Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My Worth as a Woman

Last month I was talking to a group of women about children and the topic of "how many to have" came up.  One woman who has her hands full with three young children very close in age shared that although she wanted more, her husband was "done" after having two.  Then she started laughing as she pointed to her grinning toddler (#3) and exclaimed, "She was an accident!" 

WHAT I WOULDN'T GIVE FOR AN ACCIDENT!   In my case, however, "miracle" would be a more appropriate term.  Are children accidents or miracles?  I guess it all depends upon one's life experiences  and perspective.

Don't get me wrong, the woman who told me about her "accident" is a great mother and I don't sense any resentment on her part because of her children, but as I was listening to her and holding my foster baby (and wishing I had a baby to call my own) I just had to smile at life's ironies- because sometimes smiling or laughing is better than the alternative.   This gem of a quote comes to mind:  

Growing up I always wanted to have a large family- six or seven kids.  Perhaps it's because I enjoyed growing up in a family of seven children and the concept of large families is not uncommon or unusual in the Mormon culture I was raised in.  Between my six siblings and their spouses there are 36 grandchildren, which is, on average, 6 children per family.  And in my opinion, six is at the "low end" of a large family as nine or ten children seems large to me.  One friend I grew up with had 13 brothers and sisters- no multiples, no adoptions- her mother had given birth 14 times.  Her mother had spent  over ten years of her life being pregnant!

I had a roommate in college who came from another large Mormon family of ten children and when she was comparing her family (in a bragging way) to another friend who came from a family of "just" five children his quick-witted response to her was: "My parents were going for QUALITY not QUANTITY." 

Of course, that's not to say that you can't have BOTH- the Duggar family comes to mind.  They've gotten a lot of slack for having "too many children", but I am amazed at how well-behaved and clean all of their children are.  And seriously, have you ever seen Michelle Duggar raise her voice?  She's got the patience of Job.  

As I got older and married at 25 (an "old maid" by some Mormon standards) and discovered a couple of years into married life that conceiving children was not something that would come easily for me, my hopes of having a large family were diminished with each passing year of childlessness.  I also always assumed I would become a mother for the first time in my 20's rather than my 30's but I have learned that "life is what happens when you've made other plans." 

I also realized that I had a hidden belief in the back of my mind that the more children I had, the greater my worth would be.  This is an illogical belief as it basically suggests that women who are not mothers are worthless.  Can you imagine someone saying "Yah, that Mother Theresa sure is a loser because she never had any children of her own."  Think of all of the wonderful women out there who may not be mothers in the traditional sense of the world but who nurture and teach and guide children every day of their lives- whether it be teachers who spend more time in a day with children than their parents actually do or counselors, caseworkers, nurses, etc. 

Any woman who has based her worth on her ability to be a mother but has felt that she has "fallen short" can take comfort in these quotes:

"The commonest fallacy among women is that simply having children makes one a mother- which is as absurd as believing that having a piano makes one a musician." 
-Sydney J. Harris
"Motherhood is more than bearing children. It is the essence of who we are as women.
                            -Sheri L. Dew
"You need not possess children to love them; loving is not synonymous with possessing and possessing is not necessarily loving. The world is filled with people to be loved, guided, taught, lifted, and inspired."
               - Heber Kapp     
BOTTOM LINE: A woman's worth should not depend on if she is able to be a "mother" or not.

So, although I know in my mind that my worth should not be dependent upon having children or of having a certain amount of children, in my heart I still feel like a failure at times because I don't have a house full of half a dozen children like I had ideally imagined. And when I meet or read about people like Michelle Duggar or this woman (both of them home school their children, too!) I find myself both envious and in awe.

Here's how two other Mormon women who have struggled with infertility have described it. Sadly, both of these women use the word "failed" to describe their experiences. But I love how both of these women are so honest with their feelings and I feel compelled to share their thoughts because when I read what they had written I could so strongly relate to them and I felt like I WASN'T ALONE:

From Kim's post Are You There God, Its Me, Margaret?

Lately, I've really been wondering... "What is Normal?" "I just want to be normal!"

I bawled my eyes out two weeks ago when once again, my body failed me. I cried for two hours until my eyes were dry and sleep finally overcame me. 
I want to be normal. I want to be like all of the other happy little families taking up an entire row at church with their six kids.

I want to FILL up the car we bought a few months ago...really. Today as I was driving my just felt, EMPTY.
From Kenna's post Infertility: Its What's for Dinner:
 I have failed as a woman, as a wife, as a Mormon, as a productive member of society. I had applied to be part of the exclusive 'Mom's Club' and I got a rejection letter with a huge 'F' on it.
Imagine sitting in sacrament meeting. You are on a bench in the middle. To your right? Mom, Dad, 2 kids. To your left? Mom, Dad, 3 kids. In front of you? 2 pregnant women, 2 newborns. Behind you, Mom, Dad, 2 kids. All around you? Mom, Dad, kid. Then, as you are trying to calm your feelings of hurt and loss down (by chanting in your head, 'I have new couches and a big ass tv'), you hear that there are going to be 3 baby blessings. Sunday school you talk about the importance of teaching your children gospel principals. Every one either has a baby on their lap, or is pregnant. Relief Society, well, we won't go there because I don't go there.
So where am I at this point in my life in regards to basing my worth on having children?  I turn 36 this year and my husband and I are celebrating ten years of marriage this month.  We have been blessed with a beautiful daughter through the miracle of adoption and we are extremely grateful.  I occasionally have to remind myself that "quality" is more important than "quantity" when I compare my expectations with reality.  BUT . . .  in my state of mid-life crisis induced pity:

 Is it too much to ask if I can just have more than one child before I turn 40?!

Thanks for letting me share. :)


Jill Elizabeth said...

I always want to shriek when I hear a woman refer to one of her children as an accident or a mistake. I don't care if they say it with love. My mother maintains that her third child was a "surprise," and that is the only thing she will ever say about that. Sounds so much nicer, doesn't it?

Surprises are usually good things. Mistakes? Accidents? Not so much.

Shine said...

:) Can't even describe how much I enjoyed reading your blog post. It's good to have a "body failed me day" and come read that I'm not the only one. And here I was just thinking I must have killed someone or done something so horrible to deserve having the horrible Kharma of "body failing me" issues starting on Mother's Day.
Just keep thinking Sheri Dew, Sheri Dew, Mother Teresa, Mother Teresa.... :)

DMN said...

I am so glad I found your blog. I love it! I too am infertile, childless and doing foster care! We've had 3 past foster children and just got #4 6 weeks ago.

Not so Molly Mormon After-All said...

I just found your blog and I am so gratefull it's here. Thank you.