Sunday, October 2, 2011

To Have or Have Not Children

Elder Neil Anderson gave an inspiring talk on mothering/parenting yesterday.  He talked about how the the choice to have children is between a husband, a wife, and God.  He also stressed that to have children is a commandment.  I think we often forget that second part about it being a commandment, but it should probably be one of the first things we consider.  We need to do a better job as parents at teaching young people that children are a responsibility of marriage.  We need to teach them how to understand, accept, and prepare for that.

I've surely mentioned on this blog that my husband and I weren't too excited about having kids, but after waiting several years, we determined it was time to be obedient and give it a try.  It was actually 13 months of trying, then we miscarried at 11 weeks.  What a lesson that was, and it gave us a deeper appreciation for children.  After much thought and learning, now our attitude is to welcome children into our family, one at a time (well, unless there are two!).  We won't put a cap on it until we "Know" we're done -- whether by feelings or the evidence of my body and mental state being finished, or whatever other circumstances (perhaps health of other family members or even money).  Raising children is not easy, and it's often not fun, but it is a commandment.  I have faith that it will all be worth it someday.  The Eyre's had some good counsel on this topic (Having another child: Questions Couples Can Consider, Des. News, April 1, 2011).

I'm afraid that sometimes people get so overwhelmed by so many little children so fast that they give up on the thought that they could ever have any more, so they claim to be "done."  Why not wait until the kids are a little older to decide that?  When they are little, it is soooooo hard!  It doesn't seem to be the best time to be making such big decisions.

I also believe that people jump to the conclusion that they will only have x number of children.  I feel that making decisions like that is like trying to decide on a first date if you are going to marry the person you're out with.  You just have to take it one date at a time, just like you have to take it one child at a time and not make decisions you're not ready to make.

Anderson quoted part of this from desiringGod (thanks to some fb friends for finding the quote):

The truth is that years ago, before this generation of mothers was even born, our society decided where children rank in the list of important things. When abortion was legalized, we wrote it into law.

Children rank way below college. Below world travel for sure. Below the ability to go out at night at your leisure. Below honing your body at the gym. Below any job you may have or hope to get. In fact, children rate below your desire to sit around and pick your toes, if that is what you want to do. Below everything. Children are the last thing you should ever spend your time doing.

If you grew up in this culture, it is very hard to get a biblical perspective on motherhood, to think like a free Christian woman about your life, your children. How much have we listened to partial truths and half lies? Do we believe that we want children because there is some biological urge, or the phantom “baby itch”? Are we really in this because of cute little clothes and photo opportunities? Is motherhood a rock-bottom job for those who can’t do more, or those who are satisfied with drudgery? If so, what were we thinking?

Motherhood is not a hobby, it is a calling. You do not collect children because you find them cuter than stamps. It is not something to do if you can squeeze the time in. It is what God gave you time for.

Christian mothers carry their children in hostile territory. When you are in public with them, you are standing with, and defending, the objects of cultural dislike. You are publicly testifying that you value what God values, and that you refuse to value what the world values. You stand with the defenseless and in front of the needy. You represent everything that our culture hates, because you represent laying down your life for another—and laying down your life for another represents the gospel.


Stephanie said...

So here's the thing that confused me about that talk though. He emphasized TWO different times that the choice of when and how many children to have was a very personal choice between a couple and the Lord that we shouldn't judge each other about. His reference to the commandment was when he quoted President Kimball (as an apostle at the time) back in the era when birth control was not allowed in the Church.

I guess I'm still scratching my head about how the decision to do something can both be a commandment and a personal choice. Maybe it's like tithing - we're all commanded to pay eventually, but whether we pay monthly or yearly, on our net or on our gross, are personal decisions that the church isn't going to audit us about.

What are your thoughts?

kels said...

Steph I noticed the same thing, but I think of it more like the commandment to marry-- we are all meant to get married, but not necessarily to the first person we go out with/fall in love with (though for some it works like that). It has to be the right time, the right person first. Likewise, with children it needs to be the right time, with the right level of preparedness. For some that may be the moment they get married, for others that may be a bit later. That's how I see it as a commandment and a personal decision with God.

Thanks for sharing that quote Emily, I didn't realize he was quoting someone else yesterday. I could relate with the content, because I'm part of that generation that sees kids as a burden, and it can be hard to wipe away that view sometimes.

Handsfullmom said...

Beautiful post! How hard to have a miscarriage after so many months of trying.

Stephanie, I hope you don't mind my answering your question. My thoughts on this are: The commandment to "multiply and replenish the earth" was the first commandment given to Adam and Eve. It is given to every couple married in the temple. It's in the Proclamation. How you keep that commandment is a personal decision between you, your husband and the Lord, but it is a commandment and we will be held accountable for those choices.

