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Despite my Mormon Upbringing

Published in Keeping it Under Wraps: Parenthood, Uncensored

By Jessica Joe

Having grown up a young woman and a faithful member of the LDS church (more commonly recognized as Mormonism), it was pounded into my skull from a very young age that my preordained mission here on Earth is to multiply fruitfully and to serve as a vessel, a holy elevator of sorts, to transport God’s chosen souls onto the planet.

This ‘mission’ to birth children of my own was deemed to be the most sacred and vital of any mission within the church. In fact, I distinctly remember a profound moment in seminary class when a Sister teacher (we’ll call her Sister Emery) firmly scolded me for stating that I wanted to serve an LDS mission more than anything else.

In case you’re unaware, an LDS mission is when a pair of young church members leave their homes, often traveling out of the country, to teach others about God’s gospel. Mormon missionaries go door to door and baptize individuals who choose to join the religion. Men are expected to serve missions at the age of eighteen and women can choose to serve a mission at nineteen (originally twenty-one), but a Sister’s first priority should be to marry and start a family with a returned missionary.

Within the church community, it was often joked that missions for women were more for ‘sweet spirits’, meaning women who were not quite pretty enough to be married off before twenty-one. Such ideologies are luckily dying out within the church, but the attitude that women are most valuable when acting as a parent was indeed a contributing factor to my religious upbringing and the strong social pressure to have children.

Missionaries also provide many necessary services within the communities they serve, like taking care of the elderly and sick, working at food pantries, providing goods for those in need and even building homes and schools in other countries. It is this aspect of serving that appealed to me most as a young LDS woman.

At the young age of fourteen, all I wanted was to serve others and to share what I believed to be God’s gospel and light to the world, which would surely bring peace and happiness to everyone I touched. I intended to fulfill this desire through an LDS mission. I was certain that anything my male peers could do, I could do just as well or even better – the church would be blessed to have my help as a missionary!

I was confident, outspoken, friendly, energetic, and a bright ball of sunshine. I knew I was meant to help people – after all, I felt strongly called to it. On top of that, I had no interest in having children. Serving others across the world seemed much more important. But it just so happened that, apparently, these intentions were not in alignment with my true purpose.

‘Your priority should be to find your eternal companion and start a family,’ the elderly Sister firmly reminded me in front of the class. ‘Leave the missions for the men. Nothing is more sacred than being a mother in holy union. That is your true divine duty.’

It seemed she found my ambitious attitude disruptive to the general status quo. My ears rang as I blushed red from the public correction in front of my peers. My mind flashed back to the years of Young Women’s activities designed to prepare the female youth to be mothers. Young Women’s activities vary from ward to ward, but ours mostly consisted of things like sewing and scrap-booking. I even remember a joint activity where the young men played basketball and the women… well, our activity that night was to make the men dinner for when they were done.

Still, I had always felt in my heart, even in that moment while Sister Emery scolded me, maybe especially in that moment, that I was not at all destined to bear children. In fact, maybe I wasn’t even destined to stay in a religious community that so strongly expected me to have kids and who discretely shamed those who disagreed. At seventeen, I broke free from the stigmas, dogma and expectations, and I left the church.

Though my circumstances may have prodded me in the direction of family a bit more strongly than some women, this ideology is hardly different from the modern status quo. Having a family is, after all, a major mile marker for any accomplished or happy life. I often find myself asking, why is that? Has society led us to believe having children is the ultimate accomplishment, on purpose?

I can’t help but think about how some societies reward mothers who breed prolifically. Many thriving global organizations understand that if you encourage your members to multiply in large numbers, you end up with more profit as well as a stronger, longer-lasting movement – all crucial factors for a successful mass scale operation.

Society is like a rat maze experiment, or perhaps a cattle barn: by encouraging civilizations to produce a lot of offspring, it greatly benefits the cogs of consumerism. From a pessimistic standpoint, perhaps this is the only real reason women are often encouraged to bear so many children.

On the other hand, some women would love nothing more than to pursue raising a family – and it goes without saying that we are all in debt to the brave parents who wish to act in a conscious and responsible fashion. It is not my intent to demonize parenthood. Hey, someone’s gotta do it.

Ever since I was twelve, I have known that I don’t want children. In fact, the idea has always repulsed me. Now that I’m twenty-four, my disdain toward the idea has only grown stronger. In fact, despite my Mormon upbringing, I would genuinely probably rather stay single and alone forever than have a biological child of my own. This attitude was something my well-intended mother and aunts consistently assured me will eventually pass.

‘You will want kids someday with the right guy,’ they’d urgently reassure me despite my conviction to remain single and without children. ‘Being a mother is the happiest joy in the world.’

All the amazing women in my life may be correct: perhaps I am missing out on the essence of life. After all, isn’t reproducing and carrying on your genetics the very point of existence? Don’t cells reproduce or split themselves into copies out of pure natural design?

I’ve actually always had an interesting theory about my intense desire to keep my genetics to myself. Maybe as a mode of self-defense, mother Gaia began producing children who felt the strong urge to not reproduce. Maybe after the wars, pollution, and oppressive structures, she put some breaks on the whole operation and that’s why people like me are naturally resistant toward the idea of multiplying. It’s simply our instinct by design – and so perhaps we have our part to play in this grand plan too.

My strong feelings about never having kids sound like they would apply to adopting a child as well, but strangely, this is not the case. In the correct circumstances – perhaps when I’m forty, have a large sum of wealth, a supportive partner, and a whole lot of free time – I would love to adopt two or three children who are in need of a safe, open, loving environment. My need to not have children isn’t because of any unhealed childhood trauma or lack of desire for added responsibility, but rather a deep-seated feeling that my mission is to help others in need instead of having children of my own.

Is this a selfish and unholy desire? Or could one argue I am part of a generation meant to serve as a type of clean-up crew for the hurting Earth? A type of natural emergency break for the machine that is mega-consumerism.

So if you also feel like you’re pushing against the enormous currents of influences that are your society, your community, your religion, or even your family and friends, maybe it would help to not think of yourself as selfish or out of place for not wanting children, but rather that you are doing your own part.

I believe our desires are not accidental but by design. It is crucial that we all stay true to our own personal missions, whether that be to bravely have children or to bravely decline.

-Jessica Joe

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