First, let me post the TL;DR version right up top: Shirly and I have suspended all efforts to adopt. We have closed our old site, mormonsadopting.com, and have deactivated our account on adoption.com. I’m sure this is disappointing and even heartbreaking to our friends and family, who have held out hope and prayed for us and with us as we have sought the blessing of posterity. We’re simply at a point of spiritual exhaustion with respect to this matter, for reasons that should be abundantly clear in the course of this post.
As I indicated in my original post on this subject back in 2010, we had reached a point of peace with respect to remaining childless. As I made fairly clear in that post, it wasn’t without pain, but it was pain that had become manageable. We had carved out a space for it, compartmentalized it in, I believed and still believe, very healthy ways. While the situation wasn’t exactly pleasant or easy, it felt manageable, even right.
Not long thereafter, for reasons that continue to elude me, I was asked to take on priesthood leadership assignments. In 2011 I was called as a second counselor in a local YSA – that’s “young single adult” – branch presidency, and not long thereafter was
poached called to the same role in a newly formed Spanish-speaking branch. (That’s a story in itself, which I’ll try to write up at some point.)
In 2012, during my tenure in the Spanish branch, came the next big step: I was interviewed to be ordained a high priest. Understand, there is no glory or privilege in this. It’s really a vehicle for Church leadership. To be ordained a high priest is to be shortlisted for serious responsibility: bishop, stake high councilor, stake president. In my interview, the stake president made it fairly clear that I was on Church radar for future leadership roles.
I found this troubling. Still do, actually. I feel that the Church would come to regret calling me to any such position of significant responsibility. I shared this with Shirly, who in turn urged me to share my concerns with the stake president.
I will long regret doing so. If I could do it over, I would have kept my head down and my mouth shut. Because as I visited with the stake president and shared my concerns, he said this:
“Brother Boots, I feel impressed to tell you to go home, heal your wife and start your family.”
Um, President, we’re rather on in years now – late 30s. And our infertility resume is fairly lengthy and distinguished. “I understand. But the Spirit is telling me you need to go home, heal your wife and start your family.”
I went home and told Shirly what the stake president had said. Shirly wept a few tears of gratitude, feeling that prayers had been answered. So we exercised our faith, and believe me, we pulled out all the stops. We approached the Spanish branch and asked them to fast and pray with us. I enlisted the presence of the stake president and the branch president as we followed his counsel and administered yet another priesthood blessing (seriously – just how many blessings has she received over the years?) that she might finally bear children.
We tried virtually everything we could think of. Vitamin supplements, dietary changes, even acupuncture, and let me assure you, Shirly is a woman who hates needles. Of course she visited fertility specialists, who informed her as delicately as possible that between her age and fertility issues, even IVF would yield, at best, a five percent rate of success. “Go adopt,” they advised her.
Adoption: here we go again. We first turned to LDS Family Services. Filled out all the paperwork in rather short order – we’re pretty proficient at it at this point, and you would be too if you had completed it as many times as we have – and sent it in. And sent it again when they misplaced it. And faxed it and emailed it. And asked our friends who agreed to be character references to send their letters of recommendation again, and again, after the blessed soul at LDSFS misplaced it and lost it and shredded it and did who knows what with it. After the fourth or fifth attempt to just get the paperwork filed, my lovely little lady called up the stake president and let him know rather clearly the challenges we were encountering, which led him to call LDSFS and let them know that HELLO GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER I TOLD THEM THEY NEEDED TO TRY AGAIN TO HAVE KIDS AND YOU ARE NOT HELPING. (We’re pretty sure that our comedy of errors led to somebody at LDSFS getting fired, but have no way of proving this with certainty.)
So we went through all the work and hassle and finally got the home study done and were fully certified. Just in time for the exciting announcement barely six weeks later that LDSFS was ending adoption placement services. The reasons are perfectly understandable. Doesn’t mean it didn’t come as a serious blow.
We reviewed our dwindling options. We weren’t terribly enthusiastic about private adoption: too many horror stories about birth mothers changing their minds, and besides, it wasn’t exactly affordable with me back in school. Our prior attempt at foster adoption through the state of Texas pretty much speaks for itself. But! Turns out there are private agencies that work with the state to get children placed. So after conferring with a friend who had successfully adopted through one such agency, we decided to give it a try. Again, a dead end.
It’s hard to describe just how spiritually fatigued we had become. And disillusioned. When it came to the stake president’s counsel, we were – and I’m choosing my words carefully – perfectly obedient. We tried everything imaginable, and once again, had nothing to show for it. We had failed once again, this time rather publicly.
In time, I graduated, and we relocated to a neighboring stake. During school, I ended up having weekend classes during conference weekends, so in October 2015, I had the opportunity to watch all sessions of general conference for the first time since April 2013. And we found no comfort or relief in the sermons shared. Shirly began weeping during opening exercises of the first session. She apologized: it had nothing to do with the speaker, she just couldn’t help it, broken heart and all that.
And then there was this one by Elder Holland: reverencing motherhood, speaking of maternal love at a level equating it explicitly to that of the Messiah. Oh, for crying out loud. Literally: Shirly sobbed through the whole thing. I listened, tried to take notes as usual, but with a sorrow that is difficult to articulate. We came out of that general conference considerably more emotionally raw than when we began.
Finally, I said enough was enough. I decided to call an audible. I went to our stake president (remember, we were in a different stake by this point), explained to him our predicament, and told him that I wanted an audience with a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. I made it clear that I was completely serious. My stated preference was Elder Holland – given his talk, I feel like he owed us one – but ultimately, any member of the Twelve would do. We have been given explicit promises, I said, and despite our very best efforts, they haven’t been fulfilled. In light of the situation, I want to run this up the flagpole.
