The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly referred to as the LDS church, is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States. One of the primary principles is the concept of an eternal family and an eternal God. That is, the LDS church believes families can be together forever through Heavenly Father’s plan. In the church socially, infertile Mormon women may experience hardships and social ostracism due to this focus.
The Lonely Road of Infertility
According to the Center for Disease Controls (CDC), almost 7 million American women have impaired fecundity, which is over 10 percent of the female population. Over a million women every year are unable to successfully get pregnant. Many different cultures, societies, and ethnic groups still hold the traditional view that a women’s value is closely related to her fertility performance. That is, infertile women are considered a failure and even sinful if they are unable to successfully conceive a child.
Infertile women may even be shamed, stigmatized, and treated poorly. Conservative Christian groups, such as the LDS church, also consider infertility to be unacceptable either subtly or overtly. It’s not that they are alone in their stigmas and thoughts surrounding infertility, but the LDS church has long been a proponent of families and women today often find themselves excluded when childless or unmarried. Many women turn to institutions like Missouri Center for Reproductive Medicine to learn their infertility treatment options so they can join their peers in child-rearing.
Doctrine on the Family
President David O. McKay famously said in 1968 that “no other success can compensate for failure in the home.” This Mormon mantra is often quoted as the doctrinal reason why Mormons feel so strongly about raising families. In addition to this, the First Presidency released an official revelation entitled “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” in 1995. This important document summarizes the fundamental teachings of the LDS church about the family. One notable point is that the ancient commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve to “multiply and replenish the earth” is still in effect.
In addition to this, all Mormons are expected to get married and have children, which are considered a blessing from God. Failing to have children is in violation of God’s commandments. It also implies possible past or current sins which are blocking God’s blessings.
Young Mormons in the church today are starting families slower and less frequently as a whole and the church still struggles maintaining these doctrines in a fast changing modern world.
LDS Church Family Statistics
According to the Pew Research Center’s 2009 “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” over 70 percent of Mormons adults are married. In addition to this, 30 percent have one to two children, 20 percent have three or more, and 40 percent have none. The study also found that Mormons have the most amount of children living at home of any religious demonization. In addition to this, the average American home with four children at home is almost 10 percent, compared to the national 3 percent. LDS church doctrine clearly teaches that young adults are expected to marry and raise large families. Anyone who fails to do this is considered to be out of line with church doctrine.
It’s not a hard and fast rule, but certainly a way of life common in Mormon families. Being outside the norm is very lonely and can shape how couples are treated in the hierarchy of the social aspects of church life.
The Stigma of Infertility
Women who are unable to conceive often experience guilt, shame, anger, and frustration. In addition, there is social pressure and stigmatizing that takes place for couples who decide not to have children. For example, there is nothing more difficult for an infertile woman than dealing with a critical family members, such as a judgmental mother-in-law.
In the LDS church, married females are expected to have as many children as possible. New LDS church members will repeatedly be asked the standard greeting questions of “are you married?” and “do you have children?” The informal LDS church social hierarchy is often established through answering these two basic questions. Most church members are sincere and simply want to know if fellow members are following God’s commandments. However, there is of course stigmatizing and social ostracism from others. It’s a subtle jab that drives many young childless couples and even singles from the church.
Female LDS church members are expected to obediently raise as many children as possible. Infertility is a stressful experience for any woman, and even if the male in the relationship is infertile, it often falls to the woman to bear this burden. Dr. Gilbert Webb says that with technology today, even high risk pregnancies are becoming less an ordeal. Couples in the LDS church have many barriers to overcome and must live with the stigma that surrounds infertility and childlessness, but even adoption and insemination are becoming more accepted. Hopefully with time and more empathetic teachings, the church can turn this stigma around and focus less on family and more on individual spirituality.