Heather@Women in the Scriptures said...

I loved his talk, thanks for finding the full quote! But can I tell you how SAD it made me that when he went to quote a woman who had taken a strong stance for life and children on the Internet that the voice he found was NOT an LDS woman! That made me sad because the truth is that the loudest voice for life and family on the Internet-- the ones who are saying it the clearest and the boldest-- are not LDS women but faithful women of other faiths. That makes me sad and I hope that more LDS women will start being more loud on the internet, and in real life, about the value of life.

Stephanie, I think that your confusion is really common, I think that one of the most important things to remember is that what God's prophets said 20, 40, 100, 5,000 years ago still applies to us today. The church (and God) has NEVER changed it's stance on birth control-- which I think that lots of people assume it has-- the commandment and the consequences still apply and always will apply because it is God's first and most important commandment. Yet I also think that God realizes that not everyone is living in the same sort of circumstances and that there needs to be room for personal revelation. It is like marriage-- the commandment is to marry for eternity and not to get divorced-- but sometimes divorce is needed. God hates it and WILL never say that it is okay but He allows it. I think that is the same sort of thing with children. God is the ultimate life giver and He rejoices in the creation of life. Anything that stifles and destroys life stifles His power and His work. But He does understand that we are living in a fallen world... and he gives us allowances for that.

Curls said...

@Kels-I think you hit the nail on the head here: "I think of it more like the commandment to marry-- we are all meant to get married, but not necessarily to the first person we go out with/fall in love with (though for some it works like that). It has to be the right time, the right person first. Likewise, with children it needs to be the right time, with the right level of preparedness. For some that may be the moment they get married, for others that may be a bit later."

I can tell you right now we were NOT ready to have a baby when we first married. And we had when we were ready, which to some people was much later than we should have and to others much earlier. And that's why Elder Anderson emphasized that we are not to judge one another, it's such a private decision we can't hope to know ANYTHING about it.

I've seen far too many women who struggle with infertility be deeply wounded by the judgements of others, and I'm glad GA's always emphasize in their talks on families and children NOT to judge.

Jon said...

Hmmm... I was thinking about it and I should probably clarify my comment. I dont mean to say that birth control is always a bad thing or that families can not be planned. God knows each of us individually and we each have different mortal circumstances. I think that what elder anderson was trying to convey in his talk is that having a mentality that is open to life and understanding the covenants you make when you are sealed are so important to God. The creation of life is really the most important commandment God has given us because the whole plan of salvation hinges on it and we just need to make sure we aren't following worldy models of family planning but that God is involved in the process from the very start.

Heather@Women in the Scriptures said...

Oh sorry i was logged in as my husband. I hate when i do that.

kels said...

Hey Heather, I'd like to explore another angle of your assessment. You said "He does understand that we are living in a fallen world... and he gives us allowances for that"... but I don't believe that God makes concessions for us because we live in a fallen world. Never have we seen an example of the Lord taking back a commandment after he's given it; sometimes he withholds truth so that we're not accountable (ie: Moses and the higher law), but he never takes back truth he's already given. If the commandment were still to never use birth control, then the prophets would still be saying that. It's not that it wasn't right when President Kimball was saying it, but the beautiful thing is that this is a living, breathing church! So we do see change over time, but that change is never in the opposite direction of truth. Specifically, we've been promised that no restored truth will ever be taken from the earth again. So, it follows that if the use of birth control was always wrong as a principle of truth, it would still be taught.

Instead what we see is that the prophets and the church handbook are consistently saying that the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth is in force, and the decision about how to personally obey that commandment (timing and the number of children) is between a couple and the Lord.
Additionally, I'd say the first and most important commandment is to love God, and then thy neighbor. Not to downplay the commandment to replenish the earth, but I think we take it a little far when we say it's the most important commandment ever given.

Ultimately, I think everyone is very sensitive about this issue because it's a classic example of what I like to call "personal revelation threat." Lol I just made that up but I felt like it needed a name. Anyway, it's where we feel inspired by God about our decision, but then we see other people making different decisions, and we begin to about our own choices. We second guess our revelation, and sometimes we even feel threatened by other people because if their decision is right for them, how can our decision be right for us? Sometimes that leads us to magnify our own revelation, and push it on others, assuming that's the revelation they didn't realize they got, or that they should have gotten. It helps us to feel safe, by feeling that our decision is right and therefore it should be right for everyone else. I know that in the past I have worried myself sick over my inspiration about when to have a family, because I saw other people making different choices. But ultimately, it is exactly what the prophets have said: personal! We are unique, with unique challenges, histories, gifts, experiences, spouses, and a whole host of other factors that contribute to our equally unique spiritual inspiration. And thank goodness none of us can say anything about any other couple, their timing, their use or non-use of birth control, etc. :)

And I love you. I just wanted to say that in case this post seems at all combative, because it's not supposed to be and I really do love hearing your insights.

kels said...

