I Longed to Be a Mother


My struggle with not having children left me in turmoil. Could I ever find peace?

As a child, I never had any reason to doubt that I would be a mother when I grew up. It was the strongest desire of my heart. I began training myself for the job when I was a little girl, pretending my dolls were real babies, closely watching parents with their children, even working as a nanny for five months when I was 18.

So when I found myself struggling with infertility at the beginning of my newly married life at age 23, I was more than a little stunned. I felt defensive and confused when people asked when my husband and I would be having a baby. I answered their questions in a lighthearted way, but my heart was growing heavy. I thought my body was betraying me, and though I didn’t show it at first, I was in turmoil.

Little things seemed to make the pain most acute, like traditions I brought into my marriage from my own family. For example, Christmas had always been a time for baking cookies and sharing them with children, so I baked. Only after the baking was finished did I realize that the children for whom I carried on these traditions were absent. I also thought Christmas gifts and decorations were primarily for children—the children I didn’t have.

Everywhere I looked, I saw painful reminders of what I lacked. In the spring, a pair of birds raised their babies in the eaves above our front door. It seemed that women all around me were pregnant. People who mistreated their children and therefore didn’t seem to deserve them still had them. It seemed that everyone and everything but me could “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Gen. 1:28).

My husband and I received fertility treatments. We fasted. My family fasted. We prayed. Our names were added to temple prayer rolls. Still no baby.

I tried to bargain with Heavenly Father in an effort to find the key that would turn the lock and reverse infertility for me. I believed in miracles, and I was desperate for one. I was sure that the answer lay in some law I needed to live better; I just needed to figure out which law it was. But trying to change myself didn’t change my childless state.

My spiritual struggle lasted for more than seven years. During that time, my relationship with my Father in Heaven was affected. It seemed that every prayer I said was directed toward my goal of having children. After my disbelief wore thin, I found myself angry. I became less and less humble. Soon I lost the desire to pray altogether.

I alienated everyone around me. I cried during Mother’s Day sacrament meeting programs, never thinking to honor my own mother because I was too wrapped up in my own sorrow. Relatives hesitated to tell me of new babies to be born, and people at church didn’t know what to say. Hearing that perhaps I was not yet ready to be a mother made me cringe. How could that be when I was never told how to get ready? Nor was it a comfort to know that blessings withheld in this life would be granted in the eternities if I was worthy; I was in pain today.

Worst of all, I alienated my husband. In the beginning of our relationship, while we dated, he had been attracted to me because I seemed carefree and effervescent. Now, even that quality was lost in my struggle. Parenting had also been a lifelong dream for my husband, but he came to believe that it would be better for us to stop trying rather than to bring such misery into our home through our unsuccessful efforts. I felt betrayed by his suggestion. My pain left no room for his, and I believed that no one understood my feelings. I felt very alone.

Toward the end of the first seven years of my infertility experience, I was extended a calling as a Relief Society teacher. I accepted the calling even though I felt spiritually depleted and unworthy. I returned to my knees, but instead of praying for myself this time, I prayed for the sisters in Relief Society. I wanted to be able to teach so that hearts could be touched and gospel principles understood. I wanted to bring hope and help to renew the resolve to live whichever gospel principles I was teaching. I knew these things could be accomplished only through the Spirit of the Lord, so I sought the Spirit as I studied and prepared, and I fasted and prayed for His influence to accompany my teaching.

Little did I know, but the effort I was giving for the Relief Society sisters was preparing my heart to be healed. It was while I was teaching one of the lessons that I realized I believed my long unanswered prayers for a baby meant that I was not loved. This realization brought me once again to my knees. I prayed for myself, but now my prayer did not concern my childlessness. What I asked was simply, “Do you love me?”

As soon as I uttered that question, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of love, joy, and peace. Like Alma, I had been in the “gall of bitterness,” but “I could remember my pains no more.” Indeed, “my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:18–20).

From that moment, I began to better understand the Atonement. In Gethsemane our Savior took upon Himself the pains, sicknesses, and infirmities of His people so that He would know how to succor them according to their infirmities (see Heb. 4:15; Alma 7:11–12). He sweat great drops of blood as He suffered for all of the afflictions that result from living in a telestial world. Before this answer to prayer, I understood that He did what He did for the world. Now, I understood that His sufferings were also for me.

I knew that because of the Atonement, the Savior understood the nuances of my pain. Because He knew my experience, I did not have to feel alone. My understanding of the Atonement and of the Savior’s love for me were forever changed. Now I have hope. I have joy.

About a year after that answer to my prayer, Heavenly Father blessed my husband and me with a beautiful adopted daughter. I do not know if our home will be blessed with more children, but one thing I do know:

I am loved, and my Savior knows me by name. With joy, I strive to pass on this understanding to the heart of our child.

Most of us will have to experience heart-wrenching adversity at one time or another. Infertility was my greatest trial. Although I still do not understand why I have never been blessed with the experiences of pregnancy and childbirth, I realize it is not essential for me to understand why—that understanding will come at a later time. What matters is that I know that the same Jesus Christ who walked on the earth, healing spiritual and physical sickness of every kind, has healed the sickness that infertility created in my heart. He lives, and my knowledge of His love and of His Atonement is a greater gift than any other—even the gift of being a mother.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Michael Malm

Tamara A. Ilich is a member of the Colton First Ward, Rialto California Stake.