“Alexa- set an alarm for 10:30” “Alarm set for 10:30 AM.”
It’s Monday morning and the house is quiet. I have no chores, no laundry to fold. There is no stroller to push around the block, no little feet tiptoeing down the hall. I am alone.
I turn on the TV, switch it to “Chopped”, and tuck into a very large bowl of cereal. The window is open and the sweet smell of spring dances through the window with the warm rays of sun. Birds sing. The day has begun.
I open Facebook and scroll through the stories. My cousin has had a baby. She’s shared a photo of her lovingly embracing her daughter and newborn son. I scroll further. A friend shared her family pictures. We are close to the same age, and she now has four children. They’re almost glowing with joy. Another friend posted that she is pregnant and is positively oozing over the pink polka dot wallpaper she found for her nursery.
My sister-in-law is expecting in several months. A co-worker has just given birth to twins. They have sweet little pink faces; little pink toes… I lock my phone. It’s 10:05, and I’m in bed, half-watching the food network, waiting for Alexa to remind me to head to work. I have no pairs of little socks to find matches to or little fingers covered in peanut butter. I have no morning chaos of catching the bus to school or putting last minute touches on art projects. There are no little pink faces or little pink toes. I am alone.
I’m 27 years old, a graduate from BYU, and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I keep a current temple recommend, and my husband and I have been joyfully married for 8 years. Despite this, in moments of doubt, I feel like I’ve been left behind. I feel a little empty. I feel discouraged.
My husband and I met when I was 18 and he was fresh off his mission at 21. We found each other online on LDS Singles, and after meeting in person, we were engaged within three months and married four months later. It was like a fairy-tale; love at first sight, head over heels, ready to jump into the unknown together sort of love. My non-member friends who announced engagements planned on waiting at least two years to get married, something that my husband and I agreed would not be necessary. We were undeniably in love and devoted to each other. We were ready to start eternity together.
It seemed that every Sunday, there was at least one member from the relief society who would stop me in the hall between meetings to ask when we were planning on starting a family and how many children we would have. Our plans weren’t set in stone so I would just politely let them know that we hadn’t decided quite yet. Other young couples in our ward became pregnant right away. My mind was a little boggled- We hadn’t not been trying, but it didn’t seem like anyone had to try too hard to have kids. I tried to not let it bother me- our time would come.
With all of the excitement of new additions to families within the ward, my parents became very excited, especially my mother. She dedicated a small room in her home for a grandchild. She got out my old toys and clothes. She painted and decorated with the expectation of welcoming a new member to our little family. I went through my hope chest and found all sorts of projects I had worked on in Young Women’s to help me prepare for family life some day. There were a lot of poems and lists of hopes and dreams, secret family recipes, children’s books, bags filled with onesies, stuffed animals, quilts, afghans, and cute little baby booties. I started to get excited. It all became tangible and real. Our family of two could soon become three.
During our first year I was called to the nursery, and I absolutely loved teaching and hanging out with the children. I loved being with those kids–and to be honest, I felt much more secure with these kids than I did in my adult classes. They were so full of the spirit. My favorite time of nursery was holding and comforting the children. One child in particular had autism. He snuggled with me during lessons and at times would fall asleep in my arms. He was the most precious child. One boy knew all the names for the dinosaurs, but he couldn’t remember his colors. One had a wheat allergy and had to have special snacks. One loved to build train tracks. I was in the nursery for three years and I loved (most) of it.
After a while, people stop asking when you’re going to have children. I can’t say when exactly, but it was several years into our marriage. At this point, my husband had taken a job as a security officer at BYU and was scheduled to work most Sundays. The questions had phased from “When are you having children?” to “Did you get divorced?” I assured them we were still happily married, but my mind became concerned. It felt like we were no longer a “typical” couple; at least it felt like that. We were different from the other couples our age in the ward. It began to feel like we–no–I was not meeting my self-imposed expectations. Of course at the time, those expectations felt very much external, and it was a weight that began to grow heavy.
My peers at church now had children in primary. My group of kiddos moved onto Sunbeams. I was released from Nursery and we moved to Missouri. Three more years passed.
“Alexa, What time is it?”
“The time is 10:15 AM. Hope you’re having a good day, Sydney.”