The stake president made something of a counteroffer. “May I suggest the next best thing?” Elder Southward, an area authority, would be coming to our area for a stake conference in a few months, and since he would be acting under the direction of the Twelve, he would carry their authority. Would a conversation with him under those circumstances work for us?
Some weeks later, Elder Southward and the stake president visited our home on a sunny Saturday morning. We invited them in, sat down, and told our story. As we shared, Shirly talked about how the promised posterity never arrived. About how she doubted her worthiness, wondered which commandment she had failed to follow, felt that if she just tried harder to be more obedient that she would finally have children. Through her plaintive weeping, she summed up our feelings perfectly:
“I need peace more than I need a baby.”
Elder Southward was kind and loving. He listened, offered what comforting thoughts and impressions he could, and said, “You’ve done all you can.”
I wish I could say that all’s well that ends well. But truthfully, we’re still trying to sort out how we feel about all this. At least I am; Shirly seems to be better off at this point than I with the situation. We prayed in the house of the Lord, felt peace with remaining childless, then along comes a stake president who, claiming inspiration, gives us contradicting counsel. The gentle reader will appreciate that this chain events will lead any thinking person to ask some unpleasant questions.
I feel moved to share something particularly personal. My patriarchal blessing contains this passage:
Ryan, Satan desires your heart and your soul. He is going to try everything in his power to remove you from the records of the Church, to gain your body and to destroy your soul. He will provide you with problems, adversity, and trials that will overcome many; but, I promise you in the name of Jesus Christ: if you are worthy, faithful and true to the end, you shall overcome and surmount all temptation and you will be exalted at the end. Ryan, put your full trust in the Lord’s hands. If you do this, he will carry you through times of trouble, problems, and adversity. If you are obedient to the commandments, you will prosper during your life. However, if you are rebellious: you with draw your spirit from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and withdraw your hand from the hand of the Lord, you will be cast out from the presence of your Father in Heaven — you will have a sorrowful, unhappy mortal life.
I had read my patriarchal blessing many times prior to 2016. But this passage came into sharp relief for me last year. On one hand, it’s a warning. On the other, it’s a promise: one of help, of solace. In truth, I have seen both sides of this come to pass. I’ve watched several people over the years lose their faith in the face of this challenge. And I have seen that the Lord has watched over me as I have walked this path.
So Shirly and I go on, seeking to endure well, in patience and faith.
Wow! Ryan – that line in your Patriarchal Blessing about standing strong amidst trials that would overcome many struck me with so much power. I have certainly seen many falter over far less than what you’ve been through. I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you or what you are being prepared for. You and your wonderful wife are such great people.
As one child of God to another my heart breaks for the two of you. The spirt has testified to me in my own trials that the Lord does sit as the refiner as we go through the fire of trials. I am sure that as the two of you stay faithful that one day you will understand and bless the name of the Lord and maybe even feel thankful for the trials that have strengthened you. Know that our love and paryers are with you.
Hi Ryan. I’m Chris . I’ve been married 2 times. My first wife I did not try to have children with as she already had a son and didn’t want more children as she had severe health problems. She left the church and eventually left me after 11 years. I then met another woman who converted to the church because of me. We tried for a year to have children and could not. I did a fertility test which came back as 0.1 for the sperm count and 100 percent imotile for movement of sperm. It says that no sperm are viable although no further tests have been done to test viability. But I’m expecting the worst there.
It’s funny because my sister suggested a priesthood blessing from the Bishop who is much younger than me and somewhat tone deaf when it comes to understanding real problems and trials due to inexperience. I told my former Bishop who is older than me and a great spiritual guy that my sister suggested a blessing for me being basically sterile and would he want to give me a blessing with this type of a problem. I said it as a joke and we both had a good laugh. Only 3 weeks after the test and I’m accepting that I’m not going to have have my own offspring in this life. What bigger hint can heavenly father give me than the result of this test? I do have another Bishop who I feel is a spiritual giant comparable to thos Bishop I made the joke with. He and his wife have no children after like 16 years of marriage. He apparently is resigned to not having kids as he and his wife haven’t tried to adopt. He serves as counselor in the young adult branch now and is very useful in that calling as well. I think I’m just going to take his route (even though I haven’t spoken with him)and just try to serve in the church as hard as I can. I’m not going to force it with this adoption crap. If heavenly father wanted me to have children now he wouldn’t expect me to force the issue. I feel that really strongly. My wife feels that way as well
Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. Much like the title of this blog post, I’m gradually coming back around to a place of peace with where I’m at, recognizing that there are lots of things that we can do in the absence of children.
There’s one other wrinkle to this that I haven’t shared yet, but will disclose here. Back in 2010, when we were in our first “adoption fatigue” phase, our well-meaning bishop encouraged us to try again to adopt. We took the paperwork, probably more to humor him than anything else, but we just couldn’t find the emotional wherewithal to even start filling it out. It just sat on our living room table, collecting dust.
At that time, we were serving as ordinance workers in the temple. During one shift at the temple, we ended up sitting together in the chapel, discussing the situation. And we found that we both felt immense peace from the Spirit. It frustrated me that I simply felt peace, because to me, that didn’t indicate a way forward. Gradually I realized that the Lord was trying to reassure us about where we were at and the path we were on. The Spirit was basically saying, “You’re right where you need to be, and you’re doing exactly what you need to be doing. It’s okay to be without children for now.”
We were fine with that, until the events of 2012, when a well-meaning stake president upended all that for us.
In the new stake, as I was talking to the stake president, I told him of our experience in the temple. I’ll never forget what he said: “If that’s what you felt, serving in the house of the Lord, I’d take that to the bank.”
If there’s anything that I’ve learned through this, it’s that there can be a “peace which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), and that peace, especially when felt in the walls of the temple, overrides pretty much anything else.