Duh I just realized that "Jon" was your husband/you. I get it. So just apply my comment to your first comment, and it looks like we're more on the same page than I thought (big surprise).

Chocolate on my Cranium said...

I have to say I completely agree with Heather on this. The church has never sanctioned the use of birth control. I have never seen a quote from ANY prophet or General authority advocating the use of birth control. If you have one, please share! In fact, all I have ever seen is the opposite. Why? Because God’s command was to multiply and replenish the earth and sanctioning the use of birth control is counter to that command.

Short statement:
“The Church has always advised against birth control and that is the only position the Church can take in view of our beliefs with respect to the eternity of the marriage covenant and the purpose of this divine relationship.”- Apostle Hugh B. Brown, The Way of the Master, pp. 114

Longer statement: :) A letter from the First Presidency dated April 14, 1969

“Presidents of Stakes, Bishops of Wards, and Presidents of Missions

Dear Brethren:

The First Presidency is being asked from time to time as to what the attitude of the Church is regarding birth control. In order that you may be informed on this subject and that you may be prepared to convey the proper information to the members of the Church under your jurisdiction, we have decided to give you the following statement:

We seriously should regret that there should exist a sentiment or feeling among any members of the Church to curtail the birth of their children. We have been commanded to multiply and replenish the earth that we may have joy and rejoicing in our posterity.

Where husband and wife enjoy health and vigor and are free from impurities that would be entailed upon their posterity, it is contrary to the teachings of the Church artificially to curtail or prevent the birth of children. We believe that those who practice birth control will reap disappointment by and by.

However, we feel that men must be considerate of their wives who bear the greater responsibility not only of bearing children, but of caring for them through childhood. To this end the mother's health and strength should be conserved and the husband's consideration for his wife is his first duty, and self control a dominant factor in all their relationships.

It is our further feeling that married couples should seek inspiration and wisdom from the Lord that they may exercise discretion in solving their marital problems, and that they may be permitted to rear their children in accordance with the teachings of the gospel.”

- First Presidency (David O. McKay, Hugh B. Brown, N. Eldon Tanner ), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Office of the First Presidency, April 14, 1969

Why are all my comments so long? Continued below . . .

Chocolate on my Cranium said...

The counsel we are given is that the number of children and when is up to the couple and the Lord. I don’t get how people see that as an endorsement for birth control. It is not. What it is, is a reminder that the decisions we make for our family need to be done with the Lord as a partner. A couple may receive direct revelation to use a form of birth control for a time, especially with regards to the health of the mother (making sure she doesn’t wear her body out so much that she can’t take care of those she already has***, etc). That’s where our agency comes into play regarding how to fulfill God’s first commandment. However, the church will never out rightly condone the use of birth control.

I really like how the Eyre’s put it. ”If we assume YES, and then ask WHEN, laying out our situations and concerns even as we express our faith, we will get the answers the Lord wants us to have, including, at some point, the answer DONE when our families are complete in God's eyes.”

***P.S. Considering the widespread use of birth control amongst families of the church one wonders how there can be so many women with ill health! but I digress… :)

Emily said...

Thanks for your comments and discussion everyone. Honestly, I feel just a little hypocritical having this blog that is promoting home & family because I suppose I'm still, in some regards, trying to convince myself/teach myself these principles after being one who in many ways bought into the world's view of children and the burdens they bring. The more I study this topic, though, I'm realizing how as a whole we have downplayed the role/commandment to have children, and overall, when we really understand it, we should be more welcoming.

I know Heather and Chocolate have both really surrendered their "procreation" to the Lord. I haven't been able to do that. I still hang on to some control; however, my heart has come a long, long way and my perspective has changed. I've had a paradigm shift. I'm more of a default is on type person now (in Eyre's article -- btw I fixed the link), but the question is when. So maybe our children come a little slower than some, but we haven't shut the valve.

I'm grateful for people like Heather & Chocolate because of their willingness to sacrifice and give their lives to the Lord this way. I think it's a good example.

I don't know that every righteous Christian woman needs to have as many children as she possibly can -- that would probably be unwise. Just like Chocolate quoted: "Where husband and wife enjoy health and vigor and are free from impurities that would be entailed upon their posterity, it is contrary to the teachings of the Church artificially to curtail or prevent the birth of children. We believe that those who practice birth control will reap disappointment by and by. . . We feel that men must be considerate of their wives who bear the greater responsibility not only of bearing children, but of caring for them through childhood. To this end the mother's health and strength should be conserved and the husband's consideration for his wife is his first duty, and self control a dominant factor in all their relationships."

