Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Family Planning?

The Question:

I'll be celebrating my 29th birthday in a few weeks, and my new husband and I (married almost 6 months) are starting to plan for a family. We have both always wanted a large family, but I feel slightly discouraged that I may not be able to have that many kids, considering that my "fertile and safe" years may be slightly numbered as I exit my twenties. My question for you is, what is your opinion on family planning (more, rather than less) for someone who has around ten years to have kids? Am I even accurate in thinking that I have about ten years? I've just always heard that one's risk for birth defects and complications are much higher after forty. I've also heard that it is "unsafe" for a woman's body to space children less than 18 months apart. How would you approach the goal of bringing children to earth if you were in my situation and stage of life?

No matter what, I am simply eternally grateful to Heavenly Father that he guided my husband and me to be able to find each other. The twenties can be so lonely and discouraging when hoping for an eventual companion. Even if we have one child, however that happens, I will be that much more grateful to have the opportunity of being a mother.


The Answer:

Your question is a good one--and it gives me the chance to answer a few other questions I've received regarding family planning. "How do I know it's time to have a baby?" "How did you plan your family?"

My husband and I made the decision when we were married to let the children come. Even way back then, it wasn't the norm and we took some criticism as we pursued this rather "wreckless" course. But this was the church guideline at the time:

"We seriously 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."

This, I think, is the guideline now:

"It is the privilege of married couples who are able to bear children to provide mortal bodies for the spirit children of God, whom they are then responsible to nurture and rear. The decision as to how many chldren to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter."

The first directive is a lot more "directive" and it's easy to see--in a world-wide church, why the counsel was modified over the years. Now the decision is entirely between a couple and the Lord. I truly respect every couple's right to make that choice. I don't try to impose my decision on anyone--even my own married children. The decision is enormous and is yours to make.

But I will share with you my thoughts and feelings and the reasons for my decisions.
For me, the core doctrine that inspired both of the above statements, is very clear. We have a purpose on the earth--to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. My choice to bring a baby into my home insures that this little spirit will be nurtured, loved and taught--that they will each receive every ordinance they need. But more than that, they will begin a new generation that is solid and committed. Each child will stand at the head of their own generation and I have the privilege to prepare them for that.

In that first statement above, I really appreciate the last line--that those who limit their families "will reap disappointment by and by". Disappointment is the perfect word. Not punishment or condemnation--just disappointment at what we might have had, and chose not to. These are the thoughts that have motivated my choice to have all the children that I can.

In the process and through the years, I have been richly blessed for that decision. I have seen each child as a direct gift and blessing from God--not as an accident. I've approached the Lord with confidence for help with my children and I've been blessed with ideas, resources and even miracles. Raising a family "unto the Lord" has made me feel a very strong and deep connection to him and a sense of purpose and mission that gives meaning to my everyday life.

I didn't come at it super qualified. I was the youngest in a very spread out family--so I had little experience with babies or homemaking. But I was willing--and if you think about it, a "willing heart" has always been the Lord's only requirement. I just gave myself over to the process fully. Today, I can hardly read the scripture "He who loses his life shall find it" without feeling like it was written just for me. In layers and layers of ways, I have found joy and fulfillment as a person. I could fill a book with stories and examples of tiny and huge experiences with my children. And it's truly been a wonderful venture and partnership with my husband. Our children are our joy!

The church's current statement on the subject is your ultimate guideline and it's perfect. It allows for people to consider their abilities and situation. It allows for couples to make unified decisions and respects their agency. Dalin Oakes gave an excellent talk a few years ago on the subject. He said, "How many children should you have?....All you can." And that number, for many reasons, is different for everyone.

If I were turning 29 and had some years ahead, I would fill them up with children. But that's me. It will be exciting for you to discover what the Lord has in store for you.

With Love,


  1. What a beautiful, well-written, and succinct post. We have similar feelings about having children and I answered a similar question on my blog here

    To add to the original question, I might add that I would be really hesitant to make important, huge decisions like this based on what you've "heard." I've "heard" many of the same things over the years, about exactly how far apart is safe, what the risks are for birth defects, etc., and usually, a little research shows most of these things as wrong.

    For instance, I had "heard" that it was best to wait at least a year after a baby before trying to get pregnant. In those pre-internet days after my first baby, I was taken aback by it (partly because it felt like the wrong choice for me), but as I asked around to friends and such, everyone said, "yep, that's the best way." or "A woman's body has to recover."

    But then I brought it up to my doctor, a very busy, well-educated OB with a gruff but efficient manner. "Where did you hear that?" he said. "That's totally untrue. As long as you can emotionally handle it, you can have babies every nine months for the rest of your life."

    And I wouldn't worry that much about the risks as you age, either. Obviously, they should be taken into account, but the rates for Down Syndrome, the most common birth defect, after 35 are still very, very small, about 1 in 350. The bigger risk, and one that many women are finding to their sorrow, is that fertility declines as you age.

