I am departing from my usual Sunday Message today, and I have invited a guest blogger to share her thoughts, experiences, and testimony about an important topic: childlessness. One of the many things I have learned in my life is that seeing things from another person’s perspective has the opportunity to change you. It broadens your perspective, and, if you allow it, can increase your ability to empathize with others. I hope and pray today that as you read this post, you will feel something that can help you understand another person. I know it did for me.
I am so thankful to have Liberty Sproat with me today from Childless Mormon Support. She has been more than gracious in her busy schedule to do this for my site. Libby, thank you for sharing your knowledge, your insight, and your time with us all today!!
Childlessness IS an Option! By Liberty P. Sproat
For just about all the women in my Childless Mormons Support Group, we yearned to be mothers. We put education, careers, and all else on hold in the hopes of bearing and raising children. Life without any children of our own seemed unfathomable. Our plans revolved around motherhood with, perhaps, education and career training as a back-up plan should “something happen” to our husbands. For most LDS women, and most women in general, childlessness is not an option. It is something we neither desire nor anticipate for our lives. The realities of this mortal life and these latter-days, however, require us to reevaluate our circumstances and realize that childlessness is, in fact, one of many options for living a fulfilling and service-oriented life.
Assessing the Options
Many couples today are going “childfree by choice.” Fewer individuals choose to get married than ever before, and fewer of these couples choose to have children. People have their reasons for making such decisions and should be treated with respect rather than disdain. For LDS couples who desire children, however, their childlessness is not by choice; rather, it is a heartbreaking result of infertility. Conceiving naturally is—or at least seems—impossible, and the couple faces a potentially long journey ahead in their pursuit of parenthood. Whereas fertile couples have the leeway to just “see what happens,” infertile couples must carefully decide specific actions to take in order to have children. Because of this, the road through infertility must be a prayerful one.
Most infertile couples choose to receive fertility treatments, which range from taking a simple pill for a few days to being as intensive and intrusive as in vitro fertilization. These typically last from a few months to a few years and involve a variety of drugs and procedures. Fertility treatments require almost constant vigilance, at least on the woman’s part, in order to achieve the result of pregnancy. These drugs and procedures all have side effects and risks, and the woman’s body and life must accommodate vast hormonal and daily routine disruptions. Husbands are no less immune to the anxiety and distress that accompany the hope of success in treating infertility.
For couples who choose not to seek treatment for infertility, or for whom infertility treatments proved unsuccessful, adoption is typically the next step. In fact, for infertile and childless couples, “Just adopt!” seems to be society’s antidote. Being unable to bear one’s own children, however, presents its own causes for grief. While adoption is a realistic option for many couples, health, age, financial, and other issues out of a couple’s control may prevent them from being approved to adopt. Additionally, couples in the United States, Canada, and other areas of the developed world often outnumber the availability of infants placed for adoption. They compete with each other to be selected by a birthmother and then hope and pray that the birthparents do not change their minds before the adoption is finalized. Like fertility treatments, adoption is beautiful when it succeeds but very trying for the couple still waiting for the right child.
Both fertile and infertile couples alike know there are even more options besides treatments and domestic adoption: international adoption, foster parenting, surrogacy, and more. Each one of these paths includes potential joy along with the inevitable stress. Certainly, a couple must wisely and prayerfully assess their emotional health and temporal resources in order to decide when and how to become parents.
Making the Decision
Pursuing parenthood takes its toll on individuals and their marriages. For most couples, exhausting all possible means for having children contradicts King Benjamin’s counsel in Mosiah 4:27 to do all things “in wisdom and order.” At some point, a couple may realize that continuing with the pursuit of parenthood is either not medically and legally possible or is simply not worth the stress it would place on other aspects of life. The doctor may have no more procedures left to try. The couple may have waited for years without interest from any birthmothers. Financial resources may have disappeared.
The decision to embrace a permanently childless Earth life must be made between a couple and the Lord. Only the Lord can reveal His will for our eternal families. Should the Lord prompt me to continue with treatments or become a foster parent, I would not hesitate! But what childless couples have learned is that, for us, childlessness is the best option. For us, childlessness has a purpose and part in our Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness for all of His children.
Because infertile couples must proactively seek opportunities for parenthood, they turn to the Lord for guidance in selecting doctors and adoption agencies, undergoing procedures, and knowing which children would best be placed in their homes. Very quickly on the journey, they come to recognize their complete reliance on the Lord and His miracles and timetable. By the time a couple even considers closing an adoption file or ending fertility treatments, they have already learned to pour their souls out to the Lord. They have prayed and fasted and attended the temple more times than they can remember. All of the spiritual activities that make them more attuned to the Holy Ghost prepare them to receive a revelation that they both dread yet also find a sense of peace within: it’s time to move on and quit trying to have children.