Although that is kind of old modern-day counsel, I was impressed that it still applies! I like that he says that if we do use birth control, we'll eventually be disappointed -- that's the risk we take. It's our choice. We'll have to live with that consequence if we someday find ourselves disappointed. I also like that he said that we have to consider the mothers. Perhaps we're weighing the health/state of the mother against long-term happiness of family/children, and WE have to decide where that balances out. The hard thing for me, though, is that because we've been so indoctrinated that kids are a pain, the limiting children option seems so much more appealing than any long term joy from children. That must be one of Satan's tactics: take the joy out of children so we focus on ourselves and our wants more than we need to/should.

My journey in this self discovery began by studying women outside of the church who highly valued family because I knew women did, I just had to find them, and I couldn't find any in our church at that time. I just wanted to get inside their brains and see how they thought because I didn't think that way. I read Passionate Housewives Desperate for God, and it helped. The authors were so convincing -- all backed by scripture!

Emily said...

(continued... ) A question I have, though, in reading this counsel is then what about the people who just can't have many children? I assume they won't reap the disappointment? Obviously it's out of their control. Is it more about the heart? Can people who have few children out of necessity be just as blessed as those with many? (Look at many of the GAs). I believe the answer is yes, but it's not a clear equation there, so it's confusing.

I really like Kels' "personal revelation threat" concept. I think that is sooooo true! We have to trust ourselves and our faith-filled decisions.

Sorry, I've totally rambled on here, but I like thinking through it.

kels said...

I only have a minute to respond, but with regards to this point--

"The counsel we are given is that the number of children and when is up to the couple and the Lord. I don’t get how people see that as an endorsement for birth control"

I'd like to clarify that I'm not implying that personal revelation is tacit endorsement of birth control. Not at all. However, I do believe that it is possible to receive inspiration as a couple to use birth control. I'm not making any statements at all about the use or non-use of birth control on the whole, all I'm advocating is that it is uniquely between each couple and the Lord (which is what the current leadership advocates as well). And I think it would be wrong to make blanket statements about the type of revelation other people can receive. For that reason, I don't believe that the church still endorses its blanket statements about birth control, because in my mind they have replaced those statements with statements making it more personal. They can't be saying both, because they contradict each other. Either the church says every couple should not use birth control, or they're saying that every couple should make the decision about when/how many children to have prayerfully with the guidance of the Lord. Since they are explicitly saying the second statement currently, that's the one I get behind.

kels said...

And Emily I absolutely am confident that those who are unable to have as many children as they would like will not "reap disappointment," at least not in the sense that letter implies.

There's a great statement from the church that clarifies what is "doctrine"-- I think I'll write a post about it, but basically it says that it is only doctrine if it is consistently in scripture and consistently taught by current general authorities. That's another reason I'm reluctant to acknowledge a current church-wide ban on birth control; a) it isn't being stated currently (all the quotes I've seen that are explicit against the use of birth control are approx. 30+ years old) and b) it isn't consistent with the flexibility of what is current counsel-- the decision about children is between God and the couple, and God will inspire the couple specific to their circumstances. Church leadership is not currently making limits on what kind of inspiration people can receive from God, including inspiration to use or not to use birth control, and for that reason I don't think we should either.

Chocolate on my Cranium said...

Emily, about those who can't have children or as many as they would like to have, I take comfort in knowing that we will not only be judged according to our works but also the desires of our hearts (D&C 137:9) . For the most part those desires are shown in our actions, but there are times when those desires stay just that, desires, as is the case with those unable to have children for various physical reasons.

“God thus takes into merciful account not only our desires and our performance, but also the degrees of difficulty which our varied circumstances impose upon us. No wonder we will not complain at the final judgment. . . God delights in blessing us, especially when we realize “joy in that which [we] have desired” (D&C 7:8).” (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, Nov. 1996)

Chocolate on my Cranium said...


I believe we both are mostly on the same page with couples' personal revelation as to whether or not use birth control. My point is when people quote the handbook and say "See! The church says it is all right to use birth control." When that is not what it says! It just says what the church has always said and will continue to say that it is completely up to the couple and the Lord as to how to fulfill that command to multiply and replenish the earth.

"For that reason, I don't believe that the church still endorses its blanket statements about birth control, because in my mind they have replaced those statements with statements making it more personal. They can't be saying both, because they contradict each other." A house divided against itself cannot stand, which is why the church will not advocate the use of birth control because it is contrary to what God has commanded. See Pres. Hugh B. Brown's quote above.

Yes, the quote is older than thirty years, as are others that people like to quote, but since they are still being quoted and used in church approved manuals then I believe it is safe to assume they are still relevant and should be applied to our lives.

Chocolate on my Cranium said...

"I'll write a post about it, but basically it says that it is only doctrine if it is consistently in scripture and consistently taught by current general authorities."

I'd love to read that post!

