“Her mothering influence has been felt by many hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, and she has refined the role of nurturer to an art form” Julie Beck.
For years quotes like the above would make me groan and roll my eyes. To many of my Mormon friends this may seem surprising, even shocking. How could I have such feelings about the divine roll of motherhood? I believe there are several complicated reasons for my unique views going back to my childhood.
When I was 10 years old my mother and father announced they were expecting a baby. In my young years I was nothing but excited about such news. In fact, a number of friends mom’s had babies and I was excited to be part of the trend. My father must have approached the news with more trepidation because he knew what a pregnancy meant for my mom. While no doubt excited to have more children, my parents knew that having a baby meant nearly-full bed-rest for my mother. At the time my dad was working to start his own software company and I can’t imagine what the stress must have been like knowing he was about to be both bread-winner and substitute mom for three children. No doubt there was many a prayerful night pleading to have the strength for his family and this new treasured baby.
Being a selfish child it was hard for me to see my mother in bed- especially in the beginning when she had both morning sickness and bed-rest. However, there were many positive life-lessons that came from this first pregnancy. I have memories of my sister and I (at 8 and 10) cooking meals for the family during that pregnancy. I know that Megan used to make muffins of all kinds (she still does). I remember when my dad brought home 10 lbs of barbecued beef because we had said we liked it once! I remember when Ben got mice and they had babies in the middle of the night (that was the one event my mother got out of bed for!). I remember when I tried to make maui smoothie for my mom and the blender exploded all over the kitchen (thanks to a kind neighbor for helping us with that one!). I even remember Megan’s baptism with a pregnant Mom in Winter- she did attend that event.
Clearly we learned a lot about working hard, caring for a house, cleaning, and taking care of a baby. On the negative side I learned that baby’s were hard work. Hard work that took both of my parents away from my life (again selfish child). This was amplified by our move across the country to Maryland when Anna was a year old. So now I had to make new friends in a new place while still adjusting to a new sibling.
Somehow I made it through the tough middle school years and was ready to start high school. You can imagine my mixed feelings when in January of that year my parents announced another pregnancy. This is when my little brother Sammy was born. Once again we had to go through the experience of my mother being sick and bed-ridden, except for this time we had to do it with a 5 year old to take care of. It was a good thing my dad was an independent businessman who worked at home, or I don’t know how he could have done it. I give him a lot of credit for holding down our family during those times.
Still for selfish me, it wasn’t enough. In my eyes my parents weren’t around for my high school events the way my friend’s parents were- and I blamed it on the care of a baby. I am not saying this was the right way to look at the situation. My friends would spend weekends in DC exploring, take trips to the nearby beaches (something we never did the entire time we lived in Maryland), and visit historical attractions. This was very difficult with an infant and a 5 year old.
I also had a very independent, prideful streak (and still do to a lesser extent) that refused to admit to any of these feelings or discuss them with my parents. Instead, I became super active with my friends and felt my family were a bunch of people I couldn’t really relate too. Luckily for my parents I also gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon at this time so I didn’t rebel the way I might otherwise have. At the time, Ben and Megan seemed like the similar ones, who longed to be at home. I just didn’t feel that way. Like many teenagers I felt different, out of place, and even a little lonely. I wanted to get out and explore the world. I did what I could in little Middletown but deep down inside I wanted more. This is where I first latched onto the idea of going to BYU, and I never gave up on that dream. This is also the time when I wanted to move out on my own more than anything else (my mother says I was ready to move out when I was a baby!).
Adding to my feelings was a young womens program (fantastic in many ways) that in my eyes focused way too much on motherhood. I felt like every lesson was on motherhood and how wonderful it was. These lessons failed to describe the bed-rest, labor, nightly care, isolation, and hard work baby’s need. I felt like they were living some different version of motherhood than my family presented. I grew to resent these messages, even in Conference. I have never taken well to being told what to do and with motherhood I felt it was the only option presented for women in the church. Like if I didn’t like or want to have my own babies I was a terrible person. You can imagine the conflict this created inside me.
As I grew up my testimony of the gospel increased in every way except for motherhood. This kind of explains why I was less-than-thrilled when my parents told me they were expecting again the spring before I first attended BYU. This was my dream and now I was going to be abandoning my mother to pursue my dream. I knew the road would be rough and I was actually quite mad at them. I remember Ben being mystified at my reaction- How could I not want another beautiful baby? Again, it was a selfish reaction.
The next few months were very difficult on our entire family. My mom tried her best to be positive but with both Meg and I gone she struggled. I felt guilty and sad for my mom but I think there was a side of me that also felt relief- relief for being far away from the stress and pressure. In an odd way my first summer in college was a picnic compared to what I saw as the stress of home. I don’t remember feeling homesick at all. Strange, hah?
Somehow my mother made it through and our family survived. Of course, now I can’t imagine my life without my siblings. They are precious to me beyond words- partly because of the sacrifice paid to bring them into the world. All three pregnancies were crucible moments for our family- particularly for my parents and us three older children. I feel we are united together in a way the younger three are not. They have not faced such a struggling time, and I hope they do not have to.
Even with the deep love I felt for my siblings I still had issues about motherhood. This continued all the way through my mission. Even today I get annoyed when I feel like the message is shared without any hint at the difficulties. To make matters worse I felt guilty every time I would hear about how natural and wonderful motherhood was. What was wrong with me? Why didn’t I feel that way?Why I am the only Mormon woman who wasn’t crazy about having kids?
After much thought and prayer I finally found the answer that worked for me. It happened after reading D&C 64:34 which says:
“Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days”
I realized “I have a willing heart”, “I do strive to be obedient”. I may be different from other women but the Lord loves me for or in spite of those differences. He will help me be obedient in all I do including being a good mother if the time ever presents itself. He will help me use the skills and personality I have to build His kingdom in some way. I know that is true.
With this revelation and another spiritual experience I will not share, I stopped worrying about it as much. All that I need to do is maintain a willing and obedient heart, and if the time ever comes that I get married and feel a need to start a family, the Lord will bless me with His strength and mercy. I know that is true!