I have crossed a path in my mind; a superficial, prefabricated ideal of what a family should look like in the church. Of course, my family has never been “normal,” but my mind is nagging me, and it’s loud, and it’s hard to ignore. I can’t help but feel that something isn’t right. I feel like I’m left behind.
I’m seeing my friends and family share their growing families on social media- I watch their kids grow up, and I wonder what it would be like to take my kids on playdates and lunches or take them to nursery and see them grow in the gospel. As I get older, I start to wonder if we will ever have kids, and the trip inside my head starts to be a worrisome string of thoughts: Maybe it won’t ever happen? Maybe we are unable to have children for some reason or another? Am I not physically ready? Financially? Spiritually? Am I doing something wrong? I start to doubt myself, I start to doubt my husband. Is he ready to have kids? Do we have enough patience? Enough time? Is my job not good enough? Maybe I’m not good enough.
I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about this part of life too intensely since it causes some degree of distress, but it’s something that really can’t be avoided. Even more recently it’s been evolving from a purely internal struggle to a spiritual one as well. I’ve begun to worry if I will be punished by God if for some reason I am unable to fulfill the first commandment to “multiply and replenish the earth”. I’ve begun to worry that perhaps I’ve been prideful and this is, in and of itself, a punishment. Maybe deep down I never wanted children to begin with and it has manifested itself in my life a la “The Secret”.
I wanted to know that I wasn’t alone, so I reached out to my parents for advice. I was reminded that my parents’ morning was beginning very differently from my own.
It is dark. The clock in the hall ticks softly but its sound fills the room. He opens his eyes. His body aches. His bones ache. His soul aches. He lays awake in the dark, alone with his thoughts and the ticking clock which pounds in his head. He is trapped.
His wife stirs.
“Annemarie- I need to get up.”
My father has cerebral palsy. This is a condition that resulted from a premature birth which affects the part of the brain that controls balance and motor control. Confined to a wheelchair, my dad faces obstacles that most of us do not. He is dependent on others for most of his daily activities from getting dressed to bathing. He has use of one hand and almost no control over his legs. This not only creates constant physical challenges, but it also invites emotional and spiritual challenges as well. The weight of unmet responsibilities and expectations, whether self-imposed or externally given, is devastating. My dad is constantly reminded of the things he yearns to do for his family that he simply cannot.
I expressed that I was feeling pressure to fulfill this perfect picture I had created for myself. I asked him if he had ever felt pressure to do anything in particular, and without skipping a beat he replied: going on a mission.
“Prior to my actual mission, I was known as a tweaker–not that kind of tweaker. So a ‘two-weeker’ is someone who went on a two week mission [to prepare for an actual mission], and that was the worst experience of my life. The elders didn’t want me there, and they didn’t want to deal with me. I had no help from companions for two weeks. After that experience, I really didn’t want to go on a mission. I went because I felt pressured to go. I did end up going on a proselytizing mission. The MTC ended up being great; I made some good friends, and they were excited to go with me. I was only out on a mission for 6 months and I went home. If there was any time in my life my testimony was tested, it was then… Even though I’ve had my share of obstacles, my testimony was never shaken to the point where I didn’t believe anymore.”
I view my father as a pillar of faith. He has had several lifetimes worth of tribulations, such as spending months on end in the hospital for operations and procedures, or having the uncertainty of maintaining a job. He fills his spare time with gospel study, and he especially loves delving into resurrection, salvation, translation, and “looking beyond the wheelchair” as he calls it. He’s found that when he’s stressed, diving into scripture study and feasting on the words of Christ (2 Nephi 32:3), help ease his mind and relieve stress. It’s not a permanent fix, but continually being able to turn to the scriptures offers comfort and guidance.
My parents often rely on the charity and kindness of family, friends, and church members to meet daily needs. Because my mom has a full time job and provides care to her husband, the dishes are often left in the sink, the floor is unswept, and the yard is in need of repair. The young women in their ward have taken on service projects to help clear weeds, vacuum floors, wash windows and help with any other chores that may have honestly not seemed as important. These young women have such sweet spirits, and they will drop by sometimes unplanned just to see if there’s anything they can do to help. The member’s in their ward have come at a moment’s notice to help, especially when my parents have been in distress, like when my dad fell out of his wheelchair, or when my mom is unable to help him transfer from the bed. One member diligently shovels the drive when it snows. Another offered to help my dad get ready for work to give my mom extra time to sleep. As my parents get older, I’m especially grateful for the time, energy and love that the members of the ward have dedicated to helping my parents be safe.