Nowhere that I know of in the scriptures does it encourage birth control - rather the opposite. The one man mentioned as practicing birth control, Onan, was struck dead. Genesis 38:9-10 Wowsa!

I must say I really enjoy this discussion! As I stated before I really think we agree for the most part, except for whether the church endorses birth control or not. :)

Handsfullmom said...

Interesting discussion. I must say I agree with Chocolate and Heather for the most part. I believe that as couples, we should not limit God's ability to send us children unless we feel through revelation that there are extenuating circumstances that make bearing children at the current time unwise.

I think many couples, unfortunately, take the opposite view in this matter: They curtail the birth of their children through birth control unless and until they decide (or they receive revelation) that it is time to have a child.

I believe such a position is disappointing to the Lord, who has stated in the scriptures (D&C 58:26-27: "For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;"

I don't think we should be sitting around waiting for a revelation that we should add a child to our family. The Church, the scriptures, the proclamation, the words in our temple sealings -- all of these should give us the direction we need to move forward without waiting for the Lord to "command" us each time it's time to add to our families.

Sure, there might be times when birth control is not only needed, but appropriate and acceptable to the Lord. But I believe its widespread use is a travesty in light of the commandments and the plan of salvation.

And I don't buy that the counsel against birth control is outdated. As recently as 1993, Elder Oaks stated in conference:

"To the first man and woman on earth, the Lord said, “Be fruitful, and multiply” (Moses 2:28; see also Gen. 1:28; Abr. 4:28). This commandment was first in sequence and first in importance. It was essential that God’s spirit children have mortal birth and an opportunity to progress toward eternal life. Consequently, all things related to procreation are prime targets for the adversary’s efforts to thwart the plan of God.
The Savior taught that we should not lay up treasures on earth but should lay up treasures in heaven (see Matt. 6:19–21). In light of the ultimate purpose of the great plan of happiness, I believe that the ultimate treasures on earth and in heaven are our children and our posterity.

President Kimball said, “It is an act of extreme selfishness for a married couple to refuse to have children when they are able to do so” (Ensign, May 1979, p. 6). When married couples postpone childbearing until after they have satisfied their material goals, the mere passage of time assures that they seriously reduce their potential to participate in furthering our Heavenly Father’s plan for all of his spirit children. Faithful Latter-day Saints cannot afford to look upon children as an interference with what the world calls “self-fulfillment.” Our covenants with God and the ultimate purpose of life are tied up in those little ones who reach for our time, our love, and our sacrifices.

"How many children should a couple have? All they can care for! Of course, to care for children means more than simply giving them life. Children must be loved, nurtured, taught, fed, clothed, housed, and well started in their capacities to be good parents
themselves. Exercising faith in God’s promises to bless them when they are keeping his commandments, many LDS parents have large families. Others seek but are not blessed with children or with the number of children they desire. In a matter as intimate as
this, we should not judge one another."

Handsfullmom said...

And just a few years ago, Julie Beck said this:

And just a few years ago, Julie Beck said this:

Mothers who know desire to bear children. Whereas in many cultures in the world children are “becoming less valued,” in the culture of the gospel we still believe in having children. Prophets, seers, and revelators who were sustained at this conference have declared that “God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.” President Ezra Taft Benson taught that young couples should not postpone having children and that “in the eternal perspective, children—not possessions, not position, not prestige—are our greatest jewels.”

kels said...

CmC-- we don't disagree about the church endorsing birth control! I'm not saying they do endorse it. I'm just supporting the statement that they endorse personal revelation. aha, we agree :)

And I love the discussion too! It's so refreshing when it can be respectful and open-minded!

JM said...

A few thoughts and true examples on this matter . . .

About 40 years ago a young LDS couple was debating this issue with friends, who were also LDS. The debate got heated, one side for and the other against the use of birth control. It led to a letter sent to the "leadership of the church" at church head quarters. The question was whether or not it was gospel centered and faithful to use birth control for any other purposes than the explicit reasons outlined in the quotes that have been so amptly provided in this post. The return answer was that it was not an issue to be debated among members and that it was a private matter that should remain between the husband, wife, and God. They were clearly and directly advised to let the topic rest.

About 12 years ago another young couple were pointedly criticized by an unrelated acquaintance (all parties were LDS) for not conducting their child rearing habits by her same schedule. The comparison did nothing but serve to elevate herself above the choices and actions of other members of the church.

Maybe Elder Neil Anderson, repeated his counsel regarding this matter being a private, personal issue that is to be contemplated and resolved prayerfully between a husband and wife, as a means to steer us away from using his counsel as fire in divisive debates and discussions such as these.

Personal revelation does not need public justification nor defense. It is private and sacred.

Stephanie said...