    For me, it comes down to the purpose of life. I had a friend tell me that she'd heard that having lots of kids could shorten your life. "Aren't you worried about that?" she asked.

    "Well, I haven't heard that," I replied, "but even if its true, so what? So I die a little bit sooner. At least I know I've lived my life to the fullest and done all I could to live a happy and productive life."

  2. This post and Christina's comment are all really great! This blog is such a wonderful resource for insightful wisdom.

  3. Thank you SOOO much. I can't believe the timing of this post. Just today I was at the mall exercising and pushing my 3 kids in one stroller. Another pair of mall walkers commented on the number of kids in the stroller (as they all do) and she asked (rather rudely) if I was "done." Although I've always known that people think things like that, it really bothered me that she'd say that to me, a stranger who was nothing but pleasant to her. I have felt defensive and annoyed towards her all day, long after I came home. I've been brainstorming all the things I wish I'd said, (or am glad I didn't say), and more importantly, wondered what Christ would have had me respond. How interesting that I then read this post. Thanks for echoing what I feel inside and what my husband and I are going about doing. I'm not afraid to go ahead with what we feel good about despite the world. But knowing you are not alone in opinion or in the endeavor is sure encouraging. Your post makes me feel justified and comforted, mostly because of how the Spirit made me feel as I read your thoughts and pondered the topic. Thanks!

  4. I am crying because I just posted my thoughts on this exact topic on my blog. Thank you for this post and the quotes that you shared.

  5. I just have to say how much I love that the church has modified the wording of their policies/guidelines now to allow for personal application. As an English major, it never ceases to amaze me how PERFECTLY things are worded. Like the Proclamation on the Family. Beautifully written, just the right amount of clear and yet also vague. I just love that the church leaders and our Heavenly Father know that we are all unique and that different circumstances warrant different decisions. He trusts us to study, ponder, pray, and then make our own decisions and stand by it.

    Thanks for the post Jane! Pretty much concreting my baby-hungriness! :)

  6. As someone who struggles and agonizes emotionally over whether or not I can handle another child (to the point where I get physically ill and deeply depressed at times) I say, have one to start with. And then see how it goes, and have another as the Spirit directs. And then see how it goes, and have another as the Spirit directs. And so forth.

    Do not feel pressured by past Church directives--they have changed for a reason, I believe. The counsel to multiply and replenish the earth is still there. The commandment to have children is still there. But it is okay for you to take the emotional time you need to adjust to being a mother, and if that emotional time means you don't have a baby every year, you are not a bad person or a bad mother.

    Some women are blessed to love being a mother. And some of us have to work at loving it, and struggle with guilt/resentment over not enjoying it. But I have to believe that God loves me anyway, that He appreciates my offering of three kids too, because it's what I can handle without going crazy.

    I really hope that the last line of the current counsel, "Church members should not judge one another in this matter" is something that everyone takes to heart. I do admire and look up to Jane as someone I can learn from; I also hope fervently that she, and other large-familied women, would not judge me because I don't have as many children as she does.

  7. Hello!
    I am having my third pregancy within two and half years...thats right, my next bundle of joy (planned) will arrive approx.6 weeks after my youngest has turned one and my oldest has turned two. I get lots of comments from friends and strangers about how "mad" I must be! However, my Husband and I always wanted to have our babies close together in age and so far its just been great. Furthermore, physically I am in great health and have had absolutely no problems - so far! I think insensitive comments are often made without forethought and generally expose an insecurity with regard to the different choices people make in life. I often respond to a negative/sensationalist comment with a really positive one!

  8. I love your comment jaydubmeister. Obviously, no one should judge anyone, especially concerning this deeply personal choice.

    But often people feel free to pass judgement on those of us who want larger families or who have children very close together. We have definitely experienced people who have questioned our choice or who feel perfectly fine letting us know that they don't approve of it, and we live in Utah. I'm not bitter at all about this and don't expect people to understand our choice, but I think it's interesting that there IS judgement on both sides.

    I thought this was a beautifully written post that emphasizes that the Lord has a different plan for everyone.

  9. I'm also 29 and got married almost 2 years ago so we've been talking a lot about starting a family this year. Both us came from families with 4 kids so we're thinking 3 or 4 would be good(still seems pretty big to me), although I like to say that we'll start with one and go from there, like "M" said.

    There was an older single guy in our ward who gave me a big lecture about not having any kids right way and how birth control is bad (very awkward conversation to say the least), guess he wasn't aware of the new guidelines. I like that the Church has placed the decision in the hands of the couple, while still encouraging everyone to have children.

    It really is so personal and everyone and their situations are so different. I think it's great that some people want to have lots of kids and raise them in good homes. What a blessing for the kids and their parents. For better or worse I'm not one of those people and I'm totally fine with that. I think Heavenly Father understands our individual limitations and abilities and doesn't want us to feel bad about our decisions.

