When I was 21, I gave birth to a son. My husband and I had tried for almost a year to get pregnant and were so grateful when we became parents. A year later, we decided it was time to have another child. This began a four-year ordeal of waiting and praying and sobbing at unexpected moments—I recall dissolving into tears when I accidentally watched a news story about babies wearing Dr. Seuss hats in the newborn ward at our local hospital—as doctors informed us that our first child was likely going to be our only child.
Infertility is a painful experience that cannot be adequately described. There are no words for the loss of a dream; a future you had imagined now lost. For Mormon women, this pain can be spiritual as well. I recall countless lessons, talks, and activities that broke my heart as they reminded me that my purpose in the church and as a daughter of God was to bear children. Among other folk doctrines, we have been told by our leaders that:
- Motherhood is our most essential role and that “it is the essence of who we are as women.”
- Women are called as mothers, trusted by Heavenly Parents to raise precious spirits here on earth.
- Women enjoy the privileges of pregnancy and childbirth, so men alone should enjoy the privilege of blessing and baptizing those children.
- Sisters in our faith are not ordained to priesthood office on earth because motherhood is the equivalent of priesthood.
Women in our faith community are reduced to the biological ability to conceive. Many of us find this painful and, frankly, offensive. We are valuable because we are daughters of Heavenly Parents who love us. We have individual worth and divine nature, unique to our own spirit. We can gain knowledge and act with integrity. We are people, not vessels.
This week, April 24-30, is Infertility Awareness Week in the US. Please take a moment to think about the way we have pushed women who are not mothers to the periphery of our faith. I have felt this personally, even believing that my infertility was somehow evidence that I was not worthy of being a mother. It took years for me to realize that this was not the case: my individual worth is not dependent on my ability to procreate. In an effort to justify gender inequality, we have created a caste system for women and made so many of our sisters feel untrusted, unrighteous, and unworthy.
My own journey took an unexpected turn, when after five years we discovered that we were expecting another child. And three years after that, a third child came into our family. I have no explanation for why my fertility challenges ended. I know that it has nothing to do with my Heavenly Parents loving or trusting me enough to raise Their spirit children. I know that during our struggles, my husband never felt that his priesthood office somehow made up our struggle. And I do know that fatherhood is the equivalent of motherhood and any other false equivalency will only serve to further marginalize women in our faith.
Ready for Revelation
Debra Jenson, The author of this post, is Ordain Women’s Communications Committee Chair.