Thank you so much for your great answers to my original question, and also for the additional insights you’ve shared. I’ve learned a lot from this great dialogue, and I realized that I did have some misunderstandings about this issue. And JM, I have to disagree with you that I don’t think this discussion has been divisive. Rather, I think it’s been respectful and instructive. Thanks Emily for providing this discussion topic!

So I guess the conclusion that I’ve come away with is that the Church’s fundamental doctrine on having children has never changed – we have always been taught that families are a priority and we should welcome children into our lives as soon as we can, and if we choose to wait we will be accountable to the Lord for the reasons we waited.

What I DO think has changed between now and the 1960’s/70’s is the way this message about birth control is delivered, and the emphasis on personal accountability and personal revelation, as Kels was saying. For instance, I definitely think the Church’s current statement is much less harsh than the 1969 statement.

Compare 1969: “We seriously should regret that there should exist a sentiment or feeling among any members of the Church to curtail the birth of their children . . . it is contrary to the teachings of the Church artificially to curtail or prevent the birth of children. ”

With current: “Decisions about birth control and the consequences of those decisions rest solely with each married couple.”

I think with the previous Church statements, it was easier to misinterpret it the Church’s stance that if you used birth control at all, you were necessarily breaking a commandment. For instance, when my parents first got married, my dad said that his understanding of the Church doctrine was that if they were going to be righteous, then they had to not use birth control and just have faith that the Lord would provide children in his time. My mom’s response was that if that was my dad’s plan, then he better have faith in abstinence too.

On a sadder note, I once had a conversation with a newly married woman who had given birth to three children in the first three years of her marriage. She told me that her marriage was on the rocks, their finances were shot, and her health was horrible, but she felt that this was what they had to do in order to be righteous, because to even consider birth control would be a sin.

In my opinion, that is taking our doctrine too far to one extreme – to not even consider the option that the Lord would be okay with a couple waiting for some reason (like serious health/finance/marriage issues).
However, the other extreme is for a couple to delay having children longer than necessary for selfish reasons and without being willing to trust in the Lord’s timing for children.

Neither extreme is good, and I think both extremes suffer from a lack of counseling with the Lord, whereas the ideal middle ground would to be to follow His timing, whatever that is.

Stephanie said...

[Part II]

So I do disagree with the view that God hates birth control and has always advised against it. From studying both old and current Church policies, it seems to me that an individual doesn’t necessarily break a commandment if they choose to wait to have children, though they might. It depends on the reasons that they wait to have children, but those reasons are personal and varied.

I think this principle is illustrated by contrasting the Church’s current statement on the use of birth control to that of abortion. On it says, “Decisions about birth control and the consequences of those decisions rest solely with each married couple. Elective abortion as a method of birth control, however, is contrary to the commandments of God.” Notice that with ordinary birth control, the consequences are not necessarily that you are breaking a commandment, whereas when a couple uses abortion as a form of birth control, that IS necessarily breaking a commandment. I think that’s an important distinction.

Even the older Church statements encouraged couples to “be considerate” of women and take their health and strength into account, and also “seek inspiration and wisdom from the Lord that they may exercise discretion in solving their marital problems,” which further suggests personal discretion in this decision.

To conclude this already ridiculously long comment, I’d like to share one of my own personal experiences. I was quite young when my husband and I got married, and so I worried about whether we should start our family right away (because I really was looking forward to becoming a mother) or whether we should wait so I could finish my education. We prayed about it a lot, and received a strong answer to prayer that I needed to go to law school (which is a story for another time). But I still worried and shed a lot of tears about the fact that I wasn’t having children immediately.

I had the chance to visit with the President Clark of BYU-Idaho, who is also a general authority, and I told him about the internal struggle I was having with reconciling my personal commandment I’d received to go to law school to the general commandment to have children as quickly as I could. President Clark was a very kind listener, and he explained that as he had been taught the doctrine, we are all encouraged to have children as soon as we can, but we may have individual reasons why we need to delay doing so. We will be personally accountable to the Lord for how we spend that delayed time, so as long as we are living our lives in keeping with His inspiration and have an important reason for that delay, that accountability shouldn’t be a problem.

I felt a lot more peace about my question after this conversation, because I realized that I would be comfortable looking into the Lord’s eyes someday and saying, “yes, I waited to have children, because I was fulfilling that other commandment you told me to do, and we fulfilled the commandment to have children as soon as we could” (in my case - during my last year of law school when I was 23). There are lots of commandments that we are given that we can’t fulfill at the exact same time. Elder Faust said, “For women, the important ingredients for happiness are to forge an identity, serve the Lord, get an education, develop your talents, serve your family, and if possible to have a family of your own. However, you cannot do all these things well at the same time. You cannot be a 100-percent wife, a 100-percent mother, a 100-percent Church worker, a 100-percent career person, and a 100-percent public-service person at the same time. How can all of these roles be coordinated? I suggest that you can have it sequentially. Sequentially is a big word meaning to do things one at a time at different times.”