    It's a shame people feel so comfortable in judging others. Like my mamma always says, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

  10. Just to add I think it's very interesting that society has become very anti-children within the last few years. "Children increase our carbon-footprint" "It's selfish to have more than one child." (just read that one today).

    It's so sad that such a personal decision between a couple is under attack in today's society.

    But in disagreement from one of the comments above I've heard a doctor say in a lecture that it take a woman 3 years to completely recover from a pregnancy. Although I would say it just depends on the woman and her health.

  11. This question is a tough one for me. Personally, it is hard for me to discern when I am being prudent and wise in my thinking about family planning, and when I am letting fear get in the way of faith.
    I do believe that raising a righteous family is a primary purpose of this life; yet, there are all the temporal worries: my own strength and energy, the emotional needs of children (how many children can I really care for), and providing materially.
    Since having 2 kids, I tend to think that we may have less children than we originally had planned when we were newlweds. Though I think about this issue OFTEN, and worry about being selfish in my planning.

  12. We all need to worry less about what other people think, don't we? Let's remember that there are apostles who had lots of children, and those who didn't have very many children. Do we look at them when they get up at General Conference and judge their righteousness according to THEIR family size? No, and they don't judge us either.
    Also, having children very close together CAN hurt the health of some. Natalie is a great example of someone who IS healthy (as well as other ladies who posted above). My sister in-law is just the opposite. Her health was terrible since the first of 8 babies. She was advised by her doctors to take it easy (multiple times) but her husband didn't believe in birth control under any circumstances (and is apparently smarter than her OBs but that's another topic all together). After many severe health complications over and over again, almost dying multiple times and finally full uterine rupture at 30 wks (that was the final straw for the docs), she was forced to get her tubes tied for if she got pregnant again she would surely die - in fact, it was a miracle from God that she didn't die this last time. The ironic part is that she is only 30. If she had spaced her kids out just a little bit, she might still be able to be having kids for another 10 years. In her case the signs were there from baby #1 - her body needed rest. Every BODY is different. It is more important to be a healthy mom to 2 kids then to kill yourself trying to have 10. Do what is right for you - like M said, take it one baby at a time and go by the spirit. You'll know. Listen to your body, your mind, your spirit. When they are in harmony, get to it! ;^)

  13. So much good has already been shared, I will just add an additional perspective... I have a friend who has 5 birth children. She had her last around 40, but still wanted more. Recently she and her husband just adopted a beautiful baby boy, and they plan to adopt again. Adoption is not the answer for everyone, but it can also be a beautiful way to build an eternal family... you are still bringing Heavenly Father's spirits into your home to love and nurture and be yours forever. It doesn't really matter in the eternities who they genetically got their body from. I just thought I'd throw that out there to consider if you ever get to the point where continuing to bear children no longer feels right, but growing your family does. Listening to your body, your heart, and the Spirit as others have said is the key. =)

  14. I like what Jeanerbee said. My sister had 4 kids in about 7 years and just couldn't handle being pregnant again, so she got the surgery. But a few years later she felt like it was time to have another baby and she thought maybe she made the wrong decision, but it was too late. Well, she and her husband were able to adopt a little boy recently and they plan on taking it one kid at a time. If they feel like they should get another one, they will.

    This question also makes me laugh because my husband and I have such different feelings about "spacing" our kids. My mom had 9 kids in 15 years so I always wanted to have them fairly close together. I thought if I got pregnant at 18 months, that would be perfect. My husband wanted to wait until our daughter was 2, maybe longer. It took so much convincing to get him to go for the first pregnancy, that I didn't want to get pushy with this one until it was time.

    Anyway, when our daughter was 18 months (and I still hadn't nagged him... I'm so proud of myself!) he said he thought it was time to try. (To be honest, I would have started trying when she was 1 if it was up to me, but that's definitely a 2 person decision.) Anyway, the funny part is that now I'm 3 months pregnant with #2 and he walked in on me the other day and said, "I'm worried we made the wrong choice. I think Heavenly Father might have told me No to having another baby right now." I couldn't help but laugh. I little late for second thoughts, don't you think? I assured him that I had been praying for months that we would get pregnant "when it was right," so I was confident we made the right choice. Besides, I think outside of health concerns, Heavenly Father would never say "No" to a married couple trying to have babies. Oh, husbands... My next project is to talk him into 5 kids instead of 4. ;)

  15. I think its most important to remember that "able" means to be able to handle children temporally, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. The purpose I found of this post is not to judge others (even if that means their kids are 5 years apart (gasp!), and also that everyone is different. Individual medical advice DOES matter, as does prayer and consultation with your spouse. Adoption is a wonderful option, not just to enlarge your family, but also to enable children to have a great home. Good luck!

  16. I came back to this blog to re-read some of my favorite posts...I miss Jane! But I know she's getting her degree, and is really busy. This was my question for Jane, two years ago. And now, in one month, my husband and I are expecting our first baby! A boy. We are really excited.


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