I have a LOT of church-related-childlessness angst. But then, I have a lot of church-related angst…so… yeah. Anyhow, if you’re not LDS, you may not know that family is like a BIG deal. A BIG Big Deal. I think it’s partially the fact that women lack any hard power in the LDS Church, so the Church compensates by making motherhood the end-all-be-all of existence x 3,000. But what would I know? I’m childless.
Being over a certain age and childless in the LDS Church is an awkward existence, to say the least. Because it’s such a unique status, people wonder, make assumptions, gossip, and ask impolite questions. It makes you ineligible to participate at the level “real families” can participate. And finally, it causes deeply personal angst about your worth.
Upon meeting a couple that has been married even two years without producing offspring, the less couth of our membership will already be formulating theories. I’m a female lawyer and outspoken feminist. Based on how I’ve been treated, I’m guessing people often assume my childlessness is a rebellious and unrighteous choice. That my priorities aren’t straight. That I don’t want children. But it works in reverse, too. My friends who don’t want children have encountered people who have believed them to be infertile–the sheer thought of being childless by choice unthinkable to them. Some assume that if you don’t have children, you’re not really an adult with a mortgage and job and responsibilities. Some assume life is bliss every day and we’re soooo lucky that we can sleep in! Ugh.
Aside from theorizing why a couple is childless, people at church are famous for their blunt questions. “When will you have children?” is just as inappropriate in a job interview as it is in the foyer at church, but it’s asked more often than I can stand.
But it’s not just the gossiping and questioning and theorizing that bothers me. It’s the exclusion from things where parental status has no bearing–like a gospel discussion. My authority is undermined by the fact that I’m not a parent. It’s not just that I’m unrighteous, it’s that I simply don’t understand. More than once when I have postulated or commented on something, people have actually said to me–in front of an entire class–that I was wrong, and that I would understand when I have children. And there’s not a damn thing I can say to rebut.
It’s when a lesson is on service, and a teacher asks, “mothers, what can we do to teach our children service?” as if the rest of us have nothing to say on the matter. Unintentional, yes, but when every Sunday you’re reminded that your opinion is less valid than a mother’s it wears on you.
It’s dumb things like mommy and me groups, and participating in the Primary Program. Or the fact that every activity our ward holds is centered around children–trunk or treats, pinewood derbies, and the lot. I can go to these things, and I have on occasion, but it’s honestly not that fun to be the only childless person at a kid’s birthday party.
It’s the constant reminders. Every other week someone pops out a baby, and I’m expected to bring them a casserole. Every month I’ll get invites to baby showers of women I’ve never even met. Every testimony meeting I’ll hear moms bear their testimonies about how blessed they are that Heavenly Father has “entrusted” them “with the nurturing of these children.”
Which brings me to the deep, personal, spiritual angst that’s only partially fueled by the culture. The angst makes me wonder what is wrong with me. As a feminist, I should be able to be okay. I should be able to take comfort in the fact that I know my body, my fertility, and my gender do not define who I am. I have a brain. I can wield the law at my pleasure. I have my personality and my beliefs and my marriage (mine so much more because I’ve not allowed the church to define it).
But because I know all of those things–because I recognize that we’re still underrepresented in Congress and underpaid in the workforce, and we’ve been second class citizens since…hell—because I’m stuck as a female, I feel entitled to have the one damn female advantage that there is. I want so badly for my body to work and stop killing anything that grows. I want my breasts to perform a useful function just once in this life time. I want to create, incubate, and deliver a life.
But if God has entrusted you with a child, he clearly doesn’t trust me. Every month I don’t get pregnant I’ll call to mind every little sin and wonder, “Was that it? Is that why I’m not good enough?” People say there’s some lesson to be learned from this. But if that’s true, why did I have to repeat the class three times? I’ve even had people ask me whether I’ve prayed about this. Should I tell them that God’s not listening? That he doesn’t intervene? Or should I let them assume it’s just me. Or is it just me?
In any case, being childless at church is the worst.