For me, this is just another example of where we have to seek the Lord’s guidance to find out the personal sequence He has in store for us in our lives.

Stephanie said...

P.S. here are a few more quotes to illustrate the wide range of perspectives from Church leaders on the topic of birth control. As I said before, while the doctrine has stayed the same, these quotes illustrate that the way the message was delivered and precise policies/cultural practices have changed.


From Joseph Fielding Smith,
Relief Society Magazine
3:367-368, July 1916

"Those who attempt to pervert the ways of the Lord, and to prevent their offspring from coming into the world...are guilty of one of the most heinous crimes in the category. There is no promise of eternal salvation and exaltation for such as they..."

From Hugh B. Brown: His Life and Thought p. 288, Eugene E. Campbell and Richard D. Poll
Hugh B. Brown

I'm speaking now for myself, and I think the brethren would agree, we feel that we'd better not make any sweeping pronouncements...because of the difficulties which result. There are so many different conditions in the homes, different people to deal with, that this whole question of birth control becomes very much involved and very complex.

But, as a general rule, we say to our young people, the purpose of your marriage is to have children. If you wish to regulate or space those children, that's up to you. We're not going to follow anybody into their bedroom. I think freedom in this matter ought to be understood.


June 16, 1947
David O. McKay

The Church does not approve of any form of artificial birth control. It would seem, however, that in your having four babies within five years of your marriage, you are submitting your body to an almost superhuman test, especially with your threatened affliction of arthritis. The proper spacing of your babies is your responsibility. The mother's health should be one of the first consideration. Certainly it will be to the blessing of your little ones--those with whom you are now blessed and others yet to come--if you will keep well and strong so that you can give them proper care.

Stephanie said...

Satellite fireside broadcast
Jan 29, 1984, then distributed in the pamphlet of the same name
President Gordon B. Hinckley

Only the other day a letter came to my desk from a woman who wrote at length of her troubles. In a spirit of desperation she asked, "Does a woman have any promise of some day being a first class member of the human race? Will she always be a piece of chattel wrapped in a chuddar acting only by the permission of the man who stands at her head?" (A chuddar, incidentally, is a very simple shawl worn by women in India.) She then continued, "To me the answers to these questions are no longer important, but I have daughters. If it is possible for a woman to look forward to an eternity of anything than being barefoot and pregnant, I would like to be able to teach them this."

There is bitter tragedy in the lines of that letter. I fear there are many others who may feel that way. The situation is tragic because it is so extremely different from what our Father in Heaven would have for his daughters. Behind this woman's words I see the picture of a wife who is discouraged, starved for appreciation, ready to give up, and not knowing which way to turn. I see a husband who has defaulted on his sacred obligations, who is calloused in his feelings and warped in his perceptions, who denies through his manner of living the very essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I do not doubt that there has been fault on her part as well as his, but I am inclined to think that his is the more serious. [p. 2]

[p. 6, after counseling men to improve their dealings with their wives:] I am offended by the sophistry that the only lot of the Latter-day Saint woman is to be barefoot and pregnant. It's a clever phrase, but it's false. Of course we believe in children. The Lord has told us to multiply and replenish the earth that we might have joy in our posterity, and there is no greater joy than the joy that comes of happy children in good families. But he did not designate the number, nor has the Church. That is a sacred matter left to the couple and the Lord. The official statement of the Church includes this language: "Husbands must be considerate of their wives, who have the greater responsibility not only of bearing children but of caring for them through childhood, and should help them conserve their health and strength. Married couples should exercise self-control in all of their relationships. They should seek inspiration from the Lord in meeting their marital challenges and rearing their children according to the teachings of the gospel (General Handbook of Instructions--1983--p. 77)"


February 12, 1996:5
Lauren Comstock quoting Hinckley's speech to students:
President Gordon B. Hinckley

"Build solid homes," he said. "I don't care about the size, I care about the spirit."

Stephanie said...

9(8):23-24, 1979
Dr. Homer Ellsworth
Gynecologist and former member of the Melchizedek Priesthood General Committee
[and approved by the First presidency prior to publication]

[responding to: Is our understanding that we are to propagate children as long and as frequently as the human body will permit? Is there not any kind of "gospel family planning", for lack of a better way to say it?]

...Thus, on the family questions, if we limit our families because we are self-centered or materialistic, we will surely develop a character based on selfishness. As the scriptures make clear, that is not a description of a celestial character....

...But, on the other hand, we need not be afraid of studying the question from the important angles--the physical or mental health of the mother and father, the parent's capacity to provide basic necessities, and so on. If for certain personal reasons a couple prayerfully decides that having another child immediately is unwise, the method of spacing children--discounting possible medical or physical effects--makes little difference. Abstinence, of course, is also a form of contraception, and like any other method it has side effects, some of which are harmful to the marriage relationship.

