This story is part of our End of the Childbearing Years series, exploring the experiences, decisions, and feelings of Mormon women around this pivotal transition. Each story is a generous and vulnerable offering. We ask that comments be sensitive and nonjudgmental toward any woman’s choices or beliefs.
By Sheila Sjolseth
Using keen eagle-eyed mommy skill, I kept tabs on my toddler as he played in a new friend’s backyard, while I breastfed my 7-month-old son. Quietly, I looked around the room, taking in all these new people I had met several minutes ago. Eight ladies gathered, corralling little ones, while we soaked up the rare occasion to talk.
Ladies around me chatted, planning their futures, including their childbearing futures. (That’s a hallmark conversation for moms at playgroups with kids three and under, I learned.)
“Oh, I am for sure going to have number four,” one mom next to me squealed. “I just feel like it is going to happen. I mean, why would God give me a desire for more kids if it wasn’t going to happen?” She turned to me with this, maybe, rhetorical question. Maybe?
I didn’t know what to say. It took us ten years with the miracle of fertility drugs and in-vitro fertilization to get pregnant. I held in my arms our second son brought to us through a frozen embryo transfer. I wanted more kids, but I didn’t know if it would happen. I had two embryos waiting in frozen storage. Two cryo-frozen embryos stored in a facility that I no longer lived near as we had just finished a cross-country move. There they sat awaiting the decision of our own family planning.
Not only did I experience infertility, but I also did not handle being pregnant well. My first son arrived seven weeks early, premature even with four months of bedrest. My second son, while in utero, kept me on restricted activities, and he still arrived five weeks early.
I decided to sit quietly, leaving my story and perspective unsaid, not acknowledging the question posed. When I left that morning, I felt remorse for not speaking up for my fellow sisters experiencing infertility or their own righteous desires being unmet.
Fast forward two years: My four-year-old runs through the house leading along his toddler brother. If I am going to have another baby, I need to start now. Each year that I wait, pregnancy becomes more difficult.
Each year I wait, we pay even more in thousands of dollars for storage fees to keep our cryo-frozen embryos chilled at the perfect temperature with Mozart playing in the background, surrounded by masterful pieces of artwork. (Okay that part about Mozart and artwork is probably unlikely, but I can believe that if I want to.)
Getting pregnant? This is not the giggly conversation with pillow talk and candlelight. It means doctors, flights back to DC, expenses, shots of hormones into my belly and butt, and side-effects from the hormone treatments including large welts from my allergies to serum.
I logically thought through the process of getting pregnant. Husband travels extensively. Pregnancy will be hard, maybe bedrest. The embryos reside across the country. I”ll need to leave my boys behind for weeks for the process of another transfer. No guarantee that I will get pregnant or be able to carry the baby to term. I couldn’t see it coming together in a way that would work. Emotionally, I couldn’t let go of the opportunity to have another child, and intellectually, I couldn’t get it aligned with a good plan. I felt stuck.
I prayed about it. A lot. For months.
Nothing came to mind. No answer. I knew that logistical pieces could be conquered, but I wanted an answer from God that this was or was not the way to go. I wanted God to tell me that my family planning was over—I wanted a clear answer to remember when the going got rough.
But, I got nothing.
While mulling it over with a trusted friend, she said, “Maybe God is letting you decide this one. He knows all that you went through to have your two sons, and He might be allowing you to choose this particular challenge or not.”
I paused and recognized the truth in her words. Logically, the indicators of success for this next round of frozen embryo transfers remained low. In no manner of moving the pieces around could I see a way that all of this would lead to success.
As we decided to say goodbye to the embryos and went through the necessary paperwork, I felt sad—a bone-deep sense of loss and grief. You know the kind, where a weight settles on you, pushing you to your knees? Even sitting here writing this, years later, I still cry.
On that day of saying goodbye to the embryos, I still wanted to have several kids. Ever so grateful for my two boys, I decided I needed to find a way to find peace with that unmet desire. After completing the paperwork and leaving it with the right people, my family drove home. During the drive, I felt a sweet feeling of peace settle over me as I felt God telling me that it would be okay.
About eight months later, on Mother’s Day weekend, the thoughts of our decision to stop fertility treatments came to mind. A part of my heart still remained heavy. Standing at the top of the stairs holding a white basket of laundry, I felt the answer I had sought for so long.
“Sheila,” I felt God say to my saddened heart, “The challenges of having a large family are not the challenges I have in store for you in this life.”
Stunned, I walked down the stairs, set down the laundry basket full of dirty little boy clothes and reflected with gratitude. In that moment, I recognized my fortune in getting an answer when many women live their lives with that same question staying unanswered.
I would love to say that the desire to have more kids melted magically away–no more to remind me of a loss, but, that wouldn’t be true. Instead, I learned how to continually turn to the Atonement with those feelings of loss and grief.
My boys are eleven and nine now. I still want more kids, but that hurting part of my heart is lighter, steeped in the blessings of the Atonement and the experience that God is mindful of me.