On Biological Clocks

Decades ago my grandmother had an art buddy, a lady with whom she shared many of her learning and painting and selling adventures. Connie was attractive with strawberry blonde hair. Where my grandmother had borne five children, Connie had no children.

Because my grandmother shared far more information with us than the average grandmother might (artist, don’t you know), I was told about Connie’s marriage.

Connie had two beaus at the time she decided to marry. One was a widower with several children. He was not well-to-do, but when they embraced, Connie’s blood sang.

Connie’s other suitor was a complete gentleman. He was well-to-do and nattily dressed. He had never been married. When Connie was with this suitor, she felt like a princess.

Connie followed her head rather than her heart and married the man who made her feel like a princess. It was only after the wedding that she realized the man had no intention of consummating their marriage. He showered her with gifts and all the outward trappings of love. But in the bedroom nothing happened.

Connie and her husband went to counseling. And in time her husband attempted to engage in sex with her. Apparently that was so awkward, Connie would have preferred things had stayed as they were.

Because I am my grandmother’s grandchild, I too get to know people well. At times my conversations with new-found friends can become all-consuming adventures. For example, there was a time when my husband woke up at 3:30a to find I was not in bed. Since he’d last seen me at Church, he got in the car and drove to the parking lot. There I was, engaged in conversation with a friend. After sharing the conversation with us for a half hour, my husband left to go back to sleep.

In my friendships, I have learned of others in my life who share challenges like Connie’s. While my grandmother did not talk of the shame and anger Connie likely felt, I know that the Connies that I have met in my life are filled with rage.

But they can’t talk about it with anyone. As they see their time to conceive slip through their fingers, they are filled with anguish. Everyone assumes they are infertile. Given that birth control is a thing, some will mutter about how unwise it is for someone to put off parenthood. But in our modern age, people tend to be kind and understanding rather than catty and mean.

It is through the lens of the Connies in my life that I look at the actions of Brigham Young, following the death of Joseph Smith. Brigham knew of many women who might never bear children in this life because of covenants they had entered into with men who were now dead. And there were other women in the community who would certainly be left behind because they were widows or women who no longer had husbands or brothers or fathers in the Church.

Brigham acted to allow these women to become mothers.

Perhaps if Joseph had lived, it would have been possible to find a way to ensure every woman and her children could be sealed into the family of mankind without embracing widespread mortal plural marriage. But Brigham was left with a crisis and acted to protect women and to satisfy their desire to become mothers. Many of us in the Church today are only in our current form because of the sort of plural marriage Brigham Young encouraged during the flight from Nauvoo, the sort of plural marriages solemnized until 1890 and 1904.

Some could wish the Mormon Church never allowed plural marriage. But these individuals do not know the hearts of Mormon women in 1845-1846. Over five hundred of these women chose to become plural wives, at least ceremonially. Certainly over a hundred of these went on to become mothers as plural wives, prior to the 1852 announcement that the Church allowed plural marriage.

Why am I talking about this now? Partly because I was recently given a chance to write a screenplay. Don’t worry. This one is set in England during the time when William of Normandy conquered England. I have long theorized that one ploy the Godwinsons attempted to retain the crown of England was producing a child they could claim was the get of King Edward with his wife, Edith Godwinson. The anger and rage shared with me by women unable to be mothers is channeled into Edith. The terrible things my screenplay depicts at the hands of Edith and her brother, Harold, are driven by my knowledge of the Connies in my life. The shame and guilt I depict on the part of their victim is informed by others I have known.

May we live boring lives of tranquility and fulfillment, where we never have reason to viscerally understand certain aspects of the past. But let us consider that the past was informed by circumstances with which we are not aware, circumstances that if we did know we would yearn to see alleviated.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

7 thoughts on “On Biological Clocks

  1. It’s quite a thing to look back at history and honestly consider the sorts of (sometimes horrendous) things people did and experienced, and why they did as they did. We owe our ancestors a thanks just for surviving long enough to produce more of our ancestors.

  2. “For example, there was a time when my husband woke up at 3:30a to find I was not in bed. Since he’d last seen me at Church, he got in the car and drove to the parking lot. There I was, engaged in conversation with a friend. After sharing the conversation with us for a half hour, my husband left to go back to sleep.”

    Thanks. I admire you two all the more for that.

    On your next driving trip to/from Nauvoo, please stop in Indianapolis for a lunch or dinner. I’d love to meet you guys IRL. We can invite Ram and Mrs. Ram.

  3. Joseph Smith’s polygamy definitely threw me for a loop when I lived in Utah recently. Hearing about modern day issues with polygamy I struggled with it, until I researched it to death and realized that it truly DID create a lot of people, A LOT of missionaries and I thought about it… if it didn’t exist for that short 50 years, how much less missionaries there would have been. Would there have been missionaries in California to convert my Father’s parents, or in Tennesee when my mother was in her 20s? I can be grateful for it, in a weird way… A lot less people would have the gospel. Maybe… those women could have found other men to marry, who knows? but the reality was not only did A LOT Of men die in the war in Nauvoo after Joseph’s death, in Spanish American war, but a lot of men, like today, struggled then to live the gospel, as today, and those women would have had less active children as a result.

    I think it sounded and was awful, lonely, overall, and created a super competitive culture among women in Utah that still exists (higher rates of plastic surgery than in California, no joke), but it did good…

  4. I don’t really have a problem with early polygamy. I think there were plenty of reasons, but most of it is just speculation on my part. I’m not sure if I buy into the benevolent sperm donor theory. You’d have to show me some really accurate census numbers to prove there weren’t enough single men to go around to marry the women who participated in plural marriage. If making babies was strictly some mechanical thing I’d be a little more sympathetic to the argument. I know it can be fairly straightforward when couples are trying to get pregnant. However, I haven’t heard from historians that the sex lives of Brigham Young and other husbands participating in plural marriage was was strictly Wham Bam Thank You M’am.

  5. Hi IDIAT,

    George D. Smith’s book, Nauvoo Polygamy, contains an extensive appendix with all the hundreds of Nauvoo plural marriages and the children produced in those marriages. It is from my study of these hundreds of marriages that I come to my conclusions.

    The challenge was not just getting pregnant. Like any modern Mormon woman, it would theoretically be possible to pop down to a local bar and obtain access to a willing sperm donor. But as you ought to recognize, most Mormon women would not consider it sufficient to merely become pregnant with the seed of a man who didn’t share any commitment to her or to her faith.

    Statistics can be manipulated, and I have seen it argued that there were enough “sperm donors” to obviate need for plural marriage in Utah. I don’t believe I’ve seen such an analysis performed for the late Nauvoo period, however.

    Two data points. First, when women were granted the vote in Utah, the electorate grew to roughly three times the previous male-only voting population. This suggests there were more women than men in the community.

    Second, the Primary was originally proposed specifically to instruct young boys, as there was fear that there were not enough good men. That was even with plural marriage.

  6. Its not the polygamy itself that is a big problem for me. Its how Joseph percipitated it. It was not open. But secret. His wife was in the dark through many years as he married other women. It started before he had even recorded revelations of temple ceremonies. And worst of all to me is he married other men’s wives, some after sending thier husbands on missions.

    Such secret hidden behavior is not the ways of the God I know and was taught about growing up in the LDS religion.

  7. Hi Brian,

    I take it you have not read my book. Link is in my signature block.

    You have to understand that there was a vast illicit intercourse heresy from June 1841 to May 1842. Joseph and Emma were working hand in hand to root out the iniquity.

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