As a physician I am often required to treat social-emotional symptoms related to various aspects of living. In doing so I have always been impressed that our prophets past and present have never stipulated that bearing children was the sole function of the marriage relationship. Prophets have taught that physical intimacy is a strong force in strengthening the love bond in marriage, enhancing and reinforcing marital unity.

[regarding 1 Cor. 7:4-5, Joseph Smith Translation] ...Abstinence in marriage, Paul says, can cause unnecessary temptations and tensions, which are certainly harmful side effects.

...In addition, parents do owe their children the necessities of life. The desire for luxuries, of course, would not be an appropriate determinant of family size: luxuries are just not a legitimate consideration. I think every inspired human heart can quickly determine what is a luxury and what is not...

Stephanie said...

Sorry about all the messy/long comments. I tried to synthesize what I was saying better in a separate post.

Emily said...

Wow Stephanie, you are one quick thinker. Thanks for sharing all those quotes and your thoughts. I think those are beneficial to read. It is interesting seeing the change in delivery over the years. It's also interesting to note that if you watch old church videos, many of them really present their message through guilt (The Mailbox, Cipher in the Snow...). You just don't see that so much these days. There seems to have been a change in delivery overall -- not through guilt.

I do find the statements regarding self-control & abstinence in marriage very interesting. I don't know, but these days it seems like that is unacceptable, and I wonder if that's because of our sexed-up society. Everyone seems to expect it. I wonder, in the past, was it not that expected overall? I could go either way on this. I look at some ancestors and they had babies ALL THE TIME. Then I look at other ancestors, and they were called on missions for YEARS without their wives. Do we just expect sex more in our society?

I also find it interesting, that if you read about this topic of birth control on other Christian blogs that promote family, some I've seen do support Biblical methods of birth control ("spill the seed"). Not something I would have expected, but they seemed to try and take a balanced approach, too. High value on families, but not to the extent to kill off the mother (like in that sad example you shared from GBH).

kels said...

Neat question about how sexualization affects marriages... it's possible! But I'd also offer the perspective that though sexualization can be negative, we also have the positive development today that sex has, more than ever in the past, that actual love-making element. I'd venture the elevated status of women has also really improved the female sexual experience. Before we served the sole purpose of babymaker (generalization, but largely applicable in most cultures/nations), and so sex purely functional for the woman. Whereas now society rightfully values the woman's sexual experience in addition to the man's, and so sex isn't always only a means to an end (children).

I'm not really articulating myself well... and I'm not trying to open a new can of worms. My point is, one of the reasons sex might be more common is because the other half of the equation (women) is much more likely to enjoy it/have a positive experience these days! :)

Emily said...

My friend made an interesting comment tonight at RS that I wanted to tag onto this thread for future reference. She pointed out that when the leaders of the church were speaking more harshly against b.c. 40 years ago, that is also when b.c. was much more harmful than it is now. Of course, we don't know if that's WHY they said what they said, but one advantage of not using those early birth control pills/methods, protected a woman's health. My friend suggested that sometimes we are guided one direction and we don't know why, but we may see the consequences later. We just have to follow the promptings in all situations.

kels said...

Emily, that's a great insight. Thanks for sharing :)

Robyn said...

Birth control has come a long way but there are still many harmful effects of birth control. Just read the package inserts. Have you heard of the fertility awareness method? No side effects, just awareness such that you can space your children if needed.
Many women are unaware that hormonal birth control does not necessarily prevent conception, it just prevents implantation. It is so important to weigh the benefits and risks of any medication we take into our bodies especially for long-term use.

Robyn said...

Here is a link about how hormonal brith control can have an effect on your health and the health of your unborn children:

swedemom said...

Such a interesting conversation. Sorry I was so late coming to the party!

Here are my thoughts.

I think the current statement about family planning is worded in a carefully neutral way which allows couples the right to carefully consider their own circumstances and then make the best, inspired decision for their families. The statement neither advocates for birth control nor preaches against it. In my opinion, this statement, because it is most recent, supersedes all previous statements about birth control.

If you were to look at the families of General Authorities, you'll see a diversity of sizes. This leads me to believe that our General Authorities have made personal decisions about family size that are private.

What hasn't changed is the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth.

I believe that we need to be very mindful of our personal responsibility to fulfill this commandment. I don't think birth control should be the de facto position of any LDS couple, but neither should it be considered a grave sin to use it.

I was a little offended by the idea that only women who choose not to use birth control have "surrendered themselves to having children". I use birth control. I have my reasons for it and they are personal and private, AND I feel very much that I have consecrated/surrendered myself to having children.