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.

 A year ago, I thought I knew the will of the Lord for my family: more babies down the road. But now I’m not so sure. I just don’t know what to do about those two spirits I once believed were waiting for us to welcome them. And I couldn’t help feeling a pang of guilt, knowing that my womb may never again give life, when I heard Elder Oaks say a few weeks ago in Conference:
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.

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8 Comments

  1. This precise dilemma has been on my mind too. As you know almost three years ago I plunged into a very profound depression and am still working my way out of it. We have three children four and under and my life is basically based on sheer survival. I cannot even imagine adding another child to my family right now or may ever. My mom had eight children and really shouldn’t have. Her emotional health suffered greatly as a result and her mothering directly impacts some of the things I struggle with in my depression. I can’t bear the thought of being the same mother to my children as my mom was and is to me. That’s very painful to vocalize. I have decided that for now, we are done, unless I feel very strongly otherwise in the future. My emotional health has to come first now because I cannot be a good mother if I’m struggling how I have my whole life and especially these last three years. Having said that, just in the last week or so as my baby approaches her first birthday I’m feeling extreme sadness that my baby is growing up and feel slightly baby hungry in theory but not in actuality. I just can’t handle another one at this point.

    • I also have to add that my oldest’s special needs and a family full of food allergies makes the addition of another baby especially daunting. Those things consume so much of my life that there isn’t much left in my tank for myself or my husband or church or anything. Like I said, it’s sheer survival right now.

      • A couple of the things you (Kami) said really ring true to me as well. Pretty much everything you said about your mother sounded exactly like me, just with slightly different numbers of children. It’s a frightening thing to imagine becoming that person to my children. I just wanted to say you aren’t alone in those fears.

        And in general, as a response to this whole post, I think it’s such a difficult balance. Mental health and stability, in my opinion, do outweigh that push to have more children. On the other hand, of course we know that Heavenly Father can strengthen us to do hard things. But He wants us to make wise decisions–not run faster than we have strength, like you said. So it can sometimes be hard to judge whether we’re being wise or selfish or fearful or what (this is my struggle, anyway). I tend to want to err on the side of safety for the family already existing. It’s more important to raise the current children and have a strong relationship with the spouse and with the Spirit than it is to add more children. That’s just my perspective, though. One way or another, it’s a hard issue, and I hope that things continue to go better for you and for anyone dealing with struggles like these.

  2. I have had many physical and emotional struggles bring my children into this world. My husband and I struggled through many years of infertility before we had our first child. I thought that my pregnancy with her was rough but I didn’t even know what rough was at that point. My other three children were each born prematurely. I had lots of perterm labor and with the last one I had a partial plecental abruption at 26 weeks and in that case we made the decision for me to be on bedrest until he was born. It wasn’t complete bedrest but I couldn’t take care of the house or the other 3 kids and it was a struggle for all of us. After my 4th baby was born, I knew, without a doubt, that we needed to be done. I have very supportive doctors who are LDS and said to me they thought it would be wise to be done but that needed to between me and my husband and the Lord. The pregnancies were rough, the weeks on end in the NICU were rough, physically, emotionally and financially. After each child before, I struggled back and forth knowing if we were done. After my youngest though, there was peace and comfort and no doubt at all that we were making the right decision. My husband worried about me and about what might happen each time I was pregnant but each time I said it was time to have another he knew and we were not plagued with infertility after our first. When I knew it was time to be done, he agree and we both felt very much at peace with our decision. Because of the challenges I have been through, we weren’t going to take any chance and opted for permanent birth control and we have been at peace with that decision and happy that was our choice because we do not think my body could hand another pregnancy and either the baby or I or both would be lost and I need to be here for my four children. It’s a very personal decision and one that definitely needs to be made with your spouse and with Heavenly Father and doctors when necessary. It wasn’t an easy decision to make but I was surprised how when I knew, I really knew. I know it is not that way for everyone though. This is just my experience from the side of having physical challenges (and emotional factors as well) that helped to determine we were done bringing children in to our family.

  3. enjoybirth Reply

    I think giving yourself time is HUGE! Who knows where you will be in 5 years and how you will feel then. But I also feel like it is possible if you choose not to have more babies for whatever reason, that those babies may come as grandchildren. 🙂 Or maybe even future son and daughter in-laws. Who knows. But I do believe that taking care of yourself physically and mentally comes first. So don’t rush into any decisions.

  4. My Mom’s best friend (who was sort of a second mother to me) always told me that the most important thing you can do as a mother is to keep yourself sane. She was referring more to the day-by-day stuff– how you clean (or don’t clean) your house, how you discipline your kids, or whatever. Her theory was that none of it will matter one bit if you are so insane from everything you’re trying to do that you can no longer care for yourself or your children. And her real point was that whatever anyone else is doing doesn’t matter as long as it keeps them sane, and if it’s not what would keep you sane, then you don’t need to feel bad that you aren’t doing it. (Did that even make sense any more?)

    Anyway, I love her theory. Just because my Mother could handle her five children with aplomb, does not necessarily mean that I’ll be able to. And just because my friend can keep a perfectly clean house, doesn’t mean that I have to. Maybe a clean house is what keeps her sane, but maybe letting a little mess go is what will keep me sane.

    I think if we all lived by this one rule, we’d all be a lot happier.

    As far as knowing how many kids to have goes– I mostly just agree that it is a really tough thing to know! I told my husband when we got married that I liked the idea of having 5 (like my Mom), but that at any time I could change that number based on how we were doing emotionally, financially, etc. So we’re just taking it one kid at a time and assuming that if we were doing it wrong, Heavenly Father would tell us in no uncertain terms. Right? (I don’t expect any of this answer to actually be helpful to your situation– I just want you to know that I think most of us are all dealing with it, too!)

    Good luck! And like enjoybirth said, give yourself time. Lots and lots of time. Just because things sometimes change and get hard doesn’t mean they can’t change back again and suddenly be easy and/or possible, either!

  5. I’m not near this point yet, as I’ve got two children and we know we aren’t done. At this point, our “plan” is at least four, then we’ll take it one at a time 🙂

    My first pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Several months later, I asked my mom if she’d ever experienced a miscarriage. There are more than four years between my youngest two siblings (I’m the oldest; all the other age gaps are about 2 1/2 years), so I wondered if she’d had at least one miscarriage between the two of them. But she said, no, she’d never had a miscarriage. “I just felt like I wasn’t the best mom I could be to the three children I already had, and I wanted to be a better mom before I added any more to the family.” After my sister (the baby) was born, though, there were some health issues that negated the possibility of more children.

    If you don’t feel ready, that’s okay. If you don’t ever feel ready, that’s okay too. If you get a few years down the road and feel like it’s time to have more kids, then okay. As you’ve said, it’s so personal and so individual. I have no doubts you’ll figure it out…in time.

  6. With my first 3 children I thought I had severe postpartum depression or more like anxiety and psychosis. And with two of my children antepartum psychosis. Several months before we conceived our 4th and last child, I was diagnosed with mixed-mania bipolar disorder, psychosis, and anxiety disorder. I was at a point in my life when the diagnosis, as scary as it sounds, was a blessing. And so, my husband and I prayerfully decided we were done. It’s still hard for me because I have a great body for pregnancy and birthing. It’s taken time to realize that: my brain is an organ and and just like someone who has type one diabetes (pancreatic dysfunction) or a liver disfunction, I have a brain disfunction. I have an accurate diagnosis, and I must live and be “sane” for my living children. I know that you’ll come to the right decision for your family. My prayers are with you

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