How many children are good Mormon women "supposed" to have? I never planned to address this issue on my blog because it is so sensitive, but my dear friend recently told me she feels guilty for not wanting more kids. She said, "I feel like it's my obligation as a Mormon to have more kids. But my heart isn't in it." I wonder if anyone else is struggling with these same feelings. Even though I feel uneasy putting my story into this post because I discuss a very personal decision, I feel prompted to share it. I ache for those mothers who are struggling to know when their family is complete. I pray for you to find peace, whatever your decision is.
When I was pregnant with Zachary, our third child, I knew I wanted to be done having kids. About two months after Zach was born, I became overwhelmed with guilt because I only wanted 3 kids. I have postpartum depression with every baby. I hate it. Really, really hate it. It's a bottomless dark pit and every time I fall in I wonder if I will ever come out again. Just thinking about going through it even one more time makes me panic and shake. I don't remember much of the first year of my children's lives –just bits and pieces from when I wasn't drowning. But the panic does not end one year after birth. I have anxiety attacks too, which began when my brother died in high school. They have worsened with each child. I take some days minute by minute as I struggle to stay calm. I am so afraid that the more children I have, the less and less I will recognize myself. I am afraid I will disappear. And that would be really sad, because I am a super awesome mom to the three children I have. I'd like to keep it that way! I gained over 50 pounds with each pregnancy and lost my confidence. Right now I am still 40 pounds away from my normal weight, and that's after losing 45 pounds this last year. My right foot is still damaged to the point that I cannot walk on it barefoot without pain because it swelled so badly in each pregnancy.
Despite all of these personal barriers to more children, I still felt selfish for wanting to be done. Isn't it normal to lose yourself to your children? Wasn't it my responsibility to "multiply and replenish the earth" until I was at least 35? I was only 27! My parents had 8 kids and I knew they wanted me to have more than 3. What if there was another child in heaven calling down, "Mom! Don't leave me here!" I would brave the storm and try to have more if the Lord asked me to.
Thus began the heartfelt search for guidance. I fasted and prayed, discussed the issue with close friends, studied the scriptures, and read official church doctrine regarding the number of children families should have. Landon gave me a blessing with counsel straight from heaven that brought great comfort. By the time Zach was six months, I had my answer. Our family was complete. I had given all I could to bring my children to earth and it was enough. My eyes water even as I type this because I feel the Spirit confirm my decision once again.
So how many children are LDS families supposed to have? To answer that, I went straight to the primary source: The General Handbook of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"Husbands must be considerate of their wives, who have a great responsibility not only for bearing children but also for caring for them through childhood...Church members are taught to study the question of family planning, including such important aspects as the physical and mental health of the mother and father and their capacity to provide the basic necessities of life. If, for personal reasons, a couple prayerfully decides that having another child immediately is unwise, birth control may be appropriate...Decisions regarding the number and spacing of children are to be made by husband and wife together, in righteousness, and through empathetic communication, and with prayer for the Lord's inspiration. Latter-day Saints believe that persons are accountable not only for what they do but for why they do it. Thus regarding family size and attendant questions, members should desire to multiply and replenish the earth as the Lord has commanded. In that process, God intends that his children use the agency he has given them in charting a wise course for themselves and their families" (The General Handbook of Instructions, 11-4. Salt Lake City, 1989).
There is no set number of children required to be a good Mormon. None of us should feel guilty, compare, or judge one another concerning the size of our families. It is a private matter between husband, wife, and the Lord to chart a wise course for their family. It is different for every family. There are so many, many variables to consider: physical, emotional, financial, mental, etc. Some of the best women I know are not able to bear children and it breaks their heart. They are no less righteous than women who have children. And some of the best women I know have eight children. Isn't it wonderful that they can handle that many? God loves you whether you have no children or ten children or anywhere in between. Don't ever forget that.
Where does the guilt to have more and more children come from anyway? It is not based in church doctrine. I blame it on the Utah culture I grew up in. My friend grew up in Colorado and told me that three children would be considered many outside of Utah! Apparently, green Jell-O is not the only cultural difference around here. The definition of a "big family" differs from family to family. So let's ease off ourselves if the Lord has told us we are done having kids. Guilt is not a good reason to have more babies. A spiritual prompting from the Lord is a good reason.
I don’t know why some families are big and some are little. I don't know why some people can't have babies when they want them so badly. I don't know why some women who don't want more babies keep getting pregnant. But Heavenly Father does. Someday we will learn why everything happened the way it did. It will all make sense. Until then, we trust in the Lord, follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, and have faith that God is guiding our family, no matter how big or small it is.