m focusing on getting healthier, happier, and stronger, and I am doing so much better than I was before. I know many of you have been praying for me. Thank you for your love and prayers.
Have you struggled with these dilemmas in your marriage? Are you “done” having children? Has your physical or emotional health ever been a deciding factor in whether or when you would bear more children? I’d love to hear your experiences.