Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Infertility and the Scriptural Promise

Before I begin my series on birth stories from the scriptures I feel like I need to address the topic of infertility. Most of the stories about birth in the scriptures revolve around women's inability to have children. In fact I'd say that the trial of infertility is one that God has given to some of his strongest and most select daughters. Women like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, the mother of Samson, the Shunamite, Hannah, and Elisabeth all struggled with extended periods of "bareness", the ancient term for infertility. As I've been reading their stories I've been pondering on why some women are given the trial of bareness and others aren't. It has confused me why God denies some women the pure and most sacred desires of their hearts-- and from an LDS perspective I have been doubly confused because in the church we are often taught that women's motherhood and men's priesthood are equal and complimentary responsibilities.

Yet I've questioned how motherhood, since it is biologically defined, can really be equal to priesthood, which is spiritually defined? I remember one dear friend, who had gone through almost a decade of infertility before conceiving her four children, tell me how bitter she was when for years she watched 12-year-old boys be ordained to the priesthood, while she-- a full grown and righteous woman-- could not become a mother. I've been pondering on this conundrum and while I could explain it in my own words, I think that Sheri Dew explained it best. She said:

" ...While we tend to equate motherhood solely with maternity, in the Lord’s language, the word mother has layers of meaning. Of all the words they could have chosen to define her role and her essence, both God the Father and Adam called Eve “the mother of all living”—and they did so before she ever bore a child. Like Eve, our motherhood began before we were born. Just as worthy men were foreordained to hold the priesthood in mortality,righteous women were endowed premortally with the privilege of motherhood. Motherhood is more than bearing children, though it is certainly that. It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits our Father gave us...

...Motherhood is not what was left over after our Father blessed His sons with priesthood ordination. It was the most ennobling endowment He could give His daughters, a sacred trust that gave women an unparalleled role in helping His children keep their second estate. As President J. Reuben Clark Jr. declared, motherhood is “as divinely called, as eternally important in its place as the Priesthood itself.” (Are We Not All Mothers, Ensign. Nov. 2001)

Priesthood and motherhood really are equal and complimentary roles. Just as there are women on this earth who are unable to bear children, there have been men on this earth who have been unable to bear the priesthood. For example, in the Old Testament out of all the 12 tribes only the Levites were authorized to hold and use the priesthood. In the New Testament there was a time when the Gentiles were not allowed to partake of priesthood blessings and in our modern day it hasn't been until the last thirty years that all men have been able to hold the priesthood in the LDS church regardless of their race or skin color (Official Declaration 2). We really don't know why the Lord put these restrictions on priesthood authority, except that God has His own reasons that we don't always understand. In a similar manner, we don’t really know why some women aren’t able to bear children in this life despite all our medical advances. Yet it is a beautiful promise to women to know that just as now all worthy men are able to hold the priesthood, that some day all worthy women will be able to become mothers... it is part of their eternal nature and birthright.

The scriptures bear powerful testimony of this because in them we see that ALL, let me repeat that ALL, the women in the scriptures who are mentioned as "barren" eventually bear children of their own. Even women like Sarah and Elisabeth who were almost 100 years old, and with whom it would have been physically impossible for them to have children, bear sons from their bodies. These stories bear truth to promise that motherhood is an eternal calling and that all women are mothers and that they will eventually, in this life or the next, bear their own biological children. Remember the scripture in Isaiah 54: 1, 7 that says:
" Sing O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord... For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee."
As you read the birth stories from the women in the scriptures I hope you will see that they bear strong testimony of the fact that motherhood is an eternal calling and it is part of what it means to be an eternal and exalted woman, that priesthood is an eternal calling and part of what it means to be an eternal and exalted man, and that it is only when these two powers are united that they bring life and work God's miracles.


  1. These insights are beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  2. thank you so so much for writing about this, heather. i have no idea if i'm barren or not, but i have wondered if i will ever actually have the chance to have children - it's something i worry over often actually. and it's so wonderful to know i'm in the company of all these women in the scriptures who had such strong desires to do what their bodies were made for, what their souls longed for, and were restricted from it. there are so many single LDS women in this position, and in the great discussions of birthing and motherhood etc, i think we do need an expanded definition of "mother" itself. sheri dew is wonderful. you are wonderful! thank you!!

  3. I have been sharing your women in the scripture challenge with my friends and my aunt sent me back this reply, that is a good idea as well.

    When I was working in the Temple and worked in the new name booth, it was a revelation to me how many names I hadn't heard of, but that I didn't know about them. So I took it upon myself to make a mental note of the womans name and would come home and find it and read about her. It was amazing. One of my favorites is Abish. What a great faithful woman. Many lessons from this one sister. I think you ought to add to this challenge that you write the scriptural reference along with your thoughts. That way if someone asks, you will have a place to look. thanks, Michelle

  4. Your blog is amazing and has really helped my testimony. I love this post too. I have so many friends who have and are struggling with infertility, and I just love how you have shead light on it. Your awesome!

  5. Juliann and Emily I am SO glad that this post was uplifiting to you. I think that it would help so many women who aren't able to have children if they were able to realize the eternal nature of motherhood and their role in it.

    Becky Rose, I really like that insight by your wife. That was one of the things that REALLY first lit my fire for women in the scriptures. And actually that is one of my greatest hopes that women will start to recognize these women's names and understand the power that is behind their names and stories.

    Thanks all for your insights.

  6. This is amazing!:) What a great insight you have. I am going to share this, if that's okay.:)

  7. Katy B, That is fine with me! Glad it helped.

  8. That scripture from Isaiah is one that has often comforted me. This was an excellent post.

  9. Dear Heather,

    I am a mormon woman who happens to be googling the night away trying to find som material for this sundays RS. And then I found your blog and this exact article caught my eye.

    My husband and I are infertile and after six years of trying - with and without doctors - crying, praying, thinking, talking and reading about the subject I still got to learn something new from you.

    Thank you for a new perspective, for filling put my blanks and for making my eyes tear up with a feeling of Gods love surrounding me.

    Thank you.
    Karin, Denmark

  10. Thank you so much for an encouraging post. I've struggled with infertility for almost four years now, and it's a constant battle between faith and fear. I'm always encouraged to read about all the barren women of the Old Testament. I know there is hope. Thanks for the great reminder.

    You can read about that struggle here:

  11. I came across your blog today after Conference as I was researching Eunice and Lois (New Testament, Timothy's Mother and Grandmother). I couldn't help being drawn to this post. I've been married for almost 11 years. My husband and I wanted children right away and have greatly struggled with our infertility. Your post has touched my heart more than anything I've ever read on the subject. Thank you! :)

  12. Thanks Heather for these insights when I AND my husband struggled with SUB-fertility for 10 years after no problem conceiving our first child. This included 4 miscarriages of spirits unknown, whom I know that I/we will get to raise in the next life...a bit tricky with divorce in the mix though. One point though that I never was hung up on was equality of power between priesthood and motherhood. Also overlooked is that it can be problems with male malfunction that is the hold up, which adds up to non- conception and bearing of children. Natural Health investigations help simply and dramatically often, speaking as an experienced Naturopath myself. It's a very painful, isolating trial in a marriage for all concerned and rarely addressed in the church. Thank you for your insights here. Time has healed the breach for us, but it's a very good reference to point others to. Go well yourself.