When my husband and I chose to close our adoption file, this signified our decision to stop trying to have our own children altogether. The Lord revealed His will to us amidst our second failed adoption. Had the Lord given us the strength and encouragement to continue, we would have. No doubt about it. In contrast, however, we felt very distinctly that our lives were on hold and that the Lord had other types of service He needed us to perform. To be honest, it felt like chastisement. Because I wanted children so badly, I had put my personal development on hold. I was blind to my own talents and the ways the Lord would have me use them to benefit others because I was so focused on becoming a mother.
Stop trying to have children? Move on with our lives as a permanently childless couple? I knew this was either coming from the Lord and was His will—or I was completely delusional. The course of my life since making this decision has given me greater confidence that I was, in fact, not delusional.
Embracing Childfree Living
Over the past few years of embracing childlessness, my husband and I have witnessed the reality of the Lord’s promises. The intense amount of personal growth I’ve experienced has been making up for lost time. The service we’ve rendered has tapped into hidden talents and made us more aware of others’ overlooked needs. I’ve realized that there are blessings in life other than having children—blessings the Lord designs specifically for us as individuals. I have chosen to embrace a life that was not my plan for myself. This life has its challenges and sorrows, but it also has unique opportunities and blessings. Of particular help to me over the years has been Elder Neal A. Maxell’s April 2000 General Conference talk, “Content with the Things Allotted unto Us.” He reminds us that even Alma, who desired to be an angel and “cry repentance unto every people” (Alma 29:1), sinned in this seemingly righteous desire because it was contrary to the Lord’s will for him. Instead, the Lord urges us to be content with the life and circumstances He places us in. Yes, we should magnify our callings and be anxiously engaged in good things, but we must also accept the Atonement of Jesus Christ and allow Him to make all things right.
It’s fortunate that other women in my family and in my ward like to baby-sit because I’m at a loss of how to entertain young children. But need a last-minute substitute for your Sunday School class? I’m there! At family gatherings I make a deal with my culinary cousin: you cook, and I’ll clean. She can’t think of anything more relaxing than making a pie, and I love to relieve stress by doing the dishes. We all have different talents, and all are gifts from the Lord. Our family circumstances, too, are gifts from the Lord that can be used to help build His kingdom. As childless couples move from grief to seeing themselves as “childfree,” they begin to realize the exciting opportunities and blessings open to them.
When I met Ardeth Kapp, former General Young Women President who along with her husband, Heber, has remained childless, her first words to me were, “I’m so excited for you!” She filled me with hope that my life would be interesting and fun and important and beneficial to others. Certainly, there are obvious benefits to not having children, and childfree couples should not feel guilty taking advantage of the extra sleep and income and free time. Additionally, they should not shy away from opportunities to be a positive influence on coworkers, the youth of their ward, and their nieces and nephews. Whatever it is the Lord wants for you and your life, embrace it!
You Are Not Alone
The Lord seeks your happiness, and He needs your talents and contributions. Would the Lord really want us to spend our entire lives grieving for and coveting the things we don’t have? No! He wants us to utilize the talents and circumstances He’s blessed us with! Let the Lord be your guide. Let the Lord be your solace.
You are never alone in your childlessness. When it feels like you’re the only one who knows the heartache you’re experiencing, remember that Christ experienced it, too. When you think you’re the only woman dealing with infertility or struggling to move from a childless to a childfree life, look around you! You may have to dig deep, but we’re out there, and we’re faithful.
Childlessness IS an option. It’s an option for a happy life, for an unselfish life, for a fulfilling life, for a blessed life. It’s not the right option for most people, but those of us for whom such a life has been divinely designed, rejoice in it!
Libby hails from Orem, UT. She and Ethan Sproat were married in 1998. She is presently working on a Ph.D. in History through Purdue University studying the role of women’s organizations in international development. She has 42 nieces and nephews. She tried fertility treatments and adoption but decided in November 2009 to close her adoption file and move forward in a life without children.
In her words: “Now that I’ve settled into the Lord’s plan for my life, I can honestly say that I am happy and find true fulfillment in my schooling, career, church service, marriage and extended family, and other relationships and opportunities. But we had to go through a difficult, decade-long struggle to finally allow the Lord’s plan for our family to take root. And we’ve never regretted it since. But I can say with surety now that the Lord has a unique and loving plan designed for each of us as individuals, that He is eager to bless us in ways that will truly make us happiest, and that no family blessing will be denied us eternally if we align our will with the Lord’s. For some, the miracle is a baby. For us, the miracle is that, despite all our efforts, we didn’t have one. To me, that’s proof that I have a loving Father in Heaven who gently and graciously carries me through life.”
Thanks again, Libby. You have a beautiful voice.
Happy Sunday, everyone!