My mother does an amazing job providing care for my father and finding capacities to serve others around her. Her heart is filled with a special charity and love that is rare to find. However sometimes she feels frustrated and alone.
“Most of my friends… don’t have a clue about what I do, and what I need to do. It’s hard to have a sense that there’s someone who understands,” my mother lamented.
“I remember before you were born…It took us a long time to get pregnant. So we would go to church and there’s all these people with kids, and-”
“There’s an expectation…for women to have as many babies as quickly as possible,” my father added.
“And I just remember …and even now people are shocked I only have one child.” “Well, we had some miscarriages, and I count those as children. It’s just something in our society, within and outside the church, there’s these expectations that are put on you, for women to have children, not have children, or have lots of children. I have a lot of regret, even though it wasn’t my fault, that I didn’t have more children.”
Even though my mother may not have had a large family, she has been, and continues to be, the single most angelic person I have ever met in my life. Not only is she soft, but she is strong. She is courageous. She has had a successful career and has earned her Master’s degree. She’s begun her own adventure in starting a business. I asked her what her motivation was to further her education.
“I had to step forward to support our family. I looked and I could not find a job with a Bachelor’s degree, and I was not qualified enough to do anything, So I went into rehabilitation counseling. I’m the first and only one in my immediate family to get a degree. One of my biggest influences was a sister in our ward whose husband died while playing ward basketball, and I remember her talking about the importance of self-sufficiency. Since he had a life insurance plan, his family was taken care of financially, but she had to take on the role of mom and dad. She had a bunch of little kids, and I remember hearing her story and thinking; I’ve gotta step it up. I need to be more self-sufficient, and the only way that’s going to happen is if I make the sacrifice now and get the blessing later. I want to set a good example for my daughter.”
I dug a little deeper and was curious about how my father felt about his “expectations”, like roles meant for mothers and fathers. I brought up this excerpt from The Family: A Proclamation to the World-
“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families… Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.”
He said, “One of things I struggle with more than anything else- I wish I was the one who was mowing the lawn, fixing things, providing for my family, but I can’t. My idea of heaven is being able to mow the lawn and do the things that you’re supposed to do as a husband and father. However, I don’t think Heavenly Father really cares that I don’t mow the lawn or paint the house, but He does care what I continue to do to live up to the covenants I made in the temple. That proclamation not only deals with different family circumstances, but it lays out expectations. It’s funny- salvation and exaltation is universal, but it’s also individual and personal. I think that’s why [the First Presidency]- or that Heavenly Father- threw in that extra sentence because there are going to be extra circumstances.”
Alexa softly hums a country song.
I set the dogs up so I can be gone for the day, put on my shoes, and head out the door. I have no little baby socks or toys strewn about the living room, but I can be grateful for my two feet that will take me to work today and my loving husband who has been enduring and patient. I’m thankful I have a job that keeps our family finances stable. I am exceptionally happy for my friends who have been blessed with children. I’m grateful for parents who have sacrificed so much for the life I have today. I’m thankful that I have had no unseen tragedies that have thrown my life for a loop. And at the end of it all, I have a loving Savior who has walked the road ahead of me and has prepared a way for me; for me personally to make it all the way. Whether or not we are able to have children, is of lesser consequence. When it comes down to it, the Lord is aware of our individual circumstances. He is aware of me. What matters most is enduring in faith and doing the best I can with the trials that are given to me.
Today I have the words of my parents on my mind- that the gospel is personal. Our trials are personal. But personal does not mean alone. I have the examples and love of strong and courageous parents who walked a similar path to my own, and I have the never ending love of a personal Savior who is with me every step of the journey.
While there may be perceived cultural expectations for what I should accomplish in my life, what is most important is being a loving partner to my husband and fulfilling and keeping the covenants that I have made. I can redefine these expectations; they can evolve from a hindrance and a weight to become opportunities to teach and to grow. I can “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if [I] shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”(2 Nephi 31:21)